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Terrorist Regime Must Continue to Create an Excuse for Terror

By MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE,The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, Wednesday, March 9, 1938

Mr. Muggeridge was for some time resident in Russia and is well acquainted with the work of those political leaders who have recently faced or are now facing a State trial on charges of treason and treachery.

It is a safe assumption that a good many words will be written hereafter about the series of political trials which have taken place in the U.S.S.R in the last few years. They pose the kind of problem which most intrigues historians.

Nothing like them has ever happened before – Robespierre slaughter of his associates was quite different, a straightforward case of rivalry for power with no ideological frills. It is improbable that anything comparable could happen anywhere except in Russia and in the conditions now prevailing there.

The outsider is just bewildered. What can these trials signify, he wonders. Is there anything in the fantastic charges made? If not, how is it possible to make men whose record shows them to be tough and resourceful publicly confess to such charges, and stick to their confessions?

Since, it is argued, they know they will probably be shot anyway, why do they not avail themselves of the chance of belatedly defying their accusers? Instead, they grovel even after sentence has been delivered, and continue to proclaim their repentence as they are led away to be executed.

When the Name of Yagoda was Feared
Take the case of the trial now proceeding. Among the accused are some of the outstanding figures if the Revolution, close associates of Lenin's who have formerly held the highest administrative posts. Bukarin, for instance was regarded for years as official purveyor of pure Marxist doctrine. His writings were piously collected, and had an honoured place in all Soviet libraries. He was quoted like one of the Fathers to refute unbelievers, and he was even allowed to lecture abroad - a suresign that his orthodoxy was above suspicion.

Yagoda, again as supreme head of the Ogpu, was until lately all-powerful. His very name was only mentioned tremulously. Just to pronounce it was enough to make voices become hushed and looks furtive. Scarcely a day passed but some laudatory reference to him appeared in the Press. He was the hero who indomitably put down counter-revolution, who crushed kulaks, Trotshyists and other canaiile, who built the White Sea Canal. He was the trusted and honoured custodian of the Proletariat's "flaming sword".

And now - now Yagoda stands up in a public court and insists that for years he has been the paid servant of foreign intelligence services. All the while he was hounding down enemies of the Revolution, being photographed with Stalin's arm lovingly resting on his shoulder, using the forced labour of the at least 5,000,000 political prisoners in his charge to execute notable public works, he was in fact receiving a salary as a spy.

Charge of Plotting Their Own Downfall
The same with Bukarin, the same with Rykov, Rakovsky and the others. All of them have admitted similar treasonable activities. Taking the sum total of confessions at this and former trials, and assuming them to be true, it would be the case that until Stalin became supreme, the Soviet Government consisted, with three, or counting Litvinov, four exceptions of employees of Foreign Powers all eagerly plotting to bring about their own downfall - which, as Euclid says, is absurd.

And what, according to their indictment, has this large and powerful group of spies to show for their efforts? One murder, Kiroff's; the deaths of two invalids, Gorki and Mendjinsky. Of all the grotesque charges made in Soviet trials that of bringing about the death of Gorki is the most grotesque.

In his later years, Gorki was senile, vain, decrepid and bewildered; and it would have been as proposterous to hope to promote the cause of counter-revolution by bringing about his death as to hope to promote the cause of revolution by keeping him alive. If his doctors had been charged with unduly protracting his life it would have been more comprehensible.

How "Confessions" Are Obtained
There can indeed be no serious doubts that those charges so elaborately made and fulsomely confessed to, are utterly bogus. How then are the confessions obtained?

Many theories have been put forward to explain them - Tibetan drugs, hypnotism, the natural propensity of the Slav temperament towards self-abasement and so on. The prisoners we know are kept in custody for months, sometimes on and off for years, before their public trial, and during their custody are constantly submitted to intensive cross-examination. Few human beings, submitted to such a strain, would be able to avoid becoming unbalanced. Even Servetus, after only six months rather similar treatment in a Geneva prison, was reduced to begging Calvin's pardon for all the trouble he had caused him.

It is worth noting too, that the period prisoners are kept in custody before their public trial varies greatly in length. Thus Bukarin was arrested at the same time as Radek and is only now being tried, the longer delay in his case suggesting he proved more obdurate. Some prisoners, again, are never given a public trial at all, but like Tomsky commit suicide or just disappear. It is also worth noting that Radek's comparitively lenient sentence of 10 years is calculated to encourage unrestrained confession.

Why the Trouble of Staging a Trial?
More interesting than how the confessions are extorted is why they should be required. What is the object of these political trials? No one, beyond a few incorrigible friends of the Soviet Union like the Dean of Canterbury, really believes in their validity. Inside the Soviet Union they are a joke, ordinarily macabre, but when the victims include someone as universally detested as Yagoda, to that extent enjoyable; outside the U.S.S.R. they merely serve to embarras admirers of the Soviet Union and to delight its enemies. Why then are they put on one after the other?

An obvious explanation is that they represent Stalin's drastic way of disposing of potential rivals. To ensure that there shall be no opposition in the future he gives an impressive object lesson in what happens to those who have oppposed him in the past. Where in democratic counteries, there would be ministerial changes, he arranges for a public exhibition of penitence to be followed by death sentences.

The weakness of this explanation is that the persons tried and condemned have not in fact, been Stalin's potential rivals at all, but mostly veteran revolutionaries, long ago stripped of all authority, with no following or possibility of ,making trouble, as politically isolated as, say, Mr. Lloyd George. If, for private reasons, Stalin disliked the idea of their going on living, he had only to give an order and they would have vanished without anyone except a few relations and friends wondering what had become of them.

A cry would not have gone up "Where's Bukarin?" What's become of Yagoda?" and the effects of anyone contemplating opposition would have just as deterrent as if they had been forced publicly to avow inconceivable crimes before being shot.

No, the trials cannot be accounted for by Stalin's anxiety to prevent opposition. They have a deeper significance than that. They are an inevitable consequence of government by fear, a manisestation of what M. Rollin a brilliant French journalist has called "proletarian mysticism."

"Conspiracies" as Part of the System
When the Terror was first brought into existence by Djerjhinski, it was to put down counter-revolutionary conspiracy. Its legitimate prey were adherents to the regime that had been destroyed. These were long ago exhausted. There are now no counter-revolutionary conspiracies. Everyone is too frightened to conspire.

At the same time the machinery of Terror still exists, greatly magnified and constantly increasing: a great vested interest in putting down conspiracies. Existing, it must function. Voltaire said of God that if he did not exist it would be necessary to invent him; in the same way in the U.S.S.R. if counter-revolutionary conspiracies do not exist, it is necessary to invent them. They are an integral part of the system. The might of the Government, that is of Stalin, must be constantly demonstrated; his triumph over his enemies and their abasement before him constantly celebrated.

Thus the trials are like morality plays in which Good is shown triumphing over Evil, for the edification of those who define what shall be Good and what Evil. St. George slays the dragon, and when the dragon is slain it has to get up and be slain again, and so on for ever, the dragon getting more and more jaded, mechanical in its defiance, St. George getting more and more vainglorious and divorced from reality.

Everyone must Live in Fear
Government by fear necessitates everyone being afraid all the time, not excepting those who govern. This omni-present fear breeds a form of morbid hysteria, ever intensifying. It has to be dramatised from time to time and the trials are its dramatisation.

"Pravda" wrote of the latest one that it represented the equivalent of a major victory in the field of battle. Those brow-beaten craven prisoners slobbering out their repentence are a powerful enemy, and see how easily they can be crushed! That is their role. They, who have forced the same role on many another, have no reason to complain: but we onlookers may well wonder when the breaking point will come, how, and with what consequences.