The trial of the decade — against former party heavyweight, Bo Xilai – has become a disaster for the new Chinese leadership. The charismatic Bo’s forceful assertions of innocence against charges of petty corruption and misuse of office have enlivened his supporters and made his accusers look weak and petty.
Joseph Stalin mastered the political show trial. His first, against sixteen of Lenin’s deputies and Trotsky allies, lasted five days. His second, against seventeen party officials, lasted a week. The third, against the twenty-one members of the “Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites,” lasted almost two weeks in the presence of invited diplomats and journalists.
Stalin orchestrated his show trials as carefully staged rituals. In each, the defendants’ confessions were extracted well before the trial. They dutifully confessed in public court to horrendous crimes of murder, espionage, and treason. Official newsreels showed the repentant traitors begging for mercy. With few exceptions the defendants received the death penalty and were shot within a day or two of the trial. The Soviet press condemned the “mad dogs” in incessant drumbeats of vitriol. Factory workers organized “spontaneous” meetings to demand the supreme penalty. Confused diplomats and journalists, many of whom did not understand Russian, sat in the court room as interpreters whispered in their ears. They concluded that the show trials had exposed real plots against a Soviet Union, which had narrowly averted overthrow by sinister forces from within and without. What a success for Mr. Stalin!
Stalin would erupt in laughter at the pantywaist show trial of the disgraced party leader, Bo Xilai, currently underway in Beijing. It violates all of Stalin’s rules for a successful show trial.