From the February 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
Since the arrest of nine doctors, most of them Jewish, on charges of murder and attempted murder of Russian military and civil leaders at the instigation of foreign governments and the Zionist movement, political commentators in the Western countries have been busy trying to guess what are the hidden forces and personal ambitions that will explain why the Russian Government chose to expose itself to publicity that must gravely damage its prestige and embarrass its Communist supporters in other countries. While the explanations vary and are often contradictory they almost all agree in refusing to accept the validity of the charges and die prisoners’ “confessions.” Most of them start off with the crippling defect of assuming that Communism exists in Russia and that the Russian Government’s actions are dictated by interest in furthering Communist ideas. President Truman carried this kind of examination to its logical extreme by interpreting the trial as a sign of Russian weakness, due, he said, to “ a fatal flaw in their society. Theirs is a Godless system.”
A much more objective approach was made in Manchester Guardian editorials (14,16 and 17 January, 1953). Here there was a serious attempt to compare political methods and motives in Russia with those in the Western Powers. It was frankly recognised that “communism has nothing to do with the struggle” and that the concern of the Russian State “is not with communism but with power; it uses communist jargon to serve its purpose, but that purpose is the maintenance and extension of power.”
Admitting that in this respect “ Russia does not differ appreciably from the ordinary Western State,” the writer singled out as the important difference the fact that in Russia, since there are no political parties able to fight out the struggle for office in election contests, the form it must take is that of plotting, intrigue, and the violent removal of rival claimants. Victory means power, defeat means extinction. The '‘Guardian” writer’s conclusion is that whatever the present grouping of the contestants the likely outcome when Stalin dies is that the generals will move to the front of the political stage:—
“The fears and the hopes, as the life of Stalin moves to its end, may split that political structure as they have split so many before in the history of States. There will not be the authority of a Lenin or a Stalin to hold the ambitious down, nor the prestige of a Generalissimo to check the generals. The lions now under the throne will struggle for the seat on the throne. And in that struggle can the throne survive? May it not be that already the first faint shadow of anarchy and civil war is beginning to fall on Russia?”
It is an interesting speculation, but what is of more concern is to consider what sort of country Russia is that such events can take place there. As a great capitalist power in a capitalist world Russia is subject to the same kind of internal strains and external pressures as other powers; the need to keep an impoverished working class more or less content with wage-slavery; the need to accumulate capital and increase productivity in order to build up modem industry capable of serving the military and civil needs of capitalism; the need to force an unwilling peasantry into collective farms so that by increased production and government requisitions on produce the towns can be fed and manufacture supported; and of course the need to defend and expand its world position in face of the other powers. These are problems much like those of. all governments, but once those in power in Russia had committed themselves to dictatorship by suppressing the Constituent Assembly because it had not a Communist majority and then suppressing all political parties except their own, there was no other way of maintaining power against internal discontents, whether in the inner circle or among the population as a whole, than that of violence and terror.
For a guide the commentators, instead of looking for explanations in current ideological disputes in Communist circles, could more profitably have looked at Russian “palace revolutions” under 17th and 18th century Czarism or at any European country a few centuries ago. In such conditions current Russian events cease to appear fantastic; everything is possible, including plots to murder generals (almost alone the Manchester Guardian considers that “it would not be surprising if an attempt at medical assassination had in fact been made, from whatever motive”). Whether there ever was such a plot or whether it was the vile invention of the rulers of Russia, either way the event throws a revealing light on the savage political conditions of that country, for these accusations were made by men who know that they can count on wide masses of the population believing that such things are possible and that American-backed Zionism is responsible. So strong are the passions of rival contenders that either one group under cover of medical attention will murder its enemies or another group, those in power, will fabricate a plot and thus bring about the legal murder of innocent men as part of a political manoeuvre to discredit its rivals. This is the political system that Russia’s admirers tell us is so superior to the politics of Western countries!
It should also be noted that the men who are charged have spent 35 years under Communist rule. They are men holding responsible and well-paid positions in the Soviet “Paradise ” and now we must believe either that desperation drove them to political murder or that they are the innocent victims of other men's desperate ambitions. This tells us more about Russia than all the soothing accounts of unruffled progress and happiness brought back by the stream of credulous visitors, not one of whom in the past year or so has given so much as a hint of the bloody struggles for power going on behind the facade.