Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

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

CHAPTER 12 Predicting Is Preferring

In the twenties and early thirties oppositionists, as we have seen1 had forecast a series of events which they regarded on the one hand as highly dangerous for the Party, and on the other as being the necessary conditions for their return to power. We also saw that subsequently oppositionists tended to feel that these forecasts had been disproved. In preparing a former oppositionist for trial, the NKVD would then require of him to aver that these predictions--which turned out not to have been grounded in fact--had been his preferences; that is, he would be asked to allege that he had regarded as desirable, or had even intended to produce, the events he had predicted.2*

During the period of "discussions" within the Party ( 1923-1929), it had been a theme of the Party leadership3 that the oppositionists were being excessively pessimistic about the prospects of the regime; that they were exaggerating the chances of economic collapse and another intervention--the necessary conditions for their victory in the Party. Thus, Stalin said in 1927:

"The aim of our foreign policy . . . is the preservation of peace. . . ."

"We are not at war, despite the frequent prophecies of Zinoviev and others-- this is the basic fact against which the hysterics of our opposition are impotent. . . . And how many prophecies of war have we had! Zinoviev prophesied that there would be war in the spring of this year. . . . Meantime we are already nearing winter, and there is still no war." ( Speech of October 23, 1927, at the Combined Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission.)4

As in this passage, Stalin during that period repeatedly acknowledged--at least by implication--that the excessive pessimism of the oppositions was accompanied by "hysterical" fear for the regime rather than by elation over the dangers threatening it. But he already utilized the co-existence of a "left" and "right" opposition to obscure the difference between the apprehensions of the lefts and the preferences of the rights. The lefts might predict the likelihood of a certain undesirable event and then develop a line designed to prevent its occurrence; or diagnose such an event and then develop a line as to how to undo it. The rights, on the other hand, might strive for the realization of the same event. Stalin would then contend that the distressed predictions of the lefts expressed some kind of wish that the event in question should happen. Thus, in 1928 he recalled how the left oppositions had pre-

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