Joseph Hansen

How Moscow Trial “Confessions”
Revealed Frameup of Defendants

(29 June 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 26, 29 June 1946, p. 7.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2018 by Einde O’Callaghan.
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This is the sixth of a series of articles on the Moscow Trials and their significance.

When the Moscow Trials were exploded on the basis of incontrovertible evidence as nothing but frame-ups, the Stalinists resorted to an evasion. “What about the confessions?” they asked. For a decade this has constituted their sole defense and explanation of the horrible and sickening purges of the generation that founded the Soviet Union.

The unfortunate victims who “confessed” impossible crimes in one trial were, branded as liars by the “confessees” in the next trials. But this, naturally, has not prevented the Stalinist slander machine from repeating, “What about the confessions?” The liberals reacted to the “confessions” of Kamenev, Zinoviev and the others in two ways. One school disregarded the evidence and maintained that the confessions were true. They held that all the leading Bolsheviks except Stalin suffered moral collapse, organized a “Fifth Column” in league with Hitler and resorted to terrorism.

The other school admitted the confessions were lies from beginning to end, but then asked, ‘“What led them to confess?” A wide current of petty bourgeois political thought held that the Bolsheviks suffered a moral collapse and willingly lied in the trials. This current of belief produced a number of books and articles speculating about the psychology of the victims in the Moscow Trials and seeking the seeds of their moral collapse in the alleged bad methods of the Bolshevik party before the October 1917 revolution.

Millions Disappear

Yet the soil of these shocking confessions is so exposed to view it seems impossible to avoid the correct explanation. First of all millions of people were hounded by the tremendous purge. Out of these millions, those who refused to capitulate to the Stalinist regime were lined up and shot or disappeared in concentration camps and prisons.

Only those who gave in to torture, threats to their families and persistent cajoling were selected for the trials. The prisoners who appeared in the limelight for public view were the product of long processing. Most of them had capitulated over the years a number of times to Stalin’s demands. Step by step they were led from “confessing” one deviation to confessing a worse one, until finally these rotting hulks of men were in such a mental state they could be forced to recite any script the GPU wrote for them.

The role of torture must not be overlooked. Just as our age has returned to the type of politics studied by Machiavelli during the decline of the feudal system, so it has returned to the Inquisition. The stake has been modernized. It is now a gas chamber. And Hitler is not the only one to resort to these methods. Stalin’s GPU has been in the forefront streamlining the Inquisition.

Two types of defendants sat in all the trials. (1) Obvious GPU agents. These were the obscure, unknown figures used largely to link more prominent defendants with Trotsky. (2) Seasoned capitulators. These were men, once Lenin’s comrades, who made the fatal error of supporting Stalin. In every instance, such defendants as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, etc. had spent years slandering Trotsky and praising Stalin in language a sewer rat like Stalinist columnist Mike Gold might well envy.

Not a single genuine Trotskyist appeared in any of the Moscow Trials. There was a good reason for this. They would have blown the whole fragile structure sky-high by telling what was behind the “confessions” of the other defendants.

Instead of substantiating the guilt of the defendants, the confessions do quite the opposite. ‘They are constructed around a monstrous lie and this lie shapes the confessions, revealing itself in countless phrases. The records of the trials might well be handed to students of scientific psychology as raw material for exercises in discovering how truth can be revealed in false confessions and false charges.

Similar imprints of the frame-up appear on every page of the “confessions” of the defendants, shortened and condensed though they are by the GPU that printed and edited them.

Deadly Evidence

One of the deadliest evidences of the frameup character of the trial is the fact that the confessions of the “criminals” follow the identical psychology pattern of the speeches of the prosecutor. They sing hosannahs to Stalin and the genius-like correctness of his policies, while denouncing themselves as the most vile, stupid and dangerous enemies of the state.

In Prosecutor Vyshinsky’s speech at the first trial a psychologist can point out where the frame-up left its imprint, much as a paleontologist might point to impressions in stone showing where a reptile passed in some prehistoric swamp. These imprints are of three types.

First, orations to Stalin such as: “With great and unsurpassed love, the toilers of the whole world utter the name of the great teacher and leader of the peoples of the USSR – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin!” Why this prayer in an alleged criminal trial?

Second, highly emotional cursing of the defendants: “Liars and clowns, insignificant pygmies, little dogs snarling at an elephant, this is what this gang represents!” Cursing of this sort completely replaces production of evidence.

Beside these delicate tracings is the more obvious third type – the clear tracks of the frameup in Vyshinsky’s summary:

“Perhaps this is all a pack of lies, an invention, the irresponsible chatter of the accused who are trying to say as much as they can against the others in order to mitigate their own ultimate fate?”

Here is another imprint:

“This perhaps is one of the most striking cases in history when the word mask acquired its real meaning: these people put masks on their faces, adopted the pose of repentant sinners ...”

“No One Will Believe”

Again, “Zinoviev and Kamenev performed not at all badly in one of the scenes of their cunning perfidious masquerade ...” Such words as “clownish farce,” “mask,” “lies,” “invention,” and “hypocrisy,” permeate Vyshinsky’s speech like a guilty conscience trying to register itself.

“We know that in your defense speech you will curse Trotsky,” says Vyshinsky. “But no one will believe you.”

Confessions are the very poorest type of evidence. How dependable they are can be judged from the historically famous case of Galileo. Under pressure from the Catholic Church (it is not certain whether physical torture was used) this great scientist made the following “confession”:

“... I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies ... that is, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the universe and immovable, and that the Earth is not the center of the same, and that it does move.”

We leave to petty bourgeois politicians the question whether the psychological seeds of this abysmal “confession” lay in the amoral methods followed by Galileo.

Prosecutor Vyshinsky himself is on record as to the worthlessness of unsupported confessions. A textbook on Soviet law edited by Vyshinsky declares:

“Under the system of formal proofs the admission of guilt by the accused was considered ‘the best proof extant,’ ‘the sovereign proof of proofs.’ Nowadays faith in the absolute correctness of the defendant’s admissions has been in a large measure destroyed. The accused might be pleading guilty falsely (for example, in a desire to shield another person or, by pleading guilty to a minor crime, to evade the accusation of a grave crime). Therefore, the admission of the accused, like any other evidence, is subject to verification and evaluation in the sum total of the circumstances in the case.”

But it was precisely verification which was lacking in the Moscow Trials.

(To be continued)


Last updated on: 22 December 2018