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R. Fahan

History and the Truth Take a Beating
in Warner Brothers’ Mission to Moscow

Hollywood Face-Lifters Make
a Lend-lease Offering to Stalin

(May 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 19, 10 May 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Czarina Catherine “the Great” decided in a fit of royal whimsy to tour the Ukraine in order to see for herself the wonders of life which her rule had brought to the people, her Premier, Potemkin, devised a clever scheme. He hired a crew of actors and technicians, and constructed a series of happy villages, with idyllic surroundings and contented, cheerful “peasants” – all of it make-believe and torn down once Catherine triumphantly passed by. The real Russia – the Russia of serfdom and misery – was spared her and her entourage. It was a triumph for her regime, and all that was lacking was a Walter Duranty to do it proud for the American press with references to the “Russian soul” – but then, Catherine could hardly expect such modern improvements.

And somehow, after this writer staggered out of the Hollywood Theater in New York City where Mission to Moscow is being shown, the picture which persisted in his mind was one of Potemkin villages, the lie substituted to camouflage the bitter truth, the conscious and deliberate manipulation of facts in order to justify a regime of totalitarian terror. From beginning to end, Mission to Moscow is nothing but a Potemkin Village, an elaborate fantasy of make-believe, donated by American imperialism, through its Hollywood vassals, as another lend-lease offering to its Russian partners.

A Sensational Revelation – When Davies Met Schacht

Mission to Moscow is not an ordinary film; it pretends to documentary stature; it speaks as if it were an historical oracle and Davies the very repository of final truth; it boasts of meticulous attention to every factual detail in order to present an accurate record of what has taken place in recent years. It pretends to explain the war, the Stalin regime, the rise of Hitler.

Yet, we say, it is a tissue of lies from the beginning to the end.

There are four major themes in the film: the role of Russia in the pre-war period and the development of events which led to the war; the internal situation in Russia; the Moscow Trials; and, of course, a strictly OWI presentation of the omniscient wisdom of President Roosevelt and ex-Ambassador Davies and the correctness of their war policy.

Let us leave the last of these for another article, though it is in a sense the most important, and take up here the first three, one by one.

Davies begins his film journey at the request of President Roosevelt, who entrusts him with a subsidiary mission that is as sensational as anything else in this film. Davies stops in Berlin on his way to Moscow and there makes an offer to Hjalmar Schacht, the then Finance Minister of Hitler’s regime. President Roosevelt, Davies tells Schacht, is willing to grant Germany her “reasonable” claims for additional foreign markets, outlets for finished goods, sources of raw materials, and colonies, provided Hitler enter a universal disarmament scheme.

This remarkable scene, in which the financial wizard of the early Nazi government is depicted in such a favorable light, is as revealing as anything else in this film. It brands as a lie all the endless rhetorical poppycock in which Davies and Litvinov indulge in the film: all the talk about forming an anti-Hitler bloc, of “collective security.” For it shows Roosevelt willing to strike a bargain with Hitler provided the latter does not want to grab up too many of the world’s imperialist spoils; it shows Davies impressed by Schacht (as responsible as anyone else in Germany for the rise and continuation in power of Hitlerism!). This is the true mentality of this missioner to Moscow: ready to strike a bargain with a “good” subsidiary of Hitler (just as Chamberlain did afterward, and as Stalin did afterward; just as all of them were ready to do so long as they didn’t have to give too much of the spoils to Hitler, and could still keep most for themselves).

Was Davies, and the Roosevelt Administration for which he spoke, ready to countenance the continued existence of Hitlerism, with its anti-Semitism and oppression of labor, its slavery and human degradation – was Davies ready to countenance this Hitlerism so long as he could strike a bargain with Schacht? The picture answers: Yes, and in this one respect it is historically accurate. And it is revealing too: the man who was willing to strike a bargain with Hitlerism ... saw Stalinism in a favorable light!

During the early part of the film – that is, before Davies reaches Moscow – there is another extraordinary scene. We see the League of Nations assembled to hear Haile Selassie denounce the invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini. After him, Litvinov makes a speech for collective security and “in defense” of Ethiopia, which meets with the scorn of those assembled. What we missed, however, was a sequence to this scene showing Russian oil barges bringing oil to Italy to be used for the Ethiopian invasion. That would have added something to this part!

But the talk about European peace is intended in this picture merely as an embellishment for the Russian part, intended to show that peace could have been maintained if the advice of Russia had been followed. As if this world war didn’t flow from basic economic and social causes, from the great contradictions of world capitalism torn to bits by imperialist rivalries! Had the collective security policy been followed, the war would have broken out earlier – possibly to the advantage of the Allies, but even that is doubtful. Peace in a capitalist world was and is impossible, and all the cheap talk of Davies-Litvinov cannot hide that.

Building Potemkin Villages ... It’s Easy in the Movies

But let us turn to the main part of the picture: the construction of the Potemkin villages. Davies enters Russia and immediately sees a “land of plenty”: food delicacies await him; perhaps, after all, he was a bit hasty in bringing along those refrigerated cars filled with American food (not shown in the film). From this we are to infer that the Russian people eat well under Stalin. The famous “forced collectivization” which led to a famine from which millions died? No mention. Is this repast typical of the food of the average Russian worker or of the Stalinist bureaucrat? Davies is silent. HE was given good food; he saw that Litvinov, Molotov and the rest got good food. Who cares about the PEOPLE of Russia? And why pay attention to the statistics of the Stalin regime itself which prove that the people of Russia at the time of the Davies visit had one of the lowest standards of living on the continent?

Similarly on other counts. Freedom of speech in Stalinland? Treatment of those who dare disagree with omnipotent, omniscient Stalin? The right to organize opposition parties? Free elections ... with more than one choice? Freedom of discussion within the Communist Party?

All of these embarrassing topics are studiously avoided by Davies in both his book and the film. Instead, the film shows him taking an “unguided” tour (did Warner Brothers think the American people were really such suckers as to believe that the Stalinist regime would allow the Ambassador of the United States to take a tour through its industrial regions without making careful preparations to make sure that he saw just what it wanted him to see, and nothing else?).

And what impresses Davies? The fact that piecework and “incentive pay” and other exploitive devices are being introduced into Russia, and the readiness of the Russian industrial machine to transform itself to war production. That is, what really impresses Davies is the fact that Russia’s is not a socialist economy. He is tickled to death at the fact that “incentive pay” and the speed-up of Stakhanovism have been brought to Stalinland; these are things he understands and appreciates. Certainly if, for instance, he had been shown the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky, which didn’t have so great an industrial development, but which had something more precious: factory democracy, shop councils, genuine socialist idealism, then he would have been horrified,

Davies’ trip through Russia convinces him that it really isn’t so far away from capitalist America; that, to quote from his book, “the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky – the Russia of the Bolshevik Revolution – “no longer exists.” It is his recognition that Stalinist Russia is also an exploitive society and therefore represents no revolutionary threat to the capitalist world, which fills Davies with joy. Hell, he isn’t dealing here with any wild-eyed radicals who want a world revolution; these people are “practical”; a good capitalist can strike a bargain with a fellow like Stalin.

As for the “unpleasant” features of Stalin’s dictatorship, well ... the GPU might have killed off a few million people who committed the one unforgivable sin: disagreeing with or standing in the way of Stalin; but in this “historical record” they are shown merely as guards for the Davies family ...

It is the overwhelming realization that Russia under Stalin represents no revolutionary threat to the capitalist world, that “the Bolshevik Revolution no longer exists” which fills Davies’ heart with such joy. Once they do not threaten his social system, he is ready to deal with them, and if that deal involves one of the most fantastic of whitewashes of one of the most bloody, barbaric dictatorships in history, well, a bargain’s a bargain ...

So what if hundreds of thousands rot in GPU prisons? So what if the overwhelming majority of the Lenin Central Committee is murdered by Stalin? So what if the land of terror is presented as the land of freedom? So what if the film shows nothing of the sycophantic idolization, which Stalin permits his lackeys to indulge in? So what it the time servers of Stalin, the stuttering ninny, Molotov, the idle figurehead, Kalinin, the pliable agent, Litvinov, are depicted as wise heroes?

A Few Things You Won’t See in the Film

Remember, runs the paean of joy through the Davies approach, we can deal with Stalin; he isn’t a Lenin or a Trotsky; he’s not a “red.”

Does the film neglect to show that historical meeting of Stalin and Ribbentrop where they signed the “non-aggression pact” for twenty years?

Does it neglect to show Molotov uttering his most famous words: “Fascism is a matter of taste”?

Does it neglect to show Stalin making his famous speech in which he blamed the war on England and France, and implicitly absolved his new-found partner, Hitler, of responsibility?

Does the film neglect to show Stalin addressing the Nazis with the immortal words: “Our friendship has been cemented with blood” after the partition of Poland?

Does it fail to show that not only Hitler but Stalin too invaded Poland, that this invasion was carried out in concert?

Does it fail to show the historic occasion when von Ribbentrop came to Moscow to sign the “non-aggression pact” and the bands blared out the Internationale and the Horst Wessel Lied together?

SO WHAT? Why do you keep harping on these embarrassing details? What do you expect when an American capitalist gets together with Stalinist murderers – the truth?

And does it show the arch Caligula, Stalin, as a kindly old man with gray hair, tolerant, wise, friendly? Well, at least the physical likeness is pretty good ... except for the fact that in the film there isn’t any blood on his hands.

Why the Double Forgery About the Infamous Trials?

Yet, when all is said and done, Mission to Moscow rests on one truly remarkable scene: the scene which depicts the trials of the Old Bolsheviks. It is here that it is most outspoken. Why not? If Davies, can in addition to his new-found friendship for the Stalin regime, also endorse its murder of the real revolutionaries, isn’t that killing two birds with one stone?

The picture commits a double forgery. It commits the forgery of his book, which accepted at its face value the legal methodology of the Stalinist regime (a man is considered guilty until proved innocent!), as well as the fantastic confessions. And it commits the additional forgery of never recording the doubts which his book contained. There he wrote that “the situation has me guessing.” He writes that “the trial and surrounding circumstances shock our mentality.” If the picture is a faithful report why isn’t he shocked there as well? He speaks of the second Moscow Trial as “the subordination of the individual to the state.” Why isn’t that mentioned in the movies? He says of the execution of the army generals that “facts are not now available and it is doubtful whether they will be for a long time to come.” Then, why does he so bluntly accept the “guilt” of the defendants?

Davies has committed one of the most unpardonable of crimes. He has doctored his own record! He now accepts as valid that which he had many doubts about previously. While in the book he said that the defendants were, by virtue of their confessions, technically guilty under

Stalinist jurisprudence, he permitted himself to doubt the charge that they had plotted with Hitler. In the movie he accepts Stalin’s case – hook, line and sinker. In the book he is incredulous at the report that Krestinsky, whom he had known personally, was guilty of plotting with Hitler. In the movie, Krestinsky is one of the loudest confessors!

Hollywood Changes Trial Scripts to Fit the Case

The trial, as staged by Warner Brothers, is even more fantastic than that staged by Stalin. The prelude is set at a diplomatic ball at which Radek, Bukharin and Tukhachevsky ostentatiously whisper with Axis diplomats. Now, were these men really so stupid as to conduct their alleged “intrigues” at diplomatic balls? But everything goes, as far as this great “historical record” is concerned.

At this ball, Bukharin makes an “appointment” with von Ribbentrop. Where did Davies and Warner Brothers get that one? It wasn’t even in the Moscow Trials themselves!

But the greatest forgery of the picture, its filthiest and vilest piece of intellectual dishonesty, is the “trial” itself. What were actually three trials are here condensed into one. Why does a film which boasts of such meticulous detail find it necessary to amalgamate the trials? The answer is simple: to avoid showing what is for the Stalin regime the crushing fact that the prosecutors of the first trial were the defendants at the second and third. Yagoda, who was supposed to have been marked for assassination by the defendants in the first trial, was himself a victim at a subsequent trial.

Ulrich, who was chief judge at the trials, was subsequently shot by the Stalinist regime as a “traitor.” That would have been embarrassing to the Davies whitewash; it would have been embarrassing to have to explain why Tukhachevsky was carefully exonerated at the second trial and subsequently shot in secret. Remedy? Combine all three trials into one. When dealing in fantasy and lies, a little more or less doesn’t matter.

Surprise! A new defendant is dragged in. Tukhachevsky “confesses” too. But at the time of the trials he issued a statement condemning the defendants. And he was TRIED AND SHOT IN SECRET! He never confessed; perhaps he was too much of a man to consent to that debasement. In the movie he makes a little speech which was really that of Muralov in the first trial. But what’s the difference? Mix up the trials, the defendants, the speeches ... it’s all the same!

Radek “confesses” that Trotsky was at the head of the “plot.” But why aren’t we shown the scenes from the trial in which Holtzman, the alleged go-between for Trotsky and Radek, “confessed to having met Trotsky at a hotel in Copenhagen” – which never existed. Why aren’t we shown that part of Piatakov’s “confession” in which he told of having flown to meet Trotsky in Norway during December 1935 ... when there is no record of any foreign plane having landed in Norway that month. And what about the Confession of Vladimir Romm in the third trial that he met Trotsky in Paris ... at a time when Trotsky wasn’t in Paris.

Mission to Moscow speaks of truth and other great ideals. In that case, why doesn’t it dare to show the voice of Trotsky (he wrote on these trials also, and he had something to say, too!) refuting the charges of the trial point by point? Why doesn’t it include a word of the findings of the Dewey Commission which investigated the trials thoroughly and found them a monstrous fraud?


This picture is an elaborate whitewash. It is part of the attempt of an important section of the American capitalist class to reach an agreement with Stalin not merely for the continued joint prosecution of the war, but also for joint action during the post-war period, action to organize a Europe devoid of revolution. If, in order to achieve this ambitious objective, it is necessary to indulge in a-little job of lying, hypocrisy, slander and corruption such as this film represents, that is certainly not too high a price to pay. Its basic ideology is reactionary to the core. Davies, the man who is ready to make a deal with Hitler, saw a kindred spirit in Stalin and his regime which was not too far away from the spirit of capitalism. That there was no freedom in Russia didn’t worry him nearly as much as the relief he felt when he discovered that there wasn’t any socialism there.

He saw, again together with Stalin, an enemy in the intransigent revolutionary, Trotsky, and in that he was correct. Trotsky was an enemy of capitalism and all its filth. Davies was ready to slander Trotsky by charging him to be an accomplice of Hitler while keeping quiet about the fact that it was Stalin who really made the pact with Hitler and thereby gave him the green light for this war!

This was Ambassador Davies and this is his film. Other than politically it cannot be considered; it is long, windy, pretentious, cheap, constantly agape in the presence of “great” men; in short, a bore.

But go and see it, by all means. It’s a good test of how strong your stomach really is.

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