From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
The signs that the stranglehold of the Communist Party dictatorship is faltering are the most heartening news out of Russia for a generation. The nature of the urgent pressures compelling the changes of policy has yet to be revealed, but whatever they are they give ground for hope that the Russian workers may before long begin to acquire the elementary rights of organisation and propaganda so long denied them. In the early days—before they became so mealy-mouthed about it—the Communists admitted and defended the dictatorship and decried “bourgeois democracy.” Their text-book was Trotsky’s “Defence of Terrorism"—this of course in the days before a new party group moved into control, exiled Trotsky and found that he was a “capitalist agent".
Later on, with an eye on votes at elections, the British Communists denied that the Russian regime is a dictatorship and claimed it to be “true democracy.” For evidence they pointed to the embodiment of numerous rights in the Constitution; as if similar paper “rights” are not the stock-in-trade of all dictatorships from Franco’s to Peron’s and Tito’s. Since, in Russia, only one political party is allowed by law and only a very small minority of the population were able to belong to a political party at all; since there are no democratic elections, only the “right” to vote in each constituency for the one candidate approved by the Communists; and since nobody can publish political propaganda or hold meetings except under Communist Party control, the Constitutional rights are not worth the paper they are written on.
Now there is this sudden change of attitude, including permission to American journalists to visit Russia, move about freely, take photographs and report more or less what they liked.
At the same time Russian foreign policy has likewise undergone a drastic change.
The Case of the Doctors.
The other outstanding reversal of policy was the announcement that the nine doctors arrested for murder and attempted murder of Russian leaders had been released and their accusers arrested instead.
The Russian official announcement of the release of 15 doctors (hitherto the existence of six of them had not been disclosed, only nine having been mentioned as having been arrested), read as follows:—
“As a result of verification it has been established that Professors [here followed 15 names] implicated in the case were wrongfully arrested by the former Ministry of State Security of the U.S.S.R. without any legal grounds.
“The verification has shown that the charges against the above-mentioned persons were false and the documentary data on which the investigation workers based themselves were unfounded.
“It has been established that the testimony of the arrested men, allegedly confirming the charges made against them was obtained by workers of the investigating section of the former Ministry of State Security through the use of methods of investigation which are inadmissible and most strictly forbidden by the Soviet law."(Daily Worker, 6 April, 1953.)
Naturally the Daily Worker tried to make the best of this acutely embarrassing disclosure by presenting it as proof of the “justice and strength" of the new government. What they were not able to show, because it did not and could not happen under the Russian dictatorship, was that at any time between the arrests and the release, any journal in Russia, or any public figure, or any political party, or any member of the Russian “parliament," or any lawyer, publicly stated inside Russia that there were doubts about the guilt of the arrested doctors. From the moment of the first announcement the men were treated as guilty, both in Russia and in the columns of the Daily Worker, yet there must have been many people in Russia well aware of the kind of methods used to obtain admissions of guilt—and in any event the arrested doctors had never even been tried.
It is this latter circumstance that makes nonsense of the line now taken by the Daily Worker of pretending that the doctors never were held to be guilty, but only charged and awaiting trial. Replying to an article in which the Daily Mail had said that the men "were found guilty of crimes they had not committed," the Daily Worker in an editorial on 8 April, 1953, wrote:—
“As is frequent in matters concerning the Soviet Union the Mail is quite wrong. The doctors had not been found guilty, for the simple reason that at the time of their release they had not yet been brought to trial."
As it happens we need only look back over issues of the Daily Worker to see whether it is true that the men were held by that journal merely to have been persons arrested on a charge but not yet deemed to be guilty.
The Daily Worker of 14 January not only reproduced the Russian Tass Agency report which referred to them as “guilty" and “criminals" but the Worker added, on the authority of its own Foreign Editor, that “five of the nine doctors . . . got their orders from 'Joint’—the American Joint Distribution Committee." Another report in the same issue described them as "medical killers who became monsters of the human race, who trampled the holy banner of science, who dishonoured science, were paid agents of a foreign intelligence service."
In the issue of 28 January the report of a speech by Mr. Harry Pollitt contained a jibe at the capitalist Press and the “Right Wing Labour statesmen’’ for their attitude to the case of the doctors. He said:—
“We understand their fury at seeing their pals caught red-handed before they have been able to do all they were ordered to do."
The Communist excuse for holding them guilty before their trial was that they had "confessed.” Thus an article in the Daily Worker of 23 January replied to a criticism made by Vernon Bartlett by saying :—
". . . the Moscow doctors are being denounced for crimes which they have confessed to committing" (Italics are the Daily Worker’s).
It went on to say that Vernon Bartlett’s paper does not accept evidence given at such trials anyway.
Now the admission by the Russian Government that the "confessions” were extorted and were false not only destroys the validity of confessions in this case but casts doubts on the confessions and on the "evidence" in all the long series of trials under the dictatorship,
Of course we still do not know the whole truth about the doctor case. They were made to confess that they were paid agents of a foreign organisation but now their accusers are arrested. Will these accusers now be tried in public and tell the whole story about the source from which they got their orders, and about the circumstances under which Ministry of State Security officials regarded it as part of their job to extort false confessions? And shall we be told why six of the doctors now released were not reported to have been arrested? Can it be that they had not confessed?
With the decision to release the doctors the Russian authorities also gave a declaration that
“Every Soviet citizen can so assured that his personal freedom and civic rights are fully guaranteed under the Constitution of the U.S.S.R.—and Soviet law will strictly observe and defend these rights."(Daily Worker, 7 April).
Such assurances are worth nothing. They could become more of a reality if the Russian workers were allowed to form political parties of their own choice— but this will involve a more drastic change in Russia than any so far reported.