Commentary Magazine


Memories of the Moscow Trials

More than any other series of events abroad, the Moscow Trials of 1936-37 were a turning point in the history of American liberalism. They were a turning point in my own political and intellectual development as well. Although I had been critical of the political program of the Soviet Union under Stalin, I never suspected that the Soviet regime was prepared to violate every fundamental norm of decency that had been woven into the texture of civilized life. The Moscow Trials taught me that any conception of socialism that rejected the centrality of moral values was only an ideological disguise for totalitarianism.

The upshot of the trials affected my philosophical theories too. I had been prepared to recognize that understanding the past was in part a function of our need to cope with the present and future, that rewriting history was in a sense a method of making it. But now I realized that such a view easily led to the denial of objective historical truth, to the cynical notion not only that history is written by the survivors but that historical truth is created by the survivors. This in turn led me to rethink some aspects of my objective relativism. Because nothing was absolutely true and no one could know the whole truth about anything, it did not follow that it was impossible to establish any historical truth beyond a reasonable doubt.

But to me perhaps the greatest shock connected with the trials was the discovery that hundreds of people proud of the liberal American heritage, which they had invoked in criticizing injustices in the United States, Italy, Germany, and Spain, abandoned that heritage when questions were raised about justice in the Soviet Union.

To understand something of the climate of opinion that led important segments of the American liberal community to betray their own principles, we must note the important change that occurred in the attitude of the official Communist movement in 1935, after the Seventh Congress of the Communist International (Comintern). From a harebrained revolutionary extremism in which even left-wing Social Democrats—let alone liberals—had been denounced as allies of fascism, the Comintern now shifted to a policy of alliance with any group willing to enter a Popular Front whose fundamental principle was the defense of the Soviet Union. This shift was welcomed by almost all liberal groups at the time, mainly because it meant a surcease from the previous steady drumfire of denunciation against reformers by the multiple organs of Communist propaganda. No longer were reformers referred to as “rotten liberals”; they were now “honest liberals” with whom the Communists and their sympathizers were willing to work hand in hand against the universally detested menace of fascism. And even fascists were not beyond the pale if they were prepared to drop their hostility to the Soviet Union.

Psychologically this abrupt transition from what was technically called “Third Period Extremism” to Popular Frontism encouraged the open adherence of a considerable number of intellectuals, academics, and professionals to causes organized or dominated by Communists. In the past such public adherence had entailed some risk since it involved collaboration with a party openly urging the seizure of power by force and violence. Now there was absolutely no risk. For in a belated effort to establish their legitimacy as an indigenous American political party, the Communists were now quoting from Jefferson and Lincoln rather than Marx and Lenin. As Earl Browder put it in What Is Communism?: “We are the Americans and Communism is the Americanism of the 20th century.”

On the international scene the change was even more dramatic. Even after Hitler had come to power, the Kremlin was still justifying the policy that had brought him there. On May 1, 1933, the Comintern declared in its official organ: “The establishment of an open fascist dictatorship, by destroying all the democratic illusions among the masses and liberating them from the influence of social democracy, accelerates the rate of Germany’s development toward proletarian revolution.” By 1935, realizing that the fascist dictatorship, far from accelerating the development toward social revolution, was girding itself for war against the Soviet Union, the Kremlin reversed course and ordered its national sections to cooperate with all elements in the population not hostile to the USSR.

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In the new political atmosphere of the Popular Front, the news of the Moscow Trials burst like a bombshell. The principal defendants were all old Bolsheviks, Lenin’s comrades-in-arms who had previously been glorified as the heroes of the October Revolution. Chief among the defendants was Leon Trotsky, then in forced exile, who at one time had been acknowledged by Stalin himself as the architect of the Petrograd insurrection that brought the Bolsheviks to power.

The charges were mind-boggling. Under the direct instructions of Trotsky, and despite their well-known Marxist convictions concerning the untenability of terrorism as an agency of social change, these old Bolsheviks were accused of having plotted and carried out the assassination of one of Stalin’s leading associates (Kirov) in December 1934, and of having planned the assassination of Stalin himself and his other leading associates. Further, they had allegedly conspired with the fascist powers, notably Hitler’s Germany and Imperial Japan, to dismember the Soviet Union. Presumably in order to allay the suspicion flowing from the Roman insight that no man suddenly becomes base, the defendants were even charged with having been agents of the British military intelligence at the very time they were storming the bastions of the Winter Palace. In addition, although the indictment seemed almost anticlimactic to the foregoing, they were accused of sabotaging the five-year plans in agriculture and industry by putting nails and glass in butter, inducing erysipelas in pigs, wrecking trains, etc.

As startling as the enormity of these offenses was the behavior of the defendants in the dock. They all confessed to everything with eagerness and at times went beyond the excoriations of the prosecutor in defaming themselves. Equally mystifying was the absence of any significant material evidence. Although there were references to several letters of Trotsky allegedly giving specific instructions to the defendants to carry out their nefarious deeds, none was introduced into evidence.

The first news of the trials promptly elicited from Trotsky a ringing denial of any guilt, together with a counteraccusation that the trials were an elaborate frame-up and that the defendants had been tortured into playing self-incriminating roles. Trotsky expressed a willingness to lay his case before an impartial international tribunal. Meanwhile, through the press, he was able to shoot embarrassing holes in the court testimonies of the defendants and the claims of the prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky.

In the United States, everyone at all interested in political affairs was agog over the Moscow Trials. At first the liberal community was stunned, and then a small section of it came to life with the organization of a committee that was innocently but unfortunately named the Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky. Naturally Trotsky’s partisans were very active in this committee’s work. But it came into existence through the call of five persons—three of whom I myself had induced to take up the cause, even though none of us was sympathetic to the Trotskyists. Indeed, my initial feelings, if anything, were strongly hostile to the Trotskyist group. From certain experiences I had had with them, I was already then more than half convinced that the Trotskyists were capable of doing, if not on the same scale, at least in the same spirit, precisely what I suspected the Stalinists of doing. It was indeed ironical to find the Trotskyists, victims of the philosophy of dictatorship they had preached for years, blossoming out as partisans of democracy and tolerance (and in later years attracting to their ranks young revolutionary neophytes unable to see through the calculated ambiguity of their rhetoric).

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Why, then, did I wholeheartedly throw myself into the struggle to help organize a commission before which Trotsky could present his case? Because the issues transcended Trotsky and his followers, reaching to the question of the Russian Revolution itself. There was something inherently incredible in the notion that most of the architects of “the great experiment”—which still enjoyed high prestige in the West, partly because of ignorance of the terrible events of the famine years, but mainly because of the domestic effects of the Depression—were agents of the Western secret police. And if the bizarre court proceedings were a rigamarole played out for some dark punitive purpose of Stalin and his regime, the promise of socialism was revealed as a ghastly mockery of its great humanist ideals. It seemed to me that I would not be able to rest or devote myself with a full mind to anything else until the truth about the Moscow Trials was known. And I was still naive enough to believe that all except the apparatchiks of the Communist party would support an effort to make the truth known.

Hence, urged on by two leading American Trotskyists, Felix Morrow and Herbert Solow, I managed to procure the signatures of the philosophers John Dewey and Horace M. Kallen and of the Socialist leader Norman Thomas on the call for the formation of the Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky. (The other two signatories were the religious socialist Devere Allen and Freda Kirchwey of the Nation.) I had no difficulty with Kallen, but to my surprise, I had some trouble with Norman Thomas who was still smarting from the deceptive factional practices of the Trotskyists, and who saw little difference in the programmatic commitments of Stalin and Trotsky. Still, he finally came to see the importance of establishing the truth about the trials at a time when the Communists were appealing to the constituency of the Socialist party with demagogic calls for a Popular Front.

As for John Dewey, I very nearly did not get his signature despite, or rather because of, the fact that I had almost as a matter of course gotten him to sign scores of petitions for a variety of political causes in the past. When I wrote him (I forget now why it was that I didn’t go to see him), he replied that he was tired and wanted to be left alone. Since he had no feeling one way or another about Trotsky and the Moscow Trials, since he was already seventy-eight years old, and since he was the target of every group soliciting political support, his weariness was understandable. Had anyone else requested him to sign the originating appeal, I suspect he would have declined.

No sooner was the Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky organized than it turned out that the name automatically selected for it was a mistake. Among the first rationalizations offered by individuals who refused to lend their support was that the committee’s very name showed that it was biased in Trotsky’s favor. Yet while the unpaid office staff of the committee was made up of volunteers who were either partisans or sympathizers of the Trotskyist movement, I can attest that on the executive committee, of which I was one of the leading members, they played a subordinate role.

The committee’s main activity was the organization of the Commission of Inquiry Into the Truth of the Moscow Trials, and the quest for commissioners proved to be very formidable. The counterattack against the whole idea of an investigation had already begun, and there were very few American liberals who were willing even to consider the prospect of serving—certainly not Arthur Garfield Hays and Roger Baldwin. Albert Einstein also declined.1 From England Bertrand Russell was willing to lend his name to the appeal for a hearing but could not serve on the commission. On the strength of his and Dewey’s moral support for the project, I wrote to George Santayana. He answered with a rather indignant letter of refusal expressing astonishment that of all persons I, who claimed to understand his philosophy, should have sought to embroil him in such an affair. It brought an end to our correspondence.

Ultimately, however, we were able to put together a group of persons well enough known in the liberal community to command respect. (In addition to Dewey himself, the commission included, among others, John Chamberlain, Carlo Tresca, Suzanne La Follette, and Benjamin Stolberg.)

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The first and most important step of the commission was to appoint a subcommission to travel to Mexico City, where Trotsky had finally found asylum, to take his testimony. It was crucial for the success of the commission that John Dewey consent to go because without him the press and public would have ignored the sessions. But would Dewey go? And since he was now crowding seventy-nine, should he go?

Once more I had visits from Morrow and Solow. Dewey must go and I must see to it. But the difficulty was that I had been urging Dewey to abandon all his other interests and concentrate on completing Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, a book he had been working on for years. To add to my discomfiture, Dewey asked me outright what he should do. I refused to advise him—partly because I felt it would be hypocritical for me to encourage him to go to Mexico City in view of my constant admonitions about his neglecting the Logic; partly because I feared being held responsible, especially by his family, if anything untoward were to happen to him in Mexico; and partly because I wanted to spare him the torrents of denunciation that would be his if he accepted.

When I communicated my doubts to Morrow and Solow, they were terribly upset. They asked me to arrange for the leader of the American Trotskyists. James Cannon, to see Dewey. I did, and Cannon subsequently was convinced that it was he who persuaded Dewey to go to Mexico. The truth of the matter is that Dewey, although polite to Cannon, was repelled by his outrageous flattery and his ward-healer’s charm. What actually did the trick was Dewey’s discovery that the Kremlin had organized a campaign among some of his old friends, especially from the social-work fraternity, to dissuade him from going to Mexico Nevertheless, his son Fred held me responsible. “You son-of-a-bitch, it’s all your fault,” he railed at me outside his father’s hearing at a family party before Dewey’s departure, “if you hadn’t got him to sign the original call of the American Committee for the Defense of Trotsky, Dad would be all out of this.” Fred didn’t know much about his father or his father’s ideas.

The commission was fortunate in procuring as its counsel John T. Finerty, who had been active in a legal capacity in the Sacco-Vanzetti case and other liberal causes. By the time the subcommission, headed by Dewey, left for Mexico City, the project was a cause célèbre. It had been made so by Leon Trotsky’s remarkable broadsides delivered in response to the communiqués and press releases emanating from Moscow.

Perhaps the most eloquent and effective of these broadsides was the address by Trotsky via radio telephone to a mass meeting the defense committee had organized in New York’s Hippodrome on February 9, 1937. The technical facilities were apparently sabotaged so that Trotsky’s voice did not get through but, anticipating difficulties, he had forwarded his text, which was read to an audience of approximately 6,000. In the short space of an hour, he slashed at the main points of testimony bearing on his alleged meetings with the Moscow defendants, explained the mechanisms of terror that evoked the self-besmirching confessions, riddled the rationalizations of the Kremlin apologists, gave a thumbnail sketch of the causes of “the revolution betrayed,” and most significant of all, offered to appear before a public and impartial commission of inquiry to confront the charges made against him. “I declare: if this commission decides that I am guilty in the slightest degree of the crimes which Stalin imputes to me, I pledge in advance to place myself voluntarily in the hands of the executioners of the GPU.”

According to Vyshinsky, the prosecutor, there were volumes of damning material evidence confirming every last detail of the confessions of the defendants. Here, then, was a golden opportunity for the Kremlin to clinch its case before the court of public opinion and to allay the suspicion and skepticism of its critics. But it ignored an official invitation to lay its evidence before the commission or to send official Soviet representatives to question and cross-examine Trotsky as he presented his case.

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More startling even than the behavior of the Soviet regime in replying to the invitation of the commission was the response of the predominant sections of American liberal opinion. This was exemplified above all in the position taken by the New Republic, of which Dewey was a contributing editor and with which his name had been associated from the day of its founding. One would have thought that in keeping with its traditions, the New Republic would have welcomed an attempt to get at the truth concerning the trials. Instead it systematically called into question the good faith as well as the usefulness of the Commission of Inquiry. Thus, on April 14, 1937, it reported that “a commission consisting of prominent liberals and Trotskyists went to Mexico to hear Trotsky’s testimony on the charge of conspiring against the Soviet government.” But there was not a single Trotskyist on the subcommission traveling to Mexico or indeed on the larger commission itself. To make this allegation was to cast advance doubt on its findings.

Further, on several occasions the New Republic indicated that it endorsed the verdict of the trials: “Mr. Walter Duranty of the New York Times knows as much about Russia as any foreigner. He . . . has apparently 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” (February 3, 1937).

In any case, according to the New Republic, it was a profound mistake for liberals to become involved in a dispute over the Moscow Trials when their main business was the condition of liberty and justice in the United States. To be sure, “justice does not know national boundaries,” but the editors could “see no evidence that civil liberties were so certainly violated in this case as to make a protest on this ground necessary.” This, despite the fact that Leon Trotsky and his son Leon Sedoff were being convicted for a capital offense without a hearing which the Soviet Union could easily have initiated by extradition proceedings. The editors admitted that it was “the responsibility of believers in civil liberty to hold their minds open for any further evidence”; but if so one would imagine that they would have welcomed the commission’s efforts. Instead, they argued, “It remains for us, who have a larger degree of political freedom, to defend it by fighting for it at home” (February 17, 1937).

This was very curious advice. When Hitler began his persecution of the Communists immediately after coming to power in Germany, the New Republic did not urge liberals to avoid involvement in controversies over German policy and concentrate on defending liberty at home. Actually, at the very time that they were giving this advice to American liberals, they were urging these liberals to become involved in the struggle against fascism in Spain. Yet it was already clear that even the defense of Spanish democracy against Franco was being affected by the Moscow Trials, since the Communist forces in Spain, at the behest of the Kremlin, were purging those who expressed any doubt about the authenticity of the trials. It was indeed odd that a periodical which had once proclaimed that the struggle for truth, freedom, and justice was indivisible should suddenly urge that liberals turn their attention to matters at home.2

The New Republic‘s editorial retreat to the position “let us attend to our own knitting” and leave off discussing the Moscow Trials was somewhat disingenuous because its literary editor, Malcolm Cowley, kept on writing impassioned defenses of the justice of the trials and signing denunciations of the Commission of Inquiry. In his review of the official proceedings of the trials, for example, not only did he swallow whole Stalin’s charge that Trotsky, Bukharin, and most of Lenin’s other lieutenants were guilty of treasonable dealings with Germany, Poland, Japan, and the British intelligence service; he also held them responsible for such “mean and repulsive” crimes as “pouring nails and broken glass into eighty carloads of butter, spreading corn beetles in the granaries, infecting horses with anthrax or cholera, and hogs with erysipelas. . . .”

The reaction of Malcolm Cowley to the Moscow Trials was close to the blind fury of the official standard bearers of the Communist-party line among intellectuals—writers like Michael Gold, Nelson Algren, and the other worthies who clustered around the party magazine, the New Masses. But Cowley was more effective and influential than those of his comrades-in-arms who were under party discipline because he and they could honestly say that he was not a party member, and was therefore presumably more detached about the issues. On occasion he even entered a reservation or two about the claims made by the Kremlin and its partisans. Nonetheless, by the end of the 30’s his friend and patron Edmund Wilson (who, even according to Cowley himself, was above the battle of factions) felt compelled to write him in protest against the way he was exercising his duties as literary editor of the New Republic: “You have been carrying on in a way that matches the New Masses at its worst. . . . You write better than the people on the regular Stalinist press but what you are writing is simply Stalinist character assassination of the most reckless and libelous sort.”

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As Wilson’s reference to the New Masses makes clear, that magazine specialized in attacking anyone who was raising doubts about the Moscow Trials. One tack was to present the critics as vain, superficial creatures, “migrating intellectuals” in Michael Gold’s phrase, flitting from one political view to another. Thus, not long after the organization of the Trotsky Defense Committee was announced, Gold wrote: “It is easy to criticize the Soviet Union in a steam-heated New York restaurant, before a group of book reviewers and college instructors who have never shot a White Guard saboteur in their lives. . . .” The fact, of course, was that more book reviewers and college instructors endorsed the Moscow Trials than denounced them, and without earning any accolades for exterminating White Guards. “Why should I make Sidney Hook my political guide rather than Earl Browder or Stalin?,” Gold went on to ask. But I was not offering myself as a political guide; I was calling for an inquiry into the truth of the Moscow Trials.

Nevertheless, for another contributor to the New Masses, Henry Roth, the author of Call It Sleep, the “only way of accomplishing . . . the united front against fascism” was to support the verdict of the Moscow Trials. In this Roth was typical of the politically unsophisticated literary people who felt they were discharging their responsibilities to “the growth of enlightenment and freedom” not only by accepting the trial verdicts but by attacking the integrity and credibility of those who sought to open an inquiry into the trials.

Lack of political sophistication cannot, however, be cited in extenuation of the faction known as the Communist Opposition for endorsing the first Moscow Trials. An editorial in its official organ, Worker’s Age, declared:

. . . We are convinced that there is no adequate reason to doubt the confessions made by the accused. We can see how there can be discussion as to the manner of the confessions, their groveling character, but we do not see any reason to doubt the genuineness of the confessions. . . . In addition, it must be remembered that for two years now the Trotskyists and other elements have been openly advocating the perspective of the violent overthrow of the Stalin regime in Russia, that is, of civil war. Between advocating an armed overturn and carrying out terroristic acts there is no difference in principle. The difference is only a technical one. . . .

It was only when Bukharin’s name was mentioned during the course of a later trial that the Communist Opposition—which was associated in the public eye with Bukharin’s ideological tendency—saw the handwriting on the wall.3

Nor could lack of sophistication be imputed to Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow—the same Duranty who at the height of the famine brought on by the forced collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union, denied that it was taking place.4 In an article on “The Riddle of Russia: What Lies Behind Recent Events in the USSR” (New Republic, July 14, 1937), Duranty, who attended the trials, did not discuss the evidence but deduced Trotsky’s guilt from the simple fact of his political opposition to Stalin. As he put it:

  1. Trotsky was fanatically determined to overthrow the Stalin regime.
  2. Hitler was fanatically determined to “expand eastwards” at the expense of the USSR.
  3. Both Hitler and Trotsky had at their disposal efficient organizations to develop conspirative action, sabotage, and espionage within the USSR, and to conduct propaganda abroad.
  4. Opportunities for contact between Germany (and Japan) and the anti-Stalin conspirators both inside and outside the USSR were not lacking.

The conclusion [of Trotsky’s guilt] is inevitable.

Even if one granted every one of the four premises—and each had multiple meanings requiring amplification and qualification—the conclusion was a blatant non sequitur. The same 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. Duranty also suppressed the fact that the chief defendants were taxed with being spies for the British secret service at the outset of the revolution and long before Hitler appeared on the historical scene. Further, he denied that the morale of the Red Army had been affected by the liquidation of its generals, denied that there was any “mystery” about the trials or confessions, denied the existence of a widespread purge, denied that the USSR was “engulfed in a flood of hysterical witch-hunting.” The Soviet Union’s enemies, he said, had circulated these tales to weaken its prestige “but that does not alter the fact that their Trojan horse is broken and its occupants destroyed.”

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But the strongest opposition to the organization of the American Committee for the Defense of Trotsky, to the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, and to the findings of the commission was led by Corliss Lamont, the son of Thomas Lamont, a partner of the famous banking and investment firm of Morgan & Co. Lamont was certainly an unlikely prospect for a role of this kind, but I fear that I was indirectly responsible for it.

Corliss Lamont had been a classmate of mine at Columbia and had taken courses in philosophy with Woodbridge and Dewey. When I met him he was headed for the ministry, but I converted him to atheism—to the despair of his mother—and then went on to convert him and his wife to socialism. He was about to join his wife in applying for membership in the Socialist party, but fearful that because of his background he would come in for a great deal of abuse and ribbing from other radical groups, especially the Communists, I suggested that he concern himself with matters farther from home like the Soviet Union.

Accepting this advice, he made several trips to the Soviet Union. Despite my own growing disillusion with the Soviet bureaucracy, its despotism and terror against dissenters, Lamont remained completely unmoved by doubts and criticisms. The Soviet Union became his fetish and he its professional apologist. Although he never joined the Communist party, he headed some of its most important front organizations like Friends of the Soviet Union, and became a leading member of a score of others, using his immense wealth over the years to rally support for the USSR. He devoted himself to defending the civil rights of American Communists, but when the followers of Leon Trotsky were indicted under the Smith Act in 1941, he refused to contribute to their defense. Naturally he was made much of by the Communist-party functionaries, flattered and applauded as an “honest liberal,” and always trotted out on holiday occasions to sing the virtues of the Soviet Union under Stalin.

The first step against the American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky was a broadside entitled “An Open Letter to American Liberals” composed by Lamont which was signed by eighty-eight individuals (including writers like Theodore Dreiser, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, Newton Arvin, Malcolm Cowley, and Granville Hicks). The letter attacked the committee on the ground that its “demand for an investigation of trials carried on under the legally constituted judicial system of the Soviet government can only be interpreted as political intervention in the affairs of the Soviet Union with hostile intent.”

This was an extraordinary statement, even for people as ideologically besotted about the achievements of the Soviet Union as were Lamont and the signatories of his letter. After all, Captain Dreyfus had been convicted under the legally constituted judicial system of France. Moreover, when Communists were tried in China, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, indeed in any country except the Soviet Union, Lamont and his fellow signatories would usually preface appeals in their behalf with statements to the effect that justice has no geographical boundaries.

There was worse to come. After the Dewey commission report was made public, Lamont delivered a radio reply. In it he ignored the twenty-one separate counts on which, basing itself on new affidavits and new documentary evidence, the commission flatly contradicted the verdict of the Moscow court. Instead he offered a defense of the trials on the most astonishing ground that “The Soviet regime and its achievements are indivisible; and we cannot believe that its system of justice is completely out of step with its splendid accomplishments in practically all other fields.” This went beyond anything the Kremlin itself ever claimed. Under American capitalism many wonderful things had also been achieved, but what rational person would foreclose inquiry into the justice of any case on the ground that “the regime and its achievements are indivisible”?

The Rykov-Bukharin trial, the third public trial, was held after the Dewey commission’s inquiries into the first two were completed Since the official charges against the new defendants rested on the two previous trials, and since the indicated outline of testimony to be introduced logically rested on assertions already proved to be false, and since, once again, Trotsky and Sedoff were named as the chief organizers of the plots, the commission issued a statement branding this trial as a continuation of the others. And in fact, as the specific allegations were made public in the Moscow courtroom, the commission provided Troyanovsky, the Soviet ambassador, with concrete evidence of the falsity of the charges made by the new “intermediaries” between Trotsky and the other defendants.

Lamont was beside himself over the actions of the commission. He sent a long telegram to Dewey which read in part:

surprised to see in the N.Y. times of March 2 that commission headed by you without waiting to hear one word of the testimony in the present moscow treason trials denounced these trials as frame-ups. this is precise opposite of experimental scientific methods advocated in your philosophy . . . this leads me to ask if you support statement of dewey commission since you must bear responsibility in mind of public. . . . would appreciate a wire collect.

Corliss Lamont

To which Dewey replied:

experimental method does not prevent use of intelligence and authentic knowledge previously obtained. on contrary scientific method demands application of knowledge previously had by its use to judging related present and future conditions. material given out by commission of inquiry has had my prior authorization. I accept full responsibility. no cause for worry.

John Dewey5

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An impression prevails in some quarters that in his famous denunciation of Stalin in 1956, Khrushchev discussed the Moscow Trials, whose justice he had originally hailed, and tore the mask of mystery from the bizarre proceedings. Khrushchev did no such thing. He never discussed the Moscow Trials or any of the persons involved. Nor have any of his successors. Some of the victims of the third trial have been rehabilitated—but not Bukharin. One should ask Malcolm Cowley, Corliss Lamont, and other defenders of the trials who have recently discovered that they were “mistakes” what evidence led them to reverse their judgment. They cannot point to any document or argument or piece of testimony that was not as available at the time of the trials or shortly thereafter as today. The simple truth is that among large if not dominant sectors of American liberal opinion, when it came to evaluating events in the Soviet Union, the will to believe—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the will to illusion—prevailed over ascertainable fact and rational analysis. It was not until the Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939 that things began to change—and even then a surprisingly large number of “honest liberals” like Corliss Lamont refused to be budged from a faith that had successfully survived the Moscow Trials.

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Footnotes

1 See “My Running Debate with Einstein” in COMMENTARY, July 1982, for a full account of my negotiations with him over this matter.

2 Sickened by the New Republic's betrayal of long cherished liberal principles and associations, John Dewey wrote to its executive editor, Bruce Bliven, resigning as contributing editor, in which capacity he had served since 1914. Bliven responded with a copy of an editorial reply of an extremely personal nature he proposed to publish with Dewey's letter. In order not to prejudice the public reception of the commission's findings, Dewey decided to resign quietly—a decision he later told me he intensely regretted—and his name was dropped from the roster of contributing editors without any explanation.

3 The leaders of the Communist Opposition later developed into knowledgeable and effective anti-Communists and made invaluable contributions to the organized American labor movement, which has remained a bastion of political freedom independent trade-unionism, and democratic social reform

4 See “The Famine the Times Couldn't Find,” by Marco Carynnyk, COMMENTARY, November 1983—Ed.

5 For many interesting details of this and related incidents, see my “Corliss Lamont—Friend of the G P.U.,” Modern Monthly, March 1938

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