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Jack Weber

A Reminder Suggested by Churchill’s Memoirs

Benes Aided Moscow Frame-Up Trials

(17 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 20, 17 May 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalin has made gross blunders more than once. But there is one thing he has always banked on, and quite properly. No bourgeois government, of whatever shade, be it extreme right, center or left, would ever aid revolutionists against him. Quite the contrary, they have gone out of their way to give aid and comfort to Stalin against his revolutionary opponents. We are reminded of this, historic fact by the “revelation” in the Memoirs of Churchill that Benes, then premier of Czechoslovakia, played a modest role in the frame-ups that sent to their deaths the Red Army generals, Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, et al.

Benes revealed in conversation with Churchill that the Czech police had “uncovered” plotting between the Nazis and the Red Army generals against Stalin’s regime. The “center” for this plotting was the Russian embassy in Prague. The New York Times has a footnote appended to this information to the effect that there is “some evidence” that the Czech police were primed with their information by the GPU, so that the accusations against the army generals could appear to have support through a friendly foreign government. The Memoirs have appeared elsewhere without this footnote, which in any case adds quite ambiguously that whether the GPU supplied the information or not is of no particular consequence. Benes performed a service for Stalin. Churchill might have added that no doubt in his role as “humanitarian democrat,” the creed he professed in his American lectures, Benes was ready and willing to perform an even greater service for the Kremlin. The stupidity of the GPU was all that prevented this service from being consummated.

How They Tried to Frame Grylewicz

The Moscow trials up to that of Piatakov in early 1937, it will be recalled, had failed to carry conviction in world opinion. The Kremlin dictator planned to set the stage better for the next big trial, that of Bukharin, Rakovsky and numerous Russian diplomats (the Trial of the Twenty-one), so that the infamous charge of spying for foreign powers, this time Germany and Japan,would make some impression abroad. (It was unnecessary to convince the Russians who, in any case, never believed the trials.) The GPU was therefore given orders to spare no expense to bring off trials of Trotskyites as spies and foreign agents in other countries.

The Franco-Soviet “alliance” had naturally resulted in a similar pact with the French satellite Czechoslovakia. These pacts brought about a spirit of real accommodation to Stalin on the part of the “partners.” The French police had, during the course of the negotiations for a military pact, hounded Trotsky out of France. They went further when the former GPU official Ignace Reiss broke with the Stalinists and was assassinated in September 1937. The ring of murderers, beginning with Spiegelglass, was completely known. The actual killer, Gertrude Shildbach, was in the hands of the French police. Their connivance permitted her to escape across the frontier in a Russian embassy car. The murders of the secretary of the Fourth International, Rudolf Klement, and of Leon Sedov in Paris went completely unsolved due to the calculated inaction of the French authorities. Who was Benes not to prove as compliant as his French superiors?

Reiss had been slain. But his diary remained and was published. It revealed how the infamous Yezhov, fit successor to Yagoda as head of the GPU, had directed that the German revolutionist Grylewicz be denounced to the Czech police as an agent of the Gestapo. Grylewicz, instrumental in getting out the Russian Opposition Bulletin in Berlin before Hitler came to power, had managed to flee to Czechoslovakia just one step ahead of the Gestapo. The GPU now put pressure on the Czechs to bring him to trial as an agent of this same Gestapo that sought to take his life. He was arrested in Prague in July 1937. A suitcase containing letters and documents was confiscated by the police. Reiss reveals how Slutzky, head of the GPU in France, positively fumed with indignation at the slowness of the Czech administration in bringing Grylewicz to trial. The diary also reveals the chief conspirator, Stalin, phoning to Yezhov constantly and impatiently to learn the status of the Grylewicz affair. But alas! The GPU added one more to its careless mistakes in its frame-ups. The suitcase, having left the hands of Grylewicz, was planted with “incriminating” documents appended to his letters. Unfortunately some of these documents bore dates long after Grylewicz had access to his material. How then had he received them? Benes and his police were stumped. Grylewicz was questioned about the Moscow trials, but that hardly helped matters. He was finally expelled from the country in December 1937, after having been held in jail for months without charges and without trial.

This was not the only attempt to condition public opinion to make it receptive for the coming show trial. Preparations were on a worldwide scale, naturally including the United States. Trotsky having found a haven in Mexico, the GPU was ordered to set the stage for a spy scare among the Japanese in California. The Russian press contained hints on this score as early as July 1937. The Rubens-Robinson pair were to be the showpieces in this sector of the frame-up. Here again Stalin failed miserably to achieve his purpose. All that the Rubens case brought about was to uncover the Stalinist passport racket in New York City. The Rubenses were traced beyond any shadow of doubt to the GPU. The attempt to link them up as “Trotskyite spies” sent to Moscow by Trotsky was too transparent. But here again the one government that might have been interested enough to press the case to a conclusion and make public its findings, the United States government, remained absolutely silent. If it did not lend itself to a shoddy frame-up, it also did nothing to expose Stalin. Closely connected with the Rubens case was the disappearance of Juliet Stuart Poyntz who had broken with Stalinism and who knew too much about the Rubenses. This case was never pressed despite the revelations made by Carlo Tresca concerning her abductors. Similarly the murder of Carlo Tresca remains “unsolved” to this day.

The remarkable spirit of accommodation of the bourgeois governments when Stalin’s hounding and framing of revolutionists is concerned, is not lacking even in Churchill’s memoirs. It is not only that he leaves ambiguous the “service” rendered by Benes. Churchill knows the great service that Stalin has performed for the bourgeoisie in wiping out the greatest Marxist leaders. He would undoubtedly agree with the spirit if not with the exact phrasing of the words of one whom he called “that great man,” Mussolini.

Mussolini wrote ironically, but truthfully, in his paper Popolo d’ltalia, after the murder of Bukharin and the others in the Trial of the Twenty-one in March 1938:

“Stalin does not resort to castor oil to punish Communist leaders who are so stupid as still to believe in Communism ... He makes a clean sweep by means of systems which were born in the steppes of Genghis Khan ... Stalin renders a service to Fascism.”

Mussolini was merely more outspoken than the rest of the bourgeois world in thus expressing his thanks to the Kremlin. The rulers on both sides of the Iron Curtain are one in their hatred for proletarian revolutionists.

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