To the Editor:
Sidney Hook, in his “Memories of the Moscow Trials” [March], rebuts Walter Duranty’s conclusion that Trotsky was guilty as charged on the grounds that Duranty’s “type of thinking would lead to the conclusion that Lenin was in the pay of the German Imperial Army to overthrow the regime of Kerensky.”
I was under the impression that material from the German Foreign Office definitely establishes that Lenin’s party was indeed “in the pay of the German Imperial Army to overthrow the regime of Kerensky” (see G. Katkov, “German Foreign Office Documents on Financial Support to the Bolsheviks in 1917,” in International Affairs, vol. 32, April 1956). While nobody has yet been able to come up with a receipt bearing Lenin’s signature, Z.A.B. Zeman and W.B. Scharlau, in their biography of Alexander Israel Helphand (Parvus), The Merchant of Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1965), demonstrate that those Bolsheviks who did receive the “German gold” (and sign for it!) were among Lenin’s most trusted confidants and personal agents in the party, and can therefore be assumed to have been acting on his wishes, whether expressed or implied.
What this fact suggests for Duranty’s logic and conclusion, and Mr. Hook’s rebuttal, I will leave for Mr. Hook to evaluate.
New York City
To the Editor:
Sidney Hook’s article brings to mind a conversation I once had with D.N. Pritt, one of the ablest advocates of his time at the English bar, who had been present throughout the Moscow trials. Pritt was well known for pro-Soviet views, but he was not a member of the Communist party. He was a Member of Parliament from 1935 to 1950, first as a member of the Labor party, and from 1940 as an independent socialist. In 1962, Pritt led the team of lawyers assembled by well-wishers to defend Jomo Kenyatta at his trial in Kenya on charges of directing the Mau Mau rebellion. In 1970, when I was writing my biography of Kenyatta, I had several discussions with Pritt about Kenyatta’s trial, and in the course of them asked him about the Moscow trials. His reply astonished me. “I thought they were all guilty,” he said, referring to Bukharin and his co-defendants. It was as simple as that; Pritt made no attempt at political justification, but reaffirmed what was for him a matter of clear professional judgment.
Is there a clue here to the point Mr. Hook makes about the capacity of Western liberals to evade truth through double standards—in this case, an ability to separate historical truth from judicial truth? In terms of the Soviet Union’s own judicial system, Pritt said, he firmly believed the defendants in the Moscow trials were guilty as charged. It was an argument which came oddly from the man who defended Kenyatta.
Pritt went on to tell me he thought Kenyatta’s evasive manner under cross-examination would have told against him had he been tried in front of a jury. Kenyatta was found guilty anyway by the magistrate who conducted the trial under the British colonial judicial system. In retrospect, the Kenyatta trial can obviously be seen as political. I am not sure Pritt thought so at the time. A passionate opponent of colonialism, Pritt hoped to make political capital out of the trial by obtaining Kenyatta’s acquittal. He was confident he would win the case on appeal to the Privy Council in London, and he was more upset by his failure to do so than by the original verdict of guilty in Kenya.
Is not the best comment on these matters the one made by A.T. Cholerton, then Moscow correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, which Malcolm Muggeridge is fond of quoting? Asked whether the accusations against the Old Bolsheviks standing trial were true, Cholerton replied: Yes, everything was true, except the facts.
Sidney Hook writes:
The evaluation of Walter Duranty’s logic and conclusion is unaffected by the data cited by Tom Milstein. Duranty argued to the guilt of Trotsky solely on the basis of: (a) Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin; (b) Hitler’s opposition to Stalin; (c) the fact that both men had organizations at their disposal; (d) the possibilities for contact between these organizations.
My simple point here is that Duranty, confronted by analogous premises: (a1) Lenin’s opposition to Kerensky; (b1) the opposition of the German High Command to Kerensky; (c1) the organizations at the disposal of Lenin and the Germans; (d1) the possibilities for these organizations to meet, would never in his wildest fantasy have concluded that this proved that Lenin was in the pay of the German Imperial Army. His inference of Trotsky’s guilt was therefore completely irresponsible.
The evidence that Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership received financial support from the German High Command or its representatives is indeed weighty, if not conclusive. It goes far beyond the speculative possibilities Duranty cites in his severe indictment of Trotsky. To this day, not a shred of evidence that Trotsky conspired with Hitler or Hirohito has ever surfaced. Even the GPU and its successors, with almost unlimited resources at their disposal, have been unable to manufacture any.
In reply to Jeremy Murray-Brown: the significance of D.N. Pritt’s infamous defense of the infamous Moscow frame-up trials must be appraised in the light of Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes available to the public (outside the Soviet Union) long before Pritt’s avowals to Mr. Murray-Brown. Pritt cannot have been unaware of them.
Pritt’s role can be paralleled by that of notorious apologists of the Soviet regime in other countries. Few, however, have had the hardihood to defend so brazenly a position abandoned by the Kremlin itself.
Nor is it true, as Pritt averred, that at the time of the Moscow trials the verdict was in accordance with Soviet legal procedure. For there was absolutely no material evidence substantiating the charges against the defendants or their confessions. The confessions, exacted by threats and torture, physical and psychological, whose precise nature has never been disclosed, consisted largely of alleged “conversations about conversations.”