Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

By Nathan C. Leites; Elsa Bernaut | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6 The Last Service to the Party

A "real" Bolshevik not only regards himself as an instrument of the Party, but feels that the Party leadership has unlimited freedom in deciding what his functions are to be. As a standard joke in Moscow put it: if the Party gives the order, you will become a midwife. It was accepted that any Party member, particularly any prominent member, could be put to greatly differing uses.1*

A Bolshevik was supposed to feel that even ostensibly unmerited punishment inflicted on him by the Party acquired legitimacy because it was the Party's deed.2* If he was unaware of having sinned against the Party, he could still accept the Party's punishment by viewing it as an allocation of his life necessary for Party purposes, whether he understood them or not.

As we have seen, the oppositionists, on the whole, had not been able to deny entirely the legitimacy, as distinguished from the correctness, of decisions taken by the Party leadership they opposed. While the incorrectness of these decisions required counteraction, the fact that they were Party decisions required "standing at attention" before them, even (and particularly) when they consisted in the rejection of opposition demands and the punishment of oppositionists. As Stalin put it in 1925, talking about the first Trotsky opposition:

". . . the Party . . . demands of us that we should know how to bow our heads before it when circumstances require it." (Speech of January 17, 1925, at the Combined Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission.)3

The oppositionists both stressed and denied the importance of Stalin's violations of Party law. They declared that Stalin was instituting a new regime in the Party, yet felt that the Central Committee (handpicked and dominated by him) remained a body to which they owed obedience. They were aware of the hypocrisy of Stalin's words of obeisance towards the Party, yet were impressed by them as showing his continued status as a Bolshevisk who believed he was acting in accordance with the requirements of the situation, despite the fact that they knew he was also acting out of ambition and vindictiveness. The oppositionists thus found it, as we have said, difficult to consider that the Party might be dead, and that it might

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