Harry Pollitt 1938

Trial of the Group of Conspirators of the ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyists’: The Crushing of the Traitors – A Triumph for Peace and Socialism

Source: International Press Correspondence, Volume 18, no 14, 19 March 1938. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The trial of the 21 political and moral degenerates in Moscow is a mighty demonstration to the world of the power and strength of the Soviet Union. [1]

One of the first thoughts that comes to our mind as we read the accounts of the trial is that ‘the enemy never gives up’. From that moment when Brailsford [2] declared the second Russian Revolution ‘to be a disaster’, the opposition inside and outside has never ceased its attempts by one means or another to crush the Soviet Union.

All the groups within the Soviet Union who doubted the capacity of the government to construct Socialism, groups who lost faith and could go no further in the hard fight to overcome difficulties, groups defeated in political struggles as to which policy should be followed by the Soviet government all tended to draw together, and by their infamous activities conspired to hinder or destroy the great structure that millions were devoting their lives to build.

When fascism rose to power in Germany, and the militarist fascist regime in Japan gained strength – these two countries were assisted by Britain to develop into ‘bulwarks against Bolshevism in the East and West’.

And then, inevitably the wreckers inside the Soviet Union made a common front with Germany and Japan. The gigantic conspiracy is being unfolded in the present trial. The threads of the previous trials are being drawn together. No need here to amplify or explain the evidence – it speaks for itself.

The roots of the cancer are being ruthlessly plucked out. We must, however, appreciate one point clearly – there is a lot of talk about ‘confessions’ – it is not a question of confessions which bring to light the deeds of these criminals. These people have been forced to admissions when faced with the facts produced by the judicial authorities. They can no longer hide the truth.

You will remember how Zinoviev and Kamenev [3] grovelled when faced with the death sentence and cried out that they had revealed everything. The facts show they had told nothing in comparison with what they were still hiding. The evidence of Yagoda [4] is conclusive on this point. The full facts only come to light now through the patient and painstaking work of the Soviet authorities.

You will not have forgotten how the capitalist press, together with such types as the Brailsfords and Brockways [5] (the latter now busily sending protests to the Soviet government), tried to make copy out of the pretence that other trials were a frame-up. Well, Yagoda has been in the dock.

It was he who helped prepare the evidence on other occasions. He has been before the microphone with the eyes of scores of journalists eager ‘for copy and scoops’ on him, and he had the chance to declare: ‘I did my best to frame-up previous trials.’ He did not. Yet no one better than he knows how these journalists would have gleefully wired such a declaration to their newspapers and the world publicity that such a declaration would have received.

But Yagoda did not do this, because he knew those trials were judicially correct, but that he successfully prevented the whole truth from coming out.

As we watch the proceedings and read the press comments in this country it is amusing to see how the Beaverbrooks, Rothermeres, Astors, Garvins and Chamberlains, [6] in fact the whole Cliveden gang, [7] fulminate against Soviet justice.

This class is working night and day for a bloc with Hitler and Mussolini, and now undertakes the defence of the proven fascist agents in the Soviet Union who also made a bloc with Hitler. It is this gang who describe the Trotskys, Bukharins, Rakovskys – as ‘Old Bolsheviks’.

Incidentally it cannot be too often understood that the term ‘Old Bolsheviks’ in the way Lenin understood this term, are the Stalins, Molotovs, Kaganovichs, Yezhovs, [8] these are the men of steel who have, by their policy, leadership and indomitable faith brought the Soviet Union from what it was in October 1917 to the mighty and powerful Socialist country it is today.

When I read these newspapers I am reminded of a speech of the late AJ Cook [9] in the latter stages of the miners’ lock-out in 1926. These same newspapers and gangs were vilifying Cook as ‘an enemy of the miners... unstable... a red’, and Cook, at a demonstration at Cannock Chase, declared in answer to them: ‘When the capitalist press speak well of me – miners beware.’

And now the fact that the most reactionary die-hard imperialists and pro-fascists in Britain rush to their defence is sufficient to condemn the whole unsavoury crew standing in the dock in Moscow, together with their leader skulking in Mexico. [10]

The blunt truth is that this pro-fascist gang know very well that their most valuable agents have been unmasked and that a mortal blow has been struck at their hopes for the defeat of the Soviet Union, whose strength they are now forced to recognise.

It is pertinent to draw our readers’ attention again to that part of the Central Committee of the Communist Party’s resolution on the trial where it states:

The exposure of the anti-Soviet activities of British imperialism is particularly timely, and reveals Chamberlain’s open move towards a fascist alliance as the continuation of the policy against Socialism and democracy which British imperialism has consistently pursued since the Revolution, and which has been intensified under the National Government since 1931. [11]

Those countries who do not desire the fall of the Soviet Union – those countries who see in the Soviet Union the only hope for peace – have not been slow to prove that they, too, appreciate the lesson of the trial.

These countries recognise what Sir Walter Citrine, Brockway, Maxton [12] and Company can never understand, that the Soviet Union is united and invincible and that her help is indispensable in their fight against fascism. They realise, too, that the elimination of traitors and spies results in increased strength and not weakness, and would no doubt be feeling still happier if they felt certain they had unmasked all Hitler’s agents and spies in their countries.

Let us consider what sort of people are responsible for baffling the spies and wreckers – outwitting the Scotland Yards of so many governments. It is the miners, engineers, peasants, textile workers – men and women like you who read this article. The same people who won power in 1917 and who defeated armed intervention, blockade, triumphed over famine and achieved the restoration of industry and agriculture. The same people who carried through the Five-Year Plans, built up their defence forces on land and sea and in the air and who are the envy of the world. The people who are responsible for the greatest educational, scientific and cultural advances known in modern history, who have flown from Moscow to California, and conquered the North Pole.

What can we do to prove our solidarity with the Soviet Union? Let us redouble our efforts to frustrate the Chamberlain conspiracy to ally Britain with Hitler and Mussolini! Let us put every ounce of our force into the struggle to secure a peace bloc with France and the Soviet Union, and in this way provide an impregnable basis for the peace forces of the whole world to rally round.

I conclude by asking you to read and study the following extract from an article by Comrade Georgi Dimitrov written on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution:

In the present situation there is not, nor can there be any other more certain criterion than one’s attitude towards the Soviet Union, in determining who is the friend and who the enemy of the cause of the working class and Socialism, of determining who is a supporter and who an opponent of democracy and peace. The touchstone in checking the sincerity and honesty of every individual active in the working-class movement, of every working-class party and organisation of the working people, and of every democrat in the capitalist countries is their attitude towards the great land of Socialism.

You cannot carry on a real struggle against fascism if you do not render all possible assistance in strengthening the most important buttress of this struggle, namely, the Soviet Union. You cannot carry on a serious struggle against the fascist instigators of a new world blood-bath if you do not render undivided support to the USSR, a most important factor in the maintenance of international peace. You cannot carry on a real struggle for Socialism in your own country if you do not oppose the enemies of the Soviet state, where this Socialism is being fulfilled by the heroic efforts of the working people. You cannot be a real friend of the USSR if you do not condemn its enemies – the Trotsky – Bukharin agents of fascism. [13]


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. The third of the three Moscow Trials was held in March 1938. The defendants were Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Krestinsky, Christian Rakovsky, Genrikh Yagoda, Arkady Rosengoltz, Vladimir Ivanov, Mikhail Chernov, Grigori Grinko, Isaac Zelensky, Sergei Bessonov, Akmal Ikramov, Faizulla Khodzayev, Vasily Sharangovich, Prokopy Zubarev, Pavel Bulanov, Lev Levin, Dmitry Pletnev, Ignaty Kazakov, Venyamin Maximov-Dikovsky and Pyotr Kryuchkov. All were found guilty and shot immediately afterwards, except for Pletnev, Rakovsky and Bessonov, who were given lengthy prison sentences.

2. Henry Brailsford (1873-1958) was a left-wing journalist and prolific author. Sympathetic to the October Revolution, he became increasingly critical of the Soviet government from the mid-1920s, and condemned the show trials that it organised in the 1930s.

3. Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev were sentenced to death in the first of the Moscow Trials, held in August 1936.

4. Genrikh Yagoda (1891-1938) headed the NKVD during 1934-36 and organised the trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Removed from his post in 1936, he found himself in the dock at the third Moscow Trial in 1938.

5. Archibald Fenner Brockway (1888-1988) was General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party during 1933-39, and was a public critic of the Moscow Trials.

6. William Maxwell ‘Max’ Aitken, First Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1964) was a Canadian British businessman and newspaper proprietor; he owned the right-wing Daily Express and Sunday Express, and served in British Cabinets in both World Wars. Harold Sidney Harmsworth, First Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940) was the owner of several newspapers, including the Daily Mail, which was very favourable to fascism during the mid-1930s. Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879-1964) was a very right-wing US expatriate living in Britain and was a Conservative MP during 1919-45. James Louis Garvin (1868-1947) was the editor of the Observer during 1908-42. Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) was a Conservative MP during 1918-40, Minister of Health during 1923, 1924-29 and 1931, Chancellor of the Exchequer during 1923-24 and 1931-37, and Prime Minister during 1937-40, heading the coalition National Government which declared war on Germany in September 1939.

7. The Cliveden Set was a nickname, penned by the communist journalist Claude Cockburn, of a group of wealthy right-wingers around Nancy Astor, at her family country house of Cliveden, and who were widely considered to be amenable to Hitler and the Third Reich.

8. Nikolai Yezhov replaced Yagoda as head of the NKVD in 1936. He resigned in disgrace from his post in late 1938, and was tried and executed in 1940.

9. Arthur James Cook (1883-1931) was a long-standing militant in the miners’ union, and was General Secretary of the Miners Federation of Great Britain during 1924-31.

10. That is, Trotsky, who was in exile in Mexico at this point.

11. Britain was governed by a series of National Governments from 1931 to 1945. The first emerged from the collapse of the Labour Government in August 1931 through a deep Cabinet division in respect of public expenditure cuts following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, with the former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald at its head, leading to his expulsion from the Labour Party. A general election was held in October 1931, and although the Conservatives won a resounding victory, MacDonald remained Prime Minister. MacDonald resigned in June 1935, and the Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin took over. The Conservatives won another victory in the general election of November 1935, Baldwin remained Prime Minister, and was replaced in May 1937 by Neville Chamberlain, who was himself replaced by Winston Churchill in May 1940.

12. Walter Citrine (1887-1983), by trade an electrician, was General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress during 1925-46, and wrote a critical account of his experiences in the Soviet Union, I Search for Truth in Russia (London, 1936). James Maxton (1885-1946) was Chairman of the Independent Labour Party during 1926-31 and 1934-39, and MP for Glasgow Bridgeton during 1922-46.

13. Georgi Dimitrov, ‘The Soviet Union and the Working Classes of the Capitalist Countries’, Selected Speeches and Articles (London, 1951), p 184. This speech is not yet on the MIA.