None of the incidents or dialogue in The Great Conspiracy has been invented by the authors. The material has been drawn from various documentary sources which are indicated in the text or listed in the Bibliographical Notes.
1. The Trial of the Industrial Party
The only country unaffected by the World Crisis was the one-sixth of the earthwhich had been deliberately excluded from world affairs since 1917, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
While the rest of mankind writhed in the grip of the crisis, the Soviet Union was embarking on the most grandiose economic and industrial expansion in all history. Stalin's first Five-Year Plan was galvanizing Old Russia into unprecedented feats of creative labor. Whole cities were rising out of the barren steppes; new mines, mills and factories were springing up. Millions of peasants were transforming themselves overnight into trained workers, engineers, scientists, doctors, architects and educators. In a few years the progress of a thousand was achieved, and moujiks whose ancestors from time immemorial had bent their ragged backs over their primitive scythes, mattocks and wooden plows now harvested the fructified soil with tractors and combines, and combated the crop pests with chemicals sprayed from airplanes. And amidst this gigantic national and revolutionary effort, a Soviet generation which had never known the degradation of Czarist tyranny was rising to manhood. . . .
At the same time, the Soviet Government struck hard at its enemies within. A series of three trials exposed and smashed the Torgprom intrigue which represented the last major effort of Anglo-French imperialism and Czarist counterrevolution in Russia.
On October 28, 1930, Professor Ramzin, along with many other leaders and members of the Industrial Party, were rounded up and arrested. Raids by OGPU agents occurred simultaneously throughout the Soviet Union, and underground members of the Social Revolutionary, Menshevik and White Guard movements were taken into custody along with a number of Polish, French and Rumanian secret service agents.
The trial of the Industrial Party leaders took place before the Soviet Supreme Court in Moscow and lasted from November 25 to December 7, 1930. The eight defendants, including Professor Ramzin and Victor Laritchev, were charged with aiding foreign conspiracies against the Soviet Union; with carrying on espionage and sabotage activities; and with plotting to overthrow the Soviet Government. Confronted with the evidence which Soviet Intelligence agents had gathered against them, one by one the accused broke down and admitted their guilt. Their testimony not only gave full details of their espionage-sabotage operations, but also implicated Sir Henri Deterding, Colonel Joinville, Leslie Urquhart, Raymond Poincare and other eminent European soldiers, statesmen and businessmen who had backed the Industrial Party and the Torgprom.
Five of the defendants, including Professor Ramzin and Victor Laritclicv, were sentenced to the supreme penalty - to be shot as traitors to their country. The other three defendants, technicians who had operated under orders, were sentenced to ten years' imprisonment.(1)
2. The Trial of the Mensheviks
Shortly after the debacle of the Industrial Party, the Soviet authorities struck again. On March 1, 1931, fourteen leaders of an extensive sabotage ring, made up of former Mensheviks, were placed on trial before the Soviet Supreme Court in Moscow.(2)
The defendants at the Menshevik Trial included a number of highly placed officials in vital Soviet administrative and technical agencies. In the early days of the Soviet regime these Mensheviks had pretended to renounce their hostility toward the Bolsheviks. Co-operating with the Industrial Party and other secret anti-Soviet elements, they had maneuvered their way into key government posts. One of the Menshevik conspirators, Groman, had secured a high position in the Soviet industrial planning bureau (Gosplan), and had tried to sabotage phases of the first Five-Year Plan by drawing up incorrect estimates and lowering production goals in vital industries.
Between 1928 and 1930 the "All-Union Bureau," which was the Central Committee of the secret Menshevik organization, received a total of approximately 500,000 rubles from foreign sources. The largest contributor was the Torgproln, but other anti-Soviet groups also made sizable donations to the conspirators and maintained close contact with them. The Mensheviks were strongly supported by the Second International - the labor organization controlled by the anti-Soviet Social Democrats and Socialists.
According to the defendants, their chief liaison with the foreign anti-Soviet circles had been the former Russian Menshevik leader Raphael Abromovitch, who had fled to Germany after the Revolution. One of the ringleaders of the conspiracy, Vassili Sher, testified: -
In the year 1928, Abromovitch came from abroad. We members of the "All-Union Bureau" were previously informed of his journey . . .
Abromovitch pointed out the necessity of concentrating the main weight of the work on the groups of responsible Soviet employees. He also pointed out that these groups must be united and begin a more decisive tempo of disorganizing activity.
Another of the Menshevik conspirators, Lazar Salkind, told the court: -
. . . Abromovitch drew the conclusion that it was necessary to begin with active sabotage methods in the various branches of the Soviet economic system, to disorganize the Soviet economic policy, in the eyes of the working class and the peasant masses. The second basis of the struggle against the Soviet power was military intervention, declared Abromovitch.(3)
On March 9, 1931, the Soviet Supreme Court handed down its decision. The Menshevik defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to ten years.
3. The Trial of the Vickers Engineers
Around 9:30 P.M on the night of March 11, 1933, the Soviet Government struck its final blow at the remnants of the Torgprom conspiracy. OGPU agents in Moscow arrested six British engineers and ten Russians, all employees of the Moscow Office of the British electrical-engineering concern of Metropolitan-Vickers. The British subjects and their Russian associates were charged with having carried on espionage and sabotage in the Soviet Union on behalf of the British Intelligence Service.
The chief Vickers representative in Moscow had been a man named Captain C. S. Richards. He had hurriedly left for England just before the arrests. Richards had been a British agent in Russia since 1917 when, as captain of an Intelligence Servicedetachment, he took part in the anti-Soviet intrigues which preceded the Allied occupation of Archangel. Under Richards's direction, the Moscow Office of Metro-Vickers had subsequently become the center of British secret service operations in Russia.
Among the British "technicians" arrested by the Soviet authorities in Moscow was one of Captain Richards's former associates in the Archangel expedition, Allan Monkhouse, who served as Richards's second-in-command.
Monkhouse, while pleading not guilty to the current charges, admitted that he had formerly been associated with Richards. He testified: -
Mr. Richards I met in 1917 in Moscow and later on in Archangel, where he, as I confirm, occupied the position of captain of the Intelligence Service. It is known to me that Mr. Richards was in Moscow in April or May 1918. I do not know for what he came to Moscow but I know from what he told me that he secretly crossed the frontier to Finland at that time. In 1923 he was appointed a director of the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Export Company. In the same year he went to Moscow for negotiations about supplying of equipment.
Monkhouse had been sent back to Russia in 1924 to work under Richards in the Vickers Moscow Office.
Leslie Charles Thornton, another of the arrested Vickers employees, who had been sent to Moscow as Vickers Chief Engineer, was the son of a wealthy Czarist textile manufacturer and a Russian subject by births He had become a British subject after the Revolution and an agent of the British Intelligence Service. Two days after his arrest, Thornton wrote and signed a deposition which stated: -
All our spying operations on U.S.S.R. territory are directed by the British Intelligence Service, through their agent, C. S. Richards, who occupies the position of Managing Director of the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Export Company, Ltd.
Spying operations on U.S.S.R. territory were directed by myself and Monkhouse, representatives of the above-mentioned British firm, who are contractors, by official agreements, to the Soviet Government, for the supply of turbines and electrical equipment and the furnishing of technical aid agreement. On the instructions of C. S. Richards given to me this end, British personnel were gradually drawn into the spying organization after their arrival on U.S.S.R. territory and instructed as to the information required.
The Vickers "engineer" William MacDonald also admitted the charges and stated: -
The leader of the reconnaissance work in the U.S.S.R. disguised under the shield of Metropolitan-Vickers was Mr. Thornton, who worked in Moscow as chief erecting engineer. The head of the representation was Mr. Monkhouse who also took part in this illegal work of Mr. Thornton. The assistant of Mr. Thornton for travelling purposes and his associate in the espionage work was engineer Cushny, officer of the British army, now an engineer of the firm Metropolitan-Vickers. This is the main group of reconnaissance workers which did the espionage work in the U.S.S.R.
The arrest of these Vickers "engineers" was the occasion for an immediate storm of anti-Soviet protest in Britain. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, without waiting to hear the charges and evidence in the case, categorically, declared that the British subjects who had been arrested were absolutely innocent. Tory members of Parliament once again demanded severance of all commercial and diplomatic relations with Moscow. The British Ambassador to Soviet Russia, Sir Esmond Ovey, a friend of Sir Henri Deterding, stormed into the Soviet Foreign Office in Moscow and told Maxim Litvinov that the prisoners must be immediately released without trial in order to avoid "grave consequences to our mutual relations."
When the trial finally opened on April 12, in the Blue Hall of the old Nobles' Club in Moscow, the London Times of that day spoke of "a packed court, subservient to their persecutors." The Observer on April 16 described the trial as "an ordeal conducted in the name of justice, but hearing no resemblance to any judicial proceedings that civilization knows." The Daily Express on April 14 described the Soviet Prosecutor Vyshinsky: "The carroty-haired, red-faced Russian spat insults . . . pounded the table." The Evening Standard that same week described the Soviet Defense Counsel Braude as "the sort of Jew one might meet any evening in Shaftesbury Avenue."
The British public was given to understand that no genuine trial of the accused was taking place, and that the British engineers were being subjected to the most frightful tortures to exact from them admissions of their guilt. The Daily Express on March 20 had exclaimed: "Our countrymen are undergoing the horrors of a Russian prison!" The Times on April 17 declared: "Great anxiety is felt as to what is happening to Mr. MacDonald in prison between the sittings of the court. Those long acquainted with Chekist methods think his life is in danger." Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail, which within a few months was to become the semiofficial organ of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Fascist Party, told its readers of a strange "Tibetan drug" which was being used by the OGPU to sap the will power of their "victims."
All the British subjects, however, subsequently revealed that they had been treated with great politeness and consideration by the Soviet authorities. None of them had been subjected to any form of coercion, third-degree methods or force. Allan Monkhouse, who, in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, blandly continued to deny that he had any knowledge of what his colleagues were doing, declared of his OGPU examiners in a statement in the London Dispatch on March 15: -
They were extraordinarily nice to me and exceedingly reasonable in their questioning. My examiners seemed first-rate men who knew their job. The OGPU prison is the last word in efficiency, entirely clean, orderly and well organized. This is the first time that I have ever been arrested, but I have visited English prisons and can attest that the OGPU quarters are much superior. . . . OGPU officials . . . showed every concern for my comfort.
Nevertheless, the British Government, under Tory pressure, imposed an embargo on all imports from Soviet Russia. Trade between the two countries was stopped. . . .
On April 15, after a private interview with British representatives in Moscow, Leslie Thornton abruptly retracted his signed admission of guilt. In court he admitted that the facts he had written down were substantially, correct; but the word "spy," he claimed, was inaccurate. Trying to explain why he had used the word in the first place, Thornton said that he had been "excited" at the time. Under public questioning in court by the Soviet Prosecutor Vyshinsky, he admitted that he had made the admissions of his "own free will," "without any pressure or coercion," and in his own words: -
Vyshinsky. Nothing was distorted?
Thornton. No, you did not change anything.
Vyshinsky. But perhaps [Assistant Prosecutor] Roginsky did?
Vyshinsky. Perhaps the OGPU distorted it? THORNTON. No, I signed it with my own hand. VYSHINSKY. And with your head? When you were writing did you consider and think?
Thornton. (Does not reply.)
Vyshinsky. And whose head is thinking for you now? THORNTON. At present I feel different.
William MacDonald, after a private interview with British representatives in Moscow, also suddenly retracted his original statements. Then, confronted with the evidence accumulated by the Soviet authorities, MacDonald again changed his mind and returned to his original plea of guilty. His last words to the court were: "I have admitted my guilt and have nothing more to add."
On April 18, the Soviet Supreme Court handed down its verdict. With one exception all the Russian accomplices were found guilty and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years. The British subject, Albert Gregory, was acquitted on the grounds that the evidence against him was insufficient. The other five British engineers were found guilty. Monkhouse, Nordwall and Cushny were ordered to be deported from the Soviet Union. Leslie Thornton and William MacDonald were sentenced respectively to two and three years' imprisonment.
The sentences were light and the case was hastily concluded. The Soviet Government had accomplished its aim of smashing the remnants of the Torgprom conspiracy and the center of British Intelligence operations in Russia. A mutual compromise was effected between the Soviet and British Governments. Trade was resumed and the British defendants, including Thornton and MacDonald, were shipped back to England. . . .
A far more dangerous phenomenon than British Tory hostility to Soviet Russia had arisen on the international political horizon.
Adolf Hitler had seized supreme power in Germany.
1. Two days after the completion of the trial, Professor Rainzin and the four other defendants who had been sentenced to death petitioned the Soviet Supreme Court for a reprieve. The court granted the petition and commuted the sentences of death to sentences of ten years' imprisonment on the grounds that Ramzin and his colleagues had been the tools of the real conspirators who were outside the Soviet Union. In the years following the trial, Professor Ramzin, who was granted every opportunity by the Soviet authorities for new scientific work, became completely won over to the Soviet way of life and began making valuable contributions to the industrial program of the U.S.S.R. On July 7, 1943, Professor Ramzin was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Joseph Stalin Prize of $30,000 for the invention of a simplified turbo-generator, said to be better than any other in the world. Under a decree issued by the Kremlin, the turbo-generator bears the inventor's name.
2. The Mensheviks were a faction within the Russian Social Democratic Party, which was the original Russian Marxist organization. At the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party, held in London in 1903, the organization split into two rival groups. Subsequently, these two groups formed themselves into separate parties. Lenin's group were called Bolsheviks (from bolshinstvo, meaning majority); Lenin's opponents were called Mensheviks (from menshintsvo, meaning minority). The Bolsheviks, at Lenin's suggestion, later took the name of Communists, and the official title of the Bolshevik Party became: Communist Party of Russia (Bolsheviks). The Mensheviks corresponded to the European Social Democrats and Socialists, with whom they formed personal and organizational affiliations.
3. The Second international denounced the trial of the Mensheviks as "political persecution" by Stalin's "bureaucratic dictatorship." Abromovitch issued a statement denying that he had traveled to the Soviet Union and participated in secret conferences there. He admitted, however that "there has been an illegally active organization of our Party there, whose representatives or individual members are in communication by letter and from the point of view of organization with our foreign delegation in Berlin."
Abromovitch later came to the United States. For his current activities in America, see page 348.