STALIN'S FRAME-UP SYSTEM
Joseph Hansen's 1950 introduction to the Pioneer Publishers' pamphlet Stalin's Frame-Up System and the Moscow Trials.
SINCE the end of World War II, a series of sensational trials of
former prominent figures in the Stalinist bureaucratic hierarchy
have been staged in the East European countries under Moscow rule.
Like grade "B" movies, these trials follow a rigid pattern. The hero is
always Stalin. The criminal inevitably confesses to playing a JekyllHyde
role-in public an ostensibly loyal top government official, behind
the scenes a spy for an enemy power. He repents, beats his chest
in contrition for his traitorous conduct, glorifies the godlike dispenser
of justice in the Kremlin and is executed.
Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the victims themselves
collaborate like trained seals. Lack of concrete evidence does not disturb
the court. "Proof" boils down to the bare production of
The case of Laszlo Rajk, Secretary of the Hungarian Communist
Party, is ·typical. A communist from youth, he w~s wounded while
fighting against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. In March 1946 he
became Minister of Interior and staged the police roundups that paved
the way for ousting the regime of Ferenc Nagy in 1947. He wrote the
new election law in 1947 and after the Stalinists were firmly in tht:
saddle became Foreign Minister. Second in Hungary only to Matyas
Rakosi, he was not boasting when he later said, "The Communists
always believed me to be one of the best comrades."
In September 1949 this model Stalinist leader was placed on trial.
He "confessed'.' that for 18 years he had been leading a secret life
that did not correspond with his public activities. In 1931 he had
turned informer for dictator Horthy's police. After this taste of stoolpigeoning,
he became an agent for the fascists in the Spanish Civil
War. Next he served the French secret police while jailed in a French
concentration camp. Following this apprenticeship in duplicity he
moved right into the ranks of the Nazi Gestapo.
This strange career, combining betrayal, espionage and treason with
the arduous public duties of a Communist Party leader, was finally
capped, according to his "confession," by his becoming a willing tool
in a pl<;>t master-minded by Winston Churchill, the Truman administration
and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. The alleged plot aimed at
killing key Hungarian officials, overthrowing the government because
of its loyalty to Stalin and bringing Hungary into Tito's sphere.
The world Stalinist press headlined the trial as an unexpected gold
mine of "proof" in its smear campaign against the Yugoslav government
which had broken with Moscow. The "guiding center" of the
plot was "in the United States," said Pravda,' while the conductor of
the plans and tasks was "the Yugoslav Fascist clique of Tito."
American diplomatic officials named in the trial denied the fantastic
charges. The Yugoslav government published evidence that exploded
key parts of Rajk's "confession" and charged that the trial wa~ aimed
at falsely accusing "Yugoslavia and her Government and party leadership"
of schemes "that are, in fact, being prepared or are already
being carried out" by the satellite countries under the instigation of
the Kremlin "with the aim of forcibly overthrowing the legal government
of Yugoslavia, destroying the' existing Socialist order and bringing
about Yugoslavia's economic and political subjugation."
All this was ignored by the court. Rajk cooperated one hundred per
cent with the prosecution, even refusing to ask for mercy. The defense
joined in underlining Rajk's "guilt" and only pleaded for clemency.
"It is easier to defend someone who has killed his father," declared
one defense attorney. The court completed the processing of this sad
scapegoat by hanging him on October 15, 1949, in accordance with
Minor departures from the formula used i'n these trials only emphasize
their artificial, theatrical character. An instructive instance is the
case of Traicho Kostov, condemned December 14, 1949, for "treason."
Kostov had been a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party since
1924, Secretary of the party since 1940, General Secretary since 1944,
a'nd was second in importance in the government only to Dimitrov
until the latter's death. He was charged with having become a stool
pigeon upon his arrest by the Bulgarian police in 1942 and of then
entering the Anglo-American spy service. Now well launched in his
dual career of public hero as spokesman for Stalinism and public enemy
as traitor in the pay of the enemy, he went further, according to the
prosecution, and plotted with Marshal Tito to assassinate Dimitrov,
overthrow the Bulgarian government and amalgamate Bulgaria with
Instead of confessing according to ritual, Kostov denied guilt. He
advanced such convincing arguments of innocence as his resistance to
the Bulgarian police under torture, and the absence of incriminating
evidence in the police files published in 1944. The court thereupon
read a "confession" allegedly made by Kostov with police assistance
in advance of the trial. The attorney for the defense denounced his
client as vigorously as any of the prosecution lawyers. Kostov continued
to insist on his innocence. The court, of course, sentenced him to die.
After Kostov was hanged, the Stalinist authorities announced that
just before the rope was placed around his neck, the doomed man disavowed
his "arrogant" court attitude aild "admitted" his "crimes."
Thus Stalinism proved its ability to establish the accused's "guilt"
even if the timing did depart from the formula calling for confessions
before pronunciation of sentence.
The political objectives of these trials are not difficult to discern.
Native Stalinist lieutenants like Rajk, Kostov and the rest can, despite
their long-tested loyalty to Moscow, transmit the pressure of the growing
mass resistance in the satellite countries against the Kremlin's
totalitarian domination. Their elimination and replacement by figureheads
with fewer independent roots is a preventive measure against
the possible development of "Titoism" or "Trotskyism" or any form
of opposition to the Kremlin bureaucracy. In addition, the trials serve
Stalin as a propaganda weapon in the cold war with American
The question arises, what compels the Kremlin to follow such a
We can find a satisfactory solution to the enigma only if we probe
into the historical background of the trials and trace the development
of Stalin's use of the frame-up as one of the means of maintaining
his anti-socialist dictatorship. We must approach the current trials in
Eastern Europe not as isolated episodes but as part of a system rooted
in the consolidation of the Moscow bureaucracy as a privileged ruling
To informed observers the parallel between the postwar trials in
Eastern Europe and the great frame-up trials of 1936-38 in Moscow
is obvious. Thus, in reply to the charges against the Tito regime
presented at the trial of Laszlo Rajk in Hungary, Moshe Pyade, a high
official of the Yugoslav government, said, according to the September
23, 1949, New York Times, "it was reminiscent of the Moscow purge
trials of 1936, whose 'producers, with their experience, could have had
a hand in the production of the Budapest trials.'" Pyade observed
that "now such trials have become export articles ... a penetration
into Europe of the dark methods of the Soviet intelligence service ..."
Without knowing the truth about the Moscow purge trials it is
impossible to properly understand the character of the Stalinist regime.
The key to those trials also opens the door to a true evaluation of
Stalinism on a world scale. Let us turn to these great landmarks in
Stalin's development of the frame-up as an integral part of his system
On August 19, 1936, the curtain rose on a scarcely credible scene
in a Moscow court room. Among the prisoners sat Gregory Zinoviev,
Leon Kamenev, I. N. Smirnov, S. V. Mrachkovsky, G. Yevdokimov,
V. Ter-Vaganyan, Ivan Bakayev and Y. Dreitser. They were outstanding
figures in Lenin's "general staff" which led the November 1917
revolution in Russia, cofounders of both the Bolshevik Party and the
Communist International, men who had held the highest Soviet posts.
Against them as prosecutor stood Andrei Vyshinsky, a former member
of the counter-revolutionary, right-wing Menshevik opposition to
Lenin's regime in the early days. This representative of Stalin accused
Lenin's former comrades-in-arms of murdering Kirov, a top dignitary,
more than a year and a half before, although some of them were in
prison at the time. Vyshinsky accused them of conspiring with Hitler's
Nazi government to prepare "a number of terroristic acts" against
Stalin and other high bureaucrats. Vyshinsky described these internationally
famous Communist leaders as "traitors, murderers and bandits,"
as "liars and clowns," "mad dogs of capitalism."
Leon Trotsky, the organizer of the Red Army and cofounder with
Lenin of the first workers' state in history, was in exile in Norway;
but he and his son Leon Sedov were accused of having initiated the
conspiracy. Trotsky was charged with sending "instructions" as "far
back as 1931" to "kill Stalin, Voroshilov and Kaganovich."
Vyshinsky acclaimed Yagoda, chief of Stalin's dread secret political
police, the GPU, for having "proceeded along the true and correct
trail of exposing the real organizers of this crime."
The startled world learned that Zinoviev and Kamenev were putting
up no defense. Quite contrary to what might have been expected from
men born and bred in revolutionary struggle against absolutism, they
were freely-even glibly--confessing "guilt" to all the major charges
and vying with the prosecutor in painting the blackest possible picture
of their alleged crimes.
The trial ran for only five brief days although a total of 16 defendants
faced the prosecutor. On the sixth day the victims were sentenced
"all to the supreme penalty-to be shot, and all property personally
belonging to them to be confiscated." Within 24 hours the press announced
rejection of an appeal for mercy. "The verdict has been
carried out," continued the dispatch by way of obituary.
In this way, Stalin staged in Moscow the first of three trials designed
to provide juridical justification for the purges that wiped out the
leaders of the November 1917 revolution. To most people at the time,
they appeared part of a nightmare world. It was simply not credible
that a revolutionary like Zinoviev, for example, who had spent ten
years as Lenin's collaborator before the Russian Revolution and played
a leading part in overthrowing Czardom and establishing the basic
foundations for socialism in the USSR, could have "arrived at fascism,"
as he "confessed," and helped set up a center that, according to
Vyshinsky, "organized and established secret communications with the
But how account for the confessions? The drugged circle of the
"friends" of the Soviet Union claimed that the confessions were freely
given and therefore must be accepted at face value. Many people,
ignorant of the ways of Stalin's secret political police, were shocked
into half-believing that there must be a grain of truth in the trials,
considering the gravity of the charges and the suicidal nature of the
As a whole, however, public opinion never accepted the Stalinist
version of the trials. Today there is little mystery about the "confessions"
after the many revelations from those who have managed to
escape from the GPU (now the MVD) and describe the psychological
and physical tortures used to bring a prisoner into court with his will
to resist utterly crushed. In the inquisitions of the Middle Ages similar
means' wrung similar avowals from unhappy wretches whose main
profit from pacts with his Satanic Majesty usually turned out to be
the star role at a public bonfire.
Reactionaries were elated at the trial. Mussolini's paper, Il Messagero,
characterized it as "a victory of political reason over revolutionary
People interested in the truth turned to hear Leon Trotsky's answer
to the charges. Trotsky more than any other person could expose the
"confessions" if they were lies.
The Stalinist regime responded to this danger by pressuring the
Norwegian government to silence the exiled revolutionary. Among the
prominent Norwegian officials most deeply involved was Minister of
Justice Trygve Lie, who was later warmly backed as candidate for
Secretary General of the United Nations by Andrei Vyshinsky, now
promoted to the Soviet's UN delegation.
Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, were placed under close police surveillance,
his secretaries deported. All incoming and outgoing mail
was censored. The Norwegian "democrats" prohibited Trotsky from
answering the charges leveled at him in Moscow or from even taking
court action against his defamers.
Nevertheless, investigation of the few tangible "facts" alleged in the
trial proved fatal to the frame-up. For example, one of the defendants,
Holtzman, testified that in November 1932 he had met Sedov in the
"lounge" of the "Hotel Bristol" in Copenhagen and went with him to
meet Trotsky and receive terrorist instructions. It was proved conclusively
that Holtzman was not among the people who called on Trotsky
and his wife, their friends and guards during the short time Trotsky
visited Copenhagen to lecture.* Still more devastating, it was discovered
that the Hotel Bristol had been tom down in 1917 and not
rebuilt until 1936! From then on the words "Moscow trial" became
synonymous with "Stalinist frame-up" for the entire thinking public.
The liberal Cardenas government offered Trotsky and his wife
asylum in Mexico. They arrived at Tampico on January 9, 1937.
Two· weeks later on January 23 a second trial opened in Moscow.
Facing the ex-Menshevik prosecutor Vyshinsky and his collaborators
on the judges' bench were figures of heroic stature in the early days
of the Soviet Union. Pyatakov, an outstanding leader in the Ukraine,
was considered by Lenin one of the most competent administrators in
the party. Serebriakov was a former secretary of the Central Committee
of the Bolshevik Party. Muralov, a famous hero of all three insurrections
in Moscow-1905, February and October 1917, served under
Lenin as military governor of the city. Sokolnikov, a member of the
Central Committee and editor of Pravda in 1917, became People's
Commissar of Finance, then ambassador to London. Radek was one
of the most brilliant journalists the Soviet Union has produced.
An incident in the life of defendant Drobnis exemplifies the background
of these men. He was condemned to death twice by the White
Guards during the civil war. One time he was stood up before a firing
squad and shot. The bullet did not prove fatal. When the Red Army
captured the town and examined the heap of corpses, they found
Drobnis still alive. Stalin's firing squad proved more efficient.
These men were accused of conspiring to bring back the capitalism
they had helped to overthrow, of plotting to kill Stalin and his favorites
and of betraying the workers' state to Japanese and Nazi German
They began "confessing." Pyatak<.>v said he had taken an airplane
from Berlin to Oslo in the "first half of December 1935" to receive
terrorist instructions from Trotsky.
From Mexico, Trotsky demanded that the prosecutor cross-examine
Pyatakov on this alleged airplane trip in order to establish some concrete
details about this mythical flight. Naturally, Vyshinsky, who was
closely adhering to the script prepared by the GPU for the frame-up,
*This lecture, "The Russian Revolution," is a good summary of Trotsky's positionin defense of the Soviet Union. As spokesman of the wprking class oppositionin the USSR and abroad to the Stalin regime, he draws the'balance sheet of theOctober Revolution and explains its place in world history. It has been publishedas a pamphlet and can be obtained from Pioneer Publishers, 116 UniversityPlace, New York 3, N. Y.
made no response to Trotsky's demand. His job was to conduct the
frame-up, not expose it. The press, however, uncovered a most startling
fact. No foreign airplane at all had landed at Oslo in the whole
month of December!
Virtually every newspaper outside the Soviet Union gave this sensation
front-page display. On January 29, the Norwegian newspaper
Arbeiderbladet proved that no foreign airplane whatsoever had landed
at Oslo "from September 1935 to May 1936." Pyatakov's "confession"
was thus exposed as a lie while the trial was still going on. The world
waited for the Moscow court's response to this hard fact.
Next day the curtain came down. Another 48 hours and Pyatakov
was dead. As always, the victims accused of plotting to kill Stalin end
up as mute but nonetheless eloquent-enough evidence of Stalin's plot
to kill them.
A little more than a year later, March 2-13, 1938, the third great
trial took place. Among the victims sat no less than eight former Soviet
ministers, not counting Trotsky who was in Mexico. "After the death
of Lenin," Trotsky told the press, "Rykov was the official head of the
government for more than five years. From 1918 Bukharin was the
editor of the central organ of the party, Pravda, and from 1926 the
official head of the Communist International. Later, after his fall into
disfavor, he became the editor of Izvestia. Rakovsky was the head of
the Ukrainian government and later ambassador to London and Paris.
Krestinsky, the predecessor of Stalin as secretary of the Central Committee
of the party, was afterward ambassador to Berlin for several
years. For almost all of the last ten years Yagoda stood at the head of
the GPU as Stalin's most trusted henchman and cooked up the Zinoviev-
Kamenev trial in its entirety. In the list of the accused there are
no fewer than six members of the Central government. Of the nine
people who were members of th Political Bureau during Lenin's lifetime,
i.e., actual rulers of the fate of the USSR, there remains only one
Among the treasonous acts these former heads of government allegedly
committed in behalf of Hitler were some that sound more
natural to a psychiatric ward than a criminal court: "Grinko has
mentioned the wrecking work he performed in the sphere of taxation
and in the savings banks, where he tried in every way to incense the
Vyshinsky accused the defendants of plotting "to disrupt horse-breeding."
Not content with upsetting the sex life of the Soviet horse, "they
deliberately infected pigs with erysipelas and the plague."
"Take Zelensky," said Vyshinsky in the apoplectic style that has
won him such high posts and emoluments under Stalin, "I shall only
refer here to the most abominable practice of mixing glass and nails
with foodstuffs, butter in particular, which hit at the most vital interests,
the health and lives of our population. Glass and nails in butter!
This is so monstrous a crime that, in my opinion, all other crimes of
the kind pale before it."
While we pale at the glass and nails in this butter, Vyshinsky hints
at one of the political motives back of the trial: "It is now clear why
there are interruptions of supplies here and there, why, with our riches
and abundance of products, there is a shortage first of one thing, then
of another. It is these traitors who are responsible for it."
As for Trotsky, he was accused of plotting with Bukharin as far back
as 1918 to do away with Lenin! That was when Stalin was unknown
and the names of Lenin and Trotsky were inseparably linked as the
two outstanding leaders of the Soviet Union.
Mussolini, not without justification, felt able to remark about this
trial in Popolo d'Italia: "Stalin renders a commendable service to
As in the previous trials, the GPU trade-mark was not long in
showing up. Bessonov confessed he got a letter "written in December,
1936, by Krestinsky to Trotsky." This letter, according to Bessonov,
"was passed on by me. In a few days I received a reply from Trotsky."
Naturally this "reply" was not produced in court any more than the
other "letters" mentioned in the trials.
Bessonov's "confession" was shown to be a lie in short order. The
Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet checked with the Norwegian authorities.
From September to. December 19, Trotsky had been held incommunicado
by the Norwegian police in response to Moscow wire-pulling.
They had censored every item sent to Trotsky, even holding up the
manuscript of his book, The Revolution Betrayed. On December 19,
the Norwegian police put him on a tanker and a police officer accompanied
the exile and his wife to Mexico. This officer, who was chief
of police by the time of the Bukharin trial, declared that Trotsky could
not possibly have received any communication from Bessonov or replied
Comparable to the non-existent Hotel Bristol of the first trial and
Pyatakov's ghostly airplane of the second was Krestinsky's "confession"
that "Trotsky came to Merano (Italy) about October 10 (1933) together
with Sedov" for a conspirative meeting. It had been publicly
established some time before that Trotsky was at Bagneres-de-Bigorre,
in the Pyrenees, ori October 9. Apparently the GPU got mixed up in
its geography and put the Pyrenees Mountains between France and
Italy instead of their actual location between France and Spain. So
the GPU claimed Trotsky was in Italy precisely when he was more
than 600 miles away! Exposure of this GPU boner of course did not
save Krestinsky from execution.
Had Stalin confined his bloodletting to the men processed for exhibition,
this alone would have entitled him to go down in history as one
of the most sinister figures in the annals of tyranny. However, the trials
provided only the most spectacular public incidents in the periodic
blood purges that swept the Soviet Union from 1935 on.
Victor Kravchenko, a former high Stalinist official who survived the
purges and escaped abroad, reports in his book, 1 Chose Freedom, that
the victims numbered as many as "nine or ten millions, including 60
to 80 percent of the top leaders of the Party, the Comsomols, the
armed forces, the government, industry, farming and national culture."
The slave labor armies of the GPU swelled to unknown size. Some
estimates of their number go as high as fifteen, twenty million, and
These figures do not include those who died before the firing squad
or in the cattle cars transporting them to Siberia. Nor does it include
the tens of millions persecuted and cowed into silence by the terror.
Scarcely a family in the Soviet Union remained unscathed by this
dread political scourge.
The Red Army was decimated. Principal victims were the veterans
of Trotsky's time who defeated the imperialist armies sent to crush the
young workers' republic after the First World War. In 1937 the entire
leading staff from Marshal Tukhachevsky down were shot without the
pretense of an open trial.
Managers and officials of factories, the transportation system, the
collective farms, the apparatus of the federated republics were collected
like sheep and either butchered or sent to the white hell of the
frozen Siberian wastelands.
The educational system, the arts and sciences were not exempt.
Celebrated educators, scientists, scholars, engineers, doctors, musicians,
playwrights, novelists and journalists were condemned, imprisoned
without trial, died of mysterious causes or simply disappeared, never
to be seen again by their friends and families.
Great masses of workers most capable of militant struggle were
crammed into box cars for deportation to the slave labor camps. Husbands
were separated from wives, children torn from parents. Whole
towns and entire districts were thus uprooted and dispersed.
Even the summits of the bureaucracy were not exempt. Officials
throughout the government perished. The Communist Party in the
USSR was shaken to its foundations as the nation-wide witch-hunt
tracked down all those whose "loyalty" might be suspect because of
an active political role in the days of Lenin and Trotsky, association
with revolutionaries of the early days, or simply because of poison-pen
In these years of Stalin's rule, many of the butchers in the opening
scenes fell victim in the subsequent slaughter. Yagoda, already mentioned
as the head of the GPU who organized the first Moscow trial
that sent Zinoviev and Kamenev to their death, was himself shot in the
third Moscow trial. Yagoda's successor, Yezhov, in turn was liquidated
after the third great public trials.
The terror was not confined to the Soviet Union. Political opponents
of Stalin's regime were hunted down by his assassins throughout the
world. In Switzerland, for example, Ignace Reiss, who broke from the
GPU and revealed Stalin's decision to employ "all methods" ag-ainst
revolutionary opponents abroad, fell on September 4, 1937, before a
blast of machine-gun fire. The Swiss police caught some of the gunmen.
The court established that these GPU killers murdered Reiss on direct
orders from the Kremlin. Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov, was killed in a Paris
hospital on February 16, 1938. Rudolph Klement, Secretary of the
Fourth International, was kidnapped in Paris on July 12, 1938. Later
his decapitated body was found floating in the Seine.
Opponents of Stalinism fighting with the workers in Spain against
General Franco's fascist bid for power w~re systematically murdered by
the GPu. An outstanding victim was Andres Nin, leader of the POUM
(Workers Party of Marxist Unification). Trotsky's former secretary,
Erwin Wolfe, was kidnapped in Spain by the GPU and never seen again.
A similar fate befell Marc Rhein, son of the well-known Russian Menshevik
leader, Raphael Abramovich, a member of the Executive Committee
of the Second International.
In the Western Hemisphere the GPU was also active. The mysterious
death of Walter Krivitsky in a Washington, D. C. hotel was ascribed to
its long arm. Krivitsky, a top figure in the GPU, had broken away and
published some of its secrets. He declared repeatedly that the GPU had
marked him for death.
In Mexico a band of Communist Party members and sympathizers
raided Trotsky's Coyoacan home in the dead of night on May 24, 1940.
Disguised in police uniforms, these GPU killers machine-gunned the
bedroom of the old revolutionary couple. Trotsky and his wife managed
to escape by rolling out of the line of fire. The Stalinists then kidnapped
an American guard on duty, Robert Sheldon Harte. In a lonely cabin
in the mountains they put one bullet through his temple, another through
the base of his brain, and buried his body in a shallow grave of lime
where it was later discovered by the Mexican police.
The culminating crime was the murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico
on August 20, 1940. On that day, an agent of Stalin's secret police
brought the Moscow trials to their climax by sinking a pick-axe into the
brain of the man who had done more than any other individual to
expose the true character of the Moscow bureaucracy.
A detailed report of the purges, based only on the carefully censored
information available in the Moscow press, would fill volumes. A
graph, based on such a study, showing the executions, disappearances,
condemnations, etc., would rise steeply in 1935, drop slightly, then
fluctuate dizzily from one peak to the next up to the Bukharin trial in
1938. Then the graph line would descend until it recorded another
sharp rise in 1940-41 after Stalin signed his pact with Hitler.
The long duration of these monstrous purges as well as their depth
of penetration in Sovit:t society proves that something quite different
from treasonous conspiracies on the part of the victims was involved
in the Moscow trials. The purges began on a major scale at the time
of the assassination of Kirov in 1934. They did not pause until well
after the armies of German imperialism had invaded a Soviet Union
bled white by the unending work of Stalin's executioners. Since the
war's end, new vast purges have occurred, although the main charge
now is no longer "Trotskyism" but "cosmopolitanism" or "concessions
to western bourgeois ideology."
The principal accusation leveled by the prosecution against Trotsky
and the defendants on trial was making a pact with Hitler and the
Mikado. The hypocrisy of this charge is evident enough from the fact
that Stalin topped off the trials by signing on Hitler's dotted line himself
and becoming supply sergeant for the Nazis in the opening period
of World War II.
The trials served to cover the debacle of Stalinist foreign policy
which paved the way for Hitler's seizure of power in Germany. At
the same time, they prepared the ground for official pacts with both
Hitler and the Mikado. This was Stalin's method of getting ready for
the oncoming World War II. But he succeeded only in enormously
weakening the Soviet Union and facilitating the invasion by German
Another aim of the trials was to try to compromise Trotsky's program
for the democratic rehabilitation of the Soviet regime and return
to international revolutionary socialism as practiced in Lenin's day.
Stalin hoped to smear Trotsky and his followers with the Nazi brush.
Trotsky was singled out for this attention because he represented the
tradition of genuine Marxism. As the leading exponent of Lenin's
program, and consequently the embodiment of the main political
danger from revolutionary-minded workers, Trotsky drew the fiercest
hatred and venom of the regime in its break with Bolshevism and
swing toward totalitarianism.
The execution of all former companions of Lenin who enjoyed
independent standing removed possible contenders to power. Such
figures might become centers of mass opposition to the dictatorial
regime even though they were not actually followers of Trotsky at all
and had kept high positions, many of them, only in return for slander
and vilification of Trotsky. Stalin's method is simple. He usurped
power through step-by-step elimination of leaders in his road. He
retains power by eliminating anyone who impresses him as a possible
opponent. All questions concerning his tenure in office are decided
with a bullet. Where an area of possible independent thought forms,
even in so remote a field as music, genetics or astronomy, Stalin
moves as ruthlessly against it as against a full-fledged political opposition.
Inasmuch as Stalin claims that socialism has been achieved in the
Soviet Union, he can hardly acknowledge such sordid aims. The blame
must be placed upon his victims. As a warning to others, they must
be converted into criminals, slandered as well as liquidated. That is
why frame-ups have become a characteristic method deliberately developed
by this Cain into an integral part of his system of rule.
Show trials at the same time provide convenient scapegoats on
whom to load all government crimes and failures that continually lead
to serious dislocations in Soviet economy, continually deepen the hatred
of the Soviet people for the regime and spur them in the direction of
It would be a serious mistake, however, to hold Stalin alone responsible
for these abominations. Stalin, no matter what his personal
guilt, is a political figure representing social forces. He could do nothing
unless a powerful segment of Soviet society stood behind him. This
segment is the bureaucracy that spreads its devouring cells throughout
the USSR like a deadly cancer. It is this bureaucracy, estimated by
Trotsky to embrace millions of upper-bracket personages, that found
it necessary in pursuit of power, prestige and special privilege, to
liquidate Lenin's regime of workers' democracy. In its rise to power,
the Soviet bureaucracy converted some, like Stalin, into creatures of
its own flesh while removing the bulk of Lenin's revolutionary generation
in a torrent of blood during the thirties and standing as prosecutor
and judge over those like Zinoviev and Kamenev whom it could break
morally and politically but never wholly win and therefore never
The product of the isolation of the first workers' state in a backward
land and the delay of the socialist revolution in more advanced countries,
this bureaucracy is evolving in the direction of capitalist restor~
tion in the USSR. It has already restored privileges and oppressions
comparable to those of capitalist countries but has not yet achieved
the stability or acquired the functions of an exploiting class rooted in
the economy like the capitalists of Western Europe and America, for
Standing between the workers on one hand and the peasantry on
the other, responsive to the pressures from world imperialism, it now
makes concessions, now strikes wild blows in its struggle toward greater
autonomy. The vast purges mark times of sharp danger to its existence
which the bureaucracy sought to overcome by stricter consolidation
around the personal dictatorship of Stalin.
Credit for the definitive exposure of the Moscow frame-ups goes
to the "Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made Against Leon
Trotsky in the Moscow Trials." This impartial body was headed by
John Dewey, the eminent philosopher and teacher and one of the
veterans of American liberalism. Figures like Carlo Tresca, an outstanding
leader of the anarchist movement and one of the men most
hated by Mussolini, participated. Otto Ruehle, who stood side by side
in the Reichstag with Karl Liebknecht in fighting German imperialism
in the First World War, was another member. Ruehle was a refugee in
Mexico from the Nazi regime. The liberal journalist, Suzanne La
Follette, former editor of The Freeman and The New FreemanJ
acted as Secretary for the Commission. In carrying out its exhaustive
investigation, the Commission selected as its legal adviser John Finerty,
of world-wide fame in the defense of Tom Mooney and of Sacco and
This body took nine months to complete its work. The evidence
assembled by the Dewey Commission from a number of countries is
cited in its official report, Not Guilty. This volume of 422 pages, published
in 1938 by Harper & Brothers, established beyond doubt the
complete innocence of Stalin's victims and proved the trials to be the
greatest frame-ups in history.
As part of the inquiry, a sub-commission was sent to Coyoacan,
Mexico, to hear Trotsky's defense, to question him and to study the
evidence at his disposal. Invitations to participate in the hearing were
sent to the American Communist Party, to Joseph R. Brodsky, leading
American Stalinist attorney, to Troyanovsky, Soviet Ambassador t6
the United States, to the Communist Party of Mexico and the leading
Stalinist trade union spokesman in Mexico, Vicente Lombardo Toledano.
All of them refused to take advantage of the opportunity to
cross-examine Leon Trotsky or to submit any evidence that might help
bolster the Kremlin's charges.
The verbatim transcript of the proceedings at Coyoacan was published
in a book of 617 pages by Harper & Brothers in 1937 as The
Case of Leon Trotsky. From this invaluable record, now out of print,
Pioneer Publishers has selected Trotsky's final speech for reprint in the
present pamphlet. This presentation of the case for the defense at
the thirteenth session of the Dewey Commission is one of the great
speeches of our time. Here Leon Trotsky, the outstanding tribune of
the Bolshevik Revolution and probably the most brilliant and eloquent
speaker of his day, presents his proof that the trials were frame-ups.
How well Trotsky succeeded in demonstrating not only his innocence
but Stalin's guilt as organizer of the frame-ups can be judged
by the reader. Trotsky's speech makes it easier to understand why
Stalin refused to accept Trotsky's challenge to try to extradite him.
Trotsky was willing to stake his life for the opportunity to appear in
court to answer the charges of a representative of Moscow, but the
Kremlin knew the strength of Trotsky's case too well to risk that. In
the end, Stalin's answer to Trotsky's analysis of the Moscow trials was
The hearings at Coyoacan took place from April 10 to April 17,
1937, after the second Moscow trial but before the third one. That is
why Trotsky does not take up the last big public case in his speech.
But the reader can see for himself how effectively Trotsky brought
down in ruins a frame-up that was still in preparation.
The prestige of Stalinism never recovered from the moral blow dealt
it by the findings of the Dewey Commission. Not that the Kremlin
oligarchy and its allies have not tried to overcome the effects of the
During the alliance between the Stalinist bureaucracy and American .
imperialism in World War II, Washington displayed no compunction
at gilding the Moscow trials and certifying them as 18-carat gold.
In the form of after-thoughts, Joseph E. Davies, Ambassador to the
USSR, placed his stamp of approval on the frame-ups in a widelypublicized
book, Mission to Moscow. On official suggestion, Hollywood
followed with a costly film based on Davies' falsification. The Roosevelt
administration thus played a not insignificant part in trying to
foist these Moscow police shows on American public opinion as fair
trials. The reception of the public to these efforts was not marked,
however, by any excess of enthusiasm.
With the outbreak of the cold war, this Hollywood version of Russian
history was dropped out of circulation; Davies' ardent testimonial to
Stalin disappeared from the windows of book shops; and the millionaire
ambassador himself quietly withdrew from public attention. _
Moscow has responded in kind. The victims in today's trials in
Eastern Europe are charged with plotting with American imperialism
and Tito's g'overnment to commit crimes of the same type as those
charged "in the trials before the Hitler pact. Stalin's victims are always
conveniently assigned to the espionage service of whatever powers
happen to be in disfavor at the moment in Moscow.
If there were an iota of truth in the Moscow trials, the Stalinist
prosecution enjoyed a priceless opportunity for vindication at the
Nuremberg trial of Gennan war criminals which opened on November
20, 1945. The main accusation leveled at Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev,
Rykov, Bukharin and the rest was making a treasonous deal with the
Nazis. One of the prisoners at Nuremberg was Rudolph Hess, named
in the Moscow trials as an alleged contact man who had conducted
"lengthy negotiations" between Trotsky and Hitler. He could easily be
questioned about this charge. The secret Nazi archives were open
to the Stalinist attorneys at Nuremberg. Whatever facts they contained
could be made public. What better chance to rehabilitate Vyshinsky
However, the Stalinists at Nuremberg, prosecuting the Nazis as war
plotters, maintained a studied silence about the Moscow trials and the
main charge that the old Bolsheviks in those sensational cases had
acted as Fifth Columnists for the Nazis.
In January 1946 the Revolutionary Communist Party; British section
of the Fourth International, reminded the Nuremberg court of
the slanderous charges in the Moscow trials. Shortly thereafter a large
group of well-known political and literary figures in Britain headed
by H. G. Wells and members of Parliament requested that a representative
of Natalia Trotsky be permitted to examine Hess, and that
any documents relating to the alleged conspiracy between Trotsky and
the Nazi leaders - if such documents existed - be produced. The
Nuremberg court failed to respond.
Then in the United States a petition signed by more than a hundred
prominent American political figures, trade unionists, clergymen, professors
and writers, requested investigation of the alleged complicity
of Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders with the Nazis in the preparation
of a war against the Soviet Union. The court still did not
Finally in May 1946 Albert Goldman, as attorney for Natalia
Trotsky, demanded the right to "cross-examine any witness who testifies
on this question and to examine any documents that might be
produced by the Russians in support of their frame-up."
Trotsky's widow held that the findings of the Dewey Commission
were conclusive, but for the benefit of those still doubtful was "per-
fectly willing to have the Nazi defendants, especially Hess, examined
and to ask the governments now in control of Germany to search the
Nazi archives for any documents dealing with the alleged conspiracy."
The Stalinists were not so willing. Washington, London and Paris
acquiesced in Moscow's reluctance, finding no difficulty in forming
a united front with Stalin's secret police on this question. The court
never broke its silence. Hess and the oth€r leading Nazis were sentenced
without a whisper from the Stalinist prosecution about the monstrous
charges used as an excuse to slaughter tens of thousands and send
millions to the slave labor camps.
Mraid of touching the Moscow frame-ups in any court that is not
completely a GPU puppet show, the Stalinists in their own inimitable
manner sought to escape from the public pillory. They could not avoid
doing something in view of the widespread expectations of their rank
and file that the findings of the Dewey Commission would at long last
be answered at Nuremberg. The complete lack of evidence at Nuremberg
of conspiracy between Trotsky and the Nazis made it all the
more imperative to again slander the Trotskyist movement and attempt
to justify Stalin's assassinations, particularly his murder of Leon
The sop to the rank and me was a bedtime spine-chiller, The Great
Conspiracy, by Sayers and Kahn. The blurb on the jacket advertises
it as "more strange and startling than the most sensational spy fiction."
It is difficult to find another statement in the book as true as that.
Since the main task was to remedy the failure of Moscow's representatives
to produce any evidence at Nuremberg confirming the
charges on which Lenin's generation of revolutionaries was murdered,
The Great Conspiracy includes an impressive bibliography that mentions
even works of Trotsky. The aim is to create the impression that
this fiction is an objective "history" containing "carefully documented
evidence" that "sets the record straight."
The authors must be credited with a certain amount of sly calculation
such as pickpockets often exhibit in plying their trade. How
many readers, particularly indoctrinated Stalinists, will check the assertions
of the highly praised authors against their alleged sources in
the formidable list of books they cite? The one in ten thousand who
does can be chalked up to overhead cost-he would no doubt go 'over
to Trotskyism sooner or later anyway. Still, the two fiction writers
refrained from including in their bibliography the book definitively
establishing the falsity of the Moscow trials, Not Guilty, the official
report of the Dewey Commission. Perhaps there's something to the
old adage about not mentioning the rope in the house of the hanged.
One fact alone exposes the fraudulence of the bibliography: the
principal source of documentary "evidence" is the transcript of the
Moscow trials; that is, the "confessions" proved by the Dewey Commission
to be a tissue of lies!
As for the other sources actually cited, an example from two pages
(16 and 17) of the first chapter of The Great Conspiracy will indicate
how light-fingered is the touch of these historians in fitting facts to
the needs of the GPU. They quote from Raymond Robins' Own
Story, a personal account published in 1920 by the unofficial representative
of the Woodrow Wilson administration to the young workers'
republic. Since most of Robins' dealings with the Soviet government
came under Trotsky's purview as People's Commissioner of Foreign
Affairs, Trotsky occupies a proportionately large space of Robins'
memoirs. The then unknown Stalin is not mentioned once.
Sayers and Kahn meet these unpleasant facts by simply crossing
out Trotsky's name in their quotations, substituting the name of
Lenin, garbling the quotations (see Raymond Robins' Own Story,
pp. 55-6), and adding by way of insult to Lenin that the founder of
the Bolshevik }larty "took an immediate liking" to this emissary of
American imperialism and avowed enemy of socialism. They weave in
Stalin's name, associating him with Lenin, by quoting a letter which
they say Raymond Robins wrote them in' 1943, almost a quarter of a
century after he first set down his impressions of the Bolshevik regime.
Yet the fly leaf of the book coolly proclaims, "None of the incidents or
dialogue in The Great Conspiracy has been invented by the authors."
Thanks to Sayers and Kahn, American students of politics thus have
an example of the GPU way of handling history that can easily be
checked in any public library in the United States possessing both
The Great Conspiracy and Raymond Robins' Own Story. This instructive
example indicates how difficult it is for representatives of
Stalinism to touch any page in history, no matter how minor, without
responding to the compulsion to deface it. The lie has been elevated
into a system that now shapes the thinking of the lowest hack on the
payroll. On such a foundation rests the deification of Stalin!
With this small forgery of their own as the keynote of their book,
the authors go on to the "more strange and startling" episodes in their
spy fiction. They repeat the tale about Pyatakov flying from Berlin to
Oslo for an alleged meeting with Trotsky. Nine years after the exposure
of this lie, Sayers and Kahn "document" it by referring to the
"confession" of Pyatakov, the very "confession" that was exploded
while Stalin's victim was still on the stand!
They repeat the lie that "Leon Trotsky, accompanied by his son,
Sedov, crossed the Franco-Italian border on a false passport and met
Krestinsky at the Hotel Bavaria in Merano" Italy. As already mentioned,
Trotsky was at Bagneres-de-Bigorre on the indicated date, but
Sayers and Kahn explain in a footnote that "Trotsky was then living
at St. Palais, a small village at the foot of the Pyrenees in the South of
France." Far from being at the foot of the Pyrenees, St. Palais is near
Royan, France, not less than 170 miles north of the Pyrenees, while
Merano is near the Italian-German border east of Switzerland. The
facts of geography disturb these popularizers of GPU frame-ups no
more than they did the master minds who originated this strange and
The famous Hotel Bristol, however, is left out of The Great Conspiracy.
Even the GPU, it seems, has been forced to permit the central
pillar of the first big Moscow trial to lay in rubble, after taking
Yagoda's head for the costly slip-up.
Among the other items left out of this book which pretends to be
"exhaustive" is the May 24, 1940, machine gun assault on Leon and
Natalia Trotsky. Is this because the machine-gun gang, after apprehension
by the Mexican police, proved to be members or sympathizers
of the Mexican Stalinist Party? Leader of this band who kidnapped
and murdered Robert Sheldon Harte was David Alfaro Siqueiros, the
well-known Mexican Stalinist painter. The authors of The Great
Conspiracy apparently felt that the machine-gun slugs imbedded in
the walls of Trotsky's home, Siqueiros' admission of the assault, and
the conviction of leading Mexican Stalinists so clearly pinned the guilt
on Stalin as the real plotter of assassination that not even they were
expert enough liars to maintain the original ~talinist version of this
attempt on the lives of Leon and Natalia Trotsky as a "self-assault"
organized by Trotsky himself.
However, they could scarcely avoid mentioning the slaying of
Trotsky. They present the version of the CPU assassin, Jacson, "documenting"
their story of the murder with judiciously selected quotations
from the murderer. They leave out, of course, the damning facts
established by the Mexican court pointing to the real organizer of the
crime in the Kremlin. Such court records, not written under the auspices
of the GPU, are anathema to "historians" of the Sayers and
An ironic item is the applause given the U. S. Federal District Court
that railroaded 18 American Trotskyist leaders to prison during World
War II for opposing imperialist war and advocating socialism. The
first conviction under the infamous Smith "Gag" Act, the Minneapolis
case became the precedent used by the Federal Court in New York in
convicting 11 Stalinist leaders nine years later during the cold war
between Washington and Moscow.
How well has The Great Conspiracy served the Kremlin bureaucracy?
Outside of Stalinist circles it has met with the derision that was
to be expected. The book did not raise the prestige of Moscow's secret
political police. Among Stalinist rank and filers its use as a text is
effective only until they encounter people acquainted with the real
history of the Russian Revolution and the facts of the Moscow frameups.
Then the book crumbles in their minds as did the frame-ups
themselves at the touch of truth.
In the long run, history and mankind cannot be cheated, not even
by the most strenuous efforts of the most totalitarian regime. Crushed
into the mud, truth stirs nevertheless, rises again and in the final analysis
shows itself more powerful than the enthroned lie. This has happened
in the case of the Moscow trials. Stalin stands convicted before
informed world public opinion as the real plotter against socialism
and the murderer of its outstanding spokesman, Leon Trotsky. That
is the verdict of history which no rehash of old falsifications can set
Although this verdict has been pronounced, sentence has not yet
been served upon Stalin's regime. The war granted a temporary stay
and even conferred on Moscow a brief rise in prestige among the
working masses abroad. More intimate acquaintance with the brutal
regime of pillage and murder has begun to change this, however. The
looting of Eastern Europe, the crushing of all moves toward independence,
the imposition of police governments have proved a harsh
but effective school. An understanding of the utterly reactionary character
of Stalinism is penetrating the ranks of the workers in Europe
Lacking genuine popular support, the Stalin regime has no long
lease on life in the USSR. It is doomed. It is only a question of time
until the people of the Soviet Union with the aid of their allies among
the workers in other lands again take up the iron broom of revolution,
sweep the Stalinist filth from the face of the earth and resume their
march to the free world of the socialist future.
Trotsky's closing speech to the Dewey Commission in the hearings
at Coyoacan will play its part in bringing about this end.
New York, April 1950