Duncan Hallas

Mad dog days

(September 1986)

Letter, Socialist Worker Review, No.90, September 1986, p.34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On Saturday 16 August, the fiftieth anniversary of the first of the three big Moscow Trials of the old Bolsheviks, the Guardian carried a full page commemorative article by Geoffrey Robertson entitled The Day of the Mad Dogs.

It was a curious article in a number of ways but most notably in that it was largely devoted to Nikolai Bukharin. Now Bukharin was not on trial in 1936. Indeed he was still editor of Pravda at the time. What he privately thought about the trial can only be guessed. What Pravda said is a matter of record. It daily denounced the ‘mad dogs’ in the dock, Zinoviev and Kamenev being the best known, along with their alleged leader the exiled Trotsky, as fascists, traitors, agents of Hitler, scum, human vermin etc.

True, Bukharin’s own turn duly came (at the third trial in 1938) but why, on the anniversary of the first monstrous frame-up in 1936, scarcely a paragraph about Zinoviev, President of the Communist International in Lenin’s day, Kamenev, Politbureau member with Lenin and his literary executor and, above all, Trotsky the real principal defendant in all three trials?

The political motivation is clear enough. Bukharin, we are told, ‘occupies an honoured place in the eyes of Communist reformers in countries outside the Soviet Union [read Eurocommunist – DH], his political and economic principles are increasingly in tune with those espoused by Gorbachev.’

In a particularly disgraceful paragraph Robertson writes: ‘It was incredible that Bukharin would have joined forces with his old enemies the Trotskyites, and conspired with [the] fascist powers ...’ – implying that Trotsky (and presumably Zinoviev and the others) did or might have done!

It is not my purpose here to discuss the actual role and political ideas of Bukharin. That has been attempted in various articles in International Socialism by Peter Sedgwick, myself and (most recently) Mike Haynes.

I wish instead to stress two related points. First, the ‘evidence’ against all the accused in all three trials was equally and utterly worthless; a mass of baseless fabrications supported only by confessions obtained by torture (as Khruschev, in effect, admitted).

Second, an important function of the trials was to demonstrate to the Western powers that Stalin’s regime represented a decisive break with the revolutionary politics of Lenin and his associates (the earlier Bukharin included) and was a reliable coalition partner of the British and French empires against Hitler.

This was the era of the Popular Front, of the abandonment by the Stalinised Communist parties of revolutionary class politics in favour of collaboration with ‘their own’ ruling classes, of the strangling of the Spanish revolution in the name of ‘democracy’.

The trials, the terror in the USSR and the Popular Front were integral parts of the same phenomena-the consolidation of Stalin’s conservative regime in the USSR and its emergence as a ‘great power’ pursuing the ends of its own ruling class.


Duncan Hallas
North London


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