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Grover Furr spoke on March 8 at the Center of Marxist Education in Cambridge, MA on his book, "Khrushchev Lied." A shortened remarks were delivered in response to reading two of Grover Furr's articles purporting to prove that both Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin did in fact collaborate with foreign imperialist powers and lead a conspiracy of wreckers and assassins to murder high-ranking Soviet leaders and restore capitalism in the USSR. The full remarks of my response to Furr are printed below.
"The confession of the accused is not essential. The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence.”
Professor Furr, I want to thank you for coming to the Center for Marxist Education today and for delivering your talk. The question, or rather the questions, I would like to ask you do not deal directly with your book, “Khrushchev Lied”, but with two long essays written for the journal Cultural Logic, the first entitled Stephen Cohen's Biography of Bukharin: A Study in the Falsehood of Khrushchev-Era 'Revelations'" and “ Evidence of Leon Trotsky's Collaboration with Germany and Japan. It is your contention in the former essay that “The evidence we possess today is consistent with only one hypothesis: that Bukharin was, in fact, guilty of those crimes to which he himself confessed. However, some people will say that Bukharin might still have been innocent, or even that he must be innocent, despite this fact.”1 In the latter essay you make the following claim, “Given the evidence available today there is only one objective conclusion: our hypothesis has been confirmed. On the evidence we are forced to conclude that Leon Trotsky did collaborate with Germans and Japanese officials to help him return to power in the Soviet Union.”2 After closely reading your works on these questions and a number of primary and secondary sources, I believe would like to raise the following objections to your arguments and would be most interested in your reply to them.
Firstly, if the verdicts at the Moscow Trials were correct, then a vast conspiracy of a number of Soviet government officials, party members (current and former), and military leaders was in league with Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Polish intelligence, and British intelligence. However, no evidence has come to light from the archives of any of these countries to substantiate these extraordinary claims. For instance, historians and scholars have been working in the archives of Nazi Germany for decades and found nothing to prove the existence of a vast conspiracy.
You claim that the Trotsky archives contain evidence of a bloc in 1932 with Riutin and Zinoviev (along with other elements of the former right opposition). And that this is confirmed by the archival evidence of J Arch Getty and Pierre Broue. However, neither makes the claim that the bloc contemplated terrorist or wrecking activities. Nor does any of the available evidence support that. In fact, the evidence supports the conclusion that this bloc broke up in May 1933 after “Zinoviev and Kamenev had capitulated to Stalin, recanted their sins and repledged their loyalty to the Stalinist faction. Their departure from opposition embittered Trotsky. In a 23 May article he described the two as pitiful, tragic, and subservient. On 6 July he railed against them once again and denounced their capitulation in strong terms. The leaders (if not the lower workers) of the bloc were gone. Both of Trotsky's non-public strategies were now in ruins.”3
However, that Trotsky had underground followers does not confirm that he was working with Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. The question here is not who Trotsky was in touch with, but if in fact he was engaged in espionage with a foreign power. The evidence does not support such a conclusion.
And it is certainly true that Trotsky was opposed to the political line of Stalin. No one would deny such a thing. And it is true that he maintained contacts within the USSR. It can certainly be argued that Trotsky's line was wrong and would have potentially been disastrous to the USSR if implemented. Let that be conceded for the sake of argument. However, all that being said, a poor political line does not make one a spy. Political opposition is not synonymous with treason and collaboration with fascist or imperialist powers. While you do acknowledge that there is no physical evidence for the conspiracy, you claim that the “absence of evidence is only “evidence of absence” when evidence should indeed be present. We believe that the single most likely reason is simply that no one should expect a conspiracy like this to be documented anywhere, ever, much less “in archives.” The demands of secrecy and security require that such information be exchanged only by word of mouth.”4 In my opinion, this does not hold water for the following reason:
Every conspiracy that has existed has left behind a paper trail of one sort or another (ex. The Wannsee Conference which organized the Holocaust, Watergate, Iran-contra, etc), despite their best efforts to remain secret, with various types of documentation which prove their existence (memos, receipts, reports, etc.). Your position is that Bukharin, Trotsky, and the various co-conspirators in their alleged anti-Soviet activities managed to leave behind absolutely no evidence of any sort. This would make them the first conspiracy in history that managed this incredible feat.
It is your contention that the confessions of the various defendants at the Soviet trials during the 1930s are valid and should serve as proof. However, during these trials, no corroborating evidence of any kind was introduced to substantiate the claims of the defendants. A confession without supporting corroborating evidence raises the immediate question that the accused were coerced in one form or another to incriminate themselves.
You claim that the confession are valid because "There is no evidence worthy of the name that the defendants were threatened, or tortured, or induced to give false confessions by promises of some kind."5 However, we know from declassified Soviet Archives, such as those compiled by a scholar, who's work you have consistently praised, J Arch Getty in a collection entitled The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (referenced in the following four notes) prove the existence of varying methods of coercion in the Soviet judicial system such as the following:
-Arrest Quotas for suspects (p. 471-76, Document 170).
-NKVD instructions for watching and punishing families of suspects (p. 477, Document 170)
-Various forms of solitary confinement. (p. 3)
-Torture (p. 489)
It remains for reasonable people to doubt the validity of confessions in a judicial system which practices such methods. In fact, I would go so far as to say that such methods are in contradiction to communist ethics and morality. The presumption of guilt based on confessions without substantiating evidence, the threatening of families of suspects cannot be defended as a valid communist practice in matters of interrogation or law. Our goal as communist should not be to uphold such methods and the fruits which come from them, but to denounce them.
Let us now turn to the case of Nikolai Bukharin and the validity of his confessions.
That being said, we have no evidence that Bukharin was tortured before his trial. Neither you nor his biographer Stephen Cohen make that claim. Rather the claim is that Bukharin held out for three months while imprisoned until his wife and newborn son were threatened (Cohen, p. 375). This alone should make us doubt the validity of Bukharin's confessions.
Furthermore, at Bukharin's trial according to Cohen, he would claim to be fully “'political responsibility' for everything, thereby saving his family...while at the same time flatly denying or subtly disproving his complicity in any actual crime.”6 We do know that Bukharin wrote to Stalin asking for mercy. It stands to reason that perhaps Bukharin expected that by confessing, he would gain some measure of leniency.
While it can be reasonably argued that those placed on trial were not tortured, in fact Stephen Cohen, biographer of Bukharin does not claim he was tortured. However, Cohen argues that Bukharin did not confess until his family was threatened. While you claim that Bukharin did indeed confess to specific crimes, a contention shared with Cohen and confirmed by the trial transcript, I ask the following:
-Bukharin denied his involvement in a plot to kill Bolshevik leaders in 1918-9.-He flatly denied any involvement in espionage activities.
-He denied discussing wrecking activities with the co-defendants.And what are we to make of the March 11, 1938 closing statement of Soviet Prosecutor-General Vshinsky that "Bukharin shrinks from the admission of his guilt as the devil from incense. Bukharin denies his guilt here."7
What should we conclude from this statement? Judging by all the methods employed, the lack of corroborating evidence, this leads me to not merely to doubt as to the validity of the proceeding, but a conclusion that the said defendants were in fact innocent.
All of these statements and facts lead me to conclude not only was there no vast conspiracy of Bukharin and Trotsky in league with foreign powers, but that both Nikolai Bukharin and Leon Trotsky were in fact innocent of the crimes in which they were accused of during the 1930s trials.
1 Grover Furr and Vladimir L. Bobrov,”Stephen Cohen’s Biography of Bukharin:
A Study in the Falsehood of Khrushchev-Era “Revelations,”” http://clogic.eserver.org/2010/Furr.pdf p. 94.
3 J. Arch Getty, “Trotsky in Exile: The Founding of the Fourth International” Soviet Studies, 38.1 (Jan., 1986): 31. See also Pierre Broué,The “Bloc” of the Oppositions against Stalin
in the USSR in 1932,” https://www.marxists.org/archive/broue/1980/01/bloc.html
“Evidence of Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan” (note 2) p. 30-31.
Ibid. p. 43.
Stephen Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 376.
7 Robert C Tucker and Stephen Cohen, ed. The Great Purge Trial (New York: Grosset and Dunlap Publishers,1965), 521.