From 1929-1937, Stalin conducted a series of show trials in which his enemies were pilloried and then executed for offenses against the communist regime. The first of the trials, like those which followed, was carefully scripted to include angry crowd scenes in which thousands shouted, “Death, death death!”
By the time the later trials were organized, the methods employed to destroy Stalin’s opponents had been refined to the point confessions were first extracted from supposed “wreckers” of the Soviet economy by torture and by threats to family members, including wives and infant children.
The singling out of certain individuals and groups for elimination, however, was only part of Stalin’s script, as the broader purpose behind the trials and executions was the complete purging of opposition as well as the provision of a diversion which would keep attention focused on the alleged criminality of a few while Stalin’s broader agenda proceeded apace and his power was completely consolidated.
Ultimately consolidation of Stalin’s power was achieved by his prolonged war against all Soviet citizens, a war that exterminated whole classes of people; while the show trials, with their very public examples of chastened victims, ensured the instilling of utter fear which kept any emergent opposition silenced.
Stalin’s tactics were straight out of the playbook of the radicals responsible for the Terror of the French Revolution, which playbook has been used in various permutations to isolate and destroy political enemies for over two hundred years.
“Gentler” modifications of Stalin’s (as well as Hitler’s) tactics have found their way into Western politics. The famed Alinsky method is but one example of modified Stalinist show trial and purge tactics.
One Alinskyite rite includes the “politics of personal destruction.” It is a brutal but very highly refined and honed process for destroying one’s political opponents, utilized to break down and annihilate the opposition.
But one doesn’t have to be a follower of Alinsky in order to implement the politics of destruction. The tactics of destruction can be applied without a particular name attached to them.
Tactics include repetition of offenses, sometimes real but mostly perceived and exaggerated, until the public consciousness is permeated with simple but effective negative images. The result is that every time an opponent’s name is mentioned, a negative term such as “witch” or “Nazi” comes to mind, much as the terms “wreckers,” “hooligans” and “enemies of the state” were used in the Stalinist and Maoist eras.
Next, the stupidity of the opponent must be emphasized relentlessly. Every verbal gaffe, every misplaced phrase, any small mistake in facts, any inexact recall of events is elevated to criminal status and repeated endlessly so that the targeted person always looks like an idiot. The tactic is coupled with ignoring any well thought out position papers or speeches.
Usually only a few figures are targeted for the show trials, as the object is to stereotype the victim and then to make the target representative of the entire opposition. Thus Sarah Palin, for example, is made the representative of the conservative movement within the Republican Party; while in the state of Delaware, Christine O’Donnell is anointed by her opposition as the representative darling of the Tea Party movement and conservative Republicans. Even though there are thousands of other informed and thoughtful conservatives, a caricature suits the purposes of the opposition. It makes things much simpler and avoids the chore of thoroughly examining the issues.
Last, the tactics employed by opposing forces are meant to keep everyone focused on the freshest twigs thrown on the burning fire meant to consume the targeted victim. Old scandals are continually renewed and new ones continually concocted, old history is revisited and regurgitated, personal relationships past and present are ruthlessly examined under a microscope. All are continually thrown into the bonfire, while the burning glare ensures the voting public is constantly distracted and continually focused on the targeted person. Meanwhile, the broader landscape of pressing issues and concerns is thrown into the shade.
Conservatives should continually be aware of and to repudiate the show trial tactics employed by the opposition, both from without and from within the Party. They need to refuse to join in and/or continually rebut the crowds howling for blood. They need to stop allowing the experts at “show trial” tactics set the agenda for discussion and action, for such carnival barker types will feed the frenzy for as long as they can.
In sum, conservatives should stop their participation in and mimicking of the three ring circus trials designed for personal destruction.
Instead, they need to relentlessly focus on the issues, to provide solutions and to establish and articulate a vision for the future.
Perhaps most importantly, they need to refuse to imitate or employ the politics of destruction