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Socialist Alternative, October 1936, Volume 2 No. 9, Page 4-5
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell and David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Trials And Executions In Moscow

Eliminating the Opposition Under the New Constitution?

By Theodore Dan

We reprint the following letter sent to the editor of the MANCHESTER GUARDIAN by Theodore Dan, appearing in that publication on September 4, 1936. Dan is the leader of the Russian Menshevik (Social Democratic) party, and a member of the Bureau of the Socialist and Labor International. While we are not in accord with all the political views of Theodore Dan, his letter on the trial and executions in Moscow is, we feel, of signal interest to our readers.—The Editors.

To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Sir,—Sixteen men have been shot in Moscow and one, Tomsky, menaced and hounded into suicide. Among the sixteen were Zinovieff, Kameneff, Smirnov, Mratchkovsky, the most noted of the fellow-workers of Lenin, co-founders of the Bolshevik party and the international Communist movement, men who led the Bolshevik revolution and during its heroic period filled the highest posts in the Soviet State and in the party and trade union organizations. The turn of other Bolshevik leaders no less prominent, men who have held high positions in the State and the army—Radek, Bukharin, Rykoff, Piatokoff, Sokolnikoff, Serebriakoff—has still to come. Everyone who at any time played a leading part in the Bolshevik party is awaiting his fate in fear and horror. Even those nearest to Stalin feel insecure.

Stalin is not content even with having the old party leaders shot; he is having them covered with infamy—and with them the leader who is now out of his reach, Trotsky, the actual organiser of the October rising, of the Red Army, and of the victories in the civil war. If one is to believe the court and the Soviet press, the men who were the making of the Bolshevik party and of international Communism, and who led the Bolshevik revolution, were nothing but blackguards and thieves, spies and mercenaries of Hitler and the Gestapo!

But did there really exist a terrorist conspiracy against Stalin among the old Bolshevik leaders? It is only too natural that terrorist ideas should simmer in many a hot head in a country in which every opportunity is lacking of organised peaceful opposition to the arbitrary “totalitarian” omnipotence of a single person. But one may well suspect that these hot heads would not be found on the shoulders of old and experienced politicians, who, as Marxists, had for many a year strongly condemned terrorism, if only on account of its futility. The suspicion becomes a certainty when one examines the case for the prosecution and the reports of the Soviet press on the proceedings. There is not a single document, not a single definite piece of evidence, not a single precise detail of the alleged plans of assassination, not a single attempt to reconcile the conflicting statements made, and only two “witnesses,” both brought into court from prison and both due to appear themselves as defendants in the “second” terrorist trial before the same court! There is nothing but malevolent phrases in general terms and, most incredible of all, the most abject of self-vilification and “confessions” on the part of the accused men, once more without any concrete detail of any sort concerning their “crime”; they fairly enter into competition with the State prosecutor in branding themselves, and actually beg for the death penalty.

But why is Stalin thus getting rid of the old party leaders on the very eve of the enactment of the new Constitution, with all its democratic flavour? Why is he breaking, at this particular moment, the bonds that still unite him with the old traditions and the past history of the Bolshevik party, the international Communist movement, and the Bolshevik revolution, as Napoleon once broke with the Jacobins from among whom he had risen to power?

In spite of all the democratic rights granted to Soviet citizens by the new Constitution Stalin intends to be in a position to make it a serviceable instrument of the consolidation of his personal dictatorship. For there is one right that is still denied the Soviet citizen—the right of free political self-determination and free organisation in general, without which all other rights can easily be rendered valueless. The political monopoly and the leadership in all permitted organisations and all State and municipal bodies, and therewith the disposal of the press, of the right of assembly, and so on, remains in the hands of the Communist party which Stalin has politically emasculated; in other words, it remains constitutionally reserved to Stalin himself.

But he still has to face the danger that certain provisions of the new Constitution, above all, the secrecy of the ballot, may become buttresses for a legal struggle of the working masses for their rights—above all, for the right of free organisation. For that reason he is urgently at work now making “innocuous” all those who are in a position to organise this mass struggle. He is sending Social Democrats wholesale into his concentration camps. And he is hurriedly exterminating the last of the old Bolshevik leaders whose names and whose opposition to him are known to the masses and who could thus become particularly dangerous to him in his peaceful and constitutional struggle for his sole dominance.

If the Soviet Union is to be preserved as the nucleus of peace, and the war peril facing all humanity thus exorcised, all friends of the Russian Revolution and of world peace must stand resolutely on the side of the Russian workers and peasants in order to assist them to defend the possibilities of democratic and Socialistic development of the Soviet Union against the nationalistic and Bonapartist policy of Stalin. The Moscow murders are perhaps one of the final warnings.—

Yours, &c.,
Paris, August 28.

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