In the Trap: Exile in Moscow and the Stalinist Inquisition.

(last modified October 2001)

This case study attempts to reconstruct the logic behind the persecution of a "counter-revolutionary, terrorist, Trotskyist organization", which - according to the NKVD's principle of guilt by association - included among its members numerous German emigrants (Zenzl Mühsam, Carola Neher, Werner Hirsch and others). Initial attempts to sketch the ordeal of Kreszentia Mühsam lead to the reconstruction of a widely branching fiction of conspiracy, with Erich Wollenberg and Max Hoelz as its central figures. This fiction took shape in 1936/37, based on "confessions" made under torture, official assistance from the Comintern apparatus, and individual denunciations made within the context of the "Great Terror". Numerous real biographies were woven into this fictional conspiracy but the only traces of these life stories which are still available today – and which reflect both the typical careers of "party soldiers" and individual peculiarities - are the fractured forms of "ego documents", fragmented narratives, and bureaucratic documents. Biographical reconstruction represents the only path to a more precise portrayal of the bureaucratically organized persecution and irrational logic of terror of the Stalinist system concealed by the NKVD's fiction of "confessions" and "interrogation records" and its construction of a "counter-revolutionary, Trotskyist Hoelz-Wollenberg organization".

The study focuses on Stalinism "from above" and the development of its manichaic world view – by way of directives from Stalin, decisions from the Politburo, circulars from the Central Committee, and the use of centralized propaganda - as the discourse of the party and the ruling class and as a fictional image of the enemy. At the same time, the case of the fictitious "Wollenberg-Hoelz organization" serves to illustrate the fact that the subordinate bureaucracies of the Comintern - the cadre departments of the executive committee of the Communist International and the apparatus of the Communist Party – were dependent, as part of a control, selection and persecution machinery, on "Stalinism from below", that is, on the initiative and support of radical functionaries and the practice of mass denunciation, in order to implement terrorist violence and organized despotism. In the Soviet Union of the nineteen-thirties, terror from above, bureaucratic functionality of the "organs", and "Bolshevist vigilance" from below interlinked to create a reign of violence and fear. Even today, the consciousness of numerous former "Soviet citizens" bears the traces of the ideological indoctrination and traumatic conditioning of mentality produced by this reign of terror.