1930s >> 1936 >> no-385-september-1936

The Lesson of the Russian Trial

Russia is in the news again with another spectacular trial, and one that has a particular meaning for those who are not blind to the nature of the development of Russia under Stalin’s leadership.

The victims of the present trial must be nearly the last of the “old guard” of the Bolshevik movement that engineered the uprising of 1917 which, under Lenin and Trotsky, was heralded as the beginning of a world revolution to inaugurate Socialism by means of dictatorships.

Nearly twenty years have passed since then, and these years have made it quite clear that Lenin and his associates were pursuing a chimera that has had a disheartening influence upon the working-class movement everywhere.

At the moment of writing, the main trial is over, the prisoners having been executed. The published reports contain certain important points that merit notice.

The first staggering thing that strikes one after reading the reports, is the way the defendants admit their guilt and go out of their way to paint themselves as black as possible—this appears to be no curiosity in Russia when the ruling clique proceeds against opponents. The nature and wording of the admissions are so utterly ridiculous that none but the interested or the dream-sodden can take them seriously—yet they have been treated seriously by newspapers that must know better. The Sunday Observer, for August 23rd, ends its report with the remark:

  “It is futile to think that the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The Government’s case against the defendants is genuine.”

Yet immediately under this is the following paragraph, which gives a key to the whole business:

MOSCOW, Saturday. 
  The extraordinary Congress of Soviets, which is to adopt the draft of the new Constitution for Russia, prepared by the Stalin Committee set up for the purpose, will meet in Moscow at the end of November.
  The forthcoming three months’ purge of oppositionists, which is already in full swing, will probably be the most thorough of all the Soviet purges, so that at the Congress it can be announced that the internal enemy has been exterminated.—Exchange.

Before commenting on the above we would point to the strange fact that even the Daily Herald, which was sceptical in the case of the British-Vicker’s Engineers in 1933, raised no doubt about the genuineness of the charges during the early part of the present case.

The trial is quite evidently a fake and designed to get out of the way all who might use the new Russian Constitution to put forward policies at variance with those of the clique at the head of affairs. The new constitution that was given to the world as an example of the stability of the Bolshevik regime is more likely an instance of the growing weakness of Stalin’s position. In spite of the safeguards put into it, Stalin is taking precautions that dissatisfied elements shall not be able to make use of it against him—he is trying to put them out of temptation altogether! Whatever freedom of voice or vote the new constitution may allow, it must only be a freedom to support Stalin and his henchmen.

Now let us glance at some of the statements made by Kamenev, one of the principal of the accused, as reported in the News Chronicle for August 21st—all the papers give similar reports: The defendants are accused of a terrorist conspiracy aimed at assassinating Stalin and other Soviet leaders and overturning the present Soviet regime.

In answers to questions, Kamenev told the court that he was organising the conspiracy and that articles he had written in 1932 professing loyalty to the Communist Party were ”frauds.”

He was asked by Vishinsky, the prosecutor:

   “Were you a bloodthirsty enemy of the Soviet Union?”

The News Chronicle gives his reply in the following words:

“ ‘I was a bloodthirsty enemy,’ replied Kamenev. (Laughter).”

That parenthesis is suggestive. Either Kamenev is treating the matter sarcastically or he has been cowed. It is a tragic-comedy and the court knows it.

He is also reported to have made the following remarks in the course of a long statement:

“Yes, I lied often since I started the struggle with the Bolshevist Party. I went all the way from opposition, through counter-revolution, to terrorism—actually to Fascism, because Trotskyism plus terrorism is Fascism.”

The above, from a man of undoubted intelligence, supposed to be on trial for his life is too patently absurd to impose upon any but the most gullible adherents of Bolshevism. All the statements at the trial bear upon them the marks of Government inspiration. The plot is even alleged to have originated in Berlin. No wonder Trotsky said, “Moscow must believe the world is full of idiots,” when interviewed on the matter.

The list of accused shows how ruthless Stalin is in his intention to rout out all likely rivals. Among those concerned are men who held or have held controlling positions in the Soviet Union, such as Zinoviev (reported to be dying of consumption), Bukharin, Tomsky (reported by the Communist Party to have committed suicide), Rykov, Pyntakov, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov and Uglanov. If it is true, as the Stalin group contend, that these first-class Soviet leaders have betrayed the Soviet movement, and are even the inspired agents of Germany, then Russia is evidently a breeding ground for people who throw overboard their opposition to capitalism. That being so, the question may well be asked what essential difference is there between Russia and ordinary capitalist states that throw up similar types?

A point worth noting in passing is that while the trial was taking place and these erstwhile Bolshevik stalwarts were the subject of virulent attacks, Mr. Attlee, the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party here, was on a visit to Russia and was being pleasantly entertained by one of Stalin’s subordinates. Not long ago, the Conservative Minister, Mr. Eden, was given an enthusiastic reception. The accused are representatives of a band which, however, mistaking their tactics, stood for opposition to world capitalism—but that was a long time ago!
One allegation is that one of the accused prepared a bomb and arranged with student supporters of Trotsky that they were to throw the bomb while marching past Stalin in the Red Square. This is a very significant statement and corroborates previous evidence that bitter dissatisfaction with the Soviet regime exists amongst the youth of Russia. When one takes into account the complete control of youthful education by the Russian Government, one is forced to the conclusion that there must be something radically wrong with affairs there when its youthful products are prepared to risk liberty and life by engaging in assassination projects.
Perhaps the crowning piece of humour that gave the keynote to the comedy was the statement by one of the accused, Holzman, made diffidently, that the secret code was contained in the book the “Arabian Nights.” The whole business suggests a piece out of the ”Arabian Nights Entertainment ”! Trotsky declares it to be the biggest frame-up since the Nazi Reichstag fire trial.
Another curiosity worth remarking is that ten of the sixteen accused are Jews. Is this an accident or is Russia going in for the other purging fashion? This should give Jewish Communists abroad something to think over!
Trotsky is alleged to be the fountain head of the conspiracy and the prosecution is aimed at him and those that are alleged to side with him. It is reputed to be a final attempt to destroy what is called the Trotsky opposition movement. .
To those who are prepared to examine the matter dispassionately it is quite obvious that a conspiracy such as described by the prosecution is quite out of line with Trotsky’s record. It is too foolish and out of touch with the ideas for which he has always fought. Trotsky and Stalin are quite different types (one has knowledge and the other ruthless cunning) and stand for entirely different programmes.
Before the Bolshevik uprising Trofsky was opposed to the view that Russia could jump from semi-feudalism into Socialism, but Lenin persuaded him against his judgment. The line taken in 1917 by the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky led where it was bound to lead—to an abortion. When the retreat from the original aim of the movement was gaining momentum (after Lenin died) Trotsky wished to stop the drift but here he came up against Stalin, who was prepared to hang on to power at any cost and had little interest in theoretical questions. Stalin had already dug himself into the bureaucratic side of the Russian movement and he was able to push Trotsky out of all positions that gave him any power—and finally to push him out of Russia altogether.
The Trotsky movement has been an attempt to bring Russian policy back to its starting point. Stalin has resisted this and has been cunning enough to set his rivals against each other and then lop them off one by one. Permanent compromise with world capitalism is the summit of Stalin’s achievement.
Russia offers a valuable object lesson to those interested in Popular Fronts. A good deal of its history since 1917 has been taken up with the internal struggles of different groups, in which contest the more ruthless groups have been successful. The “Old Guard” have now nearly completed the eating of each other. If in Spain and other countries the Communists are successful then, as the Communists have indicated in their propaganda, the eating process will begin, for the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” according to the Communist idea, is but the struggle of cliques for power to suppress rival cliques.



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