A reader wrote today to ask what evidence there was that Pablo Neruda supported the horrific Moscow Trials and Great Purge under Stalin.
One strong, if suggestive, piece of evidence would be the dutiful silence Neruda observed about the horror. He kept this silence over the entire course of his tenure as an active, secret Comintern operative, which he began, around the time of the Show Trials, and well before his formal, open affiliation to the Communist Party in the 1940s.
Some might say (and they have said it!) that Neruda’s silence does not equal complicity of assent. But decisive, alarming proof of the poet’s avid approval of the murder of thousands of revolutionaries in the late 1930s, both in the USSR and abroad, is contained in his own purplish-prose memoirs, Confieso que he vivido. Here is Neruda, rhapsodically memorializing the sadistic Stalinist henchman Andrey Vishinsky, the lead prosecutor of the early Show Trials (including the first “trial” of the sordid series, where he condemned to death the central Bolshevik leaders Zinoviev and Kamenev, shortly before they were each given a bullet in the back of the head):
I look out the window. There is an honor guard in the streets. What is happening? Even the snow is motionless where it has fallen. It is the great Vishinsky’s funeral. The streets clear solemnly to let the procession pass. A profound silence settles down, a peacefullness in the heart of winter, for the great soldier. Vishinsky’s fire returns to the roots of the Soviet mother country.
And here are immortal words of that “great soldier” our hallowed poet lyrically grieves—words bellowed by Andrey Vishinsky, at Zinoviev and Kamenev, as opening salvo of the bloodletting to come:
Shoot these rabid dogs. Death to this gang who hide their ferocious teeth, their eagle claws, from the people! Down with that vulture Trotsky, from whose mouth a bloody venom drips, putrefying the great ideals of Marxism!… Down with these abject animals! Let’s put an end once and for all to these miserable hybrids of foxes and pigs, these stinking corpses! Let’s exterminate the mad dogs of capitalism, who want to tear to pieces the flower of our new Soviet nation! Let’s push the bestial hatred they bear our leaders back down their own throats!
Perhaps those involved in enabling the ongoing Neruda Whitewash Industry in the U.S. literary community might wish to reflect some more on the kind of poet they insist on sanctifying.