Walter Duranty’s “The Moscow Trials”

by Walter Duranty
(Curt Riess. They Were There: The Story of World War II and How It Came About. 1944. pp. 60-65.)

WHEN Trotsky was exiled to Turkey more than eight years ago, it seemed to most people in the USSR, including foreign observers, that the long Opposition struggle inside the Communist Party was definitely ended. In point of fact, as recent events have shown, the contrary was true; Trotsky’s exile did not end the struggle but paved the way for its resumption in a new and more sinister form.

It is now clear that the Kremlin-Opposition conflict falls into three chronological phases. The first period covers the years from 1923, when the Bolshevik leaders first realized that Lenin’s days were numbered, to January, 1928, when the Opposition, which by then had formed a somewhat disparate bloc under the leadership of Trotsky, was crushed and its adherents, great and small, were scattered in exile across Siberia and Central Asia. This may be called the phase of Open Controversy. There followed the phase of Reconciliation, from the latter part of 1928 to 1934, during which Trotsky’s supporters in Russia recanted their heresies and paid abject lip service to the Kremlin. Many of them were restored to posts of high importance, although they had already shown that their previous recantations of error and promises of amendment in the future were not to be relied upon. During these years Trotsky found harborage on the Isle of Prinkipo in the Bosphorus, where his activities were somewhat hampered by Turkish supervision and where he appears to have confined himself to the preparation of a new campaign against his opponents on Soviet soil by the formation of the so-called Fourth International and by writing in order to raise funds. He established and maintained contact with his friends in the USSR and elsewhere, and by the end of 1932, when he was able to leave Prinkipo for a less restricted and more congenial sojourn in France, he had laid the foundations for a renewed attack on the Kremlin. This preliminary work was continued and developed in 1933 and 1934, coincidentally with a great extension of German activity in the USSR. At the end of November, 1934, Kirov, one of Stalin’s closest henchmen, was assassinated in Leningrad. This marked the beginning of the third and present phase of Secret Conspiracy. This development was due: (a) to the character and ability of Trotsky himself, (b) to the international situation, with particular reference to German and Japan, and © to circumstances inside Russia.

Trotsky’s expulsion from Russia was an act not of clemency alone but of policy. To begin with, the First Five-Year Plan was proving unexpectedly successful, all internal opposition seemed to have disappeared, and Trotsky’s previous services to the Revolution were not forgotten. Second, it was felt that such early opponents of the Soviet regime as Kerensky, Martov and Dan had been politically sterilized by exile from Russia. They lost contact both with the undercurrents of Russian life and with the central stream itself and became little more than voices crying in the wilderness. Trotsky, however, is a man of different and far higher caliber. His career has shown that he combines great executive ability with brilliant intelligence. He has unlimited ambition, an absolute belief in the rightness of his own views and the most profound experience in and capacity for revolutionary organization. Finally, he has the double gift of leadership and of arousing the enduring loyalty of his friends and subordinates. It was not to be expected that this man who had shone so bright in the sun should be content to spend his declining years in spiteful twilight. There could be no rest for his boundless energy, no compromise with his fanatical conviction that Stalin had “betrayed the Revolution.”

The fact of Germano-Japanese hostility to the USSR needs no demonstration; the archives of the State and Navy Departments of Washington can bear witness that more than once in 1932 and 1933 war between the USSR and Japan hung literally by a thread, and Hitler, from “Mein Kampf” to his speech at Nuremberg last September, from Nuremberg to the present day, has made no secret of his determination that Germany should atone for defeat in the World War by “eastward expansion” at the expense of the USSR. Hitler’s own position, however, was not consolidated until 1933, and three more years were to elapse before he could feel that the German war machine was ready for a major struggle. In the meantime Japanese aggressiveness had been somewhat checked by American recognition of the USSR and was now directed toward China, in which it has gradually found itself more and more deeply involved. Second, there were signed pacts of mutual assistance between the USSR and Czechoslovakia and the USSR and France, which were regarded as tantamount to defensive alliances. Last but not least, the Red Army and the Soviet war industry gained prodigiously in efficiency and strength.

During the years 1933 to 1937, therefore, neither Germany nor Japan was yet ready to make a direct attack upon the USSR although they gave further evidence that they wished to do so by signing in 1936 a pact of mutual co-operation against Bolshevism, which the statesmen of Britain, France and Russia immediately recognized as a preliminary step toward joint action. In 1936, moreover, Germany’s attention was diverted by an attempt in conjunction with Italy to set up a puppet fascist government in Spain and thus obtain access to the rich Spanish deposits of iron, copper and other minerals. It was thought at first that it would be easy to overthrow the Spanish government, but the latter showed sufficient powers of resistance and received enough material aid from France and Russia for the civil war to be undecided in ten months of bitter fighting. Hitler was infuriated to learn that the Russians were no longer content with the role of destined victim but had the temerity to thwart his plans in Spain, where the success of the Soviet planes and tanks caused a notable effect upon French opinion and reinforced the Franco-Soviet pact, which it was Hitler’s aim to break. In short, the Red Army had become a positive adversary instead of a potential obstacle; it not only blocked the future but seriously menaced the present. In this juncture, circumstances within the USSR combined with the anti-Kremlin activities of Trotsky to play into Hitler’s hands.

The details of Kirov’s assassination at first pointed to a personal motive, which may indeed have existed, but investigation showed that, as commonly happens in such cases, the assassin Nikolaiev had been made the instrument of forces whose aims were treasonable and political. A widespread plot against the Kremlin was discovered, whose ramifications included not merely former oppositionists but agents of the Nazi Gestapo. As the investigation continued, the Kremlin’s conviction deepened that Trotsky and his friends abroad had built up an anti-Stalinist organization in close collaboration with their associates in Russia, who formed a nucleus or center around which gradually rallied divers elements of discontent and disloyalty.

If one accepts these premises, it is obvious that both Trotsky and the foreign enemies would use every means in their power to deny and discredit the evidence produced at the trials. In this they have been aided by Western unfamiliarity with Soviet mentality and methods and, to no small degree, by Soviet unfamiliarity with Western mentality and methods. Thus at the very outset, the Western world was shocked by the harshness of the reprisals which followed Kirov’s murder, and already the cry was raised abroad that this wave of killings and arrests was a sign of panic on the part of the Kremlin or that Stalin and his associates were taking advantage of an “accident” to rid themselves of political opponents.

The later “treason trials” of the Kamenev-Zinoviev and Pyatakov-Radek groups were used by Stalin’s enemies to confirm these two assertions and to deepen the skepticism with which the extraordinary (to Western minds) nature of the confessions had been received abroad. In the fog of denials and declarations that the confessions were elicited by drugs, torture, pressure upon relatives, hypnotism or other nefarious devices of the GPU, foreign opinion lost sight of three important facts: first, that these same men had, individually and collectively, confessed their sins and beaten their breasts in contrition no less fully and abasedly on previous occasions; second, that the outline of the conspiracy was gradually taking shape; third, that through the maze of charge and counter-charge the thread of collusion with foreign enemies ran ever stronger and more clear. The second trial established the fact of personal contact between several of the accused and foreign, i.e., German and Japanese, representatives. This in itself meant little because Pyatakov received dozens of foreigners every week in his official position, they accused railroad managers of the Far Eastern lines had similar official contact with Japanese consuls and business men, and Radek was a familiar figure at most of the diplomatic reception in Moscow. Nevertheless the element of opportunity was thus introduced to buttress the prosecution’s charge of treasonable and hostile motives that led to collusion.

Curiously enough, the most convincing piece of evidence was provided by no other than the Japanese War Minister himself, General Sugiyama, in reply to a question at a secret meeting of the budget committee of the Japanese Parliament early in February. The General was asked if he knew the carrying capacity of the Soviet Trans-Siberian Railroad. He replied that he did but that it was a military secret. To a further question, “How do you know?” the General said, “On information supplied by persons in Soviet Russia who are opposed to the Stalin regime.” News of this incident “leaked” into a single Tokyo newspaper whose news editor was promptly dismissed and the managing editor fined and reprimanded. It was further stated that if any such leakage occurred, it would be more severely punished in the future. As far as the question of German and Japanese espionage in the USSR is concerned, it is notorious that the secret services of almost every nation in the world have an espionage department that varies in importance and numbers according to the size of the country and the imminence of hostilities with some other power. Everyone knows, for instance, that England before the World War was honeycombed with German spies, many of whom had long been detected by the British Counter-Espionage Department, and who, as Sir Basil Thomson, the former Chief of Scotland Yard, relates in his memoirs, were immediately picked up at the outbreak of hostilities. There must be hundreds of German and Japanese spies on Soviet soil, and for that matter the Russians doubtless carry on similar work in Japan and Germany. In either case, one may be sure, these secret agents do their utmost to get into touch with disaffected elements in the country where they are working, with a view not merely to espionage but to sabotage as well. This self-evident truth, however, has been somewhat overlooked in the discussion of the Moscow Trials.

That disaffected elements existed apart from the small devoted group of Trotsky’s adherents, particularly among senior (in length of membership) ranks of the Bolshevik Party, is obvious and natural enough. There were those who grumbled that the growing tendency to regard Stalin as a superman had destroyed party democracy as they had known it in the old days.

It is further true that in totalitarian states no opposition can be permitted, because the idea of the state has been deified and opposition is therefore a Deadly Sin, which forces oppositionists to work underground and not only to become conspirators but to gravitate toward each other and toward a common center, if there is one. The Trotskyists offered such a center and in consequence, as in the case of the abortive revolt against Hitler in 1934, an odd lot of the most diverse elements became associated in common hostility toward the regime.

Thus one reaches a final synthesis, as follows:
a. Trotsky was fanatically determined to overthrow the Stalinist regime.
b. Hitler was fanatically determined to “expand eastwards” at the expense of the USSR.
c. Both Hitler and Trotsky had at their disposal efficient organizations to develop conspirative action, sabotage and espionage within the USSR and to conduct propaganda abroad.
d. Opportunities for contact between Germany (and Japan) and the anti-Stalinist conspirators both inside and outside the USSR were not lacking.

The conclusion is inevitable.

It cannot be negatived by foreign bewilderment over the “mystery” of the trials and of the confessions made by the accused, or by foreign belief that the morale of the Red Army has been gravely impaired and that the whole USSR is engulfed in a flood of hysterical witch-hunting. The Kremlin’s enemies have used this belief and bewilderment to weaken, at a most critical period, the international prestige of the USSR, but that does not alter the fact that their Trojan horse is broken and its occupants destroyed.

Published by Victor Vaughn

Anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist, National Secretary of the American Party of Labor (APL).

2 thoughts on “Walter Duranty’s “The Moscow Trials”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: