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Anthony Massini

Davies’ Book and the Elimination
of the ‘Fifth Column’

(24 January 1942)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 4, 24 January 1942, p. 4. [A]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Six months ago the people in this country were told by the so-called military experts that the Soviet Union didn’t have a chance in the world against Hitler. Since then, the stubborn resistance of the first workers state to Hitler’s attack, even when the German armies were advancing, has aroused much admiration. And since late November, when at Rostov and Moscow and then along the whole front the Red Army, aided by detachments of armed workers, began to gain ground and drive back the German troops, popular interest in the USSR has grown and is seeking the explanation.

If Joseph E. Davies’ Mission to Moscow [1] becomes a best seller, it will be because the author, in his capacity as Ambassador to the USSR for two or three years, is supposed to have discovered the explanation and written it down in his official dispatches to the State Department which make up the bulk of this book.

But actually the reader will not find an honest explanation of the Soviet Union’s resistance in this book. Instead he will find the same false explanations that he can read any time in the Daily Worker or the New Masses.

Davies “Reconsiders” the Trials

The world already knows that one of the chief differences between the Soviet Union’s war against Hitler and the war of practically all the capitalist governments is that at no time has there appeared in the Soviet Union any “Fifth Column” to obstruct or sabotage the war effort in the interests in the enemy. In other countries there had always been groups in the government or leading political circles who advocated collaboration with Hitler or aided in capitulation to him. In the Soviet Union no one has been able to point to a single figure or group of great or small importance who favors the victory of the Nazis.

Like everyone else, Davies originally doubted the validity of the Moscow Trials. His book shows that after the shooting of the Red Army generals without public trial, his dispatches were crowded with speculations whether this marked the beginning of Stalin’s downfall. Late in 1941, however, he sharply changed his mind.

He tells how at a lecture three days after Hitler invaded the USSR, someone in the audience asked: “What about Fifth Columnists in Russia?” “Off the anvil, I said: ‘There aren’t any – they shot them.’”

Then, thinking this over after the lecture, “there came a flash in my mind of a possible new significance to some of the things that happened in Russia when I was there.” So he hastened to read his old dispatches, he says, and the old entries in his diary – and to reconsider.

He brings forward no new documents or fresh analysis to account for his sudden change of mind. He does not mention – let alone try to answer – the findings of the Dewey International Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials, which after searching and thorough investigation pronounced the trials to be frameups; he does not attempt to explain any of the fantastic contradictions about the trials that led the whole world to reject their validity.

Quickly he reached the conclusion that he had been wrong; that the trials had not been frameups; that the defendants, many of them Lenin’s comrades-in-arms who had led the October Revolution which created the Soviet Union, had really been guilty of plotting to hand the USSR over to the fascists.

What He Bases His Argument On

Davies does not try to convince anyone of the validity of the trials by what happened at them, and therefore it is unnecessary here to add anything to previous comment on the frameups. But Davies does ask the world to accept the Moscow Trials now because something happened in 1941, because a Fifth Column failed to appear during the war with Germany. This reasoning, weak though it is, requires an answer.

To understand this answer it is necessary to understand the basic difference between the capitalist states and the Soviet Union as a workers state. In the USSR there is no capitalist class. This class disappeared when the economy of the country was nationalized. The basis for a “Fifth Column” disappeared when the capitalist class disappeared. No important force in the Soviet Union wants the return of capitalism – and that is why Hitler can find no “Fifth Column”. In capitalist countries, however, as in France, there are always important sections of the ruling class which are willing to come to terms with Hitler, rather than face a revolution by the masses in their own country.

There is no “Fifth Column” in the USSR – but the credit for this does not belong to the butcher in Kremlin for his murder of his pro-Soviet political opponents. The “Fifth Column” was destroyed in the USSR more than 20 years ago by those who, under Lenin and Trotsky, replaced capitalism with a workers and farmers government.

Davies argues that Stalin strengthened the USSR by murdering the old Bolsheviks and the leaders of the Red Army, industry and agriculture. But it is clear that if the only reason he can give is the absence of a Fifth Column exterminated 20 years ago, then the trials and purges weakened, not strengthened, the resistance of the Soviet Union to imperialist attack.

Davies’ chief conclusion from his argument is that: “There are no saboteurs, secret agents, or Fifth Columnists to cooperate with the invaders, because the Russians were a. sufficiently far-sighted to eliminate them before it was too late. That is a fact which other liberty-loving nations might well ponder.”

We know what Davies means: that the United States government should proceed with frame-up trials against its political opponents just as Stalin did.

To this we can only reply: Yes, the Russians were far-sighted. They eliminated their “Fifth Column” 20 years ago. American workers must “ponder” this. And they must join the movement, before it is “too late”, to eliminate the “Fifth Column” here. The way to do it is by helping to establish a Workers and Farmers Government in the United States.



1. Mission to Moscow. By Joseph E. Davies. 659 pages. Simon and Schuster. $3.00.


Note by ETOL

A. This article was originally attributed to William F. Warde (i.e. George Novack) but a note in the following issue corrected this to attribute the article to Anthony Massini (i.e. George Breitman. (The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 5, 31 January 1942, p. 4)

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