Joseph Hansen

How the Truth Triumphed
over Moscow Frameup Lies

(10 August 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 32, 10 August 1946, p. 7.
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(Eleventh in a series on the Moscow Trials and their significance)

On September 21, 1937, the Commission of Inquiry Into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials gave a summary of its findings to the public. Point by point, the Commission listed the main conclusions it had reached in its exhaustive investigation. The last two sentences of the Commission’s findings rang throughout the entire world labor movement, for they destroyed forever all the pretensions of the Kremlin to honesty in these shocking trials.

“We therefore find the Moscow trials to be frame-ups,” said the first sentence in this conclusion. “We therefore find Trotsky and Sedov not guilty,” said the second sentence.

The complete report of the Commission was published in 1938 by Harper & Brothers as a book, Not Guilty. This volume of 422 pages constitutes the most definitive analysis of the Moscow frame-up trials yet produced.

The Commission placed the requirements of truth and scientific exactness above everything else in its report. Each conclusion is voluminously documented. Yet Not Guilty is as fascinating reading as any detective story fan could wish. It takes the most gigantic frame-ups in all history, frame-ups organized by a powerful government with millions of dollars at its disposal, and step by step it unravels all the threads until the whole monstrous crime of the Kremlin against Lenin’s comrades is laid bare.

Vast Murder Machine

Yet the report of the Commission transcends in importance the simple exposure of the wild fictions cooked up in the headquarters of the GPU. It deals with a vast international murder machine, whose tentacles reach into all lands, “the issue,” declared the Commission, “even more than those involved in such historic cases as that of Dreyfus, Sacco-Vanzetti, or Dimitrov-Torgler, must therefore be regarded as international. It imperils countless human lives and compromises those standards of justice which mankind has painfully established to “safeguard the individual against governmental oppression.”

The Stalinist defenders of the Moscow frame-ups had maintained that the trials appeared somewhat strange because of differences between Anglo-Saxon and Soviet legal procedure. The Commission established, however, that “the conduct of the trials violated Soviet law on criminal procedure in every important point.” The Commission even uncovered declarations of Prosecutor Vyshinsky himself, proving that his procedure in the Moscow frame-ups violated Soviet legal requirements.

The Commission took up the testimony of the defendants one by one and examined their hair-raising utterances. A few quotations will indicate what the Commission proved:

“On the basis of all the evidence ... we conclude that in so far as it applied to Smirnov’s confession of conspiratorial communication with Trotsky and Sedov, this statement of Vyshinsky in his summation was correct: ‘Smirnov himself did not utter a single word of truth here ...’”

Holtzman had claimed he met Sedov in Copenhagen at the Hotel Bristol, after which he met Trotsky. The Commission made the following verdict on this “testimony”:

“We therefore hold the evidence to prove conclusively (1) that Sedov was not in Copenhagen at the time of Trotsky’s visit to that city; (2) that Holtzman did not meet Sedov and go with him to see Trotsky; (3) that Holtzman did not see Trotsky in Copenhagen.”

Similarly in the case of Valentine Olberg:

“We find, therefore, that Olberg’s confession is worthless as proof of the charges against Leon Trotsky and Leon Sedov in the August trial. On the basis of this conclusion, and of the evidence cited above concerning Olberg’s character, his relations with the Opposition, and in particular with Trotsky and Sedov, we find that Olberg never went to Russia with terrorist instructions from Trotsky and Sedov.”

On the famous airplane trip which Pyatakov alleged he made to get terrorist instructions from Trotsky in Norway, the Commission found:

“We hold that the evidence concerning Pyatakov’s alleged flight in the record of the trial is open to the gravest doubt; that the Prosecutor’s silence, and that of the Court, in the face of published testimony impugning that evidence during the trial, warrants a suspicion of frame-up; that the doubt which the record inspires is converted by the evidence offered in rebuttal into certainty that no such flight took place. We therefore find that Pyatakov did not see Trotsky in December, 1935, and did not receive from him instructions of any kind; and that the disproof of Pyatakov’s testimony on this crucial point renders his whole confession worthless.”

Vladimir Romm had testified Sedov took him at the end of July 1933 to the “Bois de Boulogne” in Paris where he met Trotsky. Then, said Romm, Trotsky told him about the “need” for terrorism, wrecking, diversion and defeatism, and gave him a book with a letter concealed in the cover for delivery to defendant Radek. The Commission proved, however, that this was a tissue of lies since neither Sedov nor Trotsky were anywhere near Paris. Vyshinsky made no attempt to obtain the police record of Trotsky’s whereabouts in France at the time specified. The reason was clear. Trotsky was at St. Palais in the South of France.

The Commission’s inquiry into the “confessions” was alone enough to shatter the clumsy frame-up. But it went further. The Commission found the charge of sabotage “not only not proved but not credible.” All the evidence corroborated:

“Trotsky’s contention that the delays, disproportions, extravagance, etc., which the accused confessed were due to sabotage, are the chronic diseases of Soviet industry: that they are due to haste, overreaching, inefficiency, etc.; and that the expiation of these shortcomings by scapegoats is a usual method of whitewashing the regime.”

Charges Preposterous

On the charge of “agreements with foreign powers,” the Commission found:

“Our study of the trial records convinces us that Trotsky is fully justified in contending that the counter-revolutionary activity ascribed to him is characterized by an extraordinary stupidity. On the other hand, we find that his whole public activity, including his voluminous writings, has followed a consistent theoretical line throughout his long career, and that line is diametrically opposed to the activity ascribed to him in the two Moscow trials.

“We do not presume to judge the aims to which he has devoted himself, or the methods by which he has pursued those aims. But we can and do state that his career has been that of a man of extraordinary intelligence and ability. To believe that his prodigious public activity was intended merely to cloak conspiratorial enterprises as stupid, inept and feeble as those ascribed to him in the trials, would be to abandon any claim to common sense. We therefore hold the charge of conspiracy with foreign powers to be not only proved, but preposterous.”

In conclusion, the Commission proved that exacting “confessions” by torture was common procedure under Stalin and had been for a number of years before the infamous frame-up trials.

“In the light of all this evidence the conclusion appears inevitable that the indictments and confessions in the widely publicized series of trials of alleged plotters against the Soviet regime were determined in each case – including the trials of August 1936, and January 1937 – by the current internal difficulties, economic and political, and by the current situation in the foreign relations, of the Soviet regime. In other words, we find that the trials have served not juridical but political ends.”


Last updated on: 18 June 2021