Why did they confess?

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Upton_O_Goode
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Why did they confess?

Post by Upton_O_Goode » Wed Sep 19, 2018 11:04 am

After consulting with DH, I've decided to start this thread. I'm asking about the confessions at the Moscow Trials in the late 1930s? Why did these old Bolsheviks denounce themselves for committing crimes so fantastic that no sane person could believe them? Why did they beg to be shot? I can think of three reasons:

1. To get the pain to stop. (If this thread goes any further, I'll quote the relevant descriptions of torture from Solzhenitsyn's "GULag Archipelago".)

2. To protect their families. They were promised that if they confessed, their families would be spared. (The promise was a lie. There was a category called "chesir," standing for "member of the family of a traitor to the homeland" under which many of them were caught and sent to camps.)

3. As a final service to the Party, to rally the troops behind the Great Leader of People, Stalin! (This is the premise of Arthur Koestler's book "Darkness at Noon." Koestler left the Party in 1956, after the crushing of the Hungarian uprising.)

Is there any more to be said than this?
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Re: Why did they confess?

Post by Gawdzilla Sama » Wed Sep 19, 2018 2:23 pm

They had families.
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Re: Why did they confess?

Post by Upton_O_Goode » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:41 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:They had families.
In other words, the second alternative. I can't judge the comparative motivational strengths of the first and second. The third one seems a bit far-fetched to me. An Indian socialist I knew 50 years ago assured me that history had justified Koestler's thesis. He said these men had been tortured before, and couldn't be broken. But then, he claimed to have been tortured himself during the struggle for Indian independence. On closer questioning, it turned out that the torture consisted of being placed in a chair and stared at by some menacing-looking British, none of whom spoke a word, but maintained total silence for several hours. (If that's what it was, I can only say those Brits really sucked at torture. They needed Dick Cheney to show them how it should be done.)
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

― Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), French economist

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Re: Why did they confess?

Post by Gawdzilla Sama » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:51 pm

Upton_O_Goode wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:They had families.
In other words, the second alternative. I can't judge the comparative motivational strengths of the first and second. The third one seems a bit far-fetched to me. An Indian socialist I knew 50 years ago assured me that history had justified Koestler's thesis. He said these men had been tortured before, and couldn't be broken. But then, he claimed to have been tortured himself during the struggle for Indian independence. On closer questioning, it turned out that the torture consisted of being placed in a chair and stared at by some menacing-looking British, none of whom spoke a word, but maintained total silence for several hours. (If that's what it was, I can only say those Brits really sucked at torture. They needed Dick Cheney to show them how it should be done.)
Solzhenitsyn makes the case for the family-as-hostage system.
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Re: Why did they confess?

Post by Lance Kennedy » Sun Sep 23, 2018 8:48 pm

It is not difficult to get someone to confess go a crime they did not commit. It happens rather too often. In addition to the three reasons Upton gave, I add two more.

1. The confessor is a nutter. There are always people who confess to crimes they did not commit out of a weird desire for infamy.

2. Interrogation. If a person is ruthlessly interrogated for hours or days with no sleep, they will (more often than not) end up confessing to anything. This has been done numerous times by various police forces, including those in the so-called enlightened west, putting innocent people being bars. This is not the torture situation, since it relies not on pain, but on confusion.

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Re: Why did they confess?

Post by Denying-History » Mon Sep 24, 2018 3:45 am

Oh, I didn't realize you made this. Will hopefully return in a bit. Need to gather some stuff together to make a list.
« The Terror here is a horrifying fact. There is a fear that reaches down and haunts all sections of the community. No household, however humble, apparently but what lives in constant fear of nocturnal raid by the secret police. . .This particular purge is undoubtedly political. . . It is deliberately projected by the party leaders, who themselves regretted the necessity for it. »
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Re: Why did they confess?

Post by Denying-History » Wed Sep 26, 2018 2:19 am

There has been a number of explanations behind why those who were on trial confessed, and we never had a strong grasp of why. Some small snippets broke through with the publishing of Orlov's memoir, but most of these were ether "NKVD Corridor Gossip" (a very poor term for it, but it is taken from Getty's writing on the matter) and then the publication of Roy Medvedev's let history judge was also published with similar flaws also existing in his account. For why they confessed a number of positions have been offered up to give a quick list:

• Torture.
Khrushchev wrote:“They were only so stigmatized and often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigative judges – falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes.”
“Now when the cases of some of these so-called ‘spies’ and ‘saboteurs’ were examined it was found that all their cases were fabricated. Confessions of guilt of many arrested and charged with activity were gained with the help of cruel and inhuman tortures.”
• The defendant’s family is threatened.
Roy Medvedev wrote:More likely, he [Bukharin] was blackmailed by threats of reprisal against his young wife, his elderly and sick father, and his newborn son. There is much evidence that such blackmail occurred. During the first months of the investigation the Bukharin family was allowed to continue living in their old apartment in the Kremlin, and notes from Bukharin's wife were delivered to him, together with books that he requested from his library and photographs of his son. All of this ended once Bukharin was broken and began to "testify." His wife was arrested even before the trial began.
• The “Rubashov” explanation made famous in Arthur Koestler’s book Darkness At Noon – that “the Party demands it,” the Party is history’s instrument and so history demands it, and so on.
Vadim Rogovin wrote:In the explanations she gave to the Party Control Commission in 1956, Safonva described these "diabolical methods" and stressed that the investigators were motivated in their extortion of false testimony by the fact that such testimony was necessary in the interests of the party. "Yes, it was with this understanding - that the party demands this and we were obligated to pay with our heads for Kirov's murder - that we arrived at giving false testimony, not only I, but all the other accused...That's what happened during the pretrial investigation, and at the trial this was aggravated by the presences of foreign correspondents; knowing that they could use out testimony to harm the Soviet state, none of us could tell the truth."
• The defendant has been promised favored treatment by the Prosecution in return for falsely accusing others.
Paul R. Gregory wrote:Defendants were promised that they or their family members would be spared if they confessed. Yezhov apparently convinced Bukharin and Rykov that if they confessed, they would not be executed.
• That we just will never understand why the defendants confessed.
Donald Rayfield wrote:Why did the accused not retract their confessions in court? The guards would not have beaten them in public and they certainly could not have trusted Stalin’s promises to spare them or their families; they knew of the extermination of Kamenev, Zinoviev, and almost all their kin. Were they unsophisticated enough to believe that it was their duty to admit guilt as a sacrifice for the party? They didn’t appear to have been drugged. The full dossier covering their interrogation is not yet in the public domain, and in any case it may have been largely falsified. Either their torturers made threats which we can only guess at, or they had motives for complicity which surpass our understanding. Fear alone does not explain the defendants’ behavior, unless they had been threatened with tortures even more unspeakable than what they had endured.
• Trotskii's suggestion.
"All these were capitulators, people who had recanted several times, who had accused themselves during testimony of the most ignoble actions and filthy intentions; people who had lost any political goal in these confessions, who had lost the meaning of life and any respect for themselves. ... For years these internally empty, demoralized, and overstrained ex-revolutionaries were suspended between life and death. Would one additionally need here any specific medications?"
These recantations bore a "purely ritualistic, standardized character. Their political goal was to teach each and every one to think, or at least to express themselves, in the same way. But precisely for this reason none of the initiated ever took these recantations for good coin, Recantation signifies not a confession, but a contract with the bureaucracy."
Beginning with 1924, every oppositionist, semioppositionist or simply any citizen in disfavor was presented with one demand in order to preserve the right to a piece of bread. He had to "distance himself from Trotskyism and condemn Trotsky; in doing so, the more clamorous and vulgar the denunciation, the better. Everyone grew accustomed to these recantations and denunciations, much like to the automatic rituals of the church."Long before they fell under the millstone of Yezhov's investigations, the main defendants at the Moscow Trials were led to a state of extreme demoralization as a result of their ceaseless confessions to "errors" which lead into the "counterrevolutionary swamp." All these people had renounced themselves several times; they had renounced their own convictions, while heaping praise on Stalin and Stalin's "socialism," the true value of which they knew better then anyone else. "Can an honest person speak of 'confessions'," Trotsky wrote, "while leaving aside the fact that the GPU had for a number of years prepared and 'educated' the defendants by means of periodic capitulations, acts of self-humiliation, slander, promises, indulgences, persecution, and horrifying examples?"
• Ritual of Liquidation: That the defendants were convinced of the correctness of Stalins line.
H. E. O. James and G. H. Bolsover in their review wrote:It finds the key to the explanation not in drugs and hypnotism, torture and third degree, or threats against families and promises of life, but in Communist beliefs and values and ways of interpreting and judging human acts and thoughts. The defendants felt guilty because Stalin's policy, which they had once opposed, now seemed successful by Communist standards, and because their opposition had not only jeopardized this policy but imperilled the safety and even existence of the Party itself.

Will post more information later on. I am building individual reasons to chief defendants confessions.
« The Terror here is a horrifying fact. There is a fear that reaches down and haunts all sections of the community. No household, however humble, apparently but what lives in constant fear of nocturnal raid by the secret police. . .This particular purge is undoubtedly political. . . It is deliberately projected by the party leaders, who themselves regretted the necessity for it. »
Joseph E. Davies