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Leon Trotsky 19380310 A Key to the Russian Trials

Leon Trotsky: A Key to the Russian Trials

March 10, 1938

    [Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 247-252]

The Moscow trial had wearied public opinion with its sensational incongruities even before it drew to a close. Even a mediocre journalist could have drafted State Prosecutor Vyshinsky’s final plea in advance – except, perhaps, for the profusion of vile slanders.

Vyshinsky has blended a significant element of personal vindictiveness into the political trial. During the years of the revolution he belonged to the White Guard party. When he switched his colors after the final victory of the Bolsheviks, he felt suspect and humiliated. Now he is taking his revenge. He is free to scorn Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, C. G. Rakovsky – names he pronounced for years with the most obsequious reverence. And, at the same time, Ambassadors Alexander Troyanovsky, Ivan Maisky, and Jakob Surits, whose pasts resemble Vyshinsky’s, proclaim to the civilized world that it is they who have inherited the ideals of the October Revolution while Bukharin, Rykov, Rakovsky, Trotsky, and others betrayed them. Everything is turned on its head.

The only conclusion Vyshinsky must draw from the latest series of Moscow trials is that the Soviet government is nothing but a centralized apparatus for high treason.

The heads of the government and the majority of the people’s commissars (Rykov, Kamenev, Rudzutak, Smirnov, Yakovlev Rosengolts, Chernov, Grinko, Ivanov, Osinsky, and others); the most important Soviet diplomats (Rakovsky, Sokolnikov, Krestinsky, Karakhan, Bogomolov Yurenev, and others); all the leaders of the Communist International (Zinoviev, Bukharin, Radek); the chief leaders of the economy (Pyatakov, Smirnov, Serebriakov, Lifshits, and others); the best captains and leaders of the army (Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, Yakir, Uborevich, Kork, Muralov, Mrachkovsky, Alksnis, Admiral Orlov, and others); the most outstanding worker-revolutionists produced by Bolshevism in thirty-five years (Tomsky, Yevdokimov, Smirnov, Bakaev, Serebriakov, Boguslavsky, Mrachkovsky); the heads and members of the governments of the Russian Soviet Republics (Sulimov, Varvara Yakovleva); the heads of all the thirty Soviet Republics without exception, i.e, the leaders developed by the movement of the liberated nationalities (Budu Mdivani, Okudzhava, Kavtaradze, Chervyakov, Goloded, Skrypnik, Lyubchenko, Nestor Lakoba, Faizul Khodzhaev, Ikramov, and dozens of others); the leaders of the GPU for the past ten years, Yagoda and his collaborators; finally, and this is most important, the members of the all-powerful Political Bureau, actually the supreme power of the country, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Tomsky, Rykov, Bukharin, Rudzutak – all of them were plotting against the Soviet power in the years when they held it in their hands!

All of them, as agents of foreign powers, aimed at ripping to shreds the Soviet federation built by them, and enslaving to fascism the peoples for whom they had fought for dozens of years!

In this criminal activity, ministers, marshals, and ambassadors invariably submitted to one individual; not the official leader, no – an exile! It was sufficient for him but to crook a finger and the veterans of the revolution became agents of Hitler and the Mikado.

Upon the “instructions” of Trotsky through an incidental go-between in the Tass agency, the leaders of industry, transportation, and agriculture destroyed the productive forces of the country and its culture.

Upon an order from the “enemy of the people,” sent from Norway or Mexico, the railway workers of the Far East wrecked military trains, and venerable Kremlin physicians poisoned their patients. This is the astonishing picture of the Soviet state that Vyshinsky is obliged to countenance on the basis of the revelations of the latest trials.

But here a difficulty arises. A totalitarian regime is a dictatorship of the bureaucracy. If all the key positions were occupied by Trotskyists who submitted to me, why, in that case, is Stalin in the Kremlin and am I in exile?

In these trials everything is turned on its head. The enemies of the October Revolution array themselves as its executors; careerists beat their chests like champions of ideals; specialists in frame-up stalk in the guise of examining magistrates, prosecutors, and judges.

But nevertheless, says the man of “common sense,” it is hard to believe that hundreds of defendants, adults and normal individuals, and endowed, moreover, to a considerable extent with strong characters and exceptional intellects, have senselessly accused themselves before all mankind of terrible and abhorrent crimes.

As often happens in life, “common sense” strains at gnats and swallows camels. Of course it is not easy to comprehend why hundreds of people debased themselves. But is it easier to believe that these same hundreds committed terrible crimes which contradicted their interests, their psychology, the whole cause to which they had devoted their lives? To judge and evaluate, concrete conditions should be taken into mind. These people gave their testimony only after being arrested, with the sword of Damocles poised above them; when they, their wives, mothers, fathers, children, and friends had fallen completely into the power of the GPU; when they had no defense and no glimmer of hope; when they themselves were under a mental strain no human nerves could be capable of withstanding.

On the other hand, these improbable crimes for which they admit guilt were committed – if we are to believe them – at a time when they were completely free, occupied high positions, and had full opportunity calmly to reflect, to ponder, and to choose.

Is it not then self-evident that the most absurd lie uttered under the muzzle of a revolver is immeasurably more natural than the chain of senseless crimes deliberately committed?

Which is the more probable: that a political exile, deprived of power and means, separated from Russia by a veil of slanders, with one movement of his little finger impels ministers, generals, and diplomats over a series of years to betray their country and themselves in the name of hopeless and absurd aims; or that Stalin, having at his disposal unlimited power and an inexhaustible treasury, that is, all means of intimidation and corruption, forced the defendants to bear testimony which carries out Stalin’s aims?

In order to overcome definitely the myopic doubts of “common sense” we can put yet one last question. Which is the more probable: that in medieval times, witches actually had traffic with hellish powers and inflicted cholera, the black death, and cattle plague on their villages after nightly consultation with the devil (“the enemy of the people”) ... or that these unfortunate women simply debased themselves under the red-hot iron of the Inquisition? It is sufficient to pose the question clearly for the whole superstructure of Stalin-Vyshinsky to crumble into dust.

In the midst of the unnatural confessions of the defendants there is one which, so far as can be judged from a distance, has passed by with little notice; but which, even when isolated, provides the key not only to the enigmas of the Moscow trial but also to the Stalin regime in its entirety. I have in mind the testimony of Dr. Levin, former head of the Kremlin hospital. This sixty-eight-year-old man declared in court that he willfully abetted in hastening the death of Menzhinsky, Peshkov (son of Gorky), Kuibyshev, and Maxim Gorky himself.

Professor Levin does not speak of himself as a secret “Trotskyist” and no one accuses him of this; not even Prosecutor Vyshinsky attributes to him aspirations to seize power in the interests of Hitler. No, Levin murdered his patients upon the orders of Yagoda, then head of the GPU, who threatened him in case of refusal with severe retaliations.

Levin feared the “destruction” of his family. That is literally the testimony that lies at the basis of the indictment.

The assassination of Kirov, committed in turn by all “centers”; the plans to dismember the USSR; malicious wrecking of trains; mass poisoning of workers – all this is nothing in comparison with the testimony of old Levin.

The perpetrators of the crimes specified are supposedly actuated by a thirst for power, hatred, or avarice; in a word, by some similitude to personal ends. Levin, committing the most heinous of all crimes, the perfidious murder of trusting patients, had no personal motives at all! On the contrary, he “loved Gorky and his family.” He murdered the son and the father out of fear for his own family. He found no means of saving his own son or daughter other than by consenting to poison an infirm author, the pride of the country.

What is left for us to say then? In a “socialist” state, under the “most democratic” of all constitutions, an old physician, a stranger to political ambition and intrigues, poisons his patients out of fear of the chief of the secret police. The instigator of the crimes is the one in whom is invested the highest power for the struggle against crime. He whose profession is that of safeguarding life is the one who murders. He murders out of fear.

Let us admit for the moment that all this is true. In that case, what is one to say about the whole regime? Levin is not a chance individual. He was physician to Lenin, Stalin, all members of the government. I knew this tranquil and conscientious man well. As with many celebrated physicians, he had intimate, almost sheltering relations with his high-ranking patients. He knew very well how the spines of Messrs. “Leaders” looked, and how their authoritarian kidneys functioned. Levin had free access to every high official. Couldn’t he have denounced Yagoda’s bloody blackmail to Stalin, Molotov, or any other member of the Political Bureau of the government? It seems that he could not. Instead of exposing the GPU blackguard, the doctor found himself constrained to poison his patients in order to save his own family. Thus, in the Moscow judicial panorama, is revealed the Stalinist regime, at its very summit, in the Kremlin, in the most intimate part of the Kremlin, in the hospital for the members of the government! What is then going on in the rest of the country?

But all this is a lie!” exclaims the reader. “Doctor Levin did not poison anyone! He simply testified falsely under threat of the GPU Mauser.” That is completely correct. But because of this the outlook becomes the more sinister.

If a physician threatened by the chief of police actually committed a crime, it would still be possible, forgetting all the rest, to say: a pathological case, a persecution complex, senile dotage – whatever you please. But no, the testimony of Levin constitutes an integral part of the judicial plan inspired by Stalin, and jointly elaborated by Prosecutor Vyshinsky with the new head of the GPU, Yezhov. These people did not fear resorting to so nightmarish a concoction. They did not consider it an impossibility. On the contrary, of all possible variants they chose the most probable, that is, the one most corresponding to the existing conditions and customs. The president of the court would scarcely ask the former head of the Kremlin hospital why he submitted to the criminal instead of exposing him. Even less capable of putting such a question is Vyshinsky.

Each participant in the trial, the whole Soviet press, all wielders of power tacitly confess the full plausibility of the fact that the GPU can force any person to commit any crime, even when that person is free, occupies a high position, and utilizes the protection of the ruling summits. But once the situation is thus clarified, is it then possible to doubt even for a moment that the omnipotent and all-penetrating GPU can force any prisoner in the inner cells of the Lubyanka to confess “voluntarily’ guilt for crimes never committed? The testimony of Dr. Levin provides the key to the whole trial. The key opens all Kremlin secrets and at the same time definitely seals the mouths of the advocates of Stalinist justice throughout the world.

Let no one tell us: here is the end to which the October Revolution has brought us! This would be about the same as saying, on seeing the Niagara bridge that recently collapsed: this is the result of our struggle against the waterfall. The October Revolution has not brought us merely judicial frame-ups. It was a powerful impulse to the economic forces and to the culture of a great family of peoples. But it likewise engendered new social antagonisms upon a higher historical level. The backwardness and barbarism, the inheritance of the past, found their most concentrated expression in the new bureaucratic dictatorship. In the struggle with the living and developing society, this dictatorship, without ideas, without honor, and without conscience, has been brought to unprecedented crimes and with that to a fatal crisis.

The accusation of sadism against Doctor Pletnev as an episode in the preparation of the present trial; Yagoda’s romantic affairs as the cause for the death of Gorky’s son; the religious talisman of the wife of Rosengolts and especially the “confessions” of Doctor Levin – from all these episodes reeks the same odor of decay which arose from the Rasputin affair in the last period of the monarchy.

The ruling layer capable of disgorging such gases is doomed. The present trial is the tragic death struggle of the Stalinist dictatorship.

It is dependent upon the will of the people of the USSR, as upon world public opinion, that in its inevitable downfall this regime shall not drag to the bottom of the historical abyss all the social conquests which a series of generations of the Russian people paid for with innumerable sacrifices.