Courtesy Reuters

The Moscow Trials

A Legal View

TWO trials that took place in Soviet Russia, one in August 1936, and the other in January 1937, engaged the attention of the world. The first resulted in the immediate execution of the sixteen defendants; the second, in the execution of thirteen out of seventeen defendants and the condemnation of the other four to long terms of imprisonment.

The defendants were members of a group called by many the "Old Bolsheviks," but designated by the government of the U.S.S.R. as members of a "Trotskyite-Zinovievite Center" or of a "Trotskyite Center." That is to say, they constituted a group of political opponents who professed that they and not the existing government were the true exponents of the doctrines of Marx and of Lenin, doctrines that both sides maintain to be the proper governing principles of the Union of Soviet Republics. With the truth or the falsity of this claim, we need not concern ourselves. The point is that the defendants were accused of crimes committed as part of a political scheme and were, therefore, to a certain extent charged with political crimes, although the specific acts cited would be criminal enough in all conscience whatever the motives.

The foreign comment on the trials has been in the main highly unfavorable to the prosecution. Two factors made it so. First, there is prejudice against the existing Russian government almost everywhere. Second, even among persons not prejudiced the spectacle of wholesale executions is profoundly shocking. Subsequent executions on similar charges, particularly in Siberia, have intensified this feeling in the United States.

A real basis for judgment regarding the merits of the case and the nature of the trials has now been furnished us by the official publication in an English translation of a verbatim report of the second of the two trials, that which took place January 23-30, 1937, in Moscow before the "Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R." [i] The defendants were seventeen persons of whom the best

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