More Than a Stalinist Show Trial

As Thaddeus McCotter contends, the reproduction of a “Stalinist show trial” is now live in Washington. That invites a look at the original production of 1936-1937, from one of the keenest observers at the time. 

“The Moscow trials, and the purges that followed them, were a turning point in the history of American liberalism, for it was irrevocably polarized by the controversies to which the trials gave rise,” explains the late philosopher Sidney Hook in Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the Twentieth Century, published in 1987. As Hook recalled, “news of the trials burst like a bombshell.”

The principal defendants were “all old Bolsheviks, Lenin’s comrades in arms, who had been glorified as heroes of the October Revolution until they fell out of favor with Stalin. Chief among the defendants was Trotsky, acknowledged by Stalin as the architect of the Petrograd insurrection that had placed the Bolsheviks in power.” 

As Hook wondered, “had architects of the great experiment been agents of the Western secret police?” The notion was “inherently incredible,” and the charges against Trotsky, Bukharin, Radek, and others were “mind-boggling.”

The heroes of the October Revolution, Stalin contended, had assassinated Kirov in 1934, 

planned the assassination of Stalin under the direction of Trotsky, and “conspired with fascist powers Germany and Japan to dismember the Soviet Union, in exchange for services rendered by the Gestapo.” They were also charged with “sabotaging five-year plans, putting nails and glass in butter, inducing erysipelas in pigs, wrecking trains” and so forth.  

All the defendants “confessed with eagerness,” but as Hook recalled, “equally mystifying was the absence of any significant material evidence.” Leon Trotsky, then in exile, “charged that the trials were an elaborate frame-up and defendants had been compelled by torture to play self-incriminating roles.” 

For American Communists and fellow travelers, the charges and confessions were all genuine. “My greatest shock,” Hook writes, “was the discovery that hundreds of liberals, proud of the progressive American heritage they had invoked in criticizing injustices in the United States, Germany and Spain, were prepared to turn their backs on it when questions were raised about justice in the Soviet Union.” 

The Dewey Commission of Inquiry, named for philosopher John Dewey, set out to determine the truth of the Moscow Trials. This commission “was spurned by liberals,” many of whom were swayed by Walter Duranty, Moscow correspondent of the New York Times. Sidney Hook was on to him from the start.

“At the height of the agricultural destitution and famine in the Soviet Union, brought on by the forced collectivization of the peasantry,” Hook recalled, Duranty “sent glowing reports about the state of the Soviet economy and countryside.” For Stalin’s best apologist, the Moscow Trials were 100 percent legitimate.

As The New Republic had it, Duranty “has been forced to the conviction that the confessions are true” and “it seems to us that the weight of the evidence supports Mr. Duranty’s views.” Trouble was, there was never any material evidence, even from Soviet boss Nikita Khrushchev or any of his successors.

“If dark court proceedings were a rigamarole played out for some dark purpose of Stalin and his regime,” Hook writes, “then the promise of socialism was revealed as a mockery of the great humanist ideals.” The dark purpose of Stalin (Iosif Dzhugashvili) was to eliminate his rivals. In that cause, “Stalin was prepared to violate every fundamental norm of human decency that had been woven into the texture of civilized life.” 

For Stalin, “rewriting history was in a sense a method of making it,” and this involved “the denial of objective historical truth.” By agreeing that the trials were legitimate, American liberals legitimized Stalin and the Soviet Communist regime. 

That regime rejected the rule of law, the presumption of innocence, and so forth, as so much “bourgeois” formality. The January 6 proceedings in Washington violate fundamental and longstanding norms of American justice. Witness the summary arrests, detention without trial, solitary confinement, denial of bail, withholding of evidence, and a lot more. 

Stalin aimed to eliminate his rivals, and the January 6 session targets Donald Trump, first and foremost. Democrats charge that Trump and his followers are guilty of an “insurrection.” The police shooting of Trump follower Ashli Babbitt, the only death by gunfire that day, is no object to the ludicrous charge. 

Stalin’s show trial boasted media defenders such as Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Duranty has been replicated by establishment media defenders of the current show trial. These are the same people who peddled the Russia and Ukraine hoaxes, with no regrets after both were proven false. 

Stalin charged that his fellow revolutionaries conspired with foreign powers. The January 6 proceeding maintains the fiction that Donald Trump got elected only by colluding with Putin, and that the American people had no role in his victory. The January 6 proceeding does not conduct audits or consider any evidence of voter fraud. It simply assumes that the 2000 election was the most secure in American history, with no comparisons of voter fraud in past elections. 

The Moscow Trials were all about Stalin, and it’s hard to exaggerate the veneration of this man by American academics, journalists and politicians. Sociologist Anna Louise Strong, for example, wrote in I Change Worlds that “one must not make a god of Stalin. He was too important for that.” At bottom, the January 6 proceeding is all about Joe Biden. 

By implication, the people of America were panting for a man who had achieved little if anything in all his years in the Senate. They wanted a man who has trouble with basic motor functions and memory; a delusional character who believes he served as a liaison during the Six Day War, when he was still in law school. America wanted a man who tells African Americans they “ain’t black” if they fail to support him, a man who says the Chinese Communists are “not bad folks” and not even competition for the United States. 

The Moscow Trials were also a diversion from the economic disaster Stalin had inflicted on the Soviet Union. The January 6 proceeding is a diversion from the disasters “Joe Incompetent” is inflicting on America. By implication, this is what the American people wanted. In the style of Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, Joe tells Americans they live in the best of all possible worlds. The Junta’s Duranty squads chide the people for failure to recognize the great job Joe is doing. 

The economy is strong,” claims government-controlled National Public Radio, “but voters aren’t feeling it.” Tiffany Cross of MSNBC complains that Americans are “more concerned with saving money than saving democracy,” and “high prices” cause people to be less interested in the “compelling testimonies and evidence” in the January 6 hearings. That is indeed a Stalinist show trial and under the Biden regime, Stalinist conditions are expanding on other fronts. 

The “Disinformation Board” of the Department of Homeland Security, briefly “paused,” is being recast under the leadership of Kamala Harris, the beneficiary of poontronage from Democrat queenmaker Willie Brown. Professional propagandist Nina Jancowicz will doubtless be singing backup, and as with the USSR’s Pravda, the truth will be only what the government’s board declares it to be. In the best Stalinist style, American history is also being rewritten. 

According to the “1619 Project,” critical race theory, and so forth, America is a bastion of racist oppression. Except, that is, for the revisionists’ tenured positions at prestigious universities and media outlets, except for their high-level government jobs, except for their six-figure salaries, except for their generous benefits and gold-plated pensions, except for their stock portfolios, fancy electric cars, beach houses, and so on. 

Like those arrested on January 6, 2021, anyone less than worshipful of the Biden regime is a domestic terrorist. The Biden Junta also applies that description to parents who object to the racist indoctrination of their children. If Americans thought the nation was becoming more Stalinist by the day, it would be hard to blame them. 

Meanwhile, for the Moscow Trials and Stalinism in general, Sidney Hook’s Out of Step is hard to beat. For the current Stalinist show trial, read Julie Kelly, a one-woman Dewey Commission digging deep for the truth.

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials held in the Soviet Union at the instigation of Joseph Stalin between 1936 and 1938. Getty Images

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