Joseph Hansen

Most Monstrous Purges in History
Exposed Falsity of Moscow Trials

(25 May 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. X No. 21, 25 May 1946, p. 7.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2018 by Einde O’Callaghan.
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(This is the first of a series of articles on Stalin’s Moscow Frameup Trials and their significance.)

The conduct of the Stalinist contingent of the Allied prosecutors and judges at the Nuremburg [sic!] trial has once again underscored the frame-up character of the infamous Moscow Trials. Throughout the Moscow Trials, it will be recalled, the Stalinist prosecution hammered on the theme that the entire generation of’ Bolshevik leaders who had constituted Lenin’s general staff in the October 1917 Revolution were “fascist mad dogs” in league with Hitler.

The Stalinist prosecution claimed that such great figures of the Bolshevik Revolution as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Muralov, Smirnov, Radek, etc., under order of Leon Trotsky had made a pact with Hitler in order to facilitate a military attack on the Soviet Union. Trotsky specifically was even brazenly accused of having met with Hitler’s lieutenant, Rudolph Hess, now held by the Allies in the prisoners’ dock at Nuremburg. [sic!]

Consequently, political observers expected that the Stalinist contingent now participating in the Nuremburg [sic!] trial would be keenly interested in extending and deepening the Moscow Trials frame-up in collaboration with their imperialist allies and the utterly unscrupulous Nazi defendants who would no doubt agree to any kind of foul deal that would save them from the hangman’s noose.

Questions Not Asked

But throughout the long dreary months of the Nuremburg [sic!] farce, the Stalinists have not attempted to ask the Nazi prisoners a single question in any way connected with the Moscow Trials, Leon Trotsky or the Bolsheviks executed by Stalin.

Not even the campaign started by the British Trotskyists, and widely supported among European and American labor and liberal circles, to permit a legal representative of Natalia Trotsky to question Hess and the other Nazis, has as yet elicited any response from the Nuremburg [sic!] judges and prosecutors.

Today the tragic spectacle of the Moscow Trials is growing dim outside the USSR. It has therefore become one of the tasks of the Trotskyist movement to recall to the workers of the world details of those monstrous frame-ups and to keep fresh the memory of the great revolutionary figures who perished in them.

The three Moscow Trials of 1936–38 shocked and horrified the entire International labor movement. These macabre exhibitions, in which Lenin’s former comrades sweated under Klieg lights before microphones that broadcast the incredible and revolting “confessions” assigned to them, were absolutely unprecedented for sheer insanity of the charges, depths of degradation forced upon the defendants, and the unspeakable cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the monster in the Kremlin who wrote the scenario.

The universal suspicion during the first two trials that the charges were nothing but a tissue of lies was later confirmed to the hilt by the findings of the impartial International Commission of Inquiry headed by John Dewey. After exhaustive examination of the evidence, this Commission on September 21, 1938, brought in a unanimous decision which was summarized in the last two sentences of its report: “We therefore find the Moscow Trials to be frame-ups. We therefore find Trotsky and Sedov not guilty.”

The frame-up trials, however, were only the most spectacular incidents in the great wave of purges that swept the Soviet Union during an eight year period – 1934 to 1942. The trials involved a relatively small number of people, carefully selected and “processed” in the dungeons of the GPU for a long period before they staggered from their cells to “confess” precisely those “crimes” needed by Stalin to “justify” the purges and sanctify his firing squads.

Kravchenko, a former Stalinist official who lived through all these purges, estimates in his recently published book, I Chose Freedom, that the total number of victims condemned to the slave labor armies of the GPU amounted to some 20,000,000. This figure does not include the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands who were executed, or the countless victims who simply “disappeared.” Nor does it include the tens of millions who were hounded and persecuted, nor the still vaster number cowed into silence by the unbridled terror.

The sheer size of these monstrous purges alone blows sky- high the Stalinist lie that the Moscow Trials involved a conspiratorial plot between alleged Soviet traitors and Hitler’s Gestapo. By way of comparison, the number of purge victims condemned to slave labor approaches half the popular vote cast

in the United States in the presidential elections. If Hoover in 1932 had decided to stay in office by the means employed by Stalin, and had “purged” every “conspirator” who wanted a change in Washington, the total casualties would have been about the same as those in the Soviet Union in the purge years.

The purges affected every walk of life. Scarcely a family in the Soviet Union remained unscathed by this dread political scourge.

Red Army Decimated

The Red Army was decimated from top to bottom, the principal victims being those who had fought in the civil war under Leon Trotsky and defeated the imperialist armies sent to crush the young workers republic after the First World War. The entire leading staff of the Red Army was shot without so much as the pretense of an open trial on the fabulous accusation they had conspired with Hitler.

Managers and officials of the factories, the transportation system, the collective farms dropped by the thousands before Stalin’s smoking rifles.

The educational system, the arts and sciences were not exempt. Great educators, scientists, scholars, engineers, physicians, musicians, playwrights, novelists and propagandists were condemned, imprisoned without trial, died of mysterious causes, or simply “disappeared” without a trace.

The terror conducted by Stalin’s secret police, the GPU (now the NKVD), swept up great masses of workers among the levels most capable of militant struggle – and those who were not lined up against the wall were crammed into cattle and box cars for deportation into the GPU slave labor camps. Whole towns and sections of the population were thus uprooted and dispersed.

Even the summits of the bureaucracy were not exempt. Officials throughout the entire government apparatus perished. The Communist (Stalinist) Party in the USSR was shaken to its foundations as the nation-wide witchhunt sought out all those who might be suspected of retaining an active memory of the revolutionary principles taught by the Bolshevik party in the days of Lenin and Trotsky. In the process many of the butchers in the first years of the purges fell victim in subsequent years of the slaughter. Yagoda, for instance, the chief of the GPU who organized the first Moscow Trial, was shot in the third Moscow Trial.

The terror was not confined to the borders of the Soviet Union. Political opponents of Stalin’s regime were hunted down by his trained assassins throughout the world. In Switzerland, for example, Ignace Reiss, who broke from the GPU and revealed Stalin’s plan to murder Leon Trotsky, fell before a blast of machine gun fire. In Paris, Rudolph Klement, Secretary of the Fourth International, was decapitated and his body tossed into the Seine. Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov, was killed in a Paris hospital.

The most shocking crime of all was the assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico on August 20, 1940. Trotsky and his son, although exiled from the USSR, were the principal defendants at the Moscow frame-up trials. They were condemned in absentia.

While the professional GPU hatchetmen ranged far and wide, Stalin sealed the borders of the Soviet Union so tightly that to this day even press correspondents are permitted entry only after months of red tape and as rare exceptions to the general rule.

A detailed report of the purges, based only on the carefully censored information available in the Moscow press, would fill volumes. A graph, based on such a report, showing the executions, disappearances, condemnations, etc. would rise steeply in 1934, drop slightly, then fluctuate dizziily from one peak to the next up to the Bukharin trial early in 1938 when the purge reached a frenzied climax. Then the graph line would descend fluctuatingly until it recorded another sharp rise in 1940–41 after Stalin signed his famous pact with Hitler.

The long duration of these monstrous purges is another proof that something quite different from a treasonous conspiracy was involved in the Moscow Trials. A conspiracy once discovered is finished. But the purges began at the time of the assassination of the bureaucrat Kirov in 1934. They did not end until well after the armies of German imperialism had invaded a Soviet Union bled white by the unending work of Stalin’s executioners.

In scope and savagery these purges are unprecedented in modern history. Hitler’s purges which aroused the whole world pale in comparison with Stalin’s bloodbaths. The general economic, social and political causes of such monstrous slaughter have been analyzed by representatives of various political schools. But only the Trotskyists have given a fully adequate and rounded explanation. Next week we will present the conclusions reached by the Trotskyist movement concerning this grim and somber wave of purges.

(To be continued)


Last updated on: 22 December 2018