Hidden tyrannicides?

Bryan Caplan recently tweeted this:

What other mass murdering regime inspired Stauffenberg-style tyrannicide? Imagine an American officer plot to kill Pres over Indian Wars.

Twitter’s space limitation makes it interesting for some things and not very good for others. One of those other things is a proper consideration of this question.

Even if the Allies had not captured a large number of German documents intact, the world would still have known the broad outlines of this assassination plot. The German government publicly acknowledged the attempt. As far as I know there are larger gaps in the Soviet records available to us, for the obvious reason that the German records were seized before they could be destroyed and the Soviet records were not. An incredible amount of Soviet material is available, to be sure, but much of this was released for specific reasons, i.e. was selectively released for political or diplomatic purposes.

Plots were announced by the Soviet government—always after having been discovered and eliminated—with high frequency. But the nature of Soviet propaganda makes it hard to know which were actual plots against the leadership and which were masks for some kind of purge or other. Simply put, I have trouble imagining that nobody in the Soviet leadership thought to eliminate Stalin during the incredibly bloody years of his reign before World War II. What doesn’t seem obvious a priori is how real plots would have been dealt with.

It seems, based on what we know of the Great Purge, that there was almost no substance to the criminal accusations of the majority of people who were killed then. They were eliminated for potential disloyalty to the regime in order to consolidate power. However, the regime gave this at least the thinnest pretense of legality. Clearly, questions could have arisen, and this was a CYA procedure. This makes it seem as if my hypothetical plotters, people who really intended to kill Stalin, would have been executed quietly and put into the deepest memory hole possible.

On the other hand, the propaganda value of a real plot vs. that of a fake plot is identical, since the public never knows anyway. This makes it seem possible that some of the show trials we know of were “real” trials.

Either way, we’d never know.


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