George Novack

History to Order

(May 1938)

Source: New International, Vol.4 No.5, May 1938, pp.156-157.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

TRAITORS IN AMERICAN HISTORY. Lessons of the Moscow Trials
by Earl Browder
32 pp. New York. Workers Library Publishers. 5¢

To dispel the disbelief generated by the Moscow Trials and to envelope them with some semblance of plausibility, the Stalinists are compelled to commit falsifications of all kinds. The facts of history, geography, biography, and psychology are submitted to the most violent operations to make them fit into the frame-up system. This system, which has today become the principal political weapon of Stalinism in all fields of activity, breeds lies just as a putrefying carcass breeds maggots.

The greater the frame-ups, the grosser the falsifications. The process of systematic lying, begun in 1923 with the factional struggle inside the Political Bureau of the Russian communist party and perfected by Stalin, reached a climax in the recent Trial of the 21. This trial was received with such unanimous skepticism and condemnation by almost every section of the labor and liberal movements unvassalized to Stalin that his attorneys in the western world have been driven to wild extremes in their efforts to improvise some sort of defense for the judicial assassinations.

Since the fabric of the trials themselves is too flimsy to withstand the slightest critical examination, these apologists attempt to divert attention from an analysis of the charges and testimony or any comparison of the “confessions” with verifiable facts and documentary proofs. To escape the control of everyday evidence, they even flee from the present into the past for some support, however far-fetched and insubstantial, to buttress their crumbling structure of falsehoods.

One of the masters in the Stalin School of Falsification is Earl Browder, secretary of the American section of the Communist International. Traitors in American History is a reprint of his speech delivered at a meeting of the New York functionaries of the communist party at the Hippodrome on March 18 of this year. In this pamphlet the patriotic Browder runs through American history in a frantic search for parallels to the Moscow Trials. Since he is unable to find them there, he does not hesitate to manufacture them out of whole cloth, or to twist the commonest facts into the most fantastic and unrecognizable shapes. The prosecutor Vishinsky’s falsification of Russian revolutionary history sets the pattern for a similar falsification of American revolutionary history by Browder.

Has it turned out, according to the trials, that the foremost members of the Bolshevik party in Lenin’s day were nothing but traitors, spies, scoundrels, wreckers and poisoners, or that of all the survivors of Lenin’s Central Committee Stalin alone escaped degeneration into Fascism? What, asks Browder, is so absurd or “un-American” about that? That is no indictment of Stalin’s regime.

“If Stalin, Molotov, Kalinin must be made responsible for Trotsky, Bukharin, Tukhachevsky ... then George Washington must be made responsible for Benedict Arnold and Thomas Jefferson for Aaron Burr.”

Poor Benedict Arnold! It is not sufficient that he suffer ignominy for his renegacy to the colonial revolution. He must now do double penance for his crime by helping to cover up Stalin’s own renegacy to the revolution in 1938. But Browder’s attempt to use him in this fashion will not work. If analogies are in order, Arnold may be compared to a Czarist officer, who, after fighting well in the Red Army, sold himself to the interventionists. There were several such individuals in the Russian Revolution.

But the Stalinists would have us believe that, twenty years after the establishment of the soviet state and seventeen years after the end of the civil war, the heads of the Red Army (Trotsky, Tukhachevsky), together with six leading generals, the head admiral of the Navy (Orloff), and even the head of the Kremlin Guard (Yenukidze) became traitors, rascals, degenerates. These are not isolated individuals, like Arnold, who were exceptions among the hundreds of faithful officers in the Continental Army and are remembered solely on this account, but the whole commanding staff of the military forces of the Soviet Union from its birth to the present day! That is to say, Generals Washington, Stark, Sullivan, Greene, LaFayette, Steuben, as well as John Adams, Esek Hopkins, and Benjamin Franklin, conspired to overthrow the Republic they had created and defended two decades after the Declaration of Independence.

Aaron Burr is not only “the Cataline of America”, as Hamilton characterized him; he is also “the Trotsky of America”, according to Browder. With a disregard for historical fact astonishing even for a Stalinist, Browder informs us that:

“With the advent of Jefferson and the Republican-Democratic party to power in 1800, the Federalist party quickly passed over to wholesale treason, which lasted for fifteen years. Hamilton was the leading figure in this treason, for the first period, etc.

Any good history of the period (McMaster, for example) will inform the student that Jefferson was elected to the Presidency over Burr in 1800 by the votes Hamilton controlled in the House of Representatives.

Aaron Burr’s intrigues came to nothing. Had Burr seized power through his machinations and then arranged a great treason trial with Washington, Franklin, Henry, Adams, and Paine in the prisoner’s dock alongside of shady characters without a record or reputation, and had them confess to conspiring with Great Britain and France to dismember the Union (which he himself had done), then one could begin to approximate the fantasy of the Moscow Trials.

The circumstances surrounding Aaron Burr’s trial and subsequent acquittal do throw an oblique light on the character of Stalin’s rule. Jefferson, who remained true to himself and the planting aristocracy he represented, took the entire episode very lightly, confident of the firmness of his government. That Stalin feels himself obliged, first to discredit, and then to execute, his old comrades in arms, is an index, not only of his own betrayal, but also of the shakiness of his regime.

During this revolutionary epoch there did occur a genuine historical precedent to the Moscow Trials that illuminates these contemporary political events far more than Browder’s fanciful analogies: the trials of the Jacobins in the French Revolution. The revolutionists of that day were tried together with royalists, spies, and thieves; accused by the Thermidorians of being in England’s pay; and guillotined. The agents of reaction are rarely original in their methods of getting rid of troublesome revolutionists. They can only unconsciously plagiarize from their predecessors. Just as Vishinsky, when he accuses Trotsky of being an agent of the Gestapo, is echoing the charges of the reactionary press against Lenin and Trotsky in July 1917, so Stalin’s amalgams simply reproduce, under different conditions, the Thermidorian frame-ups against the Jacobins.

Browder points to the traitors in high office at the beginning of the American Civil War as proof of the guilt of the Old Bolsheviks. His comparison could pertinently refer to those reactionaries of today who prepare their coups under the wing of Popular Front governments in France and Spain. But it could apply to the Moscow Trials only if Grant, Stevens, Seward, Garrison, Greeley, and nine-tenths of the Republican chieftains had been found to conspire with czarist Russia and monarchist Germany to restore slavery in 1880. It suffices to suggest such a hypothesis to expose its absurdity.

But Browder exposes himself far more successfully than any historical criticism can do when he forsakes the past for the present. The descendants of the traitors and assassins of the past are at work all around us today, he shrieks hysterically.

“The open incitations to assassination of President Roosevelt that have been published in the New York Herald-Tribune, the New York Sun, and the McClure Syndicate confidential dispatches are only a little whiff of the devil’s brew of treason that boils in Wall Street circles. The recent column of the well-known Republican commentator, Mark Sullivan, in which he compares President Rosevelt with a skunk, and proposes to remove a skunk from the national premises by writing polite letters to him, was but a cowardly echo of this assassination propaganda in high places. Treason is afoot in America today. Let the Moscow trials arouse the American people to more alertness toward it!”

Ridiculous, incredible, mad? Of course. And yet there is a method in this madness. If Trotsky’s injunction to the communist party to fulfill the last words of Lenin in his testament: “Remove Stalin!” can be used by Vishinsky as irrefutable evidence of Trotsky’s terrorist instructions, why cannot Mark Sullivan’s political opposition to Roosevelt be interpreted by the American imitators of Vishinsky as proof of terrorist activities? The one has just as much credibility as the other. That is to say, none whatsoever. The political psychology of the Stalinist Thermidorians and their totalitarian policy require that they identify all political opposition with terrorism.

Browder’s pamphlet is just another little frame-up of the Stalinists, no different and no more successful than the big Moscow frame-ups. His attempt to place Max Eastman in the same category as Mark Sullivan is on a par with the Thermidorian mixture of the royalists and revolutionists.

On the cover of this yellow and black pamphlet is the illustration of a rattlesnake, which is supposed to be a symbol of treachery. That rattlesnake symbol has had an interesting evolution in American history. When it was first used by the American rebels in their struggle against England for liberty and independence, with the slogan: “Don’t Tread on Me!”, it had a genuine revolutionary significance. In 1860, however, at the beginning of the Second American Revolution, the rattlesnake entwined around the palmetto tree was the fighting symbol of South Carolina, the vanguard state of the secessionist slaveholders, who used the same slogan for completely reactionary ends. “Copperhead” was the designation for the Southern sympathizer in the free states.

Our own revolutionary history teaches that the same symbol, the same slogan, and the same terms may express (and hide) at different stages of development of a great revolutionary movement, a diametrically different content. The symbols persist in the popular consciousness even although the social interests they formerly denoted, have shifted. The new reactionaries pervert the old revolutionary traditions and exploit them against the people’s interests.

So has it become with the word “communist” and with all the glorious traditions attached to the term and the organization. The Moscow Trials are an unmistakeable warning that the social revolutionary interests once identified with this name and banner have no longer anything in common with them. The revolutionary rattlesnake of 1776 has become transformed into the reactionary rattlesnake of 1860, and stings to death its former collaborators.

This is the great historical lesson of the Moscow Trials, although it is the precise opposite of the lesson Browder intended to inculcate in his venomous pamphlet.


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