Re: Dreams and Nightmares

From: Simon Mohun (s.mohun@QMUL.AC.UK)
Date: Mon May 19 2003 - 15:59:28 EDT

I've been reading John Saville's 'Memoirs from the Left' (just published by
Merlin) in which he describes (pp.36-8) the atmosphere prevailing during
the Purge trials 1936-8. The trials were open, with dozens of journalists
and diplomats present. The defendants (mostly) had long records of
revolutionary activity. There were no signs of physical torture. No one
(except Krestinsky in the last trial, and he retracted the following day)
suggested the evidence was faked. The trials were reported world-wide,
there were books and pamphlets, there was widespread acknowledgement of the
correctness of the judicial proceedings, and overwhelmingly the weight of
conclusion was in favour of the genuineness of the trials (which is not to
discount the honourable exceptions).

Why did no defendant stand up, like Dimitrov in the Reichstag trial, and
denounce the court and all of its proceedings?

Presumably, because of the increasingly threatening international
situation. (After all, Bukharin was shot 3 days after the Germans marched
into Austria.) This is what underpins the dilemmas in 'Darkness at Noon'.
It is also explicitly the justification underpinning Merleau-Ponti's
'Humanism and Terror'. And it is wrong, for two (not very distinct) reasons.
1. It is morally wrong, because unless socialists can behave in ways which
in some sense prefigure the society they want to create, they demobilise
2. It is politically wrong, because one thing the 20C has taught us (well,
me at least) is that compromises in pursuit of some greater goal always end
up compromising the compromisers.

Supporting Cuba does not mean supporting every last feature of contemporary
Cuban justice, and it does not entail staying silent at injustice and
oppression. It's no different from supporting the Palestinian struggle, but
condemning the suicide bombing of civilian targets. There are obviously
many many such examples in today's pretty grim world. A common riposte is
that you can't make an omlette without breaking eggs. But the end is not
divorced from the means, for the means chosen have an unhappy knack of
shaping the ends that are achievable - another lesson from the 20C. So,
solidarity with Cuba: yes; unconditional support for everything the Cubans
do: no. And silence: no. Hence I'm with Riccardo, Nicola and Chris on this.
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