The history of the Soviet Union has many black spots. Moscow Show Trials pertain to this category of black spots. Many innocent people were tortured and executed. What is more, these trials were regarded as just and necessary by the vast majority of citizens of USSR. It can be difficult to understand how it was possible that the entire nation went along with such cruelty. Arthur Koestler revealed one episode from those harsh times.
It is possible to find many answers to questions concerning Show Trials. Thus, the work provides some details which help to understand that those in the Party and “ordinary people” were partly ignorant to what was happening in reality and partly afraid of possible outcomes of their dissent.
Therefore, to understand why Show Trials took place it is necessary to have a closer look at people related to the Party. In the first place, it is important to note that 1930s were the times when the events of the Revolution and Civil War were resonating. Many people participated in the Revolution or Civil War defending or trying to defeat the new order.
For instance, Rubashov, the main character of the book, was a hero of Civil War and a significant personality in the Party who was trusted enough to become a diplomat in foreign countries (p. 6).
He was respected. He believed in the new order and Revolution, he believed that “the end justifies the means” (p. 98). He was one of those devoted “communists” who tried to build a new country where happy people would live. Nonetheless, people with guns knocked at his doors and took him away in the middle of the night.
This hero of Civil War was announced to be a traitor of the Revolution, a man who was trying to kill No. 1. The party was divided into two categories: rightful communists and traitors. Everyone knew what it meant to be a traitor – it meant execution. The example of Rubashov is quite exemplary since there was no precise evidence of his wrongful intentions.
He was accused because another “traitor” (whom he hardly knew) “confessed” (under torture) that Rubashov was also among the traitors. Basically, a few people knew what exactly Rubashov actually did, or even what his responsibilities were since hierarchies within the Party “were kept strictly apart, were not allowed to have contact with each other” (p. 114).
Therefore, many people in the Party did not know a lot about Rubashov (or other “traitors”) and could possibly believe in what was told by the Party, since everyone knew that the Party is always right and can never do wrongful things. However, there were those who understood what was really going on, but it was too late. Such people were either in prisons, were among prosecutors or were too much afraid of being accused.
As far as the rest of the people, “ordinary people”, could be divided into two major groups: those who were ignorant to any details and those who were afraid to say a word against the Party and No. 1. This is also revealed in Koestler’s work: Wassilij, the porter, and his daughter can be regarded as an illustration of the attitude of ordinary people towards Show Trials.
Thus, the young girl was working at a factory where she attended meetings where ideas promulgated by the Party were articulated. It goes without saying that she believed in all that was said and supported what all people should have supported. She was proud of her rightfulness claiming that in one of those meetings they “already carried a resolution” concerning the issue (p. 251).
The girl did not know details of the trial. Thus, she assumed that Rubashov was a traitor on the basis of his confession: “If it weren’t true, he wouldn’t say so himself” (p. 251). Of course, she and millions of ordinary people did not know about tortures.
However, there were people who knew a bit more about those “traitors”. Thus, Wassilij knew that Rubashov was a devoted communist whose speeches were as inspiring as oaths “that even the Holy Madonna of Kasan must have smiled at them” (p. 6).
Wassilij remembered these speeches and understood that the man who said those things and conducted in a way he did could never betray the Party and No. 1. Nonetheless, this man was afraid to articulate his ideas even to his own daughter and defend Rubashov for Wasilij “was now too old to stand the shame of prison” (p. 251).
Thus, he silently pitied his former commander and a good person. It is possible to claim that the entire nation was divided into two groups: the group of blind devotees and wise silent people.
On balance, it is necessary to point out that Show Trials which took place in late 1930s were due to specific atmosphere in the country where people knew little about what was happening in the country. Thus, some part of people in party and ordinary people were ignorant to the details of those trials and knew little or nothing about “traitors” and simply followed the doctrine of the Party.
Another part of people in the Party and ordinary people though knew a bit more were afraid of revealing their dissent. Under such conditions it was possible for No.1 to reshape the Party and remove all possible opponents.
Koestler, Arthur. Darkness at Noon: A Novel. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2006.