Show Trials

   Large public and fabricated judicial proceedings were a constant of the early post-Revolution period. The trial of the Petrograd Fighting Organization was organized by the Cheka in 1921 to publicize the link between dissident intellectuals and rebellious sailors and émigrés. Confessions were beaten out of witnesses, false evidence was presented in court, and the defendants were condemned. In the 1920s and early 1930s, there were series of show trials of “bourgeois specialists,” foreign engineers, and Mensheviks. In each proceeding, the security service got better and better at handling witnesses and testimony.
   The greatest of the show trials were the Moscow Trials in 1936, 1937, and 1938. In the dock were the leaders of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin’s closest friends and colleagues. In a series of stage plays produced by Joseph Stalin and directed by the NKVD, the prisoners confessed, begged for the death penalty, and went to their deaths. The trials were not to be matched. Efforts to hold public show trials of Polish soldiers who fought against the Nazis and the Soviets in 1946, and of Jews accused of serving as American spies in 1952, failed because the prisoners refused to play their roles. The MGB, however, taught the services of Eastern Europe how to produce and direct such political theater, and show trials continued until 1954. The evidence and the verdicts of the show trials were widely believed inside the Soviet Union and among leftist intellectual circles in the West. In the United States, left-wing intellectuals took out space in major magazines to affirm that the Moscow Trials were fair. In France, communist members of the Chamber of Deputies defended the 1952 Slansky Trial in Prague. It was not until the era of Mikhail Gorbachev that the victims of the Moscow trials were pardoned, and the regime admitted they had been convicted on perjured evidence.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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