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Irving Howe

Duranty: The Creature Is at His Dirty Work Again

(December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 49, 8 December 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is nauseating to observe how the American liberals have suddenly taken Stalin back to their bosoms, once he joined up on the “right side” of the war. The vilest aspect of this retrospective adoration is the way in which even, the Moscow : trials are now justified by such men as Harry Hopkins, former Ambassador Davies and Journalist Ralph Ingersoll.

Walter Duranty, an old hand at this sort of thing, has developed the theory to its utmost in his latest book, The Kremlin and the People. The theory itself is by now pretty much old stuff. It goes as follows: The defendants in the Moscow trials were fifth columnists. Stalin, who foresees everything, foresaw the war with Hitler and got the fifth columnists out of the way. That is why the Red Army continues to be able to resist Hitler. Duranty, as might be expected, adds his own unique touches. He indulges in speculations about the Russian soul; Dostoievsky is once more dragged in to explain the trials; the example of Alcibidias from Greek history is given to “explain” Trotsky; and, not to be accused of failing to give the English a break, he also drags in the example of the Earl of Essex during the reign of Queen Elizabeth!

Here is the sort of stuff Duranty palms off to explain the trials:

I say Russians are always Russians (Who can deny that? – I.H.) and every Russian is the same Russian, kind, cruel, hospitable, envious, suspicions, affectionate, generous, will shoot you as soon as look, and if he happens to miss might kiss yon the next minute on both cheeks.”

You see, of course, how this helps explain the trials.

The Doers and the Talkers

As Duranty tells it, Stalin represented those Bolsheviks who had fought in Russia before the revolution, while Trotsky led those who had been in exile “talking in cafes.” (The fact that Trotsky was in exile because he had escaped from Siberian prison – what is this to bother a self-admitted “philosopher” like Duranty?).

The Oppositionists were not really bothered by Stalin, Duranty tells us, until Kiroff was shot- – which stirred Stalin to the heart and started the trials and purges. Interesting if true. It happens that Oppositionists were shot (Blumkin) and exiled before the murder of Kiroff. And to think that the trials were held because Stalin loved Kiroff – is the man serious?

Duranty, with all his attempts to explain by references to Alcibidias and how Yagoa looked Ulrich in the eye and how the Russians are like children only they are like grown-ups, does not once attempt to consider the testimony of the trials from the point of view of objective plausibility and coherence. If he did that, he would have to admit that the testimony does not jibe with the facts.

Some Startling Admissions

As it is, he makes some. startling admissions. He admits that from 60 to 70 per cent of the leaders of every field of Soviet life were purged. He tells a story of the Bukharin-Yagoda trial that is quite startling and revealing in the light it throws on the trials.

Yagoda, he says, had denied accusations put to him by Prosecutor Vyshinsky. Then Ulrich chastized him. Yagoda burst out with an exclamation that was not printed in the official records:

“That goes for you too – you can drive me, hut not too far! I’ll say what I want to say ... but ... do not drive me too far!”

It is for little things like this, little slips, that the book is worth attention. Its basic: idea is merely an absurd version of the Stalinist whitewash of the Moscow trials.

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