The Moscow Trial was Fair
By D. N. PRITT, K.C., M.P.
I STUDIED the legal procedure in criminal cases
in Soviet Russia somewhat carefully in 1932, and concluded (as published at the
time in "Twelve Studies in Soviet Russia") that the procedure gave the ordinal
accused a very fair trial. Having learnt from my legal friends in Moscow on my
return this summer that the principal changes realised or shortly impending were
all in the direction of giving greater independence to the Bar and the judges
and greater facilities to the accused, I was particularly interested to be able
to attend the trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev and others which took place on
Here was, born the point of view of a lawyer, a
politician, or an ordinary citizen, a very good test of the system.
The charge was a serious one. A group of men,
almost all having earned high merit for their services at various stages of the
anxious and crowded history of Soviet Russia, still not two decades old, almost
all having been under some measure of suspicion for counter-revolutionary or
deviationist activities, and most of them having had such activities condoned in
the past on assurances of the loyalty in the future, were now charged with long,
cold-blooded, deliberate conspiracy to bring about the assassination of Kirov
(who was actually murdered in December, 1934), of Stalin, of Voroshilov and
other prominent leaders.
Their purpose, it seemed, was merely to seize
power for themselves, without any pretence that they had any substantial
following in the country and without any real policy or philosophy to replace
the existing Soviet Socialism. [They wanted capitalism. – RC ed.]
With all its difficulties and shortcomings, with
all the opposition, military or commercial, of the outside world, Soviet
Socialism has raised a terribly backward Asiatic State in some 19 years to a
State of world importance, of great industrial strength, and above all of a
standard of living which, starting somewhere about the level of the more
depressed peoples of India, has already overtaken that of many races of Eastern
Europe and will soon claim comparison with that of the most favoured of Western
And the charge against the men was not merely
made. It was admitted, admitted by men the majority of whom were shown by their
records to be possessed of physical and moral courage well adapted to protect
them from confessing under pressure. And at no stage was any suggestion made by
any of them that any sort of improper treatment had been used to persuade them
The first thing that struck me, as an English
lawyer, was the almost free-and-easy dameanour of the prisoners. They all looked
well; they all got up and spoke, even at length, whenever they wanted to do so
(for the matter of that, they strolled out, with a guard, when they wanted to).
The one or two witnesses who were called by the
prosecution were cross-examined by the prisoners who were affected by their
evidence, with the same freedom as would have been the case in England.
The prisoners voluntarily renounced counsel; they
could have had counsel without fee had they wished, but they preferred to
dispense with them. And having regard to their pleas of guilty and to their own
ability to speak, amounting in most cases to real eloquence, they probably did
not suffer by their decision, able as some of my Moscow colleagues are.
The most striking novelty, perhaps, to an English
lawyer, was the easy way in which first one and then another prisoner would
intervene in the course of the examination of one of their co-defendants,
without any objection from the Court or from the prosecutor, so that one got the
impression of a quick and vivid debate between four people, the prosecutor and
three prisoners, all talking together, if not actually at the same moment -- a
method which, whilst impossible with a jury, is certainly conducive to clearing
up disputes of fact with some rapidity
Far more important, however, if less striking,
were the final speeches.
In accordance with Soviet law, the prisoners had
the last word -- 15 speeches after the last chance of the prosecution to say
The Public prosecutor, Vishinsky, spoke first. He
spoke for four or five hours. He looked like a very intelligent and rather
mild-mannered English business man.
He spoke with vigour and clarity. He seldom
raised his voice. He never ranted, or shouted, or thumped the table. He rarely
looked at the public or played for effect.
He said strong things; he called the defendants
bandits, and mad dogs, and suggested that they ought to be exterminated. Even in
as grave a case as this, some English Attorney-Generals might not have spoken so
strongly; but in many cases less grave many English prosecuting counsel have
used much harsher words.
He was not interrupted by the Court or by any of
the accused. His speech was clapped by the public, and no attempt was made to
prevent the applause.
That seems odd to the English mind, but where
there is no jury it cannot do much harm, and it was noticeable throughout that
the Court’s efforts, by the use of a little bell, to repress the laughter that
was caused either by the prisoners’ sallies or by any other incident were not
But now came the final test. The 15 guilty men,
who had sought to overthrow the whole Soviet State, now had their rights to
speak; and they spoke.
Some at great length, some shortly, some
argumentatively, others with some measures of pleading; most with eloquence,
some with emotion; some consciously addressing the public in the crowded hall,
some turning to the court.
But they all said what they had to say.
They met with no interruption from the
prosecutor, with no more than a rare short word or two from the court; and the
public itself sat quiet, manifesting none of the hatred it must have felt.
They spoke without any embarrassment or
The executive authorities of U.S.S.R. may have
taken, by the successful prosecution of this case, a very big step towards
eradicating counter-revolutionary activities.
But it is equally clear that the judicature and
the prosecuting attorney of U.S.S.R. have taken at least as great a step towards
establishing their reputation among the legal systems of the modern world.
By PAT SLOAN
recently returned after 5 years in
Whenever there has been a big trial in the
U.S.S.R., there has been a flutter in the world Press. This is natural, for big
trials in any country are News, and when the trial has the additional feature of
being "Bolshevik" into the bargain, its possibilities of making the trial a
pretext for any and every kind of anti-Soviet slander, credible or incredible.
And the trial which has just concluded is no
exception. It is particularly sensational this time: (a) because a number of
well-known ex-members of the Bolshevik Party were the chief accused; (b)
because, in connection with the new Draft Constitution, the capitalist press of
all countries has been longing to get additional copy for the purpose of
minimising the significance of this important document; and (c) because the
fascist offensive [Nazis, Hitler. – RC ed.] against Peace and Democracy is at a
critical stage to-day.
As in all previous big Soviet trials, this one
has been declared a "frame-up." But just as Mr. Alan Monkhouse’s outburst in
court, during the famous Metro-Vickers trial, that the trial was a "frame-up,"
was never supported by one iota of evidence; so to-day, the allegation of
"frame-up" remains unsupported in the slightest degree.
The most serious statements which have appeared
in the Press, and the most misleading, are: (a) that Stalin now stands alone,
having "murdered" all the "Bolshevik Old Guard"; (b) that the trial was a
"frame-up" because the accused all confessed their guilt; and (c) that this
trial detracts from the significance of the new Draft Constitution.
If we just examine the present leadership in the
Bolshevik Party, and the positions held by the leading personalities, we find
that practically all are Bolsheviks of over thirty years standing. For nearly
twenty years, therefore, they worked with Lenin. Just consider these:
Kalinin, President of the U.S.S.R. since 1922,
was originally a metal worker. He joined the Party in 1898 (even before it bore
the name of "Bolshevik"), and has been a member of the Central Committee of the
Party since 1919. Molotov, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, has
been a member of the Party since 1906, was a member of the Russian Bureau of the
Central Committee in 1919, and Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union for the years following 1920, and one of Lenin’s closest collaborators.
Ordjonikidze, Commissar for Heavy Industry, has been a member of the Party since
1903, was elected to the Central Committee in 1912, and played an active part in
the leadership of the Revolution in the Caucasus. Voroshilov, Commissar of
Defence, was a worker who joined the Party in 1903, played an outstanding part
in the Civil War, and was then elected to the Central Committee of the Party.
Kaganovitch was a leather-goods worker, who joined the Party in 1911.
So that the youngest of these leaders had worked
under Lenin’s leadership for at least ten years, and most of them for twenty
years, and have now been thirty years in the Party. So it is fair to say that
Stalin remains alone, and the "old guard" has been killed off? Ah, but it may be
argued that only those now remain in power who were in minor positions when
Lenin was alive.
So let us look at two individuals who, up to
1917, worked in close contact with Lenin all the time. People who had leading
positions. Let us examine the records of these persons. In 1917, when the Party
was preparing the armed uprising, the two intellectuals, Kamenev and Zinoviev,
opposed this uprising in a meeting of the Central Committee. When defeated, they
carried their opposition into the public Press---and gave away the Bolsheviks’
plans to the government. At that time Lenin wrote: "I should consider it
disgraceful on my part if, on account of my former close relations with these
former comrades, I were not to condemn them. I declare outright that I do not
consider either of them comrades any longer and that I will fight with all my
might, both in the Central Committee and at the Congress, to secure the
expulsion of both of them from the Party. … Let Messrs. Zinoviev and Kamenev
found their own party from the dozens of disoriented people. … The workers will
not join such a party …"
So we find that two intellectuals, who were
having "former close relations" with Lenin before October, 1917, and who are now
hailed from "Daily Mail" to "Daily Herald" as the "Bolshevik Old Guard," were
condemned by Lenin for their treachery at one of the most serious moments of the
Revolution, and he tried to get them expelled from the Party. On the other hand,
the Bolsheviks who are working in closest collaboration with Stalin to-day are
working men, who have been in the Party for from 20 to 30 years, and who rose to
power as a result of their activities in the Civil War, after Zinoviev and
Kamenev had already discredited themselves.
And as for Trotsky, there is no claim that this
man was with Lenin for years before the Revolution. Actually, he called Lenin
the "leader of the reactionary wing of the Party" in 1903, and in 1917 he said
that the "Bolsheviks had de-Bolshevised themselves" and that "Bolshevik
sectarianism" was an "obstacle to unity." And to-day, in a recent interview with
the "News Chronicle," he refers to the "new Conservatism" of the Soviet
leadership---a direct repetition of his attack on Lenin as far back as 1903.
But even when inside the Party, between July,
1917---when it was clear that only the Bolsheviks could lead the masses to
success---until his expulsion, Trotsky opposed Lenin, who was supported
throughout by Stalin, on one issue after another. And in the leadership of the
Red Army, for which Trotsky became famous, there were continual conflicts with
the Party leadership and with Lenin and Stalin. But while Trotsky won fame by
his speeches, Stalin was sent to one critical front after another as the
representative of the Central Committee, and was determining policy by short and
concise telegrams to Lenin.
And when Lenin died, Trotsky buried all his old
quarrels with Lenin. No longer did he refer to his earlier accusations that the
Bolsheviks had been "bureaucratic" and "reactionary" under Lenin, but introduced
his attacks now on the "Stalinist bureaucracy," accusing Stalin of breaking with
the policy of Lenin.
It is when the facts are seen in this light that
the real position of Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, to mention only three of
them, can be understood. They are all three discredited ex-leaders, who have
lost the confidence of the masses, and therefore could never be elected back to
the leading positions in the Party or the State. They are the Ramsay MacDonalds
and the Snowdens and the Thomases of the Russian working-class movement.
But the Ramsay MacDonalds and the Snowdens and
the Thomases were discredited under capitalism. Therefore, when they lost their
leadership of the Labour Movement, when the workers threw them out, they could
still find means of advertising their personalities---in politics or capitalist
business according to choice---within the framework of capitalism.
But in the U.S.S.R., once the workers have power,
a discredited "leader" has no capitalist class to give him a job or finance him
for a political career against the workers. In the U.S.S.R. he must submit to
work under the leadership of those very leaders who have replaced him. And a
worker, as a rule, recognising the need for class discipline above all else, can
recognise his mistakes and work in a minor position when defeated on an issue.
But the revolutionary intellectuals, time and again in moments of crisis, have
shown their tendency to put personal prestige before everything else, and to
fight to the bitter end against political opponents, even if this sacrifices the
very principles that they were verbally accepting.
Kamenev and Zinoviev had to accept Stalin’s
leadership---but it rankled. Their "independence" demanded that they should not
submit to this domination by an elected leader with whom they did not agree.
Therefore, from open opposition they started to fight in secret. And thus they
came in contact with others fighting in secret---the fascist agents in the
Trotsky was expelled from the country. Since his
expulsion he has never ceased to attack the "Stalinist bureaucracy." But if a
bureaucracy rules the U.S.S.R.---then remove the bureaucracy, and Trotsky can
return as a hero! It is therefore consistent with Trotsky’s theory that the
whole people of the U.S.S.R. are Trotsky was expelled from the country. Since
his expulsion he has never ceased to attack the "Stalinist bureaucracy." But if
a bureaucracy rules the U.S.S.R.---then remove the bureaucracy, and Trotsky can
return as a hero! It is therefore consistent with Trotsky’s theory that the
whole people of the U.S.S.R. are dominated, against their will, by a small
"bureaucracy," that only the "bureaucracy" need be removed, for him to be
welcomed back as a liberator. Is it unreasonable to assume that Trotsky, putting
this theory into practice, was working with all and sundry to put an end to the
few individuals composing his "bureaucracy," as a way back to power?
But the allegation is then raised---that Stalin
is a personal Dictator, without the support of the masses, and that this trial
itself would bring mass struggles. Actually, no mass struggles have materialised
except in the German fascist press, copiously requoted by the "Daily Herald" in
the past few days. And two "aged mortals," students of the working-class
movement for sixty years, have been studying the working of the U.S.S.R., and
they too have asked the question: "Is Stalin a Dictator?" Here is the reply of
Sidney and Beatrice Webb in "Soviet Communism":---
First let it be noted that, unlike Mussolini,
Hitler and other modern dictators, Stalin is not invested by law with any
authority over his fellow citizens, and not even over the members of the Party
to which he belongs. He has not even the extensive power which the Congress of
the United States has temporarily conferred upon President Roosevelt." (p. 431.)
"If we are invited to believe that Stalin is, in
effect a dictator, we may enquire whether he does, in fact, act in the way that
dictators have usually acted? …
"We do not think that the Party is governed by
the will of a single person; or that Stalin is the sort of person to claim or
desire such a position. He has himself very explicitly denied any such personal
dictatorship in terms which, whether or not he is credited with sincerity,
certainly accord with our own impression of the facts." (p. 432.)
"The Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. has adopted
for its own organisation the pattern which we have described as common
throughout the whole Soviet constitution. In this pattern individual
dictatorship has no place. Personal decisions are distrusted and elaborately
guarded against. In order to avoid the mistakes due to bias, anger, jealousy,
vanity and other distempers, from which no person is at all times, entirely free
or on his guard, it is desirable that the individual will should always be
controlled by the necessity of gaining the assent of colleagues of equal grade,
who have candidly discussed the matter, and who have to make themselves jointly
responsible for the decision."
Well, so much for the allegations that Stalin
personally now stands alone, having put an end to all the "Bolshevik Old Guard."
Incidentally, this is the first time in its history that the "Daily Herald" and
the "Daily Mail" have wept tears of salt in unison over the fate of "old
And not as to the "frame-up." The actual question is: Why did sixteen accused
men all confess guilty, participate in a lively way in the court proceedings,
and show all their old capacity for public speaking and repartee, and yet plead
It is not because they had been rotting in
dungeons or anything of that kind. Actually, the most recently arrested of the
accused were at liberty in the U.S.S.R. until May of this year. And anyway, if
they had been maltreated in prison, surely some signs of this would have been
visible to the public, or at least one of them would have made some sort of a
statement on the matter!
No---the fact is this: The prisoners had four
alternatives. First, to plead innocent. Second, to plead guilty---making
political speeches against the Soviet government, the "Stalinist bureaucracy,"
and justifying their crime. Third, to plead guilty and say no more. Fourthly, to
confess, and give a full account of their activities. Besides these
possibilities, there was no other way open to them---except suicide, the way
chosen by Tomsky alone.
To plead innocent was impossible because the
proofs were overwhelming, and all these people knew this. They knew what
additional evidence could be brought against them if they tried to prove their
To attack the Soviet government and the
"Stalinist bureaucracy" was impossible---because for nearly ten years now these
people have had absolutely no political policy to oppose to that of Stalin. The
fact is that Stalin’s policy is a success, and this has robbed his opponents of
every excuse of a political attack. This fact is openly admitted by the accused.
Outside the U.S.S.R., from his refuge in Norway,
Trotsky does issue an "opposing" policy. It is: (a) to proletarianise the
non-proletarian elements in the U.S.S.R.; (b) to organise a Workers’ Front, as
oppose to a People’s Front, in the capitalist countries. It seems that all the
accused were sufficiently alive to political tendencies to realise that to put
forward such a line in the court, as their political justification, would be
worse than frankly admitting that they had no real alternative policy; that is,
no political programme at all.
Actually, the policy of Stalin has consistently
been to "proletarianise" the non-proletarian elements in the population, and the
policy is now almost completely fulfilled. And internationally, to suggest the
disrupting of the People’s Front, and forming a Worker’s Front in its place,
hardly deserves mention.
And so, before all the men, against whom the
proofs were overwhelming, who had no policy, there was the one possibility of
pleading Guilty---with, or without, details of their crime.
Now it happens that not one of the individuals
brought to trial has ever in his political career renounced the possibility of
making a speech before the whole world. And they remained true to type. And in
the court they made their speeches, showed signs of their old joy in "putting it
over" and their old oratorical brilliance---and they told the truth to the whole
The newspaper, the "Observer" of August 23, no
lover of the Bolsheviks, "old guard" or new, was bound to conclude:---
"Stalin is now the acknowledged leader of the
unified Party, whose prestige in the country is now unquestioned.
"The defendants admitted frankly that they
resorted to individual terror as a last resort, fully knowing that disaffection
in the country now is not sufficiently strong to bring them into power in any
other way. …
"It is futile to think the trial was staged and
the charges trumped up. The Government’s case against the defendants is
And now, two final matters. First, it is said
that the trial was "inopportune," it was a "political blunder" to hold it just
now. Of course, if it was a "frame-up," specially staged by the Soviet
government, that allegation would be true. But why should the Soviet government,
at this most ticklish moment in international affairs, stage a frame-up
calculated to run the risk of antagonising all that Liberal opinion all over the
world that is more and more supporting the Soviet peace policy, but has a horror
of death sentences, even against proven assassins? Three suggestions have been
made. First, that the Soviet government wanted to prove that it is "becoming
respectable." But the Soviet leaders are intelligent enough to know that trials
for treason are never likely to gain a reputation for respectability in Liberal
circles, while Bolshevism as such, can never become respectable to the
reactionaries, whoever might be killed off. And the second suggestion is that it
was to turn attention off Spain within the U.S.S.R.! When the Soviet Trade
Unions have collected more money for the Spanish workers than has been collected
in any other country!
A third suggestion is---that mass unrest was
growing in the U.S.S.R. But is this were so, and if the men who were brought to
trial were the leaders of this unrest, then it is absolutely inconceivable, with
foreign journalists and radio microphones in front of them, that not one
prisoner should have said one word to mobilise this unrest, to give the
disgruntled populace courage, and to set a light to that flame of
dissatisfaction which was creeping over the country!
It is only the realisation that the accused knew
they had no mass support, as they stated in the trial, that can explain their
complete lack of any attempt to mobilise opinion and action against the existing
And finally, about the new Soviet Constitution.
Is there a single word in this Constitution that says that Terrorists, planning
acts of terror in co-operation with fascists, against the leaders of the Soviet
State, shall not be tried, and if necessary condemned to death? No---not a word.
Because, so long as there are fascist and capitalist states, there will be
fascist and capitalist agents in the U.S.S.R.; and so long as the use of
violence is a principle of capitalism, carried to all forms of bestial terrorism
under fascism; so must the Workers’ State use force to suppress force.
In the Moscow trial the accused were offered the
right to a defence counsel, and refused. They themselves pleaded guilty, and
explained their crimes, because they had no better way of conducting themselves.
The old discredited leaders of the Russian
workers, the MacDonalds and Snowdens of Russia, had no capitalist class to
support their further political career [They wanted that class through the NEP.
–RC ed.], so they resorted to underground terrorism, and came into line with the
capitalist class of Germany with its fascist agents.
The not-yet-completely discredited leader of the
British workers, Sir Walter Citrine, who is already famous in the Nazi press for
his attacks on the U.S.S.R., protested against the trial, asked for the use of
"foreign lawyers" for the defence, and that there be "no shootings." The "Daily
Herald," the not-yet-completely discredited "workers’" newspaper, has been
quoting columns of false allegations against the U.S.S.R. It has invented the
"disappearance" of Mme. Czersky, wife of the Soviet Trade Representative---who
was on holiday in the country. It has given reports of "rumours in Moscow" as
reported by a "German Press Agency." And the Nazis, in their radio broadcasts,
have been quoting chunks from the "Daily Herald"!
The line-up of the discredited "leaders" in the
U.S.S.R. with the Nazi Gestapo for purposes of terrorism---which is the only
method of struggle now possible against the leadership of the united Soviet
workers, can only be distinguished in degree from the line-up of the
not-quite-completely discredited Trade Union "leadership" in Britain, the "Daily
Herald," and the whole apparatus of Nazi propaganda. In both cases the enemies
of the militant workers’ movement, losing the support of the masses, are ready
to go to any length to hold on to, or get back, their power. In the U.S.S.R. it
is now a struggle of physical force, as in Spain. In Britain it is still only a
conflict of propaganda.
The "Daily Herald," quotes Hitler’s propaganda
agencies, and Hitler is quoting the "Daily Herald." Their policy is the same.
Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and the others got
assistance from the Hitler Secret Police, and worked with the help of the Nazi
agents---their policy was the same.
This policy is: To weaken the Soviet Union by
destroying its leadership, and to split the united struggle of the workers who
are going forward in alliance with the middle class and peasantry of all
countries to fight fascism---in fact, consciously or unconsciously, to
strengthen the fascist offensive and its policy of suppression of the workers’
movement in all countries and of wars of aggression all over the world.
Our task is to expose these plans, and to fight
with all our strength against this "united front" of all the forces of reaction!
* * R U S S I A T O – D A Y * *
Little James Street
Marston Printing Co. (T.U.)
Nelson Place, Cayton Street,