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Special Report
Transcripts for Section 4 of Episode 20

20:55And now for a completely different story in our search for the truth. In the late 1930s the dreams of the Russian revolution for a better world were shattered by the paranoia of the new Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Millions of people were labelled enemies of the revolution and sent to labour camps or gulags. Many millions died or were executed. Among those were three South Africans who were in Moscow at the time. This is the sad story of Lazar Bach and the Richter brothers, three South African communists who fell victim to Stalin’s murderous purges. Full Transcript
21:32Petrograd, October 1917. The Russian revolution has begun. The Bolsheviks under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin seize power with the help of the red guards. The tsar is overthrown. With the cry of ‘All power to the Soviets,’ the first communist state in the world is born. Many believe this to be the glorious beginning of a worldwide workers revolution that will establish communism across the globe. Four years later South Africa becomes one of the first countries outside the Soviet Union to establish a communist party. The Communist Party of South Africa is the first on the African continent and was established a whole year before that of even China. From the very beginning, the South African Party was an enthusiastic member of the international family of communism. Throughout its 75 year existence it would retain strong bonds with Moscow. Many South African communists would make the pilgrimage to Moscow for direction in their struggle. Many would be trained here and as you will ...moreFull Transcript
22:51At that stage there was the belief that there was a single organisation, a world organisation, the Communist International, and that ommunist parties in different countries were simply national sections of this single Communist International. So the headquarters really of the Communist Party of South Africa was not Johannesburg or Cape Town, but Moscow.Full Transcript
23:14In 1929, Joseph Stalin becomes the master of Soviet Russia. He heralds in a dark period in the history of Communism. Full Transcript
23:25The high hopes became dashed and I think that one saw then a growing authoritarianism growing factionalism and sectarianism within first of all the Bolshevik Party in Moscow, now under the leadership of Stalin. But then, because it was the leading force in the world’s communist movement - as it was then thought of – those factionalisms, that internal disputes, spilled over into all the fraternal parties, including here in South Africa.Full Transcript
23:52The rule of Stalin becomes synonymous with terror, paranoia and witch hunts of those deemed to be enemies of the revolution. Millions are sentenced to concentration camps, many die or are executed.Full Transcript
24:09It was terror, Stalin was paranoid and he supposed that almost all foreigners are spies and many people in his own country also, he cannot trust them.Full Transcript
24:23Back in South Africa the Communist Party does not escape this period of factionalism. A fierce division develops within the Party. Those that believe that they should fight for a socialist revolution are up against those that believe the struggle should be for a so-called independent native republic. It is this factionalism and the resultant purges in the party that leads these three men to Moscow in 1935 for direction. Paul and Maurice Richter and Lazar Bach would never return. It is said that once in Moscow all three men became embroiled in the murky politics of Stalinist Russia.Full Transcript
25:05As we now understand really that they connected up with communist elements in Moscow which fell out of favour with the dominant Stalin grouping and that was their error.Full Transcript
25:18They were guilty in that they were in Moscow in 1936 and the beginning of 1937. It was the peak of big terror. That time Stalin repressed and killed hundreds of thousands of millions of people.Full Transcript
25:33And what makes the story particularly poignant, these weren’t non-communists who became the victims of some communist conspiracy, they were themselves active participants. They were communists. And they were probably as factionist as those that won out, that executed them or imprisoned them.Full Transcript
25:58In 1937 they were arrested by Stalin’s secret police and charged with counterrevolutionary activity. They are interrogated and made to sign false confessions. On the bases of these confessions the Communist International expel them from the Communist Party of South Africa and pack them off to Soviet labour camps for a sentence of five years.Full Transcript
26:20And the next year the Richter brothers were blamed by the head of this concentration camp that they intended to organise rebellion inside the concentration camp. It’s nonsense, but nevertheless they were shot. And about Lazar Bach, he died also in concentration camp, in the far east of Russia, in 1941.Full Transcript
26:51The fate of these three South Africans was not known for 50 years. It was only during Michael Gorbachev’s period of perestroika that details began to emerge.Full Transcript
27:02I think one need to understand that it was precisely the Communist Party and other left forces in South Africa that remembered these events and as soon as it became possible to really obtain more information we did this in the late eighties and we were informed about their fate. As far as we’d known, up until then, they’d simply disappeared.Full Transcript
27:23And it was only at the South African Communist Party’s 7th Congress in Cuba, Havana that their story finally came to rest. The Communist Party returned their membership and rehabilitated them posthumously.Full Transcript
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