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Labor Action, 14 March 1949


Pierre Colin

Paris Court Hears Witnesses Indict
Stalin Crimes in Kravchenko Suit

(5 March 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 11, 14 March 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


PARIS, Mar. 5 – The suit of Victor Kravchenko, former Soviet official and author’ of the book I Chose Freedom, against Lettres Françaises, Stalinist literary weekly, finally nears termination after a month of uproarious and violent court sessions. This legal proceeding had been initiated by Kravchenko as a result of an article written by Sim Thomas for Lettres Françaises which charged that Kravchenko had not written his book and that it had been written for him by American OSS agents.

The trial quickly surpassed the limits of a libel suit and was transformed into a violent and impassioned debate on the character of the Russian regime.

Vilify Accusers

From the very outset, the Kravchenko-Lettres Françaises trial has become news item number one for most newspapers in non-Stalinist Europe; many newspapers in France publish complete verbatim coverages of each session of the trial proceedings. The debates and problems raised by the trial have become a favorite subject for editorial rhetoric. People avidly follow the debates which are a subject of daily conversations and discussions.

The final juridical outcome of the trial, at this point, seems to be a more or less foregone conclusion. Despite the pains taken by the Stalinists to organize their defense, despite the direct aid furnished by the GPU and the open intervention of the Russian government into the trial proceedings, the extreme difficulty of concealing the true nature of Russian totalitarianism, the obvious falsehood of the Sim Thomas article has led them to defend themselves in a manner which is hardly designed to convince those who are not conditioned by the Stalinist mentality.

It has been relatively easy for Kravchenko’s lawyers to prove that the article written by Sim Thomas, the purportedly “well known American newspaperman,” is a fabrication. The Stalinist defense was not able to present Sim Thomas to the court for the simple reason that he is a fictitious creation cloaking the identity of a GPU agent in France who actually wrote the contested article.

The Stalinist smear method of defense against Kravchenko and the harrowing revelations made by Russian refugees, is one that is only too familiar. They are the “pures” fighting for peace and liberty and anyone opposed to them is a variety of fascist hyena who naturally is also an anti- Soviet agent, Nazi collaborator, etc.

Such has been their stereotyped response to any and all questions raised in the trial. Whenever any of the Russian witnesses testifying in favor of Kravchenko related before the court their personal experiences with the Russian slave camps, the GPU persecutions, the famines, the purges, etc., the Stalinist defense automatically responded, not by attempting to refute the information presented by the witnesses, but by denouncing them as Nazi collaborators, degenerates, traitors et al. The attempt at personal vilification was carried a step further when the Russian government issued a diplomatic note to the French government, declaring that Kravchenko’s Russian witnesses were war criminals wanted by the Russians. This demand was simply a move to intimidate the court, for it was quite easy to disprove this calumnious attempt. (Some of the people in question were members of the Russian Communist Party and all of them had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.)

In the case of Kravchenko, through the means of imported witnesses from Russia, the Stalinists have tried to prove that he was always a drunkard, an incompetent engineer, a wastrel, a thief and an embezzler.

As a further means of defending themselves before the telling testimony by Russian witnesses who have fled to Germany, a series of prominent “character” witnesses who are well known for their “progressiveness and integrity” were heard. The distinguished assemblage included the “Red” Dean of Canterbury, Koni Zilliacus, English MP, Albert Kahn, notorious apologist for the GPU in the U.S., Pierre Cot, Jean Cassou, etc. Most of them were obliged to put on a song and dance stating that the editors of Lettres Françaises are fine upstanding people and that Kravchenko deserted his fatherland during the war and was therefore a miserable traitor and, as everyone knows, all traitors are liars. The fellow travellers were forced to pay off for the publicity and support given them by the CP, even at the risk of allowing themselves to appear ridiculous.

Marne Testimony

The most moving and sensational testimony of the trial thus far was that given by Gertrude Buber-Neumann, wife of Heinz Neumann, who together with Thaelmann was the top leader of the German Communist Party prior to 1933, and a former member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Neumann and his wife had sought refuge in Russia after the coming to power of Hitler.

Even prior to 1933 Neumann opposed the official Comintern policy of regarding the Hitler movement as a lesser evil and the German Social Democracy as the main enemy. In a conversation that Neumann had with Stalin, the latter expressed the opinion that with the coming to power of the Hitler regime in Germany it would thereby assure Russia of peaceful relations with a friendly Germany, whose interests conflicted with those of the imperialists of Western Europe. (This seems to agree with the analysis of Stalinist policy in Germany furnished by Ruth Fischer, former leader of the German CP, in her book, Stalin and German Communism.) Neumann vigorously rejected Stalin’s thesis and urged that the Comintern change its policy in order that a full struggle against Nazism take place before it was too late.

During the period of the Moscow Trials, Neumann was arrested by the GPU and disappeared; no word of his fate has ever been learned. The wife of Neumann was arrested as a “counter-revolutionary” in 1937 and sentenced to a seven-year sentence at forced labor. She was sent to the slave camps in the Karaganda region, which she described as a forced labor camp covering a region greater than all of Denmark.

In 1941 Gertrude Neumann was suddenly transferred from Karaganda and brought to Moscow, where she was informed that she was to be sent to an unidentified destination. Together with 25 other Austrian, German and Hungarian Communist leaders (including several of Jewish origin) she arrived at Brest-Litovsk, from whence they were escorted to the German border of Poland and turned over to the Gestapo. Gertrude Neumann was immediately placed in the infamous German concentration camp of Ravensbruck, where she remained imprisoned until the arrival of the Red Army in 1945. Upon the arrival of the Russians she managed to escape to the Anglo-Saxon occupied zone.

The Stalinist answer to testimony of Mme Neumann reached a new low in sheer filth when Joe Nordmann, Stalinist defending attorney, sneeringly replied: “How can anyone believe the statements of a GERMAN?” L’Humanité, official organ of the French CP, glibly stated that Gertrude Neumann was a Gestapo agent and was transferred to Germany at her own request (as was the case with the others). She was placed in Ravensbruck by the Gestapo to spy on the anti-Nazi inmates. Tell a big lie ...

Propaganda Battle

It is indeed curious to observe the tremendous publicity given to Kravchenko’s book and to this trial. Despite the fact that for the first time the public has been offered the revelations of a Russian functionary who was part of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The “revelations” that Kravchenko makes available to us on the iniquities of Stalinist society had been previously described and analyzed with infinitely more intelligence and force by men who have participated in leading capacities, in the formation and development of the Russian Revolution and the heroic years of its infancy.

Who has combatted with greater force than a Trotsky or a Victor Serge the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the institution of the slave camps, the police regime and the elimination of democratic forms, the new forms of exploitation of the working class? The audience of their writings was limited to an international elite composed of anti-Stalinist militants whose sharpened awareness of the degeneration of the Russian state did not oblige them to forget the rottenness of decadent capitalist society.

Kravchenko has deliberately decided, in rejecting one of these regimes, to accept the other wholeheartedly. And this is why he has merited such a large measure of publicity. This is why the Kravchenko-Lettres Françaises trial became transformed into a propaganda battle which seeks its outline in the larger frame of world conflict.

Despite all this, this kind of large publicity trial does not possess a purely negative character. Hitherto the power of the Stalinist machine in France has been powerful enough to suppress any significant publicity exposing the true character of the Russian regime in the French labor movement.

In spite of the form and auspices from which the truth on Stalinist Russia is presently being made available to the French people, it can serve to destroy, at least in part, the Stalinist myth of the Russian paradise that has been implanted in the minds of thousands of French workers. The creation of a doubt among those who subsist on the Stalinist myth can be sufficient to undermine the illusory foundations of the Stalinist mentality. It is therefore the obligation of organizations of the independent left to use this wedge to the greater benefit of the ideas and principles of a renewed French revolutionary democracy.

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