Another staple of simplified procedures was the troika—an extra-j udicial body, comprised of three members, headed by an NKVD official. Troika members were confirmed by the Politburo (Stalin). Once the troika members themselves started being repressed, Stalin had to scramble to keep them staffed. Stalin's correspondence from this period is full of orders to replace Comrade X with Comrade Y in the troika located in region Z.
Troikas date to the first days of Bolshevik power when Lenin used them to dispense summary justice on Bolshevik enemies. Troikas were described by a justice department official (in 1927) as a cosmetic court proceeding to calm foreign critics without compromising the battle against spies and counter-revolutionaries. Troikas were used by the NKVD's predecessor (the OGPU) to sentence kulaks and others opposed to Soviet power to prison or to death in the early 1930s.
Order 00447 required the heads of the operational groups to submit their "cases” to troikas. The troika's job was to confirm the sentence and to order the sentence to be carried out. Troika decisions could not be appealed; troikas were not bound by special procedures, and their sentences were to be carried out immediately. Such a format "ensures the harshness of repression and necessary speed.”24 The cosmetic protection from arbitrary NKVD action offered by the troika was that an NKVD official was only one of three troika members. The other two positions were to be occupied by a prosecutorial official and a party official. In most cases, however, the party and prosecutorial representatives were only extras, and, as the terror proceeded, they themselves were often arrested. One troika met in full form only once,25 and there were even cases of one-man troikas.
The troika procedures established by Order 00447 gave victims little chance. They were arrested and interrogated by the NKVD operational group, which recommended the sentence (death or prison) to the troika, also headed by an NKVD officer. The troika did not "try” the case; the accused did not appear before the troika and had no defender. The troika's job was to determine that minimal procedures were followed and to confirm the recommended sentence. As the Great Terror progressed, troikas were satisfied with thinner and thinner case files. By 1938, case files listed only the name, address, and profession of the defendant, and gave a one-1 ine indictment ("committed counter-revolutionary acts”) and the sentence. Troikas had to process large numbers of cases on a daily basis; there was no time for reviews. The Leningrad troika sentenced 658 defendants to death in a single day (October 9, 1937).26 The more visible cases went to the military collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR or of the republics, but the court venue made little difference. Each case and punishment were prepared in advance by the NKVD and approved by the Politburo. Although the accused was present (unlike troikas, which never saw their victims), the typical military collegium case lasted no more than fifteen to twenty minutes, and eighty-five percent concluded with death sentences.27
V. Organization of the Work of Troikas
1. I confirm the following lists of persons for republican, regional, and provincial troikas [lists of names not included in the document].
2. The republican, regional, or provincial procurator may be present at meetings of the troika (if he is not already a member).
3. The troika will carry out its work or will be located in points where there are corresponding NKVD departments or will go to places where operational sectors are located.
4. Troikas will examine materials for each arrested person or for groups of arrested persons and also for every family subject to exile.
Troikas may transfer persons arrested as category 1 to category 2 depending upon the character of the material and the degree of social threat and vice versa.
5. Troikas must maintain protocols of their meetings in which are registered the sentence of each person convicted.
The protocol of the meeting of the troika is to be sent to the head of the operational group for carrying out the sentence. Excerpts from the protocol are to be attached to the investigatory materials for each convicted party.28