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The Media and the Soviet Show Trials

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In 1936 Lev Kamenev was arrested and charged with forming a terrorist organization to kill Joseph Stalin and other leaders of the government. At his trial Kamenev confessed: "I Kamenev, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, organised and guided this conspiracy. My motives? I had become convinced that the party's - Stalin's policy - was successful and victorious. We, the opposition, had banked on a split in the party; but this hope proved groundless. We could no longer count on any serious domestic difficulties to allow us to overthrow. Stalin's leadership we were actuated by boundless hatred and by lust of power."

His fellow defendent, Gregory Zinoviev, also confessed: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky.

Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev were both found guilty and executed in Moscow on 25th August, 1936. The Western media went along with the story. This is the way two major magazines reported the executions.

The New Republic (2nd September, 1936)

Some commentators, writing at a long distance from the scene, profess doubt that the executed men (Zinoviev and Kamenev) were guilty. It is suggested that they may have participated in a piece of stage play for the sake of friends or members of their families, held by the Soviet government as hostages and to be set free in exchange for this sacrifice. We see no reason to accept any of these laboured hypotheses, or to take the trial in other than its face value. Foreign correspondents present at the trial pointed out that the stories of these sixteen defendants, covering a series of complicated happenings over nearly five years, corroborated each other to an extent that would be quite impossible if they were not substantially true. The defendants gave no evidence of having been coached, parroting confessions painfully memorized in advance, or of being under any sort of duress.

The New Statesman (5th September, 1936)

Very likely there was a plot. We complain because, in the absence of independent witnesses, there is no way of knowing. It is their (Zinoviev and Kamenev) confession and decision to demand the death sentence for themselves that constitutes the mystery. If they had a hope of acquittal, why confess? If they were guilty of trying to murder Stalin and knew they would be shot in any case, why cringe and crawl instead of defiantly justifying their plot on revolutionary grounds? We would be glad to hear the explanation.

Leon Trotsky, of course, knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. He wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (17th January, 1937): "The Western attorneys of the GPU represent the confessions of Zinoviev and the others as spontaneous expressions of their sincere repentance. This is the most shameless deception of public opinion that can be imagined. For almost 10 years, Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others found themselves under almost insupportable moral pressure with the menace of death approaching ever closer and closer. If an inquisitor judge were to put questions to this victim and inspire the answers, his success would be guaranteed in advance. Human nerves, even the strongest, have a limited capacity to endure moral torture."




It was only after the war when the West turned against Stalin that the historians changed their mind about the guilt of these men.

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