In the years 1936, 1937 and 1938, a number of Lenin’s companions – Kamenev, Zinoviev, Toukhatchevski, Boukharine and others - were tried before courts under control of the totalitarian state being established by Stalin. They were accused of having betrayed the cause of Socialism ; History remembers these events, which led to harsh prison sentences in detention camps for all the accused, as the “Moscow trials”. Some features of these twisted judicial processes are strikingly similar to the LM trials which have taken place recently in Thailand. The aim here is not to say that the LM trials in Thailand are remakes of the Moscow trials – of course, they are not -, but rather to emphasize a few aspects which seem alike, in order to be able to get an idea of the mindset behind judicial processes intending to create fear in a given society.
One feature of the Moscow trial – in which all the evidences were fabricated and all the witnesses were fake witnesses – was the quality of the accusation. Even the slightest deviation from the orthodoxy, in this case Stalin’s version of socialism, was considered a betrayal of the cause. Fervent communists who had opposed Stalin on some aspects of the policies, like the collectivization of agriculture, were branded traitors and castigated as enemies. There was no middle way, no possible criticism in the public interest or for the good of the cause. This kind of accusation led unavoidably to extremely harsh sentences – death or long term detentions -, because the goal of these fake judicial processes was to inspire an intense fear so that even the slightest criticisms would be prevented. Once sentenced, the accused was excluded from the “orthodox community” and considered forever as an outcast.
Another feature of these 1930’s trials was that the central power considered it was necessary for the accused to admit to his crimes. It was not possible that he would fight the accusation with ideological, rational or legal arguments. He had to plead guilty, to recognize that he had betrayed the community. It appears that even the evocation of a counter-argument to confront the accusation would constitute, in the eyes of the totalitarian State, a risk of instilling a doubt in the Soviet Union population about the absolute perfection of the orthodox ideology.
At the time of the Moscow trials, there was a wide gap between the promised ideal, the proletarian paradise, and the crude reality of a life in an extremely repressive society. This gap was so wide that it was not possible for anyone to miss it, and, of course, Stalin and his henchmen were acutely aware of this. Thus, it seems that the trials and the harsh sentences delivered were also a way to “fill the gap”, an awkward attempt to patch the ever growing disconnection between the “ideal world” and the “real world”. The fakeness of the accusations and the set-up of the procedures were well known by those ordering the trials, but the rule was that the orthodox could never recognize it publicly : he had, as Raymond Aron wrote, “to follow a discipline of language”, for “the history told by the Party is true, of a higher truth than the mere truth of the material truth of facts” (1).
(1) L’opium des intellectuels, par Raymond Aron, Hachette Littératures, 2002