From 1936-1938 Joseph Stalin arranged to have a whole host of “enemies” brought to trial and executed. The accused were not innocent until proven guilty. They were automatically guilty of whatever the paranoid Stalin accused them of (or rather, whatever his secret police accused them of). These trials with pre-determined outcomes, were not against followers of the Czar or capitalists, but against Stalin’s fellow Marxist-socialists.
His enemies were labelled “Trotskyites”—followers of Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s former head of the Red Army following the Russian Revolution. Stalin’s enemies were high up in the Soviet communist government: Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Nikolai Bukarin. They were old Bolsheviks from long before the communist revolution of 1917. They knew Lenin (and Stalin) personally. They believed in “redistribution of the wealth”, the government owning all means of production and distribution, people surrendering their rights for “the good of the collective”, and the triumph of the proletariat.
All of them were arrested by Stalin’s secret police (called the NKVD at the time). They were sent to prison, tortured and forced to write confessions, appeared before judges, and then filmed while confessing their crimes of supposedly aiding “counter-revolutionary forces.” The films of these kangaroo courts were shown all over the Soviet Union, to remind the “proletariat” of what will happen to them if they displease their socialist masters.
These show trials were just the tip of the iceberg of a great purge that Stalin carried out in those years. Some 750,000 people were executed, while another 1,000,000,000 communist party members were rounded up and sent off to gulags (slave labor camps) in Siberia. It is estimated that at least another 10 million were sent to perish in the death camps. And that figure is not even counting the number of people killed in other atrocities carried out by Stalin’s thugs (to be discussed in other blogs).
These are facts that even the Russian government today does not dispute. What is interesting is that while the arrests and trials were going on…the leftist intellectuals in America and Western Europe believed that the Soviet Union was doing the right thing! They believed that Stalin was a benign leader, and the charges against the defendants were all true! Famous “intellectuals” such as US Ambassador Joseph Davies, poet Langston Hughes, Broadway playwright Lillian Hellman, artist Stuart Davis, and socialist philosopher Corliss Lamont all echoed the same thought that the show trials and consequent purges were just.
Decades later, we all found out the truth, but it was too late for the millions who perished.