Written: 10 & 12 March 1938.
Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 13, 26 March 1938, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
There is tragic symbolism in the fact that the Moscow trial is ending under the fanfare announcing the entry of Hitler into Austria. The coincidence is not accidental. Berlin is of course perfectly informed about the demoralization which the Kremlin clique in its struggle for self-preservation carried into the army and the population of the country. Stalin did not move a finger last year when Japan seized two Russian islands on the Amur river: he was then busy executing the best Red generals. With all the more assurance during the new trial could Hitler send his troops into Austria.
No matter what one’s attitude toward the defendants at the Moscow trials, no matter how one judges their conduct in the clutches of the G.P.U., all of them – Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Piatakov, Radek, Rykov, Bukharin, and many others – have by the whole course of their lives proved their disinterested devotion to the Russian people and their struggle for liberation. In executing them and thousands less known, but no less devoted to the cause of the toilers, Stalin continues to weaken the moral strength of the resistance of the country as a whole. Careerists without honor or conscience on whom he is more and more forced to base himself will betray the country in a difficult hour. On the contrary the so-called “Trotskyists,” who serve the people, but not the bureaucracy, will occupy battle-posts in case of attack upon the U.S.S.R. as they have occupied them in the past.
But what is all this to Vyshinsky, who, during the years of the revolution, hid himself in the camp of the Whites and joined the Bolsheviks only after their definitive victory, when the possibilities for careers were open? Vyshinsky demands nineteen heads and first of all the head of Bukharin, whom Lenin more than once called “the favorite of the party” and whom in his testament he named “the best theoretician of the party.” How stormily the agents of the Communist International applauded Bukharin’s speeches when he was still at his zenith! But no sooner had the Kremlin clique overthrown him, than yesterday’s “Bukharinists” deferentially bowed before the monstrous falsifications of Vyshinsky.
The accuser demands the head of Yagoda. Of all the defendants Yagoda alone undoubtedly deserves severe punishment, although – not at all for those crimes of which he has been accused. Vyshinsky compares Yagoda to the American gangster, Al Capone, and adds: “But Russia, thank God, is not America.” No traitors could have made a more dangerous comparison! Al Capone was not the head of the Federal Agents in the United States. But Yagoda for more than ten years stood at the head of the G.P.U. and was Stalin’s closest collaborator. According to Vyshinsky, Yagoda was the “organizer and inspirer of monstrous crimes.” But all the arrests, exiles, and executions of the Oppositionists, including the trial of Zinoviev-Kamenev, were accomplished under the leadership of this Moscow Al Capone. Is it not then obligatory to review again tens of thousands of repressions? Or did the actions of the secret “Trotskyist” Yagoda cease to be “monstrous crimes” when they were directed against Trotskyists? There is no possibility of disentangling from this skein the contradictions and lies.
Vyshinsky demands the head of Levin and the other doctors of the Kremlin, who in place 6f prolonging life occupied themselves with hastening death. But if we are to believe the judicial investigation, they committed these crimes not for political or personal aims but from fear of this same Yagoda. The head of the G.P.U., Stalin’s major-domo, threatened the doctors with execution of their families if they did not poison the indicated patients, and so great was Yagoda’s power that even the Kremlin’s high-standing doctors did not dare to expose Capone but instead quietly executed his orders. Vyshinsky builds his accusations on these “confessions.” It appears that Capone’s power was unlimited in the Soviet Union. It is true that Yezhov has now taken his place. But where are the guarantees that he is any better? In the milieu of a totalitarian despotism, with public opinion strangled, with control completely absent, only the names of the gangsters change, but the system remains the same.
Vyshinsky spoke for five and a half hours, demanding nineteen executions – seventeen minutes for each head. For Rakovsky and Bessonov the magnanimous prosecutor demanded “only” twenty-five years in prison. Thus Rakovsky, having devoted his energy for fifty years and his considerable personal fortune in the cause of the toilers, can hope to atone for his alleged crimes by his ninetieth birthday!
The only consolation in the face of this terrible and at the same time buffoonish trial is the radical change in public opinion The voice of the world press is completely unanimous. No one anywhere any more believes the accusers. All understand the real sense of the trial. There can be no doubt that the population of the U.S.S.R. also does not consist of the blind and the deaf. The organizers of the frame-up isolated themselves from all mankind. The present trial is one of the last convulsions in the political crisis in the U.S.S.R. The sooner the dictatorship of Al Capone is converted into the self-government of the workers and the . peasants, the stronger will the U.S.S.R. stand before the threats of fascism from the outside as the inside. The hour of the regeneration of Soviet democracy will give a tremendous impetus to the progress of mankind and will thus sound the death knell for Hitler, Mussolini. and Franco.
March 12, 1938
In this statement we are utilizing exclusively official data taken from the Moscow Pravda.
The defendant Pletnev, professor of medicine, is now sixty-six years old. He was the Kremlin physician almost from the days of the October insurrection. He never concerned himself with politics. Lenin, Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife), and all the officials of the Kremlin used his services. Pletnev enjoyed not a few distinctions. The Soviet press more than once lavished high praise upon him. But the situation suddenly changed in the middle of 1937: Pletnev was publicly accused of rape and sadism.
In Pravda of June 8, 1937, a long article appeared, describing in unusual detail the atrocious violation he allegedly committed upon a woman, “patient B.” The article quoted a letter from Mrs. B. to Pletnev which included the following lines: “Be accursed base criminal, for implanting in me an incurable disease and mutilating my body ...” and so on. Pravda related that Pletnev, in view of Mrs. B.’s complaints, allegedly attempted to commit her to an insane asylum, and to her reproaches responded: “Get some poison and kill yourself.”
The article produced an all the more shocking impression since it was printed prior to any kind of trial of Pletnev. For one who knows the morals of the present Soviet bureaucracy, it is completely clear that such an article against a doctor of high standing could be printed in Pravda only with the consent of Stalin or upon his direct command. The suspicion naturally arose even then that the affair was connected with a deep intrigue against Pletnev and that the mysterious “patient B.” was in all probability a G.P.U. agent.
Immediately, that is, before any kind of trial, so-called “public opinion” was mobilized from an unseen center; to put it more precisely, the doctors at Moscow, Kiev, Tula, Sverdlovsk and so on were ordered to pass resolutions demanding the “most severe sentence upon this monster.” The resolutions were, of course, published in Pravda. We have these numbers of Pravda at hand.
On July 17 and 18, 1937, Pletnev’s case was considered in closed session by a Moscow court. In the U.S.S.R. one is often given the death penalty for stealing a bag of flour. All the more probable was it to expect merciless sentence upon a physician-sadist who had implanted an “incurable disease” in and “mutilated” the body of a patient. Meanwhile in the same Pravda of July 19, the readers learned that Pletnev had been “conditionally sentenced to two years deprivation of freedom,” that is to say, actually freed from any punishment. The sentence seemed as unexpected as earlier had seemed the accusation.
Within seven months we meet Pletnev as a defendant in the deliberate hastening of the deaths of Menzhinsky, Kuibishev and Maxim Gorky. Pletnev of course confesses his guilt. It seems that he committed these monstrous crimes “upon the order” of Yagoda, former head of the G.P.U. Why did he submit to Yagoda? Out of fear. The Kremlin doctor, knowing all members of the government, did not dare to report the criminal but became his submissive tool. Is this improbable? Such is the testimony. We hear nothing more about the sadist Pletnev. “Patient B” was not called to testify. She had completed her task prior to the trial. Sadism does not interest anyone any more. Now Pletnev, the physician since Czarist times, is found to be a terrorist agent of the “Trotskyist-Bukharinist bloc” under the direct leadership of Yagoda, former head of the G.P.U.
Is it possible to doubt that between the two trials of Pletnev there exists a compact internal relationship ? In order to attribute terrorist acts to the Trotskyites, it was necessary to invent them. With this objective, Yagoda, the executioner of the Trotskyists, was metamorphosed into an agent of the Trotskyists and a doctor was metamorphosed into a poisoner. The accusation of sadism was proclaimed with such deafening ballyhoo seven months ago in order to break the will of the old doctor, father of a family, and to make an obedient tool of him in the hands of the G.P.U. for the forthcoming political trial. Death threatened Pletnev when he was accused of ravishing “patient B.” However, behind the scenes an agreement was reached as a result of which only a conditional sentence was meted out to Pletnev. Such was the price of his fantastic confessions at the trial of the twenty-one. Pletnev’s case is especially instructive because here all the springs are bared to view.
March 10, 1938, Coyoacan, D.F.
P.S. The news has been widely spread through the press to the effect that Stalin supposedly was an agent-provocateur during Czarist days, and that he is now avenging himself upon his old enemies. I place no trust whatsoever in this gossip. From his youth Stalin was a revolutionist. All the facts about his life bear witness to this. To reconstruct his biography ex post facto means to ape the present Stalin, who from a revolutionist became a leader of the reactionary bureaucracy.
Last updated on: 11 September 2015