Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

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

CHAPTER 10 The End Is in the Beginning

The NKVD demanded that the defendants admit having carried through to completion actions which they had merely begun--even if they had not gone beyond an exploration of their usefulness and feasibility.1* The NKVD made the same demand for actions which the defendants had never considered at all, and beliefs they had never held, but which, the NKVD affirmed, they should have considered or held in view of certain beliefs which they did entertain.

These demands grew out of the Bolshevik requirement that one must be "consequential"; and out of the Bolshevik belief (held by the accused as well as the NKVD) that with time, and under the proper circumstances, small beginnings have enormous sequels; and that it is therefore vital to eradicate beginnings. Acquaintances telling each other illicit political anecdotes might develop from a group merely sharing a mood into an organization accomplishing extreme overt acts, unless they are liquidated at the very start.

In the thirties, the NKVD added to this Bolshevik belief the point that the elimination of potential dangers should be accompanied by an act giving the dangers legal form; that is, the potential dangers should be presented as actual ones. To understand these aspects of the trials more fully, we shall now discuss the Bolshevik beliefs underlying them.

Bolshevik doctrine conforms to a trait of a major Russian self-image, the exclusion of the middle. It holds that intermediate positions--e.g., in the distribution of power, or in the solution of certain social problems--are impossible, or at least unstable and inefficient. Correspondingly, ideological positions felt as intermediate are regarded as invalid.2* Thus, Bolshevism tends to present "of two things one," "either-or" choices. The statement that "A is compatible with B" tends to be regarded as equivalent to "A follows from B."3* 4* In an intense and protracted fight by Lenin against positivism his opponents' point that science cannot disprove religion meant to him that they were advocating religion. Similarly he wrote at that time, expressing the Bolshevik belief that any ideological position regarded as intermediate is internally inconsistent or otherwise invalid:

"A philosophy which teaches that physical nature itself is a product, is a philos-

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