by Dudley Collard
[1937 PYATAKOV TRIAL]
FINE QUALIFICATIONS OF ULRICH;
ALL HAD RIGHT TO COUNSEL AND ALL PLEADED GUILTY VOLUNTARILY; NO EVIDENCE NEEDED WHEN THEY PLEAD GUILTY;
DETAILED EXAMINATION WAS NOT NEEDED TO PROVE GUILT BUT TO DETERMINE SENTENCE;
JUDGE ULRICH, THE PRESIDENT OF THE MILITARY COLLEGIUM, PRESIDED AT THE TRIAL. HE WAS OBVIOUSLY A COMPETENT AND EXPERIENCED JUDGE, AND A MAN OF INTELLIGENCE AND CHARACTER. Two judges of the Military Collegium sat with him.
The proceedings began by Judge Ulrich asking each of the defendants if they had any objection to the composition of the court or to Vyshinsky appearing for the prosecution and if they had received a copy of the indictment. HE THEN POINTED OUT THAT ONLY THREE OF THE DEFENDANTS HAD CHOSEN COUNSEL TO DEFEND THEM AND EXPLAINED THAT ALTHOUGH THE OTHER 14 HAD ALREADY WAIVED THEIR RIGHT TO COUNSEL THEY WERE AT LIBERTY TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS if they now desired to be represented. They all replied that they preferred to defend themselves. Their rights to examine witnesses, to intervene with explanations, and to have the last word were then explained to them.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 32
THEY ALL PLEADED GUILTY WITHOUT QUALIFICATION, AND DID SO, SO FAR AS COULD BE SEEN, QUITE VOLUNTARILY AND SPONTANEOUSLY.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 33
IN THIS CONNECTION IT IS WORTH MENTIONING THE SOMEWHAT UNINFORMED CRITICISM WHICH HAS BEEN MADE THAT THE CONFESSIONS OF THE ACCUSED WERE NOT CORROBORATED, OR AT ANY RATE WERE CORROBORATED ONLY BY THE EVIDENCE OF ACCOMPLICES. IN ENGLAND--AND INDEED IN MOST COUNTRIES--NO EVIDENCE WHATEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN CALLED; and in the Soviet Union, as has been pointed out in a previous chapter, the court has a discretion to dispense with evidence if it thinks fit. The decision of the court, in spite of the pleas of guilty, to hear some evidence bears a certain analogy to the English practice of advising a defendant to withdraw a plea of guilty.
THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT THE DETAILED EXAMINATION OF THE ACCUSED, WHILE IT WAS UNNECESSARY TO ESTABLISH THEIR LEGAL GUILT, NEVERTHELESS GREATLY ASSISTED THE COURT TO FORM AN OPINION AS TO THE PROPER SENTENCE TO BE IMPOSED. If Soviet procedure had followed the English procedure, and the court had been content with a summary of the facts from Vyshinsky, it is quite likely that all the defendants would have been sentenced to death. For example, it was particularly noticeable that while Stroilov was giving the tragic account of how he came to fall into the clutches of the German secret police the judges were minutely studying his demeanor and taking copious notes. It was this opportunity for a detailed account of his criminal career which probably saved his life....
Another reason which no doubt induced the court to go into the facts in detail was that since the preliminary investigation was held in private, the hearing was the only opportunity that the public had to become acquainted with the facts. Very great importance was attached in the Soviet Union to informing the public on the details of the trial.
While it is true that the accused is examined irrespective of his admission of guilt, it cannot be said in this particular case that the accused were being asked to incriminate themselves, since they pleaded guilty before they were examined. Moreover, when one of the accused, Rataichak, objected to answering a question of Vyshinsky's which he considered irrelevant, Judge Ulrich expressly told him that, while relevance was a matter for the court to determine, he was perfectly entitled not to answer any question if he preferred not to.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 35
Vyshinsky handled the case admirably. He was single-handed, without a junior or a solicitor to assist him, and he obviously had a complete mastery of all the details of the activities of each of the 17 defendants, activities which spread in many cases over five or six years. It was a considerable feat to conduct the prosecution, as he did, without once hesitating or faltering for seven days.
He never once lost his temper or bullied a defendant, although his examination was skillful and searching. He invariably behaved with restraint and courtesy, and would check an irrelevant answer with "Excuse me."
His final speech, which lasted several hours, was clear, logical, and convincing. The first half of it was devoted to a study of the political aspects of the case, and in the second half he discussed whether the evidence satisfied the requirements of the Soviet Criminal Code. When he sat down, after an eloquent appeal for the death sentence to be passed on all the accused, there was enthusiastic applause for about two minutes, which the court made no effort to check.
Counsel for the defense seemed to be capable an experienced men. They did not hesitate to cross-examine any of the accused to elicit facts favorable to their clients. Braude, one of the defending barristers, was practicing even before the Revolution, and enjoys, I understand, a particularly high reputation at the Moscow bar.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 36
All three counsel had an extremely difficult task in view of their clients' pleas of guilty, and they confined themselves, in their addresses to the court, to pointing out any mitigating circumstances which affected their clients. No lawyer could have done more. One of them, Kaznacheyev, who appeared for Arnold, was successful in saving his client from a death sentence.
The public behaved extremely well. Apart from an occasional murmur when some particularly callous crime was being dealt with, they did nothing to display the resentment which they must undoubtedly have felt towards the accused.
The defendants were men of very varied and, for the most part, forceful personalities. It is not surprising that they preferred to defend themselves, and those two did were all capable of lively debate and eloquent oratory.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 37
The Trotskyites expressed their views openly and freely as they were entitled to do, and the question was thoroughly thrashed out inside the Communist Party. Finally a decision had to be taken one way or the other, and a large majority were in favor of the bolder policy, sponsored by Stalin, of going ahead with socialist construction in the USSR regardless of the difficulties. Trotsky and his followers were defeated.
However, they did not all accept the decision which had been democratically arrived at, and which it was their duty loyally to obey, whether they agreed with it or not....
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 42
They started illegal agitation against the Soviet Government and the Communist Party. They printed and distributed leaflets attacking the policy of the Party. They organized demonstrations of protest. At this period there were still sections of the population who were responsive to agitation. However, they did not succeed in winning many people to their slide.
For their illegal acts they could no doubt have been prosecuted and probably sentenced to death, but they were treated with a leniency which, as it has turned out, was misplaced. For the most part they were merely expelled from the ranks of the Communist Party, and some of them were sent to distant parts of the Soviet Union. Trotsky went abroad.
For a while their illegal activity ceased, but in the difficulties of collectivization they saw their opportunity. On Trotsky's instructions, one by one, they declared that they realized they have been long and applied for re-admission to the Communist Party. Believing that their recantation was sincere the Communist Party accepted them back, and soon many of them were occupying important posts.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 43
[Collard here provides a good summation of everything that the defendants did]
Pyatakov was not idle. He personally recruited, among his fellow-accused, Boguslavsky, Drobnis, Livshitz, Norkin, Rataichak, and many others.
He used his position as Assistant Commissar of Heavy Industry to place his recruits. Drobnis he sent to the Kemerovo coal mine to "help" Norkin. Shestov was sent to the Kuzbas. Trotskyite groups were formed in Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa, and Dniepropetrovsk. Wrecking was directed against the coal, chemical, and copper-mining industries.
As Pyatakov testified, the wrecking did not proceed smoothly. Many of his supporters were opposed to it. "It invoked," he said, "perplexity and discontent." He asked Trotsky for advice, but Trotsky was firm: wrecking must continue.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 46
That Trotsky's mind was in fact working along the lines indicated was strikingly corroborated by the production in court of one of his own published articles, in the Bulletin of the Opposition, numbers 36 and 37, of October 1933. In an article entitled "Problems of the Fourth International," the following passage occurs:
"Can the bureaucracy be removed by peaceful methods? It would be childish to think that the Stalin bureaucracy can be removed by means of a Party or Soviet congress. Normal constitutional means are no longer available for the removal of the ruling clique. They can be compelled to hand over power to the proletarian vanguard only by force. If, nevertheless, the Stalin apparatus resists, then will be necessary to take special measures against it."
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 50
This dialogue was one of the many which carried complete conviction to all those present. Livshitz could not have acted a part, as he shamefacedly revealed for the first time his knowledge of his co-defendants' spying activities, stammering badly in his nervousness while everyone in court was wondering what was coming.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 56
Stroilov was another agent for the Germans. He was a man of a very different caliber from his co-defendants, and it was possible to appreciate how he had fallen into his criminal career. It was clear, as he sat with bowed head in the dock, that he was overwhelmed with the realization of the crimes he had committed, absolutely sincere in his expression of regret, and almost alone among the defendants completely frank about the crimes he had committed.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 57
Stroilov's criminal activity was no whit less serious than that of many other defendants; but the court took into account in passing sentence upon him that he had not been a completely free agent. In prison he will no doubt be employed in his capacity as a mining engineer, and it is highly likely that in a few years time he will completely have altered his old outlook.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 60
Here is a list, no doubt incomplete, of the victims as disclosed by the evidence:
Date Responsible Method Killed Injured
1935 Knyazev Train wrecks 46 51
1936 Knyazev Train wrecks 17 103
March 1936 Turok Train wrecks Several train crews
April 4, 1936 Turok Train wreck 1 20
Sept. 23, 1936 Drobnis Explosion 10 14
Rataichak Explosion 3 0
November 1934 Rataichak Explosion 2 0
Jan. 8, 1936 Rataichak Instructions to incur unnecessary
April 15, 1934 Shestov Murder 1 Several
Shestov Dynamite Several children
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 62
When the explosion took place Drobnis had been in custody for some weeks, having been arrested on Aug. 6. There was considerable tension in the court, as Vyshinsky asked him:
VYSHINSKY: But you gave your assent to the explosion being organized?
DROBNIS: I gave my assent at the end or middle of July.
VYSHINSKY: So, as Noskov [a confederate] remained at the mine, your arrest did not prevent the explosion taking place?
VYSHINSKY: Could it have been prevented?
DROBNIS: Prevented? Of course it could have been prevented.
VYSHINSKY: Who could have prevented it?
DROBNIS: I could.
VYSHINSKY: Did you prevent it?
VYSHINSKY: It took place?
VYSHINSKY: Although you were in jail, the explosion took place?
These answers were listened to in dead silence by everybody in the court. This was another passage which would have persuaded the most skeptical observer that here was no play-acting but grim reality.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 63
Shestov, who grinned nervously and spoke jerkily while he gave his evidence, was a professional, cunning, and unscrupulous gangster and blackmailer. He it was who bullyied Stroilov into crime by threats of exposure and Arnold by threats of vengeance--threats that he would not have hesitated to carry out.
He described, still grinning, how he had stored some dynamite in preparation for an explosion. "Miners' children were playing," he said. "They were probably digging, and hit upon the dynamite. A terrific explosion took place."
VYSHINSKY: And what happened to the children?
SHESTOV: They perished.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 64
Shestov was responsible for murdering an engineer who had discovered that things were wrong. On April 15, 1934, as the engineer was riding home, a truck overtook him and killed him. Shestov described it thus:
"Boyarshinov was murdered at my order. He reported to me that there was something wrong in the construction of the mine. I thanked him and promised to look into it. Afterwards I summoned Cherepukhin and ordered him to kill the man. This was done."
VYSHINSKY: And he was murdered?
VYSHINSKY: An honest engineer?
This was almost the only moment when the public betrayed its emotion by a low murmur of resentment.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 65
There was sensation in court when Vyshinsky slowly read out the names of the victims, Young Communists and shock brigaders, and asked: Who killed them?
RATAICHAK: We did.
VYSHINSKY: You, the head of the central administration of the chemical industry?
And Rataichak hung his head.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 66
In all, said Knyazev, he was directly responsible for 13 or 15 accidents causing 63 deaths and injuring a 154 persons. As chief of the railway he was able to conceal his responsibility for thee accidents, and where it was impossible to attribute the accident to natural causes he instituted proceedings for criminal negligence against innocent people.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 69
The court deliberated for nearly eight hours, and returned with the verdict at 3 a.m.. Thirteen defendants were sentenced to death, Radek, Sokolnikov, and Arnold to 10 years imprisonment and five years deprivation of political rights and Stroilov to eight years imprisonment and five years deprivation of political rights. The property of all the defendants was declared to be forfeited.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 75
There can be no doubt that if ever there was a case of where the death sentence was justified, it was justified in the case of these 13 men. In my opinion the facts proved in court amounted in law to the offenses with which the defendants were charged, and the court was therefore entitled, according to the provisions of the Criminal Code, to pass death sentences. Indeed it was bound to do so unless mitigating circumstances were present. No one who listened to the evidence could possibly claim that, in the case of those who were sentenced to death, there were any mitigating circumstances. None of them young men, they all quite consciously and deliberately chose the course they did fully knowing what the consequences would be if they were discovered.
It is, perhaps, worth remarking that had their crimes been committed in this country [ England] they would undoubtedly have been liable to the death penalty according to our law. High treason is a capital offense in England, and the activities of the accused would be considered high treason by an English court. Quite apart from high treason, however, while sabotage, attempted assassination, and betrayal of official secrets are not capital offenses in England, common murder, of course, is. An English court would have no difficulty, on the evidence, in finding nearly all the defendants who were sentenced to death guilty of murder, in which case it would have had no alternative but to pass death sentences.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 76
The court found that Radek and Sokolnikov, although they were members of Pyatakov's group, had not directly participated in the organization or commission of sabotage, terrorism, or spying, and for this reason refrained from passing a death sentence, no doubt seeing in this fact some mitigation.
It is quite clear that on the evidence the court would have been justified, according to the provisions of the Code, in passing a death sentence on both Radek and Sokolnikov. The evidence showed that they both knew and approved of what was going on, and, indeed, encouraged it. Furthermore, they were both leading members of an organization which, to their knowledge, was plotting high treason.
Section 17 of the Criminal Code contains a provision which is substantially the same as English law:
"Accomplices, whether instigators or accessories, are punishable as principals.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 77
It was not, therefore, because of some legal flaw in the evidence that the court was unable to pass death sentences on Radek and Sokolnikov, and the fact that they did not do so, which caused general surprise, must be ascribed to a special leniency extended to them because their activity was only indirect.
So far as Arnold is concerned, while he was not a man for whom one could feel any sympathy, yet he had committed no sabotage or spying, was not a Trotskyite, and had been blackmailed into committing two attempts on the lives of Soviet leaders neither of which was successful. He had in fact killed no one, and could scarcely even be said to have been guilty of high treason. In the circumstances the leniency extended to him was understandable.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 78
I may as well confess now that when I had heard all the evidence I decided for myself what sentence I should pass if I had been the judge. I came to the conclusion that a just sentence would be to sentence 15 defendants to death and to give Arnold and Stroilov 10 years imprisonment each.
As I read the newspaper reports of meetings all over the Soviet Union at which death for all the accused had been demanded, and as I listened to Vyshinsky eloquently appealing for 17 death sentences, I, like most people, thought it inevitable that all the defendants would be executed.
In the result the court was more merciful that I would have been!
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 79
The maximum sentence of imprisonment is 10 years and the time spent in custody on remand counts as part of the sentence (unlike England). In serving their sentence the special talents of the prisoners are invariably made use of. Stroilov, for example, will almost certainly be given an engineering job, and, as I have said, I should not be surprised if in three or four years' time he is released a completely loyal member of the Soviet State. No one is kept in prison once they are reformed, no matter how much of their sentence still remains to be served.
After attending every session of the court (except the one held in camera), studying the indictment and the Criminal Code, listening with care to the whole of the evidence and observing the demeanor of the defendants, witnesses, prosecutor, and judges, my own considered opinion, formed and expressed as a lawyer, soberly and deliberately, is that the trial was conducted fairly and regularly according to the rules of procedure, that the defendants were fully guilty of the crimes charged against them and that in the circumstances the sentence was a proper one.
My view was shared by all those British and American correspondents present at the trial with whom I had an opportunity of discussing the case. It was also expressed by an eminent diplomat, himself a lawyer and a judge in his own country, who declared:
"If this evidence is false, then I have never heard the truth."
I believe that any lawyer who had been present at the trial would have come to the same conclusion as I did.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 82
I believe that one of the chief reasons for their bewilderment is the way in which the trial was reported in most of the British press. Some of the accounts which I have read give an entirely distorted account of what actually took place, most are highly colored and tendentious, and in a few instances statements have been made which are the exact contrary of the truth.
I am quite prepared to believe, for example, that the now famous canard about Radek having been tortured in the course of the investigation was due not to deliberate misrepresentation but to the fact that when "Radek Tortured Investigators" came over the wires in telegraphese, the minds of sub-editors could only interpret it in one way, applying the maxim that "Dog bites man" is not news, but "Man bites dog" is. In case there are still any doubts as to what Radek did say, by the way, I am prepared to vouch for the fact that I heard him say: "The question has been raised here whether we were tortured while under investigation. I must say that it was not I who was tortured, but I who tortured the examining magistrate by keeping him waiting for two and half months."
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 83
But apart from this incident most papers have offended by misleading descriptions. The following are a few examples, taken from papers in which one usually expects a high standard of accuracy and objectivity.
The Morning Post and the Manchester Guardian described the dock as "cage-like." In fact the dock was far less cage-like than most English docks. The defendants were separated from the public by a wooden railing waist-high, and had separate chairs inside their enclosure.
The News Chronicle erroneously published a photograph of Loginov has "one of the accused." Loginov was a witness.
The News Chronicle said in headlines that several prisoners were in tears during Vyshinsky's speech, and the Daily Herald reported that "Pyatakov openly wept." I cannot imagine where this report originated. I was present for every word of Vyshinsky's speech (unlike most of the correspondents, who were frequently leaving to write their messages) and I did not observe a single defendant in tears at any time, although it is true that some of them looked dejected, and one or two buried their face in the hands. Moreover, no one from the foreign Press bench could possibly have seen how Pyatakov was behaving, since he was sitting at the far end of a row with three or four defendants between himself and the body of the hall.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 84
The News Chronicle declared that Vyshinsky "thundered" his demand for a death sentence. He did nothing of the kind; as the Daily Herald correctly reported, "Vyshinsky's voice rarely rose above conversational level."
The Daily Herald, on the other hand, erred in stating that Vyshinsky demanded the death sentence "amid tumultuous cheers." There were no cheers whatever, but merely, as the Manchester Guardian correctly put it, "brief applause."
I need scarcely refer to the Daily Express which reported the presence of "5,000 GPU troops" outside the courthouse (in fact, as already mentioned, there was one militiaman) and described with a wealth of circumstantial detail the execution of the defendants only 24 hours before it took place.
The errors which have been referred to above appear to have been due, for the most part, to a frantic desire to make the trial appear as sensational as possible even at the expense of accuracy.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 85
While this colorful reporting is not important in itself, it has undoubtedly served to create an entirely false impression of the atmosphere in which the trial took place. There have been, however, two serious mistakes in the newspaper reports on which much comment has been based and which it is important to put right.
Most papers published a picturesque but quite inaccurate account of an interruption by Muralov during Shestov's evidence. Shestov was giving a description of the plot to assassinate Ordjonikidze, when, according to this account, Muralov is supposed to have jumped up and said that he and not Shestov was the guilty party. Basing itself, no doubt, on this report, the Economist quite legitimately made the following comment:
"We have the amazing spectacle of one criminal claiming to have committed a murder, and being at once denounced as a liar by another penitent, who insisted that the crime was his own. This surely must be the first case in judicial history of competitive self-condemnation on a capital charge."
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 86
Not an unreasonable comment if the report were accurate. But the exact contrary is the truth. Shestov was describing the plot to assassinate Ordjonikidze, and mentioned that Muralov had given him instructions with regard to it. It was this allegation which brought Muralov to his feet with an indignant denial.
"I categorically declare," he said, "that this belongs to the realm of Shestov's fantasy. I never gave such instructions."
The other mistake was a widespread report that one of the defendants had admitted causing several thousand railway accidents. The report, which raised an understandable skepticism in this country, was quite untrue. The train wreckers were Knyazev and Turok, who admitted responsibility, over a period of years, for 13-15 and 40 train wrecks respectively. No other defendant was directly concerned in train wrecking.
What may have been responsible for the report was a remark of Knyazev's. He referred to the total number of accidents which had occurred on his railway in the course of 1934, and said that the fact that the figure (1500) was high, was undoubtedly due in general to sabotage in various branches of industry caused by Trotskyite organizations.
Enough has been mentioned to indicate how unreliable any opinion must be if it is based solely on the newspaper accounts of the trial, and I now turn to some of the more general criticisms and comments which have been made.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 87
In expressing my views on these criticisms I do so not with any desire to protect the Soviet Union or to conduct propaganda, but simply because in my opinion these criticisms are ill-founded.
In the first place, with regard to the confessions. It is said, on one hand, that they were uncorroborated and, on the other, that they were not genuine.
So far as corroboration is concerned, there are several points to be made. I have already pointed out that in England, and so far as I know in every other country, if the accused pleads guilty no evidence whatever is called to corroborate his plea, and he is not even examined upon it.
Further, there was corroboration in this trial, and plenty of it. No fewer than five accomplices were called as witnesses....
There was also the evidence of three expert witnesses, which confirmed that the explosions which some of the accused admitted having caused could not have occurred accidentally.
Moreover, a number of documents were produced. Letters which have been found on Knyazev were produced, shown to him, and identified by him. Stroilov's diary, with the telephone numbers of German secret service agents in it, was produced and identified by him. The correctness of the telephone numbers was confirmed by the production of the appropriate German telephone directory.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 88
It was elicited from Radek that the letters which he had received from Trotsky had been destroyed. In such circumstances even the strict English law of evidence admits oral evidence of the contents of a document.
The movements of the German secret service agents were in many cases confirmed by the production of the police records of their arrivals and departures from the Soviet Union, and also by the production of hotel registers.
The identity of a number of German agents was established by photographs. For example, Stroilov mentioned in his evidence five Germans who were known to him as spies, and he was shown 25 photographs and asked to pick out the five. He went through them with a care which could not have been simulated, and picked out the five. Over one or two photographs he hesitated, finally saying: "Yes, that's von Berg. Only when I used to know him he wore a gray suit, and here he is dressed in black." Such remarks carried great conviction to those to heard them.
Another point is this: that the confessions corroborated each other. I do not mean by this that 17 confessions are in themselves any more likely to be true than 1; but when 17 confessions all relate to the same plot, and when they all extend over a period of five or six years, and all go into considerable detail, and it is found that, apart from minor matters which were likely to slip the memory, they all dovetail together with dates, names and places, this is the strongest possible reason for believing them to be true.
Much can be learned from a study of the demeanor of a witness, and I do not want to repeat here the reasons I have mentioned for believing that what was said in court was the truth, if it was not the whole truth.
But it is necessary to comment on the widespread suggestions that the accused were drugged, hypnotized, tortured, threatened, or cajoled into confessing crimes which they had not committed.
All reports are agreed that the defendants bore no visible signs of ill-treatment. They looked well-clothed, well-fed and in the best of health. They behaved freely, spoke coherently and gave long and complicated accounts of their activity over several years with dates, names, and places. It was not Vyshinsky who suggested their stories to them by leading questions, but they who spoke for many minutes in response to such a question as "Tell us about your wrecking activities."
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 89
However, those who were concerned lest the confessions are fictitious, no doubt intended to suggest that the drug extracted a series of lies from an innocent person. The answer, I think, is that it would in need be a strange drug which could so operate on 17 brains as to make them invent 17 stories which completely coincided with each other--and leave no visible trace of its having been administered.
Tortures, threats, hypnotism, and the like can be dealt with together. Some of the accused were questioned by Vyshinsky about their treatment in prison.
Norkin said that prison conditions were very good.
NORKIN: There was no pressure whatever.
VYSHINSKY: A man can be deprived of good food, deprived of sleep. We know this from the history of capitalist prisons. Or deprived of cigarettes.
NORKIN: As to that, there was nothing of the sort.
VYSHINSKY: Did they feed you well?
NORKIN: They were extremely attentive.
Pyatakov said in the course of his last statement:
"It is not necessary for me to say, citizen judges--it would be ridiculous to speak about it here--that of course no measures of repression or persuasion have been employed in regard to be. Indeed, for me personally at any rate, such measures could not have served as a motive for making admissions.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 91
Radek also volunteered, as is known, in his last statement, that he had not been tortured.
Vyshinsky asked Boguslavsky:
"At first you would not testify at all, and then you began to testify. Perhaps this is to be explained by some specific conditions of your arrest, perhaps pressure was brought to bear on you?
VYSHINSKY: Perhaps it was suggested that you should testify in the way you subsequently did, in return for which your sentence would be mitigated?
So much for what the accused themselves said about ill-treatment. It should be born in mind that they were aware of the presence of the foreign Press and of foreign diplomats. Radek knew a number of the foreign Press correspondents personally. The majority of the defendants, and in particular the experienced journalist Radek, must have known that the slightest hint of ill-treatment would be immediately flashed to the four corners of the world and would be front-page news in all the newspapers. It is, therefore, strong evidence in favor of the correct treatment of the accused that no such hint was dropped.
But the supporter of the theory that false confessions were extorted somehow or other from the defendants is up against a very real difficulty when he tries to imagine how the confessions were put together.
If the story told by the defendants was untrue, someone must have invented it. Unless one makes the fantastic assumption that the 17 defendants, instead of conspiring together to overthrow the State, conspired together to write their parts in the intervals between being tortured, someone other than the defendants must have written a seven-day play (to play eight hours a day) and assigned appropriate roles to the 17 defendants, the five witnesses, the judges, and the Public Prosecutor. It would have taken a Soviet Shakespeare to write such a lifelike drama as was played during those seven days, but no matter. Thereupon the defendants must have spent the period since their arrest not in being interrogated, but in rehearsing together until they were word perfect (in company with Vyshinsky, the judges and the witnesses). It is also necessary to assume that all the accused were such brilliant actors that, in spite of the pressure brought to bear on them to make them play their parts, they were able to play their parts without one slip and without once being prompted, during seven days in such a way as to deceive all those who were present a into thinking the play was real.
Such an assumption only needs stating in order to demonstrate its utter absurdity. It is clear, moreover, that any hypothesis of a "frame-up," however caused, requires this alternative assumption that the accused were acting and is thus absurd. The argument applies alike to threats, whether to the accused or to their families, torture, drugs, hypnosis, and promises.
Sedov himself, the son of Trotsky, in an article published in the Manchester Guardian makes the assertion that false confessions are extracted by a promise to spare the life of the prisoner. This deceit, he says, "will be the easier (in the present case) as the majority, if not all of them, were already in prison or had been arrested (as, for instance, Pyatakov and Radek) before the end of the Zinoviev trial, and in their strict isolation in prison they have no idea even now of the fate of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, and the others."
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 92
INSERT FROM CAMPBELL: We can only quote an eye-witness of the Radek-Pyatakov trial, Mr. Dudley Collard, the well-known British barrister:
"If the story told by the defendants was untrue, someone must have invented it. Unless one makes the fantastic assumption that the 17 defendants, instead of conspiring together to overthrow the state, aspired together to write their parts in the intervals between being tortured, someone other than the defendants must have written a seven days play...."
It only remains to be added that the accused knew that the reward for successful acting was death.
Campbell, J. R. Soviet Policy and Its Critics. London: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1939, p. 263
I only quote Sedov to show to what sort of arguments those who contest the authenticity of the confessions are driven. Radek, so far from being under arrest at the close of the Zinoviev trial, was very much at liberty. He was writing in Pravda (which perhaps Sedov may be excused for not reading at that particular time). By way of digression it is worth recording what he said:
"Crush the vipers! It is not a matter of exterminating ambitious men who have gone to the length of committing a great crime, it is a matter of exterminating the agents of fascism who were prepared to assist in igniting the conflagration of war, to facilitate the victory of fascism in order to receive from its hands at least the shadow of power."
Pyatakov, also at liberty on August 21st at any rate, followed Radek into print:
"One cannot find words to fully express one's indignation and disgust. These people have lost the last semblance of humanity. They must be destroyed, destroyed like carrion which is polluting the pure bracing air of the land of Soviets, dangerous carrion which may cause the death of our leaders."
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 94
It will scarcely be thought after reading these passages that Pyatakov and Radek had no inkling of the fate of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Moreover, the execution of the defendants in the previous trial was freely referred to in court, by Radek, for example, in his closing speech. Norkin, too, was not arrested until September 30th. It is frankly incredible that a promise of leniency, quite apart from other considerations, could have influenced any of the defendants in the least.
One is left with only one tenable hypothesis, namely that the defendants were telling the truth.
Very well, then, it will be asked, if the confessions are true, and the defendants such a depraved gang of criminals as their confessions show to be the case, why on earth did they confess? Why didn't they brazen it out? Why did they declare their repentance and plead for mercy?
This is an interesting question. Let us first of all examine what the accused themselves said about it.
PYATAKOV: My arrest confronted me with the choice of either remaining an enemy to the last, an unrepentant, unconfessed Trotskyite up to my last hour, or of taking the course which I have taken.
RADEK: The chief examining magistrate said to me: "you are not a baby. Here you have 15 people testifying against you. You cannot get out of it, and as a sensible man you cannot think of doing so. If you do not want to testify, it can only be because you want to gain time and look over it more closely. Very well, study it." For two and a half months I tortured the examining magistrates...and compelled them to perform a lot of useless work. For two and a half months I compelled the examining magistrate, by interrogating me and by confronting me with the testimony of other accused, to open up all the cards to me, so that I could see who had confessed, who had not confessed, and to what each had confessed.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 95
And one day the chief examining magistrate came to me and said: "You are now the last. Why are you wasting time?" And I answered: Yes, tomorrow I shall begin my testimony.
BOGUSLAVSKY: (who held out for eight days): When I was arrested I had been feeling like a man who is on the verge of an abyss and knows that he must fall into it. During those eight days before I confessed, it was already quite clear to me that the time had come to put a stop to it all.
MURALOV: (one of the loyalest of Trotsky's supporters, who alone among the defendants had never applied for re-admission to the Communist Party. He had been under arrest for eight months before he decided to speak, and confessed only a month or so before the trial): I think there were three reasons which held me back and induced me to deny everything.... I am very hot-tempered and resentful. That is the first reason. When I was arrested, I became embittered and resentful.
VYSHINSKY: Were you badly treated?
MURALOV: I was deprived of my liberty.
VYSHINSKY: But perhaps rough methods were used against you?
MURALOV: No. No such rough methods were used. I must say that in Novosibirsk and here I was treated politely and no cause for resentment was given: I was treated very decently and politely.
VYSHINSKY: You do not like to be in prison?
MURALOV: No, I do not. The second reason is also of a personal nature. It is my attachment to Trotsky.... I considered it morally inadmissible to betray Trotsky, although I did not subscribe to the directive on terror and destruction. The third point was--well, as you know, there is a limit to everything.
And I reasoned that if I continued to remain a Trotskyite, especially when the others were quitting--some honestly and some dishonestly--at any rate they were not standard-bearers of the counter-revolution, but I--there was a "hero" for you!--if I kept on in this way, I might become the standard-bearer of counter-revolution. This frightened me terribly. All the time, cadres, industry, the national economy were growing up before my eyes. I am not blind, and I am not such a fanatic.
And I said to myself after almost eight months, that I must submit to the interests of the State for which I had fought for 23 years, for which I had fought actively in three revolutions, when my life hung by a thread dozens of times. Was I to remain and continue to aggravate the affair? My name would serve as a banner to those who were still in the ranks of counter-revolution. This was what decided me, and I said: "Very well, I will go and tell the whole truth." I don't know, has my answer satisfied you are not?
Radek referred to this statement of Muralov's in the following way:
"When Muralov, Trotsky's closest follower, of whom I was convinced that he would rather perish in prison than say a single word--when he gave evidence and explained that he did not want to die in the consciousness that his name would be a banner for every counter-revolutionary scoundrel, that is the profoundest result of this trial."
In my opinion the reasons given by the accused for their confessions are convincing. It must be borne in mind that very few of them confessed immediately upon their arrest. Muralov held out for eight months, Radek for 2 1/2. Drobnis knew of an explosion planned to take place six weeks after his arrest and said nothing about it. It is wrong therefore to imagine that the defendants were only too anxious to make a clean breast of the whole affair.
Moreover, as Vyshinsky pointed out, there are grave reasons for doubting if even at the trial they told the whole truth. Their confederates Kamenev and Zinoviev on two occasions declared that they had revealed everything, and went to their deaths concealing the activities of Pyatakov's group. Pyatakov, in particular, at the trial, seemed to be revealing only as much as he was obliged to.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 96
I think it will be generally agreed that a few years ago, when the people of the Soviet Union were tightening their belts for the first great effort towards industrialization and collectivization, it was easier to discover plausible reasons for maintaining that Stalin's policy was wrong than it is today when the success of his policy has been visibly demonstrated in the greater prosperity and comfort of life in the Soviet Union. It may well be that the defendants, or those of them who bothered about theoretical justification for their activity and were not mere gangsters, work, through their lack of confidence in the creative power of the working-class, genuinely apprehensive of the policy that was being adopted, and started engaging in sabotage and terrorism in the sincere conviction that this was the only means of reversing the policy. But as time went on, it is possible that some of them (as, indeed, they said in evidence) began to doubt whether they had been right. The rising standard of living must have had at any rate an unconscious effect upon most of them.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 99
... It may be that by 1936 several of the accused were looking for an opportunity to escape from their own confederates, and welcomed the chance that arrest gave them to unburden themselves to the authorities. It is likely, too, that the opportunity for reflection which prison afforded them gave form to their subconscious doubts about the correctness of their own policy, and at last, fully realizing the futility of their activity, about which in the course of their busy lives they had not taken time to think, they ultimately came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be said in their defense.
Others among them, the plain criminals, no doubt admitted only that which was already known to the authorities. It is possible that some of them hoped thereby to create a good impression on the court and to save their skins. Advantages in pleading guilty if one really is guilty are not unknown in England.
It has been thought strange that the defendants, even pleading guilty, did not make more effort to put forward a political defense. It is well-known that many defendants in political trials have behaved boldly, even in the most hostile atmosphere. Dimitrov, for example, defended himself courageously on trumped-up charges at Leipzig and exposed his accusers. But there is no less point in making the court a political platform unless somewhere, inside or outside the court, is some sympathy for the views put forward. Dimitrov was aware of the vast popular support for his cause, both inside and outside Germany, and knew that whatever the consequences of the trial to himself, it would be a political lesson eagerly learnt by thousands.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 100
Pyatakov and Radek, on the other hand, must have realized their complete isolation. As Vyshinsky put it, anyone expressing in public the views they held would have been hanged from the nearest lamp-post. They were generals without an army. Even had they still thought at the trial that their views were politically justified, there would have been no temptation to express them, since there was no one to listen to them, and no inspiration such as Dimitrov had from the thought of thousands of sympathizers.
References have been made in the Press to "Russian psychology," to indicate that Russians when accused of an offense behave in an entirely incomprehensible way. It is only necessary to point out that before the revolution many political prisoners in Russia defended themselves before the Tsarist courts with considerable skill and courage.
A question which is sometimes asked is why the defendants were so mad as to adopt methods of sabotage, terrorism, and co-operation with the Soviet Union's worst enemies in order to seize power for themselves. The recital of the list of crimes committed by these men is strange and shocking to those who have been accustomed to the comparatively peaceful social conditions which still prevail in England. It must be remembered, however, that these men had lived through several revolutions, in which desperate acts seemed far less unreasonable than they do in England.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 101
Moreover, violent methods were the only course open to the defendants. They could not hope to persuade the people of the Soviet Union, in which they represented only a tiny group. It is significant that they were not charged with conducting any form of popular agitation. This had been tried earlier and had failed. The only choice before them was to abandon their oppositional activity or to try individual acts of violence. No doubt the overwhelming majority of those who at some time or another disagreed with the policy of the Communist Party have chosen the former course and loyally abided by the decisions arrived at as soon as they saw that their own views were not acceptable. It is not in comprehensible that some few, like the defendants, should choose the second course. Once they had done so, and embarked on a road of terrorism and sabotage, they were logically and inexorably driven into the position of allies of all those forces hostile to the Soviet Union. Why should not they, wrecking railways because they disapproved of Stalin's policy, cooperate with the Japanese, wrecking railways in preparation for an armed attack on the Soviet Union? Nothing could be more natural. Some of them may not have realized where their activities were leading them, some of them may have been disturbed when they did realize the position they were being driven into, but once started on the road they could not stop.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 102
The suggestion that had they lived in England these men would adorn the opposition no front bench in the House of Commons is, in my opinion, farcical. It was precisely because they could find no supporters to place them on any front bench, Government or opposition, that they had recourse to desperate acts of violence.
Another query which has been raised is how the accused were able to commit all the crimes they did without being detected. It must be remembered that among the accused were three Assistant Commissars, and other persons in responsible posts. Such men are in an excellent position to cover up their crimes. It has already been mentioned that they would send a commission of experts composed of their own associates to investigate the causes of an explosion they had themselves caused. They would also Institute proceedings against some innocent engine-driver or foreman and in some cases have him convicted and sent to jail. Then the crimes were spread over a vast country and over a number of years. It should also be remembered that they were not solely engaged in criminal activity. Many of them, like Pyatakov and Serebryakov, carried out--were obliged to carry out, in order to retain their posts--many excellent pieces of work, and were thus able to divert suspicion. One is reminded of the police spy Malinovsky who, in order to retain his position as a member of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, was obliged to deliver in the Duma some very revolutionary speeches, which had been prepared for him by Lenin.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 103
A suggestion which is put forward for the most part by open enemies of the Soviet Union and is, in my opinion, completely unscrupulous, is that Stalin is engaged in polishing off all his old associates. The defendants are represented as the "Old Guard" of the Bolshevik Party, and a suspicious tenderness is shown for them by the right-wing Press. They are described, for the first time, in admiring and affectionate terms by papers which previously never lost an opportunity of sneering at them. They are called "brilliant," "capable administrators" and the like. They are put forward as the persons really responsible, with a little help from Lenin but almost none from Stalin, for carrying through the revolution of 1917, and, indeed, are even praised for doing so.
To the best in my information and belief this is pure nonsense. By no means all the 17 defendants took any part whatever in the 1917 revolution, and those who did achieved their prominence, according to the history books, mainly by their frequent disagreements with Lenin over matters of policy. Most of Stalin's present associates, such men as Kalinin, Molotov, the late Ordjonikidze, and Voroshilov, all of whom are immensely popular in the Soviet Union, have far more claim to be termed the "Old Guard" than any of those in the dock, none of whom, with the possible exception of Radek, could have claimed any personal popularity even before their arrest.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 105
Moreover, what possible motive could Stalin have for wanting to polish off these particular defendants? None of them was a serious or even a potential political rival. They occupied important administrative posts in which they had had considerable experience. Why should Stalin suddenly want to deprive the Soviet Union of a capable Assistant Commissar for Heavy Industry, a capable Assistant Commissar for Transport, and a capable Assistant Commissar for Foreign Affairs? These posts are none too easy to fill. There was (slightly) more force to the argument in the case of Zinoviev & Kamenev, for they were politicians and known as such, and they did not occupy any important posts. But to assert that Stalin finds it necessary to bump anyone off, besides betraying a complete ignorance of conditions in the Soviet Union, is in my view a malicious slander.
Some puzzled people are asking why the Soviet Government allowed the trial to take place, when they must have realized that it would create an unfortunate impression in some quarters abroad. It is probably true that the Soviet Government were well aware of what would be said abroad, especially in view of what was said after the Zinoviev & Kamenev trial. I have been told that on that occasion they were sincerely surprised at the unanimity of the Press--outside the working-class organs, or some of them at any rate--against them. They had expected that some of the Liberal Press would realize that the conspiracy they had unearthed was a genuine
and dangerous one, and would comment on the trial accordingly. They were disappointed.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 106
They can, therefore, have had no illusions as to what they were facing when they took the decision to carry on with the prosecution of Pyatakov and Radek. The decision they took is another indication, if another is needed, that the trial was a genuine one, and that, having caught criminals engaged in a treasonable conspiracy, they were faced with the unpleasant necessity of trying them.
It is difficult, too, to see any reason for framing up a trial for the purpose of propaganda inside the Soviet Union. To publish an invented story of treason, sabotage, and spying would not seem to be particularly good propaganda. An unstable government is usually at pains to conceal the existence of any opposition to it. On the other hand, if the charges were true, there was every reason for the Soviet Government warning people, by means of a public trial, of the existence of a gang of criminals in their midst.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 107
In conclusion I should like to express a sentiment which so far few people have expressed in this country, but which I am certain will be widely felt as soon as the truth about these trials is fully realized, and that is my sympathy with the Soviet Government and the people of the USSR in having had this series of appalling crimes committed in their country, my congratulations to them in having caught the men responsible, and my hope that the USSR will now be permitted to proceed in peace with the construction of socialism in their country.
Collard, Dudley. Soviet Justice. London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937, p. 109