After the events in Europe during the past year, it may seem almost quaint to discuss the Stalinist show trials of the early 1950s—trials that presented to the world crimes against communism, socialism, and indeed “humanity” in Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia—all allegedly committed by high Party members who confessed to selling out their brethren to the British and American imperialists. We have known for decades that the charges were trumped up, that interrogations were conducted using psychological and physical torture, that the victims sometimes felt that their love of the Party and its goals was unaffected by what was done to them, and that anti-Semitism had a large part in the entire process. The show trials and their horrors might seem relics of a vanished era.
Yet as the Czech historian Karel Kaplan asserts in his remarkable book:
Inasmuch as political trials constitute the truest picture of a Communist regime’s character, it is impossible to understand the system that generated them, or indeed to grasp the history of postwar Europe, without comprehending the trials themselves.
He has written the documented history of one of the most notorious of the trials—the trial of the “leadership of the antistate conspiratorial center headed by Rudolf Slánský” in Czechoslovakia. It was Europe’s largest show trial, produced with the close involvement of Moscow, and it condemned to death some of the officials who themselves helped to create the political machinery that put them on trial. Kaplan’s book is a detailed account, the result of more than a dozen years of research in secret Communist party files, research that was undertaken well before the revolutions of 1989.
Kaplan began his investigation into the postwar period more than thirty years ago. At first his work in the archives of the Czech Party (the CC KSC) was limited; all documents having to do with political trials were off-limits. Other files were also tightly controlled. Requests for permission to conduct research had to include an exact list of documents asked for. Photocopying was forbidden. Notes could be taken only on numbered sheets of paper bearing a stamp of the CC KSC; they all had to be returned.
But after about five years of work, in 1963, Kaplan was able to start examining the trial documents. Kaplan headed the research group of the Barnabitky Commission, one of four Czech Party investigative commissions that were established to try to overturn the verdicts of the trials and exonerate their victims. In 1968, Kaplan was also made secretary of the Piller Commission, which had the job of completing the rehabilitation—of “restoring,” in Kaplan’s words “Communist party membership, albeit posthumously, to show-trial victims.” Kaplan was in charge of drafting the final report of that commission. For a year he worked with several dozen historians, economists, and legal scholars analyzing the archive material, studying other commission reports, previously unknown documents, classified personal material, interviews, and depositions of former Party officials. Their final report filled 1,200 typewritten pages.
Kaplan is thus uniquely well-informed about the history of the period and the details of the trial. But his attempts to publish his findings have until now been thwarted. His first book on the subject was set in type in Czechoslovakia in 1969, but the plates were destroyed that April when a new Party leadership was installed. In 1970, after Kaplan was banned from working as a historian, some of his papers on the trial appeared in samizdat editions. Kaplan’s personal cache of notes and copies of documents was discovered by State Security in 1972, and much of it was confiscated.
In the late 1970s, having made his way to West Germany, Kaplan began to write this book, basing it on documents and manuscripts he managed to smuggle out of Czechoslovakia. It is one of several important works on Stalinist justice in Czechoslovakia, published in Czech by Sixty-Eight Publishers in Toronto, of which I am a partner, and by various publishers in West Germany and in France. It contains a nearly complete description of how the Slánský “conspiracy” was invented and the trial staged. Kaplan quotes interrogations, Party documents, and interviews; he chronicles the Party’s contacts with Stalin, the political rivalries within the Party; and he gives an almost day-by-day account—often in the victims’ words or in the words of informants in the prison cells—of the psychological and physical torture and humiliation that led, first to the seemingly sincere confessions of the victims, then to the memorized performances on the witness stand, and finally to the nearly uniformly humble pleas by the convicted that they be executed for their crimes.
In 1952, after the meticulously prepared trial, eleven men were sentenced to be hanged—men who were hardly innocent of evil, having themselves once sent others to such fates, but who were certainly innocent as charged; three others were given life terms in prison. The fourteen men were all high-level Party functionaries and life-long Communists. Many had risked their lives for the cause in Spain, in World War II, or had barely survived Nazi death camps. But they were presented to the rank-and-file comrades as diabolical subversives. The main trial was followed by a series of subsidiary trials of other high-level Communists in the Foreign Ministry, the security services, the Party apparatus, the army, the management of industry. Altogether some 250 prominent Marxists were sentenced to death or to long terms in prison. So crude were the plots attributed to the defendants that, were the trials and their aftermath presented on a theatrical stage, they would seem to have been based on the cheapest sort of comic-strip serials, catering to the taste and intelligence of eight-year-olds.
To speak of these events as horrifying stage plays is not to indulge in metaphor. As Kaplan makes clear, in the Slánsky trial, from the first arrests to the multiple hangings, the actions of interrogators, prosecutors, witnesses, judges, and behind-the-scenes directors resembled script conferences rather than legal procedures. The peculiarly fictitious character of the trials is apparent even from official Party instructions on how such affairs should be conducted.
Although they do not explicitly state that these court proceedings are plays, the instruction booklets treat them as such:
The courts constitute an important tool in the struggle of the working class against its class enemies…. The vehicles for attaining these tasks include well-prepared public trials, properly used for propaganda purposes…. Many trials lack the necessary political polish and therefore yield less political capital than they could and should.
The preparations for the trial of Rudolf Slánský and his codefendants benefited from lessons learned throughout Europe in a series of trials—acts, one might say, in a five-part tragedy written by Stalin. The goal of these trials was first to eliminate varieties of European nationalism, such as those that had led to Yugoslavia’s idiosyncratic declaration of independence from Moscow; and then to destroy any remnants of bourgeois liberalism that might have survived the war years. Act One of this drama was staged in Bucharest in 1949: a former Justice Minister, Lucretiu Patrascanu, was condemned to death and years later, in 1954, actually executed—the lateness of justice apparently caused by inexperienced stage management. The next three acts followed in quick succession: Act Two in Albania where a former interior minister, Koçi Xoxe, died on the scaffold on June 11, 1949; Act Three in Hungary where Foreign Minister László Rajk was the chief victim and six others followed him to the gallows; Act Four in Bulgaria where a top-level apparatchik, Traicho Kostov, was put to death, convicted of fictitious crimes. Act Five, set in Poland, was never produced, thanks to the stubborn refusal of the accused, Wladyslaw Gomulka, to learn his lines. He was released without trial in 1955. The production of the finale was therefore entrusted in 1951 to the Czechoslovak comrades.
This final act not only had to succeed in its pedantic and propagandistic purpose, it had to surpass all preceding acts. The leaders could also not delay in its production, nor could they pretend this was anything less than a life-or-death struggle for the future of communism; any hesitation might indicate that they were insufficiently vigilant themselves, perhaps even candidates for some future indictment.
But such a staged drama could not seem to be just a means for consolidating power and frightening opponents. There were theoretical underpinnings, elaborate constructions, that gave the dramas their seeming objectivity. One of Stalin’s several theoretical fictions, which he claimed to be developments of Marxist-Leninist theory, was that after a revolution, the class struggle doesn’t weaken but, on the contrary, becomes more intense. The enemy is even more desperate than he was before and fights with the vilest of means: he fights from within, infiltrating the Party from bottom to top. In the medieval thought-system of Stalinism, a doctrine of this kind was simply asserted by the Supreme Authority; it was up to the low-ranking comrades to supply the missing evidence. Since such evidence could not be found in reality, it had to be manufactured. The faithful knew that evidence must exist; they regarded its absence not as a proof of the untenability of the Boss’s theory, but as a demonstration of their own incompetence. “Unmasking too few enemies,” Kaplan writes, “was considered a weakness.”
“Stalin sent me here to prepare a trial,” wrote one of the twenty or so Soviet envoys who supervised the Czech trial rehearsals,
and I have no time to waste. I didn’t come here for discussions. I came to Czechoslovakia to see heads roll. I’d rather wring a hundred and fifty other necks than lose my own. I don’t care where you get [the information] and I don’t care how true it is. I’ll believe it, and you leave the rest to me. What do you care about some Jewish shit, anyway?
The interrogators, their advisers, and their Party bosses accordingly invented plots and subplots, motives, and victims. They invented because they could not discover. Only the stars of the show were what remained of the real world in this drama; and only their deaths were truly “objective” facts.
The writing of the Slánský drama went through two main drafts. The first involved a conspiracy to assassinate the general secretary of the Party—Slánský himself. Otto Sling, a Party secretary from the Moravian capital of Brno, was cast as the mastermind of the plot. Sling was well hated for his “innovative” (and cruel) methods of administration, and was the first to be arrested—on October 6, 1950. Under the nervous gaze of the Party leadership, eager to appease the authorities in Moscow by tossing them an appropriate victim, Sling was subjected to six months of “interrogations.”
By the end of that period, Sling had learned his lines and the scenario read as follows: Sling headed a group of high-ranking Party officials, all of them camouflaged class enemies, who managed to infiltrate the Party. They did so first in the Spanish war, when they joined the volunteer brigades as Trotskyites. Then, as exiles in wartime London, they successfully worked their way into the power apparatus of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and established contacts with various Western agencies serving the capitalists. After the takeover of 1948, they decided to assassinate the Party’s first secretary, Rudolf Slánský. “We opposed him,” Sling confessed on February 4, 1951, “especially because he was a serious obstacle in our struggle to overthrow the entire people’s democratic policy of building socialism.”
Widespread arrests followed in what became known as the purge of the “Factional Anti-Party Group of Bourgeois Nationalists in the Communist Party of Slovakia.” But the script was patched together with considerable difficulty. Two interrogators selected from among the most devoted members of the People’s Militia refused to take part in torturing the prisoners, judging the methods “too harsh even for class enemies.” (For security reasons, they couldn’t return to their original jobs while the interrogations were going on, so they were put on K.P. to peel potatoes.) Another interrogator, one J. Rocek, was unable to “fix” one prisoner up for the role she was cast in, and recommended that she be released. Another, named Holvek, committed suicide. Sling also kept changing his statements, and it became difficult to construct an appropriate conspiracy complete with supporting documents and statements. Rivalry developed within the security apparatus over implausibilities in the script. Seventeen prosecutors and interrogators sent a delegation to Slánský on March 8, 1951, complaining that the investigation was being sabotaged. As Kaplan puts it, “They felt that someone even higher up than Sling was heading the conspiracy.”
Stalin, who was following the developments with interest, was highly displeased with this poor performance, and finally recalled the Soviet adviser who had been supervising the case “for insufficiently serious approach.” This was happening at a time when Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign was entering its final virulent stage: shortly after the Slánský affair it culminated in the Doctors’ Plot—a conspiracy that did not result in hangings only because Stalin himself died in time to save the conspirators from their fate. Contemplating the list of the detainees in Czechoslovakia, Stalin must have realized that many of them were Jews. And so the brilliant idea struck him. This was not a colorless, ordinary conspiracy of worn-out enemies, of the dwindling Trotskyites and of the defiant bourgeoisie. This was something much more alive and dangerous, similar to a sinister plot outlined in a famous book, one neither accepted by nor officially acceptable to the Marxist-Leninist canon, but nevertheless popular since the last tsars: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And so, on November 10, 1951, Stalin dispatched Anastas Mikoyan to Prague with the order that the role of the chief villain of the conspiracy be recast. The new star was to be none other than the man originally selected to play the conspirators’ victim—Rudolf Slánský, a Jew. Slánský—the right-hand man of Klement Gottwald, the country’s president, was in full control of the Party, security and, for a time, the army. He was, in Kaplan’s words, “a feared, capable man, a competent organizer, and political bureaucrat.” What could be more dramatic than to cast him as the chief villain and a Zionist traitor? So immune had he seemed from accusation that prisoners in previous interrogations used to toss in his name as one of their co-conspirators simply because of the absurdity of it.
The scenario was rewritten as follows: Slánský, instead of being the object of the conspiracy, himself headed a conspiracy of die-hard Zionists whose aim it was to disrupt the socialist economy and induce the fall of the socialist system. In this scheme the villainous Jews received some minor support from the Trotskyites—also mostly Jewish; and the Soviet advisers dutifully tutored the interrogators in the evil ambitions of world Jewry. Anti-Semitism was seamlessly linked to attacks on bourgeois nationalism, Trotskyism, and economic privilege. In order to demonstrate the class character of the fictitious crimes, Slánský, the son of a poor Jewish family, was described as a member of the high bourgeoisie. In order to show that high bourgeoisie is, by its very nature, a criminal class, Sling—who remained under indictment though the script was revised—was not only charged with economic and ideological crimes, but also accused of—though eventually not charged with—the murder of his own mother.
One difficulty remained to be overcome: most of the suspects, after having rehearsed the first script for six months, had to be taught the new versions and had to relearn their lines. This, however, proved to be no obstacle. Because they were all really Party loyalists, they understood the theory of their villainy all too well. They all had been taught that their own feelings or beliefs were irrelevant to the science of socialism; the reason went back to Marx himself. Bertrand Russell noted that Marx
disclaimed always all ethical or humanitarian reasons for preferring Socialism or taking the side of the wage-earner; he maintained not that his side was ethically better, but that it was the side taken by the dialectic in its wholly deterministic movement.
In other words, Marx did not become champion of the exploited classes out of compassion—he said that was the mistaken approach of the utopian socialists—but because historical research had revealed to him the immutable laws of social development, no different from the laws of physics or of Darwinian evolution. Exploitation, therefore, was an unavoidable economic fact of capitalism, not a moral crime. The human qualities of the exploiters were immaterial; what counted was the objective fact that the capitalists, to function as such, had to appropriate for themselves the surplus value created solely by the workingman. A benevolent, patriarchal industrialist was, economically speaking, just as bad as a rapacious tyrant who didn’t give a damn about workers, widows, and orphans. Subjective intentions were unimportant; objective consequences were all.
Such a reduction of reality to formula is at the heart of all Messianic ideologies. At the Slánský trial, the interrogators and their Soviet advisers lifted the formula out of its economic setting and applied it to jurisprudence. By this maneuver they created the concept of the unintended crime, which is just as punishable as a crime committed with full awareness and with demonstrably evil intentions.
The concept was used in the initial stages of interrogation to break the first resistance of the prisoners. First they were forced to admit they simply made errors; then these inadvertent errors were demonstrated to be “objective” crimes. Then the crimes were shown to be deliberate acts. Some prisoners accepted this reasoning and apparently felt genuinely guilty. Others felt that whether guilty or not, the objectivity of history meant that the Party was essentially infallible; submission to the interrogators was rationalized as service to the Party which, in its godlike inscrutable wisdom, ostensibly needed human sacrifice—a process accurately described in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. This was, for example, the attitude of one prisoner Svermová, early in the proceedings:
After a long inner struggle—I still didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that prevarication could serve the party—I decided to make a “confession,” so that show-trial preparations could go on. It became a task I had to fulfill in the interests of the party.
Hájek, another prisoner, would look up at the ever-present picture of a benevolent Stalin in the interrogation room and think, “If only there were some way of letting him know what’s happening here. Surely he would help.”
Others completely refused to go along and were finally broken by torture into submission. They were deprived of sleep, beaten with rubber hoses, drugged, slapped, and beaten again.
With these techniques, accompanied by the theoretical notion of the “objective” crime, it became a simple matter to shift the plot: the “objective” function of the confessions, after all, were to be the same, regardless of their content. Besides, whether or not the prisoner accepted the notion of unintentional crime or only the concept of the Ultimate Sacrifice, at the trial they were all presented to the public as vile criminals, conspirators, and dregs of humanity.
So the rehearsals went relatively smoothly, with motives and dialogues changed, dropped, or added. At one point, the interrogators “agreed with the [Soviet] advisers that a show trial without espionage wouldn’t have the necessary effect.” They felt it was their Party duty to “do Slánský in for espionage,” and so they did him in. The plot was also carefully edited for other reasons. One of the crimes of which Slánsky was accused, for example, was of promoting the theory of Czechoslovakia’s “specific path” toward socialism—a Titoistic sin. The “specific path” had been a 1946 pre-election propaganda trick devised to lure non-Communists into casting their votes for the Party. Gottwald, then Party secretary, had been the chief promoter of the trick. He feared this line of inquiry might eventually implicate him in the evergrowing conspiracy as well. So it was unceremoniously dropped from the script.
There was also an ideological quarrel between the Soviet advisers and their Czech disciples. The advisers, knowing Stalin better than the Czechs did, insisted that Slánský and the others be described in the court proceedings as persons of “Jewish nationality.” While the Czech interrogators may not have known Stalin as well, they were apparently much more familiar with his theories concerning nationality; for according to Stalin, one of the necessary prerequisites of nationality was a land where an absolute majority of a given people live. Jews obviously didn’t qualify. So they maintained that Slánský’s nationality could not be Jewish. Eventually both sides settled for the formulation: “of Jewish origin.”
Kaplan’s chronicle of Slánský’s interrogation—a nearly day-by-day account, including reports of his cell mate, an agent planted to gain information—is a chilling account of a true drama that went on behind the scenes. Slánský began by protesting his innocence, and proceeded through madness and depression and outrage and attempted suicide to resignation. He told his cell mate, one day:
I still feel…that I did not commit some of the crimes I’m being accused of; but the interrogators will probably manage to persuade me, perhaps as early as tomorrow, that in fact I did commit them. The thing is, I have to sort it out for myself.
They did indeed convince him of his “objective” villainy, but at first not of his “subjective” offense. Sensing, perhaps, what was coming, Slánský attempted suicide with a telephone cord, hanging himself on a window latch. He was saved by his jailers, but fits of frenzy became common; he would beat his head against the walls of the cell. As the interrogation expanded its range—as it attempted to force him to confess to leading the conspiracy, then to carrying out espionage, and finally to acting as a Zionist agent—the fits of despair and self-batterings continued, with Slánský, at one point, attempting to throttle himself with his own hands. By June and July of 1952, Kaplan writes, “his resistance crumbled, and he stopped fighting over every formulation.” The fits returned only when Slánský was faced with the actual text of his complete confessions and when the interrogators, in a last improvisatory gesture, added the attempted murder of Gottwald to Slánský’s sins.
The script was eventually completed. Now all that was left was to rehearse it. Everybody had to learn his lines by heart. The final draft of the script was sent to Moscow for approval, the play was rehearsed several times and then taped. The tape was ready in an adjacent room so that if a defendant “failed” in the courtroom, as Traicho Kostov did in Sofia, the microphone would be turned off, the tape with the appropriate answer would be turned on, and the millions who listened to the proceedings on their radios would notice nothing amiss.
The first—and only—performance was almost flawless, though it seems the defendants mastered the script better than the hand-picked talent that composed the judiciary. One of the prosecutors, Miloslav Kolaja, lost his place and skipped two questions, whereupon the well-coached defendant gave the answers in their right order, so that the whole exchange did not make much sense. Kolaja was sharply rebuked afterward but, apparently, few noticed. Few also noticed one of the darker ironies of the trial. In his concluding speech to the court, André Simone, one of those who was condemned to death, quoted long passages verbatim from the monologues of Rubashov, the fictitious hero of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Naturally, he did not identify them as quotes. But when Koestler read his words in L’Humanité, the French Communist party daily (which approved of the show trial), he recognized his own lines. He interpreted them as Simone’s message to his friends in the West, that he was innocent, as Rubashov had been.
But the final scene was otherwise played out without a hitch. All the stars of the show asked for the “strictest” or the “harshest” penalty for themselves; Slánský said, “I deserve no other end to my criminal life than that proposed by the state prosecutor.” The President granted their wishes, with three exceptions: Hajdu, London, and Löbl received the lenient sentence of life in prison.
For a job well done, the casting directors and writers were amply rewarded. The four main interrogators received the Order of the Republic, six others the Order of Labor, and forty-seven were decorated for valor. The chief interrogator, Doubek, was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and pocketed a bonus of 30,000 korunas.
The coda to the drama occurred offstage, as each of the condemned actors was allowed to write his final letter to his family. The texts are reprinted by Kaplan. They range from protestations of innocence to proclamations of profound guilt mixed with remorse and compassion for those family members who were bound to suffer further. Sling was one of the few who seemed to lose his faith completely. For by the end he apparently did not agree with the theory of the unintentional crime and, in his farewell letter, he stated quite unequivocally: “I have never been a spy…. I have never been a millionaire….I personally conducted no sabotage and was not aware of [any] sabotage activity.”
The letter by Luvík Frejka, one of the eleven hanged, is of a different sort. He not only confessed, but apparently insisted in writing to the President that his execution was well deserved:
In my last hour I beg you to believe that subjectively, I was not trying to deceive you. I realize that the important thing is what a person objectively does rather than what he subjectively wants…. I held on to [my] false subjective consciousness of who I am and what my intentions were…. [But] you, esteemed Mr. President…regarded me as a villain and a traitor….At that point I figured that my subjective ideas as to who I am and what I had wanted must be false…. What subjectively I had thought of as errors were objectively [crimes].”
The Party resolved that the next-of-kin of all the criminals would be moved into selected districts, that they would be under permanent supervision, and be stripped of their Party memberships. The letters of the condemned to their children and wives were not delivered for ten years.
The result of the trial, though, may not have been entirely what the playwrights had in mind. Many of the rank-and-file faithful, instead of succumbing to what Václav Havel used to call the “dialectical metaphysics” of the Party press, used unexpected common sense. The plot may have been too grandiose; the treachery too great. “How was all this possible?” they asked. “How could the conspirators have caused damages in the billions? What had the government been doing?… How was it possible…for Gestapo and imperialist agents to penetrate the leadership of the Party and the state? Who actually controlled the highest officials of the country?” “From here,” Kaplan writes, “it was only one step to demand for control from below.”
Stalin, into whose conspiratorial drama the Slánský affair was to be fitted as a great last act to overshadow all preceding acts, had overdone it. He was used to Russian audiences, silenced by decades of mass murders into acquiescence. But in 1952, ordinary Czech Party members had not yet been beaten down. At Party meetings, they still dared to ask embarrassing questions.
The Party leaders, most of them relieved that it was not they who swung from the gallows, panicked, and Gottwald had to save the situation. He did so, at a Party rally, by using a variation of the idea contained in several farewell letters of the condemned men, notably in one from Bedrich Geminder.
Geminder an old Comintern agent, and former secretary to George Dimitrov, famous for his appearance at the Reichstag Fire trial, was possibly the most knowledgeable and the most cynical of the Slánský group. Much of what he writes in his letter, which is addressed to the Party political secretariat, may be seen as morbid irony:
I go to the gallows with a heavy heart but with a relative peace of mind: in my person, one of those who caused so much damage will be eliminated, the air will be purified, and one of the obstacles to the victory on the road to socialism will be removed.
He blesses the man who sent him to his death: “I thank you, that is, the party, for looking after me like your own son.” His comment on the verdict sounds bitterly sarcastic: “The party is always right, and my case proves it once again.”
In his speech, Gottwald treated the sarcasm as sincerity. Whom should we trust, the angrily puzzled rank and file were asking, now that we know the Party apparatus was swarming with traitors? “Trust the Party, comrades!” Gottwald said, the assumption being that, as Geminder put it, the Party is always right.
This advice stunned the questioners into silence. Slánský, Geminder, et al., were hanged on December 3, 1952. Slánský did not write a final letter, but he declared before his execution, “I’ve got what I deserved.” Three months later, Gottwald himself was dead. In Moscow, he had attended the funeral of the chief dramatist himself. Warned by his own physician to avoid abrupt changes of atmospheric pressure, he was virtually killed by the doctor who permitted him to return to Prague by plane.
In November 1989, during the velvet revolution, people all over Czechoslovakia wrote a postscript to the tragedy. They painted the hands of the numerous Gottwald statues red.
I wish I could say that this bloody drama is now only a nightmare from an unrepeatable past. But can I? In June 1989, the world witnessed a very similar performance in a courtoom in Havana, starring General Ochoa Sánchez who was rewarded by a firing squad. If nothing else, this disgusting affair demonstrates how much Castro is out of touch with the times.
To the students of Charles University in Prague, who were the principal architects of the bloodless takeover, the Slánský story could sound like a morbid fairy tale—as the story of Auschwitz sounds to some young people in the West—if it were not for what followed. For though even after the invasion of 1968 there were no more show trials followed by executions, executions, however horrifying, were not the main point of the show trials. The main point of the trials was the violation of reason, of logic, of common sense. They proved that lies can be impossible or outrageous, and still be taken as truth; they are protected not by logic, but by state power.
In their as yet brief lives, the young people of Prague’s velvet revolution have not witnessed the gruesomeness of the gallows but they were daily exposed to the insult of the lies of dialectical metaphysics: in the daily press, in the mass media, in schools, even in books. For them, this daily experience became embodied in the system which called itself Realsozialismus, and which eventually sent karate-trained police in red berets to beat up these children—who actually tried to defend themselves against the big sticks with flowers clutched in their hands. Some are crippled for life. That’s why they reject Marxism in any form and with no sentimental reservations. In a recent interview, Valtr Komarek, the Director of the Prognostic Institute in Prague, put it with unequivocal directness: the place of Marx in books on the history of human thought will no longer be at the philosophical pinnacle but somewhere in the company of David Ricardo and Adam Smith—and, in humanist significance, below Plato, Aristotle, or Immanuel Kant.
For such and similar statements, Dr. Komarek has become the first target for character assassination selected by the mafia that is now forming within the Communist party of Czechoslovakia. Even now, after the Soviets themselves have condemned it, this mafia still maintains that the ambush of 1968 was a benign act of international assistance aimed at saving socialism—the socialism, that is, that produced the Slánský horror show. Hundreds of pamphlets attacking Komarek, using faked “documents” or simply unsupported assertions in the truest tradition of Stalinist yellow journalism, were distributed at the Congress of Cooperative Farmers just a few months ago. It was the first reminder—others are sure to follow—that sick minds like those that staged the Slánský trial still survive. But can the mafia ever win back the “leading role” that led to the Grand Guignol of the show trials? That, in my opinion, would be possible only with the help of foreign tanks. And at the moment, they are not inclined to be of assistance.
August 16, 1990