The Russian “Terrorist” Trial
The Truth About A Great Frame-up
LAST month we made some comments on the Russian trial based upon newspaper reports. We now have the official report of the trial contained in a special number of “International Press Correspondence,” Vol. 16, No. 41, September 10th, 1936.
The first thing that one notices after reading the dreary document is that it is not the report of the trial at all. All the accused pleaded guilty and the court proceedings that began on August 19th were simply means for them to publicly express their guilt, call themselves scum, traitors and various other names, and also, most importantly perhaps, blacken the character of Trotsky as much as possible.
The second thing one notices is that this alleged full report is not a full report at all but simply reads as piece of Stalinite propaganda, interspersed with some farcical statement, question and reply on the part of the public prosecutor and the accused.
The third thing that strikes one is that the proceedings that actually began several months earlier in secret. One of the accused, V. Olberg, was examined on February 21st. The public proceedings, according to the information contained in the report, did not commence until all the accused had been examined and re-examined and admissions of guilt extracted from them.
The report occupies 41½ large, costly-printed pages, which are apportioned as follows:-
The Indictment ……………… 7 pages
Proceedings before the Military Collegium (the “Trial”) … 18 ,,
Speech of State Prosecutor Vishinisky ……… 12½ ,,
Final Statement of Accused …………… 2 ,,
Verdict ……………… 2 ,,
The proceedings commenced on August 19th at mid-day with the reading of the indictment. After this each of the accused repeated the statement he had made at the secret investigation admitting his guilt, and an exchange of question and answer took place. This was followed by Vishinsky’s speech and final statement by each of the accused. At mid-day on August 24th the verdict was given.
We are asked to believe that this was a properly constituted trial, but just consider the matter. Here were sixteen men, alleged to be on trial for their lives, and whole proceedings only lasted five day! The prosecutor, in his final speech (which occupied nearly a day), address the judges as follows:-
“With all thoroughness, you have subjected to investigation and judicial verification each of these proofs, every fact, every event, every step of the defendants, etc.” (Page 1125)
All this careful verification is supposed to have been done in three days of the trial, as the prosecutor was speaking at the beginning of the fourth, yet there are at least 28 volumes of evidence, as in one place “Vol. 28, file 112 of the Record,” is quoted! They certainly are fast workers! At mid-day of the 24th the accused were sentenced. They appealed. The appeal was disallowed and they were shot on the 25th.So the Court of Appeal must have done some fast work, too, if they also went through the volumes of evidence!
NO DOCUMENTS PRODUCED AT THE TRIAL
The only evidence produced at the trial was the statement of the accused and the statements of two witnesses brought forward by the prosecution. One of these was Smirnov’s wife and the other was also a “suspect”! No documents were produced as evidence (apart from statements alleged to have been made by the accused in preliminary investigations). A letter is referred to as having been received from Trotsky and destroyed. An open letter that was not read. No information is given of how the authorities got wind of the “plot” and how they were able, for instance, to extract from V. Olberg on February 21st practically all the alleged details of the “plot.” We use the word “alleged” here for reasons that will appear later.
The lack of information on how the authorities knew of the “plot” is striking, because a good deal of it consisted of private conversations in cars, private apartments, etc. The value of the evidence of the accused may be gauged from the opening of the final statement of Yevdokimov:-
“How can anyone believe even a single word of ours? Begins the defendant Yevdokimov. Who will believe us, who played a base comedy at the fresh grave of Kirov whom we had killed, us who only accidentally and through no fault of ours failed to become the murderers of Stalin, and of other leaders of the people! Who would believe us who are facing the court as a counter-revolutionary bandit gang, as allies of fascism, of the Gestapo?” (Page 1137.)
In his final speech, the prosecutor, Vishinisky, also says of them:-
But where is there proof of this, how can we believe them when they have surpassed all conceptions of treachery, of perfidy, deceit, betrayal, treason?”
And yet it is the words of the “perfidious”gang that is the only evidence of the plot and of their guilt – no other evidence was brought forward.
Let us consider the point. As there was no evidence but their own, how were they induced to give it? Remorse and repentance won’t fit, because if they are the type the prosecution makes out, they could not have suffered from either, and certainly they would not have deliberately asked to be shot! Of Zinoviev it is said:-
“In spite obstinate denial, the accused Zinoviev was compelled by the weight of evidence which was brought against him by the investigation authorities to admit that ‘The main object which the Trotsky-Zinovievite centre pursued was to kill the leaders of the C. P. S. U., and in the first place to kill Stalin and Kirov’,” (Page 1100.)
What was the “weight of evidence” that could compel a man of Zinoviev’s intelligence to admit the direction of a murder plot? The only evidence given in the report is the unsupported statements of people who “have surpassed all conceptions of treachery, of perfidy, deceit, betrayal, treason”! And all these statements were extracted at secret investigations conducted by the secret police!
One of the principal witnesses, the accused Bakayev, is alleged to have given details of a plot that implicated everybody, and made himself out to be an assassin. No information is given of how he came to do that, and yet Vashinsky describes him as follows:-
“Precisely, Bakayev, who is known as a man full of bitter hate, a resolute man, a man stubborn and persevering, with very great will-power, of strong character and endurance, a man who was capable of stopping at nothing to achieve these aims which he set himself!” (Page 1136.)
What dark and terrible means were employed to get such a man to make an abject confession and to end his final statement by declaring that he “realises the entire gravity of his crime and expects a just and deserved sentence from the proletarian court”? (Page 1138.) Perhaps some day we shall know.
“CONFESSIONS” THAT ARE INCREDIBLE.
Let us take a look at the statement of one of the accused, remembering that he is also supposed to fit the prosecutor’s edifying description. While doing so the reader should try and imagine what means must have been employed to extract such abject and self-destroying admissions. Limits of space compel us to make our quotations as few as possible.
“During the cross-examination of Kamenev the court dealt in detail with the policy of double-dealing employed by the plotters in addition to terror in their struggle against the Party.
“Vashinsky: How is one to judge the articles and declarations which you wrote in 1933, and in which you expressed devotion to the Party? As deceit?
“Kamenev: No, worse than deceit.
“Vashinsky: Breach of faith?
“Vashinsky: Worse than deceit, worse than breach of faith. Do you find this word? Is it treachery?
“Kamenev: You have said it.
“Vashinsky: Zinoviev, do you confirm this?
“Speaking of the motives of his conduct Kamenev stated: ‘I can only admit one thing, that having set myself the monstrous and criminal aim of disorganizing the government of the Socialist country, we used such methods of struggle as we considered corresponded with this aim and which were just as vile and contemptible as the aim we set ourselves.’
“Vashinsky: Was your struggle against the leadership of the Party and of the government inspired by low personal motives, by personal thirst for power?
“Kamenev: Yes by thirst for power by our group.
“Vashinsky: Do you not realize that this has nothing in common with social ideals?
“Kamenev: It has just as much in common as revolution and counter-revolution have in common.
“Vashinsky: Do you clearly realise that you are conducting the fight against Socialism?
“Kamenev: We clearly realise that we were struggling against the leadership of the Party and of the government which leading the country to Socialism.
“Vashinsky: Thus you are also against Socialism?
“Kamenev: You draw the conclusion of the historian and prosecutor.” (Page 1113)
Now, Reader, can it be possible that you are gullible enough to swallow the above as an example of a genuine confession? The thing is too utterly childish to pass.
According to the statements in the report, the accused are cross-examined. Here is another sample of the cross-examination, which surely speaks for itself:-
“Bakayev tries to make his responsibility appear less in his statement. He says that out of the whole terroristic activities of the Centre he only knew of the decision to murder Stalin and Kirov, and that the first he had heard of the other acts of terrorism, which were in course of being prepared, was from the indictment.
“Vashinsky: Bakayev, you were a member of the terrorist Centre? Is that correct?
“Bakayev: That is so.
“Vashinsky: In the year 1933, you were commissioned to organise the murder of Comrade Stalin. Is that so?
“Vashinsky: You adopted a number of practical measures in order to carry out this commission, that is to say, to organise several attempts, to organise an attack on Comrade Stalin, which miscarried through no fault of yours?
“Bakayev: That is correct.
“Vashinsky: In addition you took part in the murder of Comrade Kirov?
“Vashinsky: Moreover you went to Leningrad on behalf of the terrorist Centre to cheek up on the preparations for this murder?
“Vashinsky: On returning from Leningrad you reported that everything was in order, that the preparations for the murder were going forward successfully. During your visit you met Kotolinov, Rumiantzev and others?
“Vashinsky: In addition you met Nikolaiev, gave him directions for the murder, and satisfied yourself that Nikolaiev was a determined person and would be in a position to carry out the task which had been set him?
“During the further course of the examination, however, Bakayev tried to make his part smaller by stating that he was only a ‘co-organiser’ in the preparations for the dastardly murder of Comrade Kirov.
“Vashinsky: You give signals, you check up on the times, you checkup on everything that has anything to do with your signal, you carry through an act; does not all that mean being the organiser of the of the crime?
“Bakayev: Yes, that means being the organiser of the crime.
“Vashinsky: Therefore, we are right in saying that you were the organiser of the murder of Comrade Kirov?
“Bakayev: Well, yes, only I was not alone.
“Vashinsky: You were not alone, Yevdokimov was with you. Defendant Zinoviev, you also were an organizer of the murder of Comrade Kirov?
“Zinoviev: In my opinion Bakayev is right if he means that those principally responsible for the dastardly murder of Kirov were myself – Zinoviev – Trotsky and Kamenev, who organised the united terrorist Centre. In this Bakayev played big part, but by no means a preponderating one.
“Vashinsky: The decisive roles were played by yourself, Trotsky and Kamenev. Defendant Kamenev, do you agree with Zinoviev’s statement that you, Trotsky and Zinoviev, were the principal organisers, and that Bakayev played the part of practical organiser?
“SHOOT THE REPTILES.”
This may be a fitting point to notice that the report is itself a piece of propaganda on behalf the Politburo – the leading members of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. They are frequently eulogised in it, and whatever there may have been in the statements or attitude of the accused that would tell in their favour at all, no mention is made in the report. Smirnov is a case in point. According foreign journalists who were in Moscow at the time, his attitude at the trial was by no means as abject as the report conveys. The Manchester Guardian correspondent states that Smirnov refused to recant. (Manchester guardian, August 24th, 1936).
The Moscow correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (August 21st, 1936) also gives a favourable idea of Smirnov’s attitude. This correspondent makes some further remarks that are worth quoting in full, as they throw an interesting light on the proceedings. In order to understand the opening remarks, we should mention that Sokolnikov, Rykov, Tomsky, Bukharin and Karl Radek had already been accused by the prisoners of complicity in the murder plot.
“Strangely enough, to-day’s newspapers suppress all reference to the charges made against these men, and Government officials state that, except for Sokolnikov, they are not yet under arrest. This adds to the general strangeness to the proceedings.
“To-day’s papers publish articles and resolutions headed “Shoot the Reptiles,” but nowhere do they mention where the trial is being held. Precautions have been taken to prevent the general public noticing arrivals and departures at the court house.
“The 300 people admitted to the court are for the most part newspaper representatives, officials and Secret Police, some in splendid uniforms and others in plain clothes. Some members of the Communist Youth Movement are also allowed to be present. Entirely contrary to all precedent, no photographs have been taken.”
This correspondent describes the arrival of Sofonova, who was brought from prison, where she awaits trial for conspiracy to murder Voroshilov.
“Sofonova, a grey-faced and hollow-cheeked woman of about 35, was dressed in a new drab beige frock with red facings. At the microphone, through which all the prisoners give evidence, she slowly repeated in a dull voice the charges she had made against Smirnov when under interrogation by the Secret Police.”
The prisoners’ evidence was considered sufficient to convict each other, and yet, although it was equally clear in the case of Bukharin and Rykov, we learn since that they have not brought to trial. Another instance of the fake nature of the business. Note in the above that the general public were not admitted to the trial, but some Communist youths were. Was this to give the latter a lesson or because they were too inexperienced to see through the business? Also a microphone was used. People could not see, but they were allowed to hear!
The description of Sofonova giving evidence in dull voice suggests the effects of the secret investigation and what means may have been used to terrify and cow the accused. The Evening Standard writes:-
“Most of the prisoners were near to collapse when the judge pronounced sentence.” (25/8/1936.)
PROPAGANDA FOR STALIN
Another instance of the extent to which intimidation must have been carried is the obvious putting in the mouth of Kamenev the following self-condemnation and eulogy of the murderous clique at the head of Russia to-day:-
“The morning session of August 20th begins with an examination of the defendant L. B. Kamenev.
“‘The terrorist conspiracy was organised and led by myself, Zinoviev and Trotsky,’ testified Kamenev. ‘I came to the view that the policy of the Party, the policy of its leadership had won in the only sense in which a political victory is possible in the land of socialism, that this policy had been accepted by the toiling masses. Our attempt to speculate on the possibility of a split in the Party leadership also failed. We had reckoned on the Right group of Rykov, Bukharin and Trotsky. The elimination of this group from the leadership and the fact that it was discredited in the eyes of the toilers knocked this trump out of our hands too. We could not hope for any serious internal difficulties to overthrow the leadership which had carried the country through the most difficult stages, through industrialisation and collectivisation. There remained two roads: either honestly and completely to put an end to the struggle against the Party or to continue it, without any hope, however, for mass support, without a political platform, without a banner, i.e., by means of individual terror. We chose the second road. We were guided in doing this by boundless bitterness against the leadership of the Party and country and by a thirst for power to which we had once been near and from which we had been removed by the progress of historical development.’
“Replying to Vishinsky’s questions the defendant Kamenev related to the court how the Zinovievites had established a bloc with the Trotskyites with a view to organising a terrorist struggle against the Party and Soviet state.
“‘We conducted negotiations for a bloc with Smirnov, Mrachkovsky, Ter-Vaganyan not as with authors of independent political directives. They were of value to us as persons who were following with precision and directives of Trotsky. Knowing Smirnov and Mrachkovsky as active Trotskyites, knowing of Smirnov’s trip abroad and of the fact that he had established contact there with Trotsky, we were absolutely convinced that the directive regarding the terrorist policy conveyed by Smirnov and Mrachkovsky and defended by them was a precise directive from Trotsky. On the basis of this and owing to the fact that Trotsky’s directives for terrorism coincided with our own sentiments, we concluded what is referred to here as a “bloc,” and what should be called a close terrorist conspiracy. This conspiracy was built up in 1932 as an organised league which had no other platform and which took as its aim the capture of power by terrorist disorganisation of the government, by elimination and murder of Stalin as the leader of the Party and country and of his closest associates.’” (Page 1112)
The above is a fairly clear illustration of the propaganda side of the trial.
WHAT WERE THE SECRET POLICE DOING?
Let us now turn to some other points.
In December, 1934, and January, 1935, there were two trials in relation to the killing of Kirov. Kamenev, Zinoviev, Yevdokimov and Bakayev were charged in connection with this business and imprisoned, as were also several others. If there was a group of murder plotters then the government was obviously alive to it and secret police were on the job. In spite of this we are asked to believe that, as late as May, 1936, the plot was still being carried on, partly directed from prison, and that Fritz-David, Olberg, Berman-Yurin and company were still going ahead with the assassination project. Here is the statement from Berman-Yurin:-
“Berman-Yurin: In September, 1935, the congress was to have been convened. I gave Fritz David the Browning with the bullets, so that he would hide it in his apartment. But before the opening of the congress Fritz David informed me that he again was unable to obtain a ticket, but that he himself would be at the congress. We agreed that he then would commit the terrorist act.
“Several days later Fritz David and I met, and he said that he had been unable to shoot. He, Fritz David, had sat in a box; there were many people in a box and there was no possibility of shooting. Thus this plan of ours also failed.
“In December, Fritz David informed me that recently a messenger from Sedov and Trotsky had arrived, and asked for information why the terrorist action had not yet been carried out. Fritz David gave him exact information, and received instructions to seize some other opportunity, some interview for reception, to which I or Fritz David must without fail secure entry and there kill Stalin. In May, 1936, Fritz David informed Berman-Yurin that he had again had a messenger from Trotsky, a German, ‘who spoke extremely sharply with him, accused him of inactivity, of irresolution, of lack of courage, and literally demanded that he make use of any event to kill Stalin. It is necessary to hurry, no time must be lost,’ he said.
“‘At the end of May, 1936, I was arrested, and my terrorist activity was cut short.” (Page1119.)
As one writer has pointed out, the suggestion in the second paragraph above is that delegates at conferences are not allowed to move about freely.
While they were all under suspicion, and knew it, they are supposed to have been traveling freely back and forth reporting and plotting – and they all knew the ramifications and the power of the secret police!
NO HOTEL BRISTOL IN COPENHAGEN
All through the business, efforts were made to link up Trotsky as the real director of the conspiracy. Here is Holzman’s statement:-
“After his arrival in Berlin, Holzman told the court, he rang up Sedov, and arranged to meet him at the Zoological Gardens. As Holzman and Sedov did not know one another, it was arranged that each should be carrying the copy of Berliner Tageblatt and the Vorwarts. After the two men met, Sedov proposed to Holzman they take a taxi.
“We drove in taxi – Holzman continues his disposition – but I do not remember the secret. Sedov took me into a flat; there was nobody in the flat. It was on the fourth floor. Here I gave him the report and code. … I met him like this six to eight times in the course of four months. ‘In November,’ Holzman continued, ‘I again ’phoned Sedov, and we met again. Sedov said to me: ‘As you are getting ready to go to the U.S.S.R., I would advise you to go with me to Copenhagen, where my father is.’”
“Vashinsky: That is?
“Holzman: That is, Trotsky.
“Vashinsky: You went?
“Holzman: I agreed, and told Sedov that in two or three days I would go to him in Copenhagen and stay at the Hotel Bristol, where we could meet. I went straight from the station to the hotel, and met Sedov in the lounge.” (Page 1120.)
Let us consider this statement.
The second paragraph states that Holzman went to a flat with Sedov, but Holzman could not remember the street, although he visited the flat “six to eight times in the course of four months.” How very conscious?
The second-paragraph states that they met in 1932 at the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen. Unfortunately for this statement the diplomatic correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (September 17th, 1936) points out that the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen was pulled down in 1917! Possibly one of those who took part in preparing the case had been in Copenhagen during the War but did not know the dirty trick someone had played in 1917!
The above is an excellent specimen of the flimsiness of the evidence at the trial. The case is full of discrepancies and matters that are too much strain on the credulity of intelligent people.
It is worth remembering that in spite of the efforts of the Nazis in the German Reichstag Fire Trial in 1033, George Dimitrov was able to defend himself and eventually to get scot-free, and this was under what Communists are pleased to call “Bourgeois Justice.” Dimitrov did not appear before a packed court, and he was not subjected to the Russian methods of extracting “confessions.” The tone and nature of these confessions stamps them as the product of the Stalinite group and not of the accused.
This case should help to impress upon the workers’ minds the road Dictatorships, with their secret police, are bound to travel. Once free discussion is killed, Dictators have only one means of keeping in touch with mass opinion – secret police. The power wielded by those who control the latter enable them to perpetrate in safety what dark deeds they wish. Behind the scenes the Dictators struggle for control and it is woe for the loser. Ten years ago, Kamenev and Zinoviev united with Stalin to push out Trotsky. Today Nemesis has overtaken them.
The lengths to which the prosecution are prepared to go, in the effort to link up Trotsky with the German Secret Police, are shown in the case of Valentin Olberg, who is accused of obtaining a passport through the German Secret Police. The following dialogue also further illustrates how well the Russian Government have schooled their victims in self-vilification.
“Vashinsky: Who is Tukhalevsky?
“Olberg: ‘Tukhalevsky is director of the Slavonic Library of the Foreign Ministry in Prague. I learned from my brother that he was an agent of the German Secret Police. Tukhalevsky was informed of my visit and told me that he would endeavour to obtain for me the necessary documents. Thereupon I wrote to Sedov in Paris, informing him of the proposal the German Secret Police agent had made and asking whether Trotsky approved an agreement with such an agent. After some time I received a reply sanctioning my action, that is to say, my agreement with Tukhalevsky. Sedov wrote that the utmost secrecy was necessary, and that none of the other members of the Trotskyite organisation should be informed of this arrangement.
“Olberg received the passport through Tukhalevsky and certain Bend, from Lukas Parades, the Central Consul of Honduras in Berlin, who was staying in Prague at that time.
Olberg: He sold me a passport for 13,000 Czech crowns. I received this money from Sedov.
“Vashinsky: Had any relations with the Republic of Honduras?
“Olberg: No, never.
“Vashinsky: Let me show this to you: Is this the passport? (The court commandant produces the passport.)” (Page 1117.)
Commenting on this the correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (August 29th) gives the following details on Olberg’s life:-
“Olberg’s father was Socialist who the Soviet Union to settle in Germany. He took out German naturalisation papers, but in 1933 he had to leave Germany with his family, and was deprived of his German citizenship.
“Valentin Olberg settled in Prague with his wife, living in great poverty. He belonged to no political party, but was greatly attracted by the land of his childhood, Russia. He tried to get an academic post in Russia, and applied for a visa at the Russian consulate in Prague in 1934, but was told that he could not have visa unless he had a passport. It is possible to acquire the passports of certain States by purchase, and this has been done by émigrés who have been deprived of their own. Olberg succeeded in buying a Honduran passport for 7,000 Czech crowns (not 13,000 as ‘admitted’ in the trial). His wife’s parents also contributed a sum which they raised by the sale of old jewellery. That he obtained the passport from the Gestapo is, therefore, untrue.”
The correspondent, quite rightly, says that inaccurate “admissions” like this throw doubt on all admissions made by the prisoners.
WHO ARE THE NEXT “TRAITORS”?
Vashinsky’s final speech is packed with fulsome flattery of Stalin and his associates – perhaps he also is thinking of his head! The following is a fair sample of it:-
“The whole country responded to the treacherous shot of December 1st, 1934, with a unanimous curse to the murderers. The whole country – millions and tens of millions of people were stirred and again demonstrated their solidarity and unity, their devotion to the great banner of the Party of Lenin-Stalin. Like an indestructible iron wall the whole land of the Soviets stood up in the defence of its chiefs and leaders, for each of whose hairs the criminal madmen will answer to us with their heads. In this boundless love of the millions of toilers for our Party, for the Central Committee, for our Stalin and his glorious companions, in this immeasurable love of the people lies the entire power of the defence and protection of our chiefs, the leaders, the country and the Party against traitors, murderers and bandits!” (Page 1125.)
If these words mean anything, is it not strange that the opposition should be pursued with such ferocity and disposed of with such haste? In such circumstances how was it possible to work up a dangerous conspiracy? And further, why the desperate anxiety to get hold of Trotsky to wipe him out also?
In conclusion let us note the names of the present leaders of Russia. The prosecutor gives them in the second paragraph of his final speech:-
“Terrible and monstrous is the chain of these crimes directed against our Socialist fatherland, crimes each of which deserves the severest condemnation and the severest penalty. Terrible and monstrous is the guilt of these criminals and murderers who raised their hand against the leaders of the Party, against Comrades Stalin, Voroshilov, Zdhanov, Kaganovich, Orjonikidze, Kosier, and Postyshev, against our leaders, the leaders of the Soviet state. Monstrous are the crimes of this band of people who not only prepared terrorist acts but killed one of the best sons of the working class, one among those most devoted to the cause of Socialism, one of the most beloved pupils of the great Stalin, the fiery tribune of the Proletarian Revolution, the unforgettable Sergei Mironovich Kirov.” (Page 1125.) (Italics ours.)
We now await news of the struggle between these six for power. We are not at present to prophesy which of them will be named as traitors!