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The Sword of the Soviet

The Daily Worker, Friday, March 25, 1938

By SEAN O’CASEY (Author of “The Silver Tassie”, “Juno and the Paycock” and “The Plough and the Stars.”)

It is strange to see people struggling desperately to make out the Soviet Trials to be anything else than what they actually are. The latest shaker-out of a show-up is a Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge in a desperately worded article in one of the morning papers.

At the head of the article the paper tells us that “Mr. Muggeridge was resident in Russia for some time and is well acquainted with the work of the political leaders now on trial for treason and treachery”. So the paper makes the Russian sign of the cross over Mr. Muggeridge before it sends him out on his mission to speak.

One of his sentences is this: “No one beyond a few incorrigible friends of the Soviet Union like the Dean of Canterbury, really believes in the validity of the trials.”

And if no one, but a few incorrigible friends etc believe in their validity, why this desperate attempt to disprove them? “Nothing” he says,” like them has ever happened before – Robespierre slaughter of his associates was 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 prevailing there.

You see Mr. Muggeridge apparently hates Russia as she is today, hates Leninism and every shade of it, likes only his own views and views expressed by others of the same shape, the same colour and the same smell.

Now something comparable to what has happened in Russia happened in Ireland only a few years ago right under Muggeridge’s own nose too. The contest in Ireland over the terms of the Treaty was, if ever there was one, an ideological struggle.

Over the ideological questions of the Treaty, there were 77 executions after official trials and some unofficial ones, the latter strangely condoned by the Bench of Irish Catholic Bishops in a letter sent to the Press in which they condemned killing done by the Republicans, while sympathetically referring to the same kind of killings by the Free Staters as “authorised murder”.

So allowing for the sake of argument, the core of “ideology” in the present Russian trials, we find that something very comparable happened in Ireland only a few years ago.

Is there anything in the fantastic charges made?” asks the innocent Mr. M. Well there seems to be something in the confessions poured out of the mouths of the criminals.

Mr. M. Goes on to argue that in confessing that they were spies and traitors all the time they were in the councils of the Soviets up to Stalin’s accession to power, these men were actually plotting their own downfall – which, as Euclid says, goes on Mr. M. Is absurd.

Euclid never said anything of the kind – it is Mr. M. Who says this. Noble men who nobly conspire can be said (if Mr. M. Be right) to be plotting their own downfall. Padraig Pearse, for instance, who plotted against English power in Ireland, plotted his own downfall.

Did Mr. M. Ever hear or read about the betrayal of Parnell (Ireland again)? Will he venture to say that the gang who betrayed Parnell, loved honoured and cherished their leader until the day that he actually fell in love with Kitty O’Shea?

Will Mr. M. venture to say that no envy or malice hit in the hearts of Parnell’s colleagues until they stood up to betray him? And will he say that this gang in their envy and hatred of their leader and in their plotting against him were actually plotting their own downfall? They didn’t believe they were although some must have known that, in betraying Parnell, they were betraying Ireland. The only difference between Ireland and Russia is that Russia’s enemies met - or seemed to meet - a sudden downfall and Ireland’s enemies – or Parnell’s if you like – downfall came more slowly.

Mr. Muggeridge asserts that these charges are “utterly bogus” though how he specially knows them to be bogus; he doesn’t waste a second to say.

Then follows his question: How are these confesssions obtained? Many theories, he says, have been put forward to explain them - Tibetan drugs, hypnotism, the natural propensity of the Slav temperament towards self-abasement and so on.

Mr. Muggeridge has left out Peter Pan and the influence of the fairies. He can apparently accept with open arms and open mouth all, all kinds of stupid suggestions, while sweeping away the overpowering evidence of the prosecution and the confessions.

Touching on the death of Gorki, Mr. Muggeridge says that "in his later years, Gorki was senile, decrepid and bewildered." Now in 1927, Gorki planned a triology of plays and wrote two of them which were produced, one in 1932 and the other in 1934, all actually in the later years of Gorki's life.

Anyone who would say that these two plays were written by a man who was senile, decrepid and bewildered, is making a fool of himself, and is apparently determined to be wrong at all costs.

But Mr. Muggeridge, setting aside drugs, hypnotism, Peter Pan and the fairies, puts forward his own splendid idea of close confinement for months and intensive cross-examination, exhibiting an example of a breakdown under these circumstances by telling us that, after six months imprisonment in a Geneva prison, Servetus begged the pardon of Calvin. It's a silly thing to bring in these middle-aged examples about which Mr. Muggeridge or I or anyone knows next to nothing.

I can give him examples happening in his own lifetime and in mine, that our own hands have handled and our own eyes seen.

I know a man who lived in British jails for 16 years, who was tortured in curious and cunning ways, but who never begged anybody's pardon, but who at last (probably when they thought he was tame) came out again and carried on more vigoursly than ever, his fight as a Fenian. He was Tom Clarke, executed after Easter Week 1916. Daly was another and O'Donovan Rossa a third.

Some of them went mad but there is no record that I know of of any of them, even although their own Church condemned them, becoming so broken as to say that he had sinned.

We have too the yesterday examples of Dimitroff and today's example of Thaelmann and of Osietsky in Germany, and of Tom Mooney in the United States. This suggestion of confinement and torture is but mean dust thrown into the air on the chance of it blinding the eyes of those who can see as well or better than Mr. Muggeridge.

For fear that the tale of the drugs, of hypnotism, of self-abasement, of Peter Pan and the fairies and of confinement and torture won't do, Mr. Muggeridge says that the trials are "a manifestation of proletarian mysticism"; that "they are like morality plays in which good triumphs over evil, of St George slaying the dragon, of the dragon having to get up to be slain once more".

So you pays your money and you takes your choice. But the mysticism seems to be in Mr. Muggeridge's own brain.He holds that the Russians are a mystic people, just as m,any think of us Irish as a mystic people. But the truth is that the Russians and the Irish are not esentially a mystical race, but a severely practical people. The later events in both countries have proved this up to the hilt.

There may be a few mystics in Russia as there are in Ireland, but we are dealing here with the race and not with a few units of the race. Mr. Muggeridge would probably look upon a man as a mystic if he saw more than an inch in front of his nose.

The opposition to and envy of Lenin and Stalin by Trotsky was evident before even the Revolution of 1917 began. If Mr. M. will read the book The Rusian Revolution by William Henry Chamberlin, he will see evidence of this fact. The Book isn't written by a Communiist or by one who has any friendly feelings towards it. It isn't published by the Left Book Club but by Macmillan and Co. so reading this book Mr. Muggeridge will be quite safe.

Here is an example-
"A third tendency in Russian Marxism was represented by Leon Trotsky who, with a small group of followers, stood aloof from Bolshevism and Menshivism."
He stands aloof still.

One other: "Trotsky was a brilliant bitter man. He was not a member of the Bolshevik Party at the time of his arrival in Russia. Self-assured and temperamental he had always previously rebelled against Lenin's conception of the requirements of iron party discipline and during the 1905 Revolution and after it Lenin and Trotsky had repeatedly ctossed controversial swords on points of doctrine and tactics."

So in 1905 we see that Trotsky was hard at it opposing all that Lenin did. Still another:-
"In 1912 Trotsky endeavoured unsuccessfully to unite all the factions of the Russian Social Democracy, except the adherents of Lenin, on a common platform" (my italics). In 1905 and in 1912 Trotsky was busy making it as hard as he could for Lenin, just as in the past years he has been making it as hard as he could for Stalin with the help of those who have now finished their course, although they haven't kept the faith. In the same book Mr. Muggeridge will see the same oppposition by others, Kamenev, Tomsky, to Lenin, later to be transferrred to the work of Stalin.

Again: "Lenin never relaxed his pressure on the Party Central Committee, some of whom were hostile, while others were likewarm towards his insistence on armed uprising." Again: "In October Lenin proferred his resignation as a member of the Party Committee in order to leave himself free for agitation among thelower ranks of the Party." In other words, Lenin's "comrades" weren't keen enough.

Again: At a secret meeting of the Party Committee, a resolution declaring for an armed uprising was voted against by Zinoziev and Kamenev, and we are told that "their resistence to Lenin's insistent demands for insurrection was stubborn, and continued up to the eve of the uprising."

It began long ago and it hasn't ended yet. Of course, nothing comparable to what has happened in Russia could happen anywhere else, and the reason is a very simple one, namely that so far, Russia is the one Socialist country in the world and naturally, all antagonistic elements in all countries are united against her, eager to prove, for obvious reasons, that Socialism cannot succeed.

That the conspiracy to overthrow Socialism in Russia has been overthrown itself is a very fortunate thing for Socialism in Russia and for Socialism the wide world over.