William Dudley Collard was born in 1907. He qualified as a barrister and was a member of the Anglo-Soviet Law Association. In 1933 the security services identified Collard as a person who had put his services at the disposal of the Communist Party of Great Britain. (1)
On 1st December, 1934, Sergey Kirov was assassinated by a young party member, Leonid Nikolayev. It was argued that the conspiracy was led by Leon Trotsky. This resulted in the arrest of Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Nikolay Bukharin, Ivan Smirnov, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexei Rykov and other party members who had been critical of Joseph Stalin. (2)
The first ever show show trial took place in August, 1936, of sixteen party members. Yuri Piatakov accepted the post of chief witness "with all my heart." Max Shachtman pointed out: "The official indictment charges a widespread assassination conspiracy, carried on these five years or more, directed against the head of the Communist party and the government, organized with the direct connivance of the Hitler regime, and aimed at the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Russia. And who are included in these stupefying charges, either as direct participants or, what would be no less reprehensible, as persons with knowledge of the conspiracy who failed to disclose it?" (3)
The men made confessions of their guilt. Lev Kamenev said: "I Kamenev, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, organised and guided this conspiracy. My motives? I had become convinced that the party's - Stalin's policy - was successful and victorious. We, the opposition, had banked on a split in the party; but this hope proved groundless. We could no longer count on any serious domestic difficulties to allow us to overthrow. Stalin's leadership we were actuated by boundless hatred and by lust of power." (4)
Gregory Zinoviev also confessed: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky." (5)
On 24th August, 1936, Vasily Ulrikh announced that all sixteen defendants were sentenced to death by shooting. The following day Soviet newspapers carried the announcement that all sixteen defendants had been put to death. This included the NKVD agents who had provided false confessions. Joseph Stalin could not afford for any witnesses to the conspiracy to remain alive. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out that Stalin did not even keep his promise to Kamenev's sons and later both men were shot. (6)
Most journalists covering the trial were convinced that the confessions were statements of truth. The Observer reported: "It is futile to think the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The government's case against the defendants (Zinoviev and Kamenev) is genuine." (7) The The New Statesman commented: "Very likely there was a plot. We complain because, in the absence of independent witnesses, there is no way of knowing. It is their (Zinoviev and Kamenev) confession and decision to demand the death sentence for themselves that constitutes the mystery. If they had a hope of acquittal, why confess? If they were guilty of trying to murder Stalin and knew they would be shot in any case, why cringe and crawl instead of defiantly justifying their plot on revolutionary grounds? We would be glad to hear the explanation." (8)
In January, 1937, Yuri Piatakov, Karl Radek, Grigori Sokolnikov, and fifteen other leading members of the Communist Party were put on trial. They were accused of working with Leon Trotsky in an attempt to overthrow the Soviet government with the objective of restoring capitalism. Piatakov had been the main witness against Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev in 1936: "After they saw that Piatakov was ready to collaborate in any way required, they gave him a more complicated role. In the 1937 trials he joined the defendants, those whom he had meant to blacken. He was arrested, but was at first recalcitrant. Ordzhonikidze in person urged him to accept the role assigned to him in exchange for his life. No one was so well qualified as Piatakov to destroy Trotsky, his former god and now the Party's worst enemy, in the eyes of the country and the whole world. He finally agreed I to do it as a matter of 'the highest expediency,' and began rehearsals with the interrogators." (9)
Yuri Piatakov and twelve of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Maria Svanidze, who was later herself to be purged by Stalin wrote in her diary: "They arrested Radek and others whom I knew, people I used to talk to, and always trusted.... But what transpired surpassed all my expectations of human baseness. It was all there, terrorism, intervention, the Gestapo, theft, sabotage, subversion.... All out of careerism, greed, and the love of pleasure, the desire to have mistresses, to travel abroad, together with some sort of nebulous prospect of seizing power by a palace revolution. Where was their elementary feeling of patriotism, of love for their motherland? These moral freaks deserved their fate.... My soul is ablaze with anger and hatred. Their execution will not satisfy me. I should like to torture them, break them on the wheel, burn them alive for all the vile things they have done." (10)
These convictions were criticised by Leon Trotsky, who was living in exile in Mexico City. In his article The Trial of the Seventeen, he asked: "How could these old Bolsheviks who went through the jails and exiles of Czarism, who were the heroes of the civil war, the leaders of industry, the builders of the party, diplomats, turn out at the moment of 'the complete victory of socialism' to be saboteurs, allies of fascism, organizer of espionage, agents of capitalist restoration? Who can believe such accusations? How can anyone be made to believe them. And why is Stalin compelled to tie up the fate of his personal rule with these monstrous, impossible, nightmarish juridical trials?" (11)
In 1936, Victor Gollancz, formed the Left Book Club. It had over 45,000 and 730 local discussion groups, and it estimated that these were attended by an average total of 12,000 people every fortnight. The Left Book Club published several books written by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. This included the defence of the Soviet Show Trials. This included the "suppression of some of his (Gollancz) most fundamental instincts and cherished beliefs" and included his "ready acceptance of Stalinist propaganda concerning the Moscow trials, despite the disquiet widely evident among socialists". (12)
Gollancz worked very closely with Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the CPGB. At the Royal Albert Hall in February 1937, Pollitt made clear that while the Club was not a communist organisation, "its publications and discussions revealed for the first time in Britain a hunger for Marxism." It brought forward new writers who "expressed in their creative writing an understanding of what Marxism means and are influencing sections to whom a short time ago the name of Marx was a bogey." (13)
Gollancz was vice-president of the National Committee for the Abolition of the Death Penalty but he agreed to Pollitt's suggestion that he published a defence of the prosecution and execution of former members of the Soviet government. Dudley Collard was approached to write a book on the legality of the Soviet Show Trials. The book was entitled Soviet Justice and the Trial of Radek and Others. (14)
Published in May, 1937, the book praised Andrey Vyshinsky, the state prosecutor in the show trials. "Vyshinsky handled the case admirably. He was single-handed, without a junior or a solicitor to assist him and he obviously had a complete mastery of all the details of the activities of each of the seventeen defendants, activities which spread in many cases over five or six years. It was a considerable feat to conduct the prosecution, as he did, without once hesitating or faltering for seven days. He never once lost his temper or bullied a defendant, although his examination was skilful and searching. He invariably behaved with restraint and courtesy". (15)
Dudley Collard blamed the conflict in the Soviet government on Leon Trotsky and his belief in permanent revolution. "Trotsky and his supporters.... had no confidence in the ability of the Soviet people to build socialism in one country, surrounded as it was by hostile capitalist states. They took the view that to attempt to do so was to invite an armed attack and to suffer inevitable defeat." In the summer of 1931, on the orders of Trotsky, a group of senior figures in the party, including Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Nikolay Bukharin, Ivan Smirnov, Mikhail Tomsky, Alexei Rykov, Yuri Piatakov, and Karl Radek, took the view that it was "necessary to overthrow the Soviet Government". (16)
Collard claimed that Trotsky and his group decided they "would actively help the Germans and Japanese by collecting information and co-operating with their secret service, and by carrying out sabotage at important military factories and on strategic railways and that "when the war broke out they would redouble their sabotage". At the end of the war "the Germans and Japanese would place them in power" and in return "they would cede the Manchuria provinces to Japan.... The Germans could also have economic concessions for gold mines, oil, manganese, timber, apatites, and the Japanese the oil of Sakhalin Island." (17)
Maxwell Knight was the head of B5b, a unit at MI5 that conducted the monitoring of political subversion. One of Knight's spies, Olga Grey joined the Friends of the Soviet Union. She soon gained the confidence of Percy Glading, the CPGB national organizer. According to Francis Beckett, the author of The Enemy Within (1995): "Olga Gray worked for the CP for six years, from 1931 to 1937, first as a volunteer and then full time at King Street. She was surprised to find herself growing to like these Bolsheviks of whom she had heard such hair-raising things. When she began to help Percy Glading with a scheme to convey plans of a British gun to the Soviet Union, she found herself liking the man. Although Olga wanted to give up her job with MI5 Knight managed to persuade her to stay on until Glading was in the net." (18)
Olga Grey accumulated proof that Glading had been recruiting sources inside the Woolwich Arsenal, and this was passed onto MI5. Glading, George Whomack and Charles Munday were arrested on 14th May, 1938. Glading was defended in court by Dudley Collard and Denis Nowell Pritt. (19) Evidence at their trial at the old Bailey including a mass of incriminating documents and photographic material found at the homes of both Glading and Williams. All three men were found guilty and Glading was given six years' imprisonment, Williams four and Whomack three. (20)
Dudley Collard died in 1963.
Vyshinsky handled the case admirably. He was single-handed, without a junior or a solicitor to assist him and he obviously had a complete mastery of all the details of the activities of each of the seventeen defendants, activities which spread in many cases over five or six years. It was a considerable feat to conduct the prosecution, as he did, without once hesitating or faltering for seven days.
He never once lost his temper or bullied a defendant, although his examination was skilfiil and searching. He invariably behaved with restraint and courtesy and would check an irrelevant answer with "Excuse me."
His final speech, which lasted several hours, was dear, logical and convincing. The first half of it was devoted to a study of the political aspects of the case, and in the second half he discussed whether the evidence satisfied the requirements of the Soviet Code. When he sat down, after an eloquent appeal for the death sentence to be passed on all the accused, there was enthusiastic applause for about two minutes, which the court made no effort to check.
Counsel for the defence seemed to be capable and experienced men. They did not hesitate to cross- examine any of the accused to discover facts favourable to their clients. M. Braude, one of the defending barristers, was practising even before the revolution, and enjoys, I understand, a particularly high reputation at the Moscow bar.
All three counsel had an extremely difficult task in view of the clients' pleas of guilty, and they confined themselves, in their addresses to the court, to pointing out any mitigating circumstances which affected their clients. No lawyer could have done more. One of them, M. Kaznacheyev, who appeared for Arnold, was successful in saving his client from a death sentence.
As is well known, Trotsky and his supporters took a pessimistic view. They had no confidence in the ability of the Soviet people to build socialism in one country, surrounded as it was by hostile capitalist states. They took the view that to attempt to do so was to invite an armed attack and to suffer inevitable defeat, Radek scoffingly referred to the proposal as an attempt to "build socialism in one county". The Trotskyites expressed their views openly and freely as they were entitled to do, and the question was thoroughly thrashed out inside the Communist Party.
Finally a decision had to be taken one way or the other, and a large majority were in favour of the bolder policy, sponsored by Stalin, of going ahead with socialist construction in the U.S.S.R. regardless of the difficulties, Trotsky and his followers were defeated.
However, they did not all accept the decision which had been democratically arrived at, and which it was then duty loyally to obey, whether they agreed with it or not. It may be that some of them sincerely thought that the policy which had been decided upon was disastrous; it is probable that most of them were actuated by motives of jealousy, of resentment at having lost the day, and of personal ambition.
Be that as it may, a number of them decided to get the decision reversed by fair means or foul Trotsky, Zinoviev Kamenev, Piatakov, Radek, Sokolmkov, Serebriakov, Boguslavsky, Muralov were among the malcontents. They started illegal agitation against the Soviet Government and the Communist Party, They printed and distributed leaflets attacking the policy of the Party. They organized demonstrations of protest. At this period there were still sections of the population who were responsive to agitation. However, they did not succeed in winning many people to their side.
For their illegal acts they could no doubt have been prosecuted and probably sentenced to death, but they were treated with a leniency which, as it has turned out, was misplaced. For the most part they were merely expelled from the ranks of the Communist Party, and some of them were sent to distant parts of the Soviet Union. Trotsky went abroad.
For a while their illegal activity ceased, but in the difficulties of collectivization they saw their opportunity, On Trotsky's instructions, one by one, they declared that they realized they had been wrong and applied for re-admission to the Communist Party, Believing that their recantation was sincere the Communist Party accepted them back, and soon many of them were occupying important posts. It is here that the history of the treasonable conspiracy begins.
In the summer of 1931 Piatakov, Assistant Commissar for Heavy Industry, was in Berlin on official business. Smimov, another Trotskyite, who was tried and executed with Zinoviev in August 1936, was also there, Smimov told Piatakov that Trotsky's son was in Berlin, and Piatakov gave Smimov his telephone number, so that Trotsky's son might ring up and make an appointment, Trotsky's son, Sedov by name, did so, and Piatakov arranged to meet him at the Zoological Gardens.
They met at this cafe, and Sedov, having reassured himself by tactful questions that Piatakov was still a Trotskyist explained that his father took the view that it was more than ever necessary to overthrow the Soviet Government. He realized, however, that this could no longer be done by means of popular agitation, legal or illegal, since the Soviet public were, in Trotsky's words, under the ''hypnotism of Socialist construction." It was therefore necessary to resort to other means.
Trotsky thought that it might be possible to seize power if the industrial life of the country were disorganized in such a way as to cause widespread popular discontent, and if at the same time the leading members of the Soviet Government were simultaneously assassinated. He therefore advocated the organization of groups of his sympathizers inside the Soviet Union to commit sabotage at the most sensitive spots in industry and transport, and to arrange for the assassination of Soviet leaders. Much to Sedov's satisfaction Piatakov approved of the scheme and undertook to prepare things in the Soviet Union.
In December 1934 Kirov, the leader of the Communist Party in Leningrad, was assassinated by the other group of Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were shortly afterwards arrested, Piatakov's group met to consider the effects of the assassination, and decided that single acts of assassination were worse than useless.
They must either abandon terrorism altogether, or conduct it on a much larger scale. They decided on the latter course. At the same time, since Zinoviev's group was now caught, Piatakov's group came into operation in its place. Sokolnikov, who had hitherto played a passive part, and had been used chiefly for communicating with certain diplomats, urged more intensive activity.
In December 1935 Radek received an eight-page letter from Trotsky written on Indian paper, in which he developed his views about the defeat of the Soviet Union.
These views are hard to understand, but it cannot be denied that there is a certain chain of logic in them. Briefly they were as follows. He had already said that it might be possible for them to achieve power by concentrated sabotage and terrorism. This, however, was unlikely. What was more likely was that the Soviet Union would become involved in a war with Germany and Japan, which the latter were planning for 1937. In this event there was far more chance of the group being able to seize power, provided they could count on the support of the victors, who, Trotsky felt sure, would be Germany and Japan, If, therefore, an alliance could be come to with them in advance, so much the better.
He had, therefore, been in negotiation with them, and had promised them the support of his "fifth column" inside the Soviet Union. Before the war broke out, they would actively help the Germans and Japanese by collecting information and co-operating with their secret service, and by carrying out sabotage at important military factories and on strategic railways. When the war broke out they would redouble their sabotage.
After the war, if the Germans and Japanese would place them in power, they would agree to the "independence" of the Ukraine, and would cede the Manturia provinces to Japan. The Germans could also have economic concessions for gold mines, oil, manganese, timber, apatites, and the Japanese the oil of Sakhalin Island. Trotsky calculated that thus he would create a certain class of business men, commissionaires, and capitalists who would be favourable to his regime, in which he envisaged himself as playing the part of a Napoleon. Trotsky intimated that he had already made an agreement along these lines with Hess, Hitler's representative, and that he had an understanding with the Japanese!
Classroom Activities by Subject
(1) Chris Moores, Civil Liberties and Human Rights in Twentieth-Century Britain (2017) page 53
(2) Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) page 164
(3) Max Shachtman, Socialist Appeal (October 1936)
(4) Lev Kamenev, speech at his trial (August, 1936)
(5) Gregory Zinoviev, speech at his trial (August, 1936)
(6) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1996) page 333
(7) The Observer (23rd August, 1936)
(8) The New Statesman (5th September, 1936)
(9) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1996) page 338
(10) Maria Svanidze, diary entry (20th November, 1936)
(11) Leon Trotsky, The Trial of the Seventeen (22nd January, 1937)
(12) Dudley Edwards, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987) page 244
(13) Harry Pollitt, speech at the Royal Albert Hall (7th February 1937)
(14) Chris Moores, Civil Liberties and Human Rights in Twentieth-Century Britain (2017) page 53
(15) Dudley Collard, Soviet Justice and the Trial of Radek and Others (1937) page 37
(16) Dudley Collard, Soviet Justice and the Trial of Radek and Others (1937) page 45
(17) Dudley Collard, Soviet Justice and the Trial of Radek and Others (1937) page 48
(18) Francis Beckett, Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party (1995) page 79
(19) David Burke, The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage (2009) page 100
(20) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 182