The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials


The prosecutor who served against Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other old Bolsheviks was the Menshevik Vyshinsky. To be sure, he had been much less a Menshevik than a small-time provincial lawyer who accommodated himself marvelously to tsarism. Carried away like many other petit-bourgeois by the 1905 revolution, Vyshinsky became a Menshevik, but already in 1907, he broke from the workers movement and returned to the life of a philistine. There is a gaping hole in his official biography between 1907 and 1920. After the February revolution Vyshinsky “became active” and, as a right Menshevik, (in the Zamoskvoretsky region of Moscow) he spoke as a frenzied enemy of Bolshevism and the October Revolution. After the victory, Vyshinsky decided to sneak into the ranks of Bolshevism. But first he prudently waited for the results of the Civil War. He joined the Communist Party in 1920, when the Soviet power had secured its victories, when it stood firmly, and when Vyshinsky therefore no longer risked anything. Having joined the party, the future prosecutor became, of course, a vehement opponent of all opposition and a faithful Stalinist. Just as he adapted to tsarism in the past, he now adapts to Stalinism.

And Stalin entrusts this man with the prosecution of old Bolsheviks! A former Menshevik, enemy of Bolshevism and the October Revolution, who demands the heads of the leaders of Bolshevism and the October Revolution. Isn’t that symbolic? Doesn’t this one fact say more than all the speeches and resolutions? Certainly, Vyshinsky felt at ease in his role of the Thermidorian avenger against Bolshevism.

Vyshinsky is no exception; there are thousands of Vyshinskys, faithful Stalinists,the buttress of the regime. The former minister of the White government under the auspices of Kolchak – Maisky, is now the Soviet ambassador to London; the former minister of Petliura, [70] Rafes, is one of the leaders of the Comintern.

In 1917, in the newspaper Dni, the venal journalist Zaslavksy slandered Lenin and Trotsky with particular hatred, calling them German spies. Lenin wrote about him repeatedly in the following way: “Zaslavsky and other scum,” “mercenary pen,” “blackmailer,” “slanderer.” These references are found dozens of times in Lenin’s writings of 1917.

And who today writes articles in Pravda which slander Trotsky as a Gestapo agent? The very same Zaslavsky!

Isn’t this symbolic, once again?

But let us return to Vyshinsky. In his speech, he is imprudent enough to venture into historical research. In order to expose Kamenev, Vyshinsky tells how, while editing a book by Machiavelli, “Kamenev ... wrote in a short introduction to this book ... ‘Master of political aphorism and brilliant dialectician,...’” and Vyshinsky adds: “This Machiavelli is, according to Kamenev, a dialectician! This arch-scoundrel is, it seems, a dialectician!”

Let us quote some estimations of Machiavelli by men whose works are not yet banned in the USSR, but whose revolutionary heirs have been shot there. We are talking about Marx and Engels. Marx called Machiavelli’s history of Florence a “masterpiece” (in a letter to Engels). For his part, Engels wrote: “Machiavelli was a statesman, historian, poet and at the same time, the first military writer in modern times worthy of mention,” (1880). In an article in the Kölnische Zeitung (No 179), Marx mentions Machiavelli alongside Spinoza, Rousseau and Hegel, as the one who discovered the laws of the state, drawing a parallel between this discovery and the discoveries of Copernicus. There are still other enthusiastic appreciations by Marx of Machiavelli; his name is often found in his correspondence.

It seems then that Marx and Engels did not consider Machiavelli to be an “arch-scoundrel.” But even “arch-scoundrel” fails to satisfy Vyshinsky. As a criminal, Machiavelli is a “puppy or a country bumpkin compared to them (Zinoviev and Kamenev).” What! And this imbecile of a prosecutor asks the court not to consider Kamenev’s preface to Machiavelli’s book “as one of the items of material evidence” (although Vyshinsky certainly did not have very many of these.)

Kamenev’s evaluation of Machiavelli “has,” in Vyshinsky’s words, “a certain importance for defining the moral and, if you will, ideological level, of the defendant Kamenev.”

“The moral and, if you will, ideological level.” But whose? By this example, Vyshinsky completely unveils his own “ideological level,” as far as this expression can generally be applied to such an individual.

Vyshinsky’s entire speech is kept strictly at this level. Let us just consider his slander that Trotsky holds a defeatist viewpoint with respect to the USSR. The prosecutor refers to the testimony of the arch-suspicious Berman-Yurin and Fritz David. He does not manage, though, to extract more than a few sentences from this testimony, according to which Trotsky demands the “disintegration of the armed forces.” Evidently feeling, himself, that all this was too false, crude and stupid, Vyshinsky adds: “Perhaps all this is invented? Fantastic fabrications? Perhaps all this is fantasy, pure invention, the irresponsible babbling of defendants who are trying to say as much as possible about others in order to lighten their own sentence?”

Having raised this extremely risky question, Vyshinsky presents the final proof by referring to ... the Theses of Clemenceau. We don’t know if Clemenceau [71] ever wrote theses. This Marxist foible was surely not part of the Tiger’s character. Vyshinsky evidently has in mind, and here he once again reveals his “ideological level,” the so-called “thesis” on Clemenceau. But let us listen to Vyshinsky himself. These mysterious theses of Clemenceau, in his words, speak “of the necessity, in case of war, of waiting until the enemy is within 80 km. of Moscow to take up arms against the Soviet government in order to overthrow it.”

In fact, in one of his speeches to the Political Bureau (apparently in 1927) Trotsky said that the danger of war or war itself would by no means wipe out the differences between the Opposition and the Stalinists, and that the Stalinist leadership, incompetent in peacetime, would reveal its inability to a far greater degree in case of war. Trotsky summed up his thoughts in another speech with the following words: “For the Socialist fatherland? Yes! For the Stalinist course? No!” Trotsky introduced the example of Clemenceau, who, when the Germans approached Paris during the war, by no means drew the conclusion to support the sluggish radical government, but on the contrary, considered that the very possibility of victory depended on the creation of a strong government. Clemenceau overthrew the government of radicals and took power. As even Vyshinsky probably knows, Clemenceau did this not by means of an armed insurrection or battles on the barricades. He overthrew the government within the framework of Parliament. With this analogy, Trotsky wanted to say that for the Soviet Union to win the war, it would be necessary to liquidate the Stalinist course and to remove the Stalinist leadership. Of course, in a strictly constitutional and statutory manner. If Trotsky had been speaking of an armed insurrection, it would have been useless for him to introduce the example of Clemenceau.

After referring so imprudently to the Theses of Clemenceau, Vyshinsky concludes: “Precisely for this reason one is forced to acknowledge that the testimony of Berman-Yurin and Fritz David in this case corresponds to reality.” Precisely for this reason one is forced to acknowledge, we say, that the testimony of Berman-Yurin and Fritz David does not, even in this case, correspond to reality.

As for the attitude of the Bolshevik-Leninists toward the defense of the USSR, whoever reads the Bulletin has no need of further explanations on our part. It is enough to look through the Bulletin to find instructions in almost every issue that the defense of the USSR is the unconditional duty, in spite of the bureaucracy and its ignominies, of every worker, not only a Bolshevik-Leninist. We again point out that the Left Opposition has always ruthlessly broken with those who allow any compromise on this question.


[70] Petliura: A Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist who led counter-revolutionary armies against the Bolsheviks to establish a separate Ukrainian nation. Welcomed the German armies in 1918, appealed to Paris for further foreign aid, tried to ally with Denikin and other White generals, and finally made a pact with the Polish bourgeoisie. By 1920 was defeated with the establishment of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

[71] Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929): Chief inspirer of Versailles, was in his youth a radical, called himself a socialist and was even for a time a member of the French Socialist Party. Later he became the beloved leader of the French big bourgeoisie, its “Tiger.” In the days of the Versailles Conference and during the era of the first World Congress of the Comintern, Clemenceau headed the French cabinet (First Five Years of the Communist international, Vol.1).

Last updated on: 13.2.2005