50 Years Ago: The Russian show trials

It had been assumed by many newspaper correspondents in Russia that the series of trials of Stalins opponents and potential rivals had ended, and Stalin himself had talked of stopping the judicial persecution at least of the more obscure victims. But the trial of the twenty-one Old Bolshevists is barely ended before there are reports of further public trials involving highly placed generals and others.

The usual confessions were made by these Old Bolshevists that they had been the agents of Japan, Germany, Great Britain, and so on, but with the difference that the dates of the treachery were placed much farther back. Rakovsky “confesses” that he was in the pay of the British Secret Service in 1924. Sharangovitch was spying for the Poles in 1921. Rosenholtz began his espionage for Germany in 1923. Trotsky (but he isn’t in Moscow, so someone else had to confess for him) worked for Britain from 1926 and for Germany from 1921. Bukharin confessed that he was plotting against Lenin in 1918.

All of this leads to an interesting speculation. Either the confessions are false or they are genuine. If the latter, then we have to believe that right back in the early days, during and after the Bolshevist seizure of power, the leaders were secretly conspiring against each other. It will be recalled that Lenin and other exiled leaders reached Russia in 1917 in a train which crossed Germany and was placed at their disposal by the German military authorities. The charge was made that Lenin and his friends were nothing but German agents paid by Germany to disorganise the Russian army. The charge was denied by Lenin and the denial was accepted by the working-class organisations generally. But if, as the Communists say, these Moscow confessions are genuine, then many of the men concerned were at the very beginning hopelessly corrupt. If the rest of them, why not Lenin?

[From an article “Another Russian Sacrificial Feast“, Socialist Standard April 1938.]