10.8 The case of M.P. Yakubovich (Karaganda)

No 10 : 31 October 1969

Mikhail Petrovich Yakubovich was born in 1891. He is a great-grandson of the Decembrist A.I. Yakubovich and a nephew of the poet and revolutionary P. F. Yakubovich. From his youth he worked for the revolutionary movement in Russia.

He was first arrested while a schoolboy in the sixth class. At first he was a Bolshevik, but after the beginning of World War I he disagreed with the Bolsheviks on the question of the war, and joined the Menshevik fraction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party.

Yakubovich played an active part in the 1917 revolution, was elected the first Chairman of the Smolensk Soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, and was co-opted into the Petrograd Soviet as Representative of the Western Front. He was also elected a member of the Ail-Union Central Executive Committee of the Soviets (VTsIK) of the First Convocation, and a member of the VTsIK Bureau. At the time of Kornilov’s putsch [September 1917], he arrested General Denikin, acting as Commissar of the Provisional Government attached to the First Army. After the October Revolution Yakubovich occupied a leading position in the Menshevik fraction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, and tried to persuade the Mensheviks to co-operate actively with the Bolsheviks and with the Soviet system. He himself was working then as a food-supply commissar for Smolensk Province—the only provincial commissar in Soviet Russia who was a Menshevik. When the attempted Menshevik-Bolshevik rapprochement failed in 1920, Yakubovich left the Party and worked in executive posts in central Soviet institutions: Director of the State Funds Commission of the Council of Labour and Defence, Chief of the Manufactured Goods Administration of the USSR People’s Trade Commissariat, etc. Yakubovich was the author of a number of articles and larger works on economic policy and socialist construction.

In 1930 Yakubovich was arrested, and in 1931 sentenced to ten years at the trial of the ‘Mensheviks’ AIl-Union Bureau’. From 1931 to 1939 he was held in the political wing of Verkhneuralsk Prison. In 1936 Zinoviev and Kamenev were in the same prison. In 1939 he was transferred to Oryol prison, and then to the Unzhlag camps (now Kostroma Region).

In 1941, soon after his term expired, while working as a free worker in the Unzhlag camps, he was re-arrested and sentenced in absentia to a further ten years by decision of the NKVD’s Special Board. In 1950 he was transferred to Spassk, near Karaganda, in the Peschlag camp complex. He later described his journey from the northern camps to those of Karaganda in an unpublished story, ‘The Red Rose’.

After spending almost a quarter of a century in confinement, M. P. Yakubovich was only released in 1953, two years after his second term of imprisonment expired, and was sent to the Tikhonov home for invalids in Karaganda. Until 1955 he lived there as an exile. Yakubovich is still living there at the present time. He commands enormous respect and authority, and despite his advancing years leads an active public life as Chairman of the Culture Commission, which is in practice the organ of self-government for the disabled, through which they can defend their interests and rights before the administration. It is to a large extent through Yakubovich’s efforts that the Tikhonov Home is notable for its relatively easy-going regime in comparison with other invalid homes.

In 1956 M. P. Yakubovich was rehabilitated in connection with his second case.

In 1961 he sent a letter to the 22nd congress of the Party asking for a review of the ‘All-Union Bureau’ trial. The Procuracy-General answered that the guilt of Yakubovich and the others convicted with him had been proved by the pre-trial and court investigations, and also by the confessions of the accused themselves. Soon after that E. D. Stasova sent a similar request to N. S. Khrushchev, but received no reply.

In 1966 M. P. Yakubovich was assigned a special pension of the sort given as an honour.

In 1967 he was summoned from Karaganda to Moscow, to the Procuracy-General. There he was questioned—in the form of an informal talk, with no written record —about the circumstances of the ‘All-Union Bureau’ trial, and then he was asked to put down everything he had related in written form. In his written explanation, addressed to the Procurator-General, M. P. Yakubovich, the only surviving participant in one of the open political trials of the ‘thirties, relates in detail how this trial was staged.

‘No “Mensheviks’ All-Union Bureau” ever existed,’ writes Yakubovich, and he goes on to tell of how a ‘sabotage organization’ was fabricated by the OGPU [KGB]. The ‘All-Union Bureau’ was constituted by the investigation organs on the principle of departmental representation by well-known and influential employees of the main economic organizations — the All-Union National Economic Council, the People’s Trade Commissariat, the State Planning Commission and the Union of Consumers’ Co-operatives—people who were honest workers in the state machinery, who had left the Menshevik party long ago, and some of whom had never even belonged to it. By means of promises, threats and tortures, applied on a strictly individual basis according to the degree of resistance encountered, these people were forced to ‘confess’ to counter-revolutionary sabotage.

M. P. Yakubovich explains his behaviour at the trial by saying that to have retracted the testimony he had given during the investigation would in his opinion have wrecked the trial and caused a world-wide scandal which could at that time have damaged the Soviet system and the Communist Party. Apart from that, it would have meant condemning himself to a slow, agonizing death by torture. If he had really been an enemy of the Soviet system and the Communist Party, he might possibly have found the moral support to give him courage. But he was not an enemy. On the eve of the trial the state prosecutor, Procurator of the Russian Republic N. V. Krylenko, who had been a close acquaintance of Yakubovich since before the revolution, tried to persuade Yakubovich to confirm at the open trial the testimony he had given at the preliminary investigation, and said: ‘I do not doubt that you personally are not guilty of anything. We shall both be doing our duty to the party—I always considered you, and still do consider you, a communist… ‘

During that same visit to Moscow in May 1967 Yakubovich met A. I. Mikoyan, whose deputy he was on the eve of his arrest. During their conversation Mikoyan admitted that he had never doubted Yakubovich’s innocence, but there had been nothing he could do for him at the time. On the possibility of the 1931 trial being reviewed Mikoyan gave him to understand that the question would ultimately be decided not by the Procuracy-General but by some higher authority; however, at present the latter considered it an unsuitable time to review political trials and grant new rehabilitations.

Instead of the Procuracy-General sending a reply, the journal Problems of History at the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968 published a series of articles by Senior Counsellor of Justice D. L. Golinkov. In a section called ‘The Anti-Soviet Activities of the Mensheviks’ (No. 2, 1968) the author, using among other things Yakubovich’s testimony from the trial, writes about the ‘All-Union Bureau’ in the spirit of similar articles dating from the Stalin era.

While in the invalid home, Yakubovich has also occupied himself with literary work. Apart from the story mentioned above, ‘The Red Rose’, he has written the following: ‘The Death of Boris Godunov’, a historical-literary work in which he gives his reasons for believing that Godunov [1552-1605] was not implicated in the death of the Tsarevich Dmitry; ‘Christianity and Hinduism’, an essay on ethics and philosophy which attempts to prove the moral superiority of Hinduism; ‘What is Time?’, a philosophical analysis of the concept of time in Einstein’s theory of relativity; ‘Tolstoy’s and Galsworthy’s Attitudes to Death’; and ‘Letters to a Stranger’, a series of political character-sketches, written from a Leninist standpoint and based to a considerable extent on personal recollections and little-known facts: three works in this series—on Stalin, Kamenev and Trotsky—were completed in 1966-7, and a fourth, on Zinoviev, remains unfinished.

On 24 April 1968, M. P. Yakubovich’s room was searched, and all his manuscripts and letters taken away. At the same time the Karaganda KGB began an investigation into the case of Yakubovich under the article of the Kazakh Criminal Code which corresponds to Article 190-1 of the Russian Code. Two of his friends were also implicated in the case, accused of ‘passing things around’. The behaviour of the investigator, Major Kovalenko, chief of the KGB investigation department, was —at least as far as Yakubovich was concerned — proper in all respects. The interrogation records were a true reflection of Yakubovich’s testimony. But the expert report on Yakubovich’s writings was a complete contrast to the propriety of the investigation. The experts, Gorokhov and Mustafin, Professors of the Social Science Departments at Karaganda’s Polytechnic Institute and Medical Institute respectively, and a third person whose name is not known, wrote their conclusions in the spirit of the worst examples of the Stalin period. Their report contained crude insults and abuse; distorting and falsifying the sense and content of Yakubovich’s writings, they accused him of provocation, counter-revolution, ideological subversion, propagation of Menshevik ideology, slander of Marxism-Leninism, and so on. All this related not only to his memoirs and political writings, but to his philosophical, literary and historical works as well.

Despite the experts’ findings, the case was closed on instructions from Moscow on 24 June, when the two-month period allowed by law for the pre-trial investigation ended. The letters which had been removed during the search were returned, but all the manuscripts, the fruit of many years’ labour, were kept by the KGB, ‘attached to his criminal case’.

M. P. Yakubovich’s address is: Kazakh SSR, Karaganda 1, Tikhonovsky home for the disabled.