Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
The "Moscow Trials" of the 1930s were a god-send to anti-Soviet propagandists. Stalin, they exclaimed, was eliminating the "old Bolsheviks" and "destroying the Soviet army". The hitherto fiercely anti-Communist Hearst Press in the US actually proclaimed that Stalin was "betraying the Revolution" (as if they would care!). More sober-minded observers saw things differently: the Soviet Government was rooting out and destroying the Nazi and Japanese fifth column in the USSR. Joseph E Davies, the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time, could best be described as a liberal democrat, whole-heartedly dedicated to the best features of bourgeois democracy and with an abhorrence of fascism. A lawyer by profession, Davies attended all the trials. As early as February 1937, even before the full extent of the interlinked conspiracies was known, Davies reported to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull that he had talked to "many, if not all, of the members of the Diplomatic Corps here and, with possibly one exception, they are all of the opinion that the proceedings established clearly the existence of a political plot and conspiracy to overthrow the government". While the US Government no doubt welcomed an accurate assessment, it suited US capital (and capital everywhere) to depict the trials as "Stalin's vengeance on Trotsky" and the product of "Stalin's Oriental vindictiveness". Anti-Soviet propagandists of every stripe, from the ultra-Left to avowed Nazis, engaged in a shrill campaign of misrepresentation around the trials that has continued virtually without let-up to this day. It surfaced again just recently with the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death. But, in view of what took place in Europe a scant year or two later, can anyone seriously doubt that the Nazis would have been assiduously striving to develop a fifth column in the USSR? The Soviet Union was always the main target of Nazi expansionist aims. It follows that the same program of subversion and conspiracy that Germany pursued in other European countries would have been pursued towards the USSR. Anti-Soviet emigri circles were fostered and supported, their contacts in the USSR developed and organised. Approaches were made to every member or potential member of any identifiable "political opposition", with financial and organisational aid and the prospect held out of being placed in power over at least part of the country by a victorious Germany. Ambitious or malleable officers would be sought out, flattered, encouraged, subtly urged towards treason. Germany did it with the major power to the West (France). Is it conceivable that they did not try to do the same with the major power to the East? Of course it is not. In fact, the Soviet authorities had to arrest, and later shoot, Marshall Tukhachevsky, Assistant Commissar of War, and seven other generals, for plotting a pro-German coup. Davies was not misled. He informed Cordell Hull, "The danger of the Corsican for the present has been wiped out" (a reference to ambitious military officers who develop Napoleonic tendencies and stage Pinochet- style coups to seize power). Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov told Davies that "We are doing the whole world a service in protecting ourselves against the menace of Hitler and Nazi world domination". During the Cold War, Davies was traduced as, at best, a dupe and, at worst, an agent of the Kremlin. This would be the fate of many of the best people in Roosevelt's administration. Claims that the trials of the 1930s were genuinely to do with a real conspiracy against the Soviet Government, that they did concern an anti- Soviet and pro-Nazi plot to stage a coup, were — and are still — pooh- poohed in the bourgeois media and dismissed by bourgeois politicians. Such claims were then and are still today derided as "Communist propaganda". Our old friend Paul Monk, however, has an entirely different take on the whole affair. In his article in The Australian Financial Review of February 21, 2003, Monk not only admits there was a coup plot, he positively brags about it (on behalf of his favourite Soviet defectors Alexander Orlov and Walter Krivitsky). In Monk's eyes, the coup conspirators are the good guys. They were anti- Stalin, you see. The conspirators, including Tukhachevsky and other military figures, were going to "overthrow Stalin in a coup d'etat, denounce him and then execute him". With stupefying understatement, Monk writes: "Had the coup succeeded, it would have had the most momentous consequences." These, in his view, include "possibly no World War II"! I can think of a few consequences, too, but that is definitely not one of them. Significantly, Monk separates the military conspirators from the other more "political" conspirators (he simply dismisses the other trials as part of "Stalin's purges"). This allows him to rake up as motivation for his non-political military conspirators the alleged discovery in 1937 of an Okhrana [the Tsarist secret police] file proving that Stalin was in fact a secret Tsarist agent ("an agent provocateur for the Okhrana within the Bolshevik Party before the Revolution"). Oh, give me strength! A good lie never loses its currency, does it? I can remember this hoary old anti-Soviet claim being gleefully pedalled in the media here the day after Stalin died. It was just as laughable then as it had been when it first surfaced amongst the anti-Stalin inventions of the mid-'30s. It was still laughable when it was repeated in Alexander Orlov's own book, The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes, as the motivation for the Tukhachevsky coup attempt (Orlov claims one of the GPU officers supposedly shown the file was his cousin). Hilariously, Monk solemnly intones: "Whether he [Stalin] found and destroyed all copies of the incriminating Okhrana file has never been established."