Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

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

Introduction

In Escape to Adventure, Fitzroy Maclean recalls his encounter with a Soviet general at a banquet in Hungary in 1945:

"My neighbour, a solid-looking man of indeterminate age, with a sallow complexion and square, grey, closely cropped head, wearing on his stiff gold epaulettes the four stars of a full general of the Red Army, turned affably towards me. As he turned, the glittering rows of medals and decorations on his tunic clinked impressively. I noticed that he was wearing the insignia of the Order of the Bath, negligently clamped to his stomach.

"'And where, Comrade General,' he asked amiably, 'did you acquire your present grasp of the Russian language?' I told him: in the Soviet Union, before the war. This surprised him. He repeated his question; I repeated my answer. There was no getting away from it. He paused to consider the strange phenomenon of a foreigner who had actually lived in the Soviet Union. Then he asked, for how long? In which years? I told him, 1937, 1938, 1939.

"Suddenly a constrained look clouded his large, friendly face, a look that I remembered seeing on faces in Moscow in the old days. Even now, in the midst of all this jollity, the memory of the great purge was very much of a reality.

"'They must,' he said, 'have been difficult years for a foreigner to understand,' and turned hastily to his neighbour on the other side."

These were "difficult years to understand" not only for foreigners, but also for Soviet citizens ( F. Beck and W. Godin devote a part of Russian Purge and the Extraction of Confession to the "theories" of the victims about what they were undergoing); and not only for Soviet citizens, but also for analysts of Soviet affairs. It seems significant that the so-called Moscow trials --the most dramatic expression of this extraordinary period--have until the present time not been made the subject of a thorough analysis. They have been treated in short stories and novels (most successfully by anticipation in Tarasov-Rodionov Chocolate, and after the event in Charles Plisnier légor (Faux Passeports), Arthur Koestler Darkness at Noon, and Victor Serge's The Affair of Comrade Tulayev). The question of whether charges and admissions were true was investigated by the so-called Dewey Commission in 1937, though not pursued in the Tokyo and Nuremberg war crimes trials. Important points were made in Philip Mosely Recent Soviet Trials and Policies, Ypsilon Pattern for World Revolution, Isaac Deutscher Stalin, and Fitzroy Maclean Escape to Adventure. Crucial data were contributed in

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