The archival footage from a court action against leading scientists in the Soviet Union of 1930 has been reconfigured into a narrative drama, which leads today‘s audience to believe the opposite of contemporary spectators.
If you google the trial against the Industrial Party in 1930, you will basically find two kind of results: those that explain how innocent scientists were made the scapegoats of a failed economic policy in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and those that explain how a treason against the Soviet State was uncovered, and how those colliding with foreign interests in bringing down the socialist project were punished for their crimes.
Now, the archival footage from the 11-day-long trial (later grouped under the category of Stalinist ’show trials’), has been edited and compiled into a two-hour-long narrative, with the film description kindly navigating our perspective from the outset: « The drama is real, the story is fake ». One can wonder what the point is, and what the difference between a so-called ‘show trial’ and archival disaster tourism really is.
The audience in the 1930 court room was brought there to receive ideological training, and contribute in the Soviet State’s righteous anger towards the accused. As a contemporary spectator to Sergei Loznitsa’s film The Trial, one can get a similar feeling: Now that history has established its verdict, not so much by inquiry or analysis, as by the course of events – capitalism’s victory over state socialism – we are invited to take part in the thrill of past injustices committed by a system no-one in their right mind defends any longer.
The Chairman of the USSR Supreme Court that cross-examined the group of scientists accused of economic sabotage was Andrei Vyshinsky; a skinny, long-faced man with a self-satisfied expression. He later became known not only for his role in the Moscow Trials, but also for his role as Soviet Foreign Minister until 1953. Not everyone who led the prosecution escaped it themselves in the end, but Vyshinsky did.
The defendants were leading scientists: Ramzin, Kallinikov, Larichev, Charnovsky, Fedotov, Kupriyanov, Ochkin, and Sitnin, who had been holding key positions in research and political planning institutions. They were accused of having misused their roles to deliberately sabotage the economic development of the Soviet Union; to have purposefully hampered public transport operations in military, textile, and shipbuilding industries (along with agriculture and other sectors of economy), all with the encouragement and financial support from Russian capitalist emigrants and foreign governments, not least the French.