Paul Mattick 1951

Stalin’s Frame-Up System and the Moscow Trials (Review)

Source: Western Socialist, Boston, USA, January-February, 1951;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.
Stalin’s Frame-Up System and the Moscow Trials. By Leon Trotsky. With a Foreword by Joseph Hansen. Pioneer Publishers, New York, 1950. (144 pp., $1.00).

This booklet, published on the tenth anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination, contains Trotsky’s closing speech at the Hearing of the Dewey Commission of Inquiry first printed by Harper & Brothers in 1937. In his foreword, Joseph Hansen finds this reminder of the Moscow Trials particularly apt because of the series of trials of prominent Communists, such as Rajk and Kostov, since the end of the second world war. “Without knowing the truth about the Moscow trials,” he asserts, “it is impossible to properly understand the character of the Stalinist regime.” And he thinks that the Dewey Commission and Trotsky’s own defense revealed the truth. Together with this, Hansen attacks the current repetition of the Moscow lies in such propaganda machinations as The Great Conspiracy by Sayers and Kahn.

Trotsky’s analysis and refutation of the Moscow Frame-Up, despite its special importance to the Trotskyites, now illustrates merely an incident in a general political trend accompanying the change to the present phase of terroristic repression. The political Frame-Up, which is always in use, but was employed by the bolsheviks on a scale previously unknown, lost its particularly “Stalinist” flavor with the coming of the fascist governments, and with the adoption of fascist methods of control by the Democracies. In principle, there is not even a difference between the Moscow Trials and those of Nurnberg; in each case “right” was with the victors in a power struggle which, in the one case, was fought within a nation, and in the other, between various nations.

The fact that the judicial Frame-Up for the liquidation of political competitors became the common policy of the majority of governments does not of course, speak against a careful investigation of this outstanding Moscow example. And in this respect, both the Dewey Commission and Trotsky himself have fully succeeded in proving the Moscow Trials a Frame-Up. If their efforts were largely wanted, both generally and on themselves, it is because the “truth” as well as the “lie” are equally subordinated to the competitive needs, and are exchanged in accordance with the changing propaganda requirements of the prevailing power struggles. While the Moscow Trials affected none but Stalin’s opponents in the bolshevik movement and the Russian state, they were nevertheless used to discredit the whole of the radical labor movement. But this was only so long as circumstances set the Stalinist regime in opposition to some of the other capitalist nations. As soon as America became Russia’s ally, for instance, the Moscow Frame-Up found favorable reconsiderations, and was then celebrated as a sign of Russian vigilancy against an internal foe that might have sabotaged the common struggle against the fascist beasts. But now that Moscow and Washington are once again in deadly enmity, all Stalin’s forgotten and once forgiven sins are newly utilized. This is done, however, not so much to weaken the Stalinist regime as to excuse and justify the growing terrorism at home.

And here it is particularly the bourgeois intelligentsia which loses its indignation over the oppressive American methods of control as rapidly as its indignation over the Russian terror system mounts. James Burnham finds the American atom-bomb as moral as he finds the Russian bomb criminal, Koestler wants to oppose Stalin’s foreign legions with a foreign legion of his own, in defense of the liberalistic aspects of the freedom-loving capitalism. Sidney Hook distinguishes between “heresy” and “conspiracy,” and defines “heresy” in terms of his own personality, which then stands revealed as truly American; whereas all else is “conspiratorial,” un-American or Russian, and therefore logically a matter for the police. And Trotsky’s illustrious defender against the G.P.U., John Dewey, writing in The New York Times of November 19, 1950, finds that Communist activity in America is “merely a matter of vigilancy on the part of citizens and particularly for continued attention on the part of the F.B.I.”

The liberals’ indignation over the Moscow Trials, so thankfully accepted by Trotsky and his followers, revealed its insincerity quite early in a self-inflicted censorship during the war years, when they devoted themselves exclusively to the fight against fascism. But in the current American-Russian power struggle for world control, the “truth” about Russia is once again triumphant and good business. The Moscow Trials, the forced-labor camps, the Katyn massacre, in fact, the whole barbarism of the Russian terror system makes excellent copy — particularly if combined with a great concern for “security” — for the protection of the democratic values which alone make life worth living.

However, by calling so loudly for the police, the judge, the vigilance of the mob, and a faculty-enforced thought control, the liberals of today — comrades and fellow-travellers of only yesterday — are in all probability bound to meet their Stalinist adversaries in the same concentration camps they are now helping to prepare. Their past keeps them suspect; their “sell-out” finds no lasting reward, as they stand convicted forever to excuse their present attitudes in light of their past, and their past attitudes in light of the present. In contrast, those who are unhampered by such an uncomfortable past, and who don’t have the need to explain any character changes for lack of any character, are the ones who are destined to succeed, as the principle of “security,” employed in totalitarian fashion, demands an always greater security. That is, it offers always new opportunities for the destruction of weaker competitors in the unceasing struggle for power and privileges within the totalitarian society. The willing change of allegiance from “Marxism” to Hitlerism did not keep the German Social Democrats out of the concentration camps. All the partial and total capitulations of the bolshevik oppositionists to Stalin’s authoritarian rule did not save them from the executioners’ bullets in the cellars of the G.P.U. And Trotsky’s patriotic rally to the defense of Stalin’s Russia in the second world war did not prevent his own assassination.

Trotsky’s own indignation over the Moscow Trials, although understandable since they were directed against his followers and fellow-oppositionists, was nevertheless inconsistent with his own political outlook and conception of dictatorship. The terroristic system he came to bewail was after all originally headed by Lenin and Trotsky, and was proudly defended by the latter in his book Terrorism and Communism. That the terror reached its climax only under Stalin, and from thereon involved the bolshevik movement itself, cannot excuse Trotsky’s own preparatory role, and he too used terroristic methods against all opposition, whether from the right or from the left, as in Krondstadt and throughout the civil war.

Trotsky points out, that the whole system of Stalinism is not a “question simply of the individual depravity of this or that person, but of the corruption lodged in the position of a whole social group for whom lying has become a vital political necessity.” And he identifies this Stalin-led group as a “new privileged stratum greedy for power, greedy for material comfort, apprehensive for its position, fearing the masses, and mortally hating all opposition.” He overlooks, however, the fact that the political system which elevated this stratum into its present power position, was that of the bolshevik party-capitalism, which he helped so greatly in bringing about. And in this party-capitalism, or state-capitalism where the party forms the state, the hitherto existing ordinary forms of competition via the market system are replaced by a more direct political competition for the privileged positions within the social hierarchy. The Moscow Trials reflected the whole viciousness of this new type of competition, but the counter-trial, as directed by Trotsky and his liberal friends, was no less a part of the “truth.” The struggle against the system of Stalinism, to be meaningful, must include also opposition to a mere “anti-Stalinism” in which the Trotsky movement exhausts itself, and by which it is revealed as not a labor movement but as a group of actual or would-be professional politicians hoping and fighting for the seats of power and privilege now occupied by other professionals. A socialist movement will stand in opposition to all branches of bolshevism by virtue of a consistent anti-capitalist struggle.