Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

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

CHAPTER 17 The Propriety of Motives

Through the rule translating unintended consequences into deliberate aims was largely accepted by the defendants, evidence of its violation also appeared throughout the trials. This is particularly the case in the second and third trials, for which we have what purport to be verbatim records. In the report on the first trial the paraphrases and verbatim extracts stress, of course, the compliance of the defendants; but Vishinsky's speech for the prosecution implies significant violations of the rule:

"During the preceding days of the trial these gentlemen tried to strike a 'noble' attitude. They, or at all events, their leaders, spoke about their terroristic plot with a certain pose; they sought and expected a political evaluation of their crimes, they talked about political struggle, about some kind of political agreements with some kind of alleged political parties. And although they admitted that . . . they had no political platform, that they did not even feel the need to draw up a political platform because . . . their platform could be written at one sitting, in a couple of hours, nevertheless, they tried to pose as genuine political figures. They do all they can to make it appear that they are standing on some political position, bespattered and battered, perhaps, but political none the less. . . . they spoke about the interests of the working class, about the interests of the people . . . they will speak about this, in their speeches in their defense, and in their last pleas. . . ."1

A number of reasons might, as we indicated, have caused such resistances: a defendant may have been to some extent averse to sacrificing his honor; he may have been unconvinced that his oppisition would have had all the unfavorable effects which he was asked to translate into intents, or dubious as to the usefulness of a particular translation proposed by the NKVD, or of any translation. Thus Radek affirmed in his last plea the expediency of stressing the propriety of his motivations:

". . . when I heard that the people in this dock are mere bandits and spies, I object to it. I do not object to it with the purpose of defending myself; because since I have confessed to treason to the country, it makes little difference from my point of view. . . . I have not that professional pride which permits one to commit treachery in conjunction with generals, but not to commit treachery in conjunction with agents. . . .

". . . the 35 years I worked in the labour movement . . . entitle me to ask

-250-

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