Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

By Nathan C. Leites; Elsa Bernaut | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 13 The Equivalence of Means

As we have already seen, the defendants largely admitted the charge of having used, or planned to use, the extreme means of terrorism, wrecking, espionage and high treason.1*2* We shall now discuss various factors making specifically for such admissions, in addition to the more generally operating factors already mentioned.3*

According to Bolshevik doctrine it is prohibited to choose between political means on grounds other than expediency. Hence the distinction between moderate and extreme means is, usually, irrelevant. The Party must be able to pass from any method to any other method of "struggle" without a sense of discontinuity. In 1920 Lenin said about "the struggle against the bourgeoisie":

". . . at any moment it may--and does, as experience has already shown--substitute criticism with weapons for the weapon of criticism." ( Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Comintern Congress.)4

The position--held in common by the Party leadership and the opposition-- appeared in the trials in the guise of a peculiar property of the defendants (and mostly as a matter of moral turpitude). In his speech for the prosecution in the first trial Vishinsky said:

"There is a small detail which is of some importance for defining the moral, or, if you will, the ideological level of . . . Kamenev. . . .

"I would like to mention one of the books of Machiavelli (volume 1). It was published in 1934 by the Academia Publishing House, of which Kamenev was then the head, and has a preface by Kamenev. It is a very interesting book. It was written in the 16th century. The author wrote it for a prince. . . . Machiavelli wrote: 'You must know that there are two ways of contending, by law and by force: the first is proper to men; the second to beasts.

"'But because many times the first is insufficient, recourse must be had to the second. A prince must possess the nature of both beast and man.'

"This pleased Kamenev very much, and in his . . . preface to this book he wrote . . .: 'A master of political aphorism and a brilliant dialectician. . . .' [dots in text]. . . . This hardened schemer turns out to be a dialectician! . . . A fine aphorism indeed! . . .

". . . Kamenev writes further: [dots in text] '. . . A dialectician who from his observations had formed the firm opinion that all . . . criteria of good and evil, of the permissible and impermissible, of the lawful and criminal were relative. . . .' [dots in text]. . . . according to Kamenev . . . mixing up what is criminal


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