Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Introducing a new column

(March 1958)

From The Newsletter, 8 March 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg. by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Sloan on the purges

PAT SLOAN, secretary of the British-Soviet Friendship Society, writes in his British-Soviet Newsletter dated February 22, under the heading The “Purges” of 1937–8:

‘Together with the actual revision of a number of past sentences, now found to have been unjust, certain rumours have been circulated in the Press and sundry newsletters to the effect that the big treason trials of the 1930s are now recognized to have been unfounded. One of the latest reports on this subject “quotes” an article by I. Serov in Pravda of December 21, 1957. A perusal, however, of the relevant passages in the article makes it clear that it is not the big treason trials that Serov criticizes – but the purge that followed during 1937 and 1938 in the wake of these trials.’

Kept from his readers

Certainly nobody could draw from Serov’s article the conclusion that ‘the big treason trials of the 1930s are now recognized to have been unfounded’ – for he expressly justifies three of them, namely the ‘Industrial Party’ trial of 1930, the ‘Menshevik’ trial of 1931 and the ‘Metro-Vickers’ trial of 1933.

It is just that, however, which makes so significant his omission to mention the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial (1936) or to except the Pyatakov-Radek trial or the Generals’ trial (1937) or the Bukharin-Krestinsky trial (1938) from his blanket repudiation of the ‘repressions’ of 1937–38.

Sloan has been careful to keep from readers of his newsletter the numerous references to victims of these trials that have appeared in the Soviet Press over the last few years – references of a kind that are fully understood to imply rehabilitation of the persons concerned.

Thus, for example, in an article in Literaturnaya Gazeta of February 28, 1957, on Latvian literature, the writer mentions Robert Eidemann (‘a talented Soviet Latvian writer who was also an outstanding commander in the Civil War, head of the Frunze Military Academy, a member of the Revolutionary Military Council and chief of Osoaviakhim’).

Eidemann is listed along with a number of other Latvian writers, with the comment: ‘In relation to many of these writers violations of socialist legality were committed.’

‘Unmentioned’ in recent years

Now Eidemann was one of the Generals executed with Tukhachevsky. It is also significant that in an editorial on party history in the journal Problems of History (no. 3 of 1956) Gamarnik was mentioned alongside Antonov-Ovseyenko (‘rehabilitated’ by Mikoyan in his Twentieth Congress speech) as one of these whose names had been ‘unmentioned’ in the writings of ‘recent years’.

Gamarnik, then head of the Red Army’s political administration, was included in the indictment of the Generals, but was said to have killed himself to avoid arrest.

(The implicit rehabilitation of Gamarnik is particularly interesting in that Krestinsky, one of the principal accused in the 1938 treason trial, was alleged to have been go-between for a group of civilian conspirators and Gamarnik’s military group.)

Again, Tukhachevsky himself is named, as commander of the First Army, in articles on the Eastern Front in 1918–19 in Problems of History nos. 6 and 10 of 1956.

Sloan knows very well that the mere mention of his name was interpreted by Soviet citizens as an admission that the former Red Army chief had not been guilty of the crimes for which he was executed.

And now comes Marshal Bagramyan’s article on the Soviet army anniversary, with its mention of the officers murdered by Yezhov ...

‘Shoot ‘em all down’

Sloan’s anxiety about the ‘anti-Trotsky’ trials is understandable, for he was one of those who worked hard at the time to convince the working-class movement here of the justice of the verdicts.

Thus in Controversy of March 1938 he wrote of the victims: ‘It is a good thing they have been shot. Further, if there were more of them, then more of them should have been shot.’

Sloan’s controversial methods have not changed, either. In the same article he denounced as ‘an unscrupulous misquotation by Trotsky’ Stalin’s statement of November 6, 1918 about Trotsky having been the chief organizer of the October Revolution – though this appeared in the collection of Stalin’s articles called The October Revolution which had been published by Lawrence and Wishart in their Marxist-Leninist Library such a short time before as 1936!

Sloan evidently believes in the tactic of bold denial. Alas for such methods, though – 1958 is not 1938.

Seize this opportunity

The third issue of Universities and Left Review (Winter 1958, 4s.) contains the full text of the pamphlet The Insiders, that most useful factual exposure of the ‘managerial revolution’ theory behind Industry and Society.

People who missed getting The Insiders when it first appeared should seize this opportunity of securing a first-class piece of propaganda material.

Other contributions include Hungary and Socialism, by Francois Fejto, who wrote what many think the best book to date about the background to the Hungarian Revolution; a survey of Labour Movement Historiography by John Saville, himself a notable worker in this field; and Russia Alive, by Michael Kullman, an impression of the Moscow Youth Festival which supplements the account given by Maurice Pelter in his Newsletter pamphlet Russian Youth Awakes.

Announced in this issue is the opening of a Left Book Centre at 7 Carlisle Street, W.l, on March 14. This should meet a long-felt need for a place where the literature of all socialist trends, without discrimination, can be obtained.

No confirmation

Latest volume of Documents on German Foreign Policy published by the Foreign Office confirms the rumours we used to hear about King Edward VIII’s Hitlerite sympathies already when he was Prince of Wales.

What no documents so far published have confirmed is the charges regarding talks between Trotsky and Hess which were brought up in the notorious Moscow trials.

Nor was anything mentioned about them at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Trotsky’s widow was refused permission to interrogate the Nazi leaders on that occasion.

Soviet Studies

The quarterly Soviet Studies, published for Glasgow University by Basil Blackwell, Oxford, often carried well-informed articles of general interest and value.

For example, the October 1957 number has an article Labour and the Social Structure, by Margaret Dewar, which offers a penetrating analysis of relations between the bureaucracy and the working class in the Soviet Union today.

In the January 1958 number Jacob Miller reviews at length the symposium of stories, poems and essays called Literary Moscow, II, which caused so much controversy last year and was mentioned once or twice in The Newsletter.

Soviet Studies costs 10s. 6d., but it is, or ought to be, in every large public library.

Last updated on 10.10.2011