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Black on White

The picture now being painted by the Soviet press—the picture of an organized, desperate terrorist machine with Fascist and Trotskyist gearing — seems to me most unconvincing. The effort to pin the murder of Sergei Kirov, directly or indirectly, on Leo Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev leaves me especially un-impressed. I venture to guess that most other foreigners intimately acquainted with present-day Russia are quite as unconvinced, whatever they may say or write publicly for policy’s sake.

The most dissonant streak in the picture, of course, is the fact that more than five dozen alleged terrorists were executed within a few days after Kirov’s assassination, before there had been sufficient time to investigate such an organization as is now implied by the Russian press. The wholesale executions, unfortunately, came first and the charge of organized terror limps far behind.

A friend and well-known defender of the Kremlin, rather shaken up by the recent events in Moscow, attributes the situation to the “frayed nerves” of the Soviet leaders. They are so overworked, so deeply concentrated on industrial and military problems. that the death of one of their most trusted men acted as a shock. He credits the extensive executions without trial to a sort of unconditioned reflex.

Perhaps he is right. The tragedy of the business is that the reflexes, conditioned or otherwise, should repeatedly take such extreme forms. There is clearly a call for the services of a Professor Pavlov to untangle those nerves.

But over and above these considerations, anyone aware of the temper of Russian dissidents at this juncture, even the bitterest of them, can not readily credit the existence of organized terrorism. The process of suppression has been much too thorough and effective.

Unorganized discontent, individual acts of desperation, smoldering resentment there may be aplenty. But the type of underground activity familiar under Tsarism has long ago been stamped out. What is probably the most comprehensive system of mutual espionage in all history (certainly for its size) has been functioning for seventeen years.

I do not say that there are no underground movements. I merely assert that for anyone who, like myself, has lived in the new Russit many years it requires an impossible stretch of the imagination to believe it.

This I do know: that if such a movement has taken root in recent years, Zinoviev can have nothing to do with it. In the whole length and breadth of the Union of Soviets there is not another man so completely beaten, meek and conforming as Zinoviev. Crawling his repentance, physically a wreck and psychologically shattered. Zinoviev no longer has the stamina to think unorthodox thoughts, let alone organize terrorist acts.

Even if he were to confess publicly to having instigated the killing of Kirov, I should still know that he had nothing to do with it.

Less than two years ago ### spread abroad that Zinoviev had died. With infinite difficulty I managed to reach him on the telephone. His was a frightened, quivering, pitiful voice. He was nearly scared into making that report good by the fact that a foreigner was phoning. He begged not to be quoted and refused either to confirm or deny that he was still alive. “I can’t say anything,” he whimpered, “until I consult my … until I consult Somebody.”

I have not the space here to describe that “interview” in detail. But it left me with an ineradicable impression of the man’s utter collapse. He was dead, indeed, in a more tragic sense than physical death.

To interpret certain official attitudes in Russia at this time it is necessary to take cognizance of the current demonology. There are two sets of devils and they serve for all occasions—sometimes singly, other times in double harness. The first is kulaks, the second Trotskyists. They may take curious forms, operating at times in the guise of “kulak mentality” or “Trotskyist mentality” rather than in the flesh.

The superstitious peasant used to blame the “house devil” for all his disasters. Zinoviev ######re the house ###

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