A letter from the ECCI Secretariat to the leaders of the British and French Communist Parties regarding the conclusion of the “United Trotskyist-Zinovievite terrorist center” trial and the upcoming Brussels Peace Congress.
28 August 1936
1. It is essential to use the trial of the Trotskyist-Zinovievite terrorist gang for the political liquidation of Trotsky and Trotskyism as a fascist agency which, in capitalist countries, masking itself with radical phrases, disorganizes the workers movement and, in the USSR, organizes terrorist acts against the leaders of the country of socialism. The Bureau in Paris is to take leadership of this campaign in its hands, using the arrival of communists from many countries to the Brussels Peace Congress.[i] It is essential that Thorez and Pollitt instruct each of the groups of communist delegates from different countries in Brussels on how to conduct this campaign.
2. It is essential to inform public opinion, as broadly as possible, about the results of the trial which has indeed shown that
a) Trotsky and Zinoviev, nourishing unrestrained hatred toward the party, lacking any ideological or political program to counterpose the party, lacking any support among the masses, promoted terror as the only method of struggle against the party leadership. All of their counterrevolutionary, bandit activities were aimed at reaching personal, mercenary goals –- to force their way to power at any cost;
b) Trotsky and his gang, interwoven with the Gestapo spies, subversives and agents, were preparing attempts on the lives of com. Stalin and other outstanding leaders of the USSR;
c) they killed com. Kirov, treacherously hiding themselves behind the physical executor of this brutal act -- Nikolaev;
d) they acted in concert with the Gestapo, i.e. German fascism, the worst enemy not only of the German, but the whole world's working class. They cultivated the practices of the fascist guards, who, as is well known, had eliminated all its participants after the Reichstag fire;[ii]
e) Trotsky and Zinoviev's terrorist activity was closely linked to their goal of the USSR's defeat in case of the German and Japanese imperialists' aggression against it. They set for themselves the goal of contributing to the imperialists' victory over the workers and peasants of the USSR.
All this was proven and confirmed at the trial by the confessions of the accused in the presence of the representatives of the international press.
3. Along with this, Trotsky and his supporters are playing a role in wrecking the workers’ movement in capitalist countries:
a) with their foul and dastardly campaign against the USSR, against the Bolshevik party and its leaders, they are trying to undermine the trust of the international working class in the USSR and turn the masses toward the fierce enemies of the workers -- the fascists;
b) they are the enemies of the working class unity, enemies of the rallying of the masses into a solid anti-fascist front. They disperse the workers movement into small and minuscule groups trying to weaken the working class and facilitate the victory of fascism;
c) in Spain, their adventurist policies are pushing the revolutionary people toward defeat and are facilitating the intervention of German and Italian fascism;
d) wherever Trotskyism entered a mass workers’ organization, it either attempted to destroy them, or did destroy them from within (French Socialist Party, [iii] Belgian "Young Guard," trade union organizations as, for example, leftist teachers union in France, etc. [)];
e) everywhere Trotskyists are interwoven with the police agents. This is the case in Greece, [in] China, where Trotskyists are serving the Japanese elements, in the countries of Latin America, etc. In Poland, the police reprint Trotsky's books in order to confuse the ranks of the workers’ movement. In Norway, a few days before the trial, fascists staged a search of Trotsky's house in order to create the impression among the workers that Trotsky is the victim of fascist prosecution, and thereby to help to keep him afloat politically.
It is no accident that the fascist press, "Volkischer Beobachter"[iv] in particular, comes to Trotsky’s defense, thus revealing once again his role as a zealous champion of the fascist plans;
f) having established, in the "underground," connections with the secret agents of different countries, Trotsky openly contributes to the newspaper of the American fascist newspaper trust "Hearst," which is the foulest disseminator of slander against the USSR and the workers movement of the whole world;
g) Doriot,[v] Trotsky's comrade in arms in France, is a rabid enemy of a united front with the Soviet Union. He fights for an alliance of Republican France with Germany. Since the "Croix de Feu’s"[vi] dissolution, he is organizing a new fascist party and creating militant fascist organizations.
4. The struggle against Trotsky and Trotskyism, the vanguard of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, which carries out the directives of fascism to penetrate the working masses, should be the cause not only of communists, but also Socialist parties, every worker organization, every democratic organization, every honest politician struggling against fascism. The struggle against fascism [sic. – Trotskyism][vii] is an integral part of the anti-fascist struggle of the international proletariat.
"To defend base terrorists means to help fascism," wrote com. Dimitrov. He who directly or indirectly defends Trotsky and his terrorist gang in fact serves German fascism and contributes to the realization of its plans, helps Generals Franco[viii] and Mola[ix] and other rebel generals in Spain, [and] is an enemy of the Spanish workers and peasants fighting fascism.
5. Based on com. Dimitrov’s article "Defending Base Terrorists Means Helping Fascism,"[x] it is essential to repulse the reactionary leaders of the II International[xi] who, at the moment of the creation of the united front of the international proletariat around the heroic struggle of the Spanish people, are trying to undermine the unification movement with their defense of the terrorists.
Everywhere, Socialist workers who hate fascism and are ready to fight it approve of the verdict of the Soviet Union. The Spanish Socialist and Republican parties, which are carrying out an armed struggle against fascism, enthusiastically welcome the verdict [passed on] the Trotskyist-Zinovievite terrorist gang. The defense [of that gang], offered by the reactionary leaders of the II International is a hostile demonstration against the USSR and international communism. When fascists in France attacked Blum,[xii] communists of all countries came forward in Blum's defense against the fascist scoundrels. The reactionary leaders of the II International are siding with the fascist scoundrels who killed com. Kirov and are prepared to assassinate com. Stalin, [who are] against the land of the Soviets, against com. Stalin and Kirov. Let workers judge the behavior of communists and reactionary Socialist leaders by their deeds.
6. The campaign against Trotsky has to parallel the mobilization of the sympathies of the working masses toward the Soviet Union, VKP(b), and the leader of international proletariat, com. Stalin who, because of his selfless service to the international working class, is so hated by the world bourgeoisie and its fascist agents. The international working class has to form a wall of steel around the USSR, to shield its great leader from the vile intrigues of the class enemy, to surround their Stalin with an impenetrable wall of love and self-sacrifice.
7. All of the activities of the Trotskyist agents revealed at the trial point to the necessity of raising Bolshevik vigilance in every area of struggle.
Trotskyists, following their teacher’s example, are seeking to penetrate the ranks of communist parties and carry out their provocations from within.
Bolshevik vigilance in the selection of cadres, in particular to the leading organs, has to nip in the bud any possibility for activities by the agents of Trotskyism and those assisting them.
RGASPI, f. 495, op. 184, d. 15. Outgoing telegrams for 1936. Special, ll. 72-76.
Original in Russian. Typewritten with handwritten corrections.
Document 19 conveys not only the bill of particulars against Trotsky and his supporters, but also the political logic that animated the anti-Trotskyist campaign, a logic that the August trial had validated. The most striking aspect of the document is the fear that permeates it--fear of fascism, fear of Trotskyism, fear of enemy agents within the USSR, and fear of war. These fears fueled the period's increasing paranoic suspicions, and calls for vigilance and widening repression.
Document 19 also sheds light on the self-destructive nature of the conspiratorial mindset. The Brussels Congress's goal was to generate broad-based support for the embattled Spanish Republic and for the anti-fascist Popular Front. Central to its success was winning the support of liberals, radicals, Social Democrats and supporters of the Second International. However the August trial had outraged most such people who viewed it not as "an act in defense of democracy, peace, socialism [and] revolution," but for what it was--political repression. Liberal, radical and socialist newspapers condemned the trial. Indeed one of Document 19's purposes was to provide communists abroad with arguments and evidence to counter criticisms of the trial. But in the process, longstanding hatred of Social Democrats came to the fore. Although the letter's juxaposition of Spanish socialists, who were committed to “an armed struggle against fascism,” and the Second International’s "reactionary leaders” (as opposed to its rank-and-file members) sought, however lamely, to maintain the anti-fascist alliance, the description of the Second International’s leaders differs little from the earlier "social fascist" formulation. Such political reversion served to erode the Popular Front and, as that process accelerated, to reinforce Moscow’s sense of isolation.
Nor was this formulation an abberation. The ECCI Secretariat sent to the leaders of the French, English, US, Dutch, Swiss, Norwegian, Swedish and Belgian parties an encoded telegram stating that the "campaign surrounding the trial of the Trotskyist-Zinovievite terrorist band is developing weakly...international reaction has raised a furious anti-Soviet howl. At anti-Soviet demonstrations, leaders of the Second International give speeches" condemning the trial and USSR.[xiii] Dimitrov made similar claims in his article entitled "Defending Base Terrorists Means Helping Fascism" published in the journal Communist International.[xiv] The man, who during the 1933 Leipzig trial learned well how prosecutors can distort and falsify evidence and who apparently harbored doubts about the trial,[xv] now proclaimed the clarity of the "documents, facts, real proof" presented at the August trial. Dimitrov argued that because the defendants had the right to defend themselves, their confessions stood as proof of their guilt. He then went on to vilify those Social Democratic leaders of the Socialist Workers International and the International Association of Trade Unions who had sent a telegram to the Soviet government protesting the August trial. Such rhetoric and accusations alienated Social Democrats and other non-communists, and weakened Popular Front coalitions in various countries. By defending the August trial's legitimacy, Dimitrov and the ECCI undermined the policy deemed essential to the defeat of fascism and the defense of the USSR.
On 23 August, the day before the August trial ended, the Cadres Department sent to Dimitrov a report on the results to date of the verification (proverka) of fraternal party members and emigres living in the USSR. The report stated that: "The Cadres Department has sent to the NKVD material on 3,000 people suspected as spies, provocateurs, wreckers, etc. The fact is that the Cadres Department has conducted much work during the verification of party documents to unmask significant numbers of enemies [who] had penetrated the VKP(b). It is also a fact that a whole series of outstanding cases concerning...provocateurs and alien anti-party elements in the Polish, Rumanian, Hungarian and other parties were supplied properly and quickly to the Cadres Department. In the Central Committees of a series of parties, with the help of the Cadres Department, alien elements and agents of the class enemy were exposed."[xvi] Several aspects of this report are striking. The first is the Cadres Department had sent materials on 3,000 people to the NKVD. In this way, the NKVD's files mushroomed. Among the 3,000 were members of the Central Committee’s “of a series of parties.” Their inclusion among the 3,000 put fraternal parties, especially the Polish, Hungarian and Rumanian parties, and their members living in the USSR at increased risk. What kind of “help” the Cadres Department offered the unnamed fraternal parties is unclear, but no one could accuse it of lacking vigilance. Nor is it clear who "supplied properly and quickly" the information on the alleged “provocateurs and alien anti-party elements.” The report's language suggests that many of the 3,000 names on the list were VKP members, however it implies that all were foreign-born. Whether or not this was the case is unclear, but there seems little doubt that foreign-born comrades comprised the preponderance of the 3,000. The report provided evidence that transformed emigres, especially those from neighboring states, into a threatening "Other."
At a 29 August Cadres Department meeting, after reporting on the abovementioned report, Chernomordik ordered the staff "to prepare old lists of Trotskyists and suspicious people in emigration [in the USSR]."[xvii] Six days later he sent to the ECCI Secretariat Document 20, a list of “Trotskyist and other hostile elements in the emigre community of the German CP." He undoubtedly also sent a copy to the NKVD and the ORPO. Across Chernomordik's cover letter, Dimitrov wrote "carry out and report on the results of the verification of the German emigres." Echoing a theme expressed earlier by others,[xviii] Chernomordik asserted that "among the German emigres in the USSR there are people who were known in the CPG as active Trotskyists and factionalists before their arrival in the USSR." The material in the document represented “only the typical cases” and announced that “a much larger number” of “hostile elements” had “already been revealed.” Lists such as these constituted ”proof” of Krajewski’s (Chernomordik’s co-worker) 1934 allegation that, “under the guise of emigres,” “secret agents” had penetrated the USSR. Document 20 is a lengthy document, the value of which resrs in the types of evidence presented and how Chernomordik interpreted that evidence.
In the course of two weeks, Cadres Department officials produced "evidence" that the two perceived threats to the USSR, VKP, and Comintern--foreign-born "spies, wreckers, [and] provocateurs," and "Trotskyists and factionalists"--were very real and very numerous.
[i] The Brussels Peace Congress took place between 3 and 6 September 1936. It was organized in Paris by the International Bureau for the Preparation of the Congress for Universal Peace.
[ii] The German Reichstag was set on fire on 27 February 1933. A former CP Holland member Marinus van der Lubbe was accused of setting the fire. Dimitrov was among those tried for complicity in the fire.
[iii] The French Socialist Party was officially called the French Section of the Workers’ International or SFIO (French abbreviation). The party was created in 1905.
[iv] Volkischer Beobachter -- newspaper of the Nazi party.
[v] Jacques Doriot (1898-1945). In 1915-1918, he was a member of the French Socialist Party. In 1921, he joined the CPFr. After 1924, he was a member of the CC CPFr and its Political Bureau. From 1922 to 1923, he was Secretary of the KIM Executive Committee. In 1924-1932, he was a candidate member of the ECCI. In June 1934, he was expelled from the CPFr. On 28 July 1936, he announced the creation of the French People’s Party. During the WWII, he collaborated with the occupying German forces.
[vi] Croix de Feu (“Cross of Fire”) was the largest fascist group in France. It originally emerged in 1927 as an organization of veterans. In 1935, it was re-named the French Socialist Movement of the Cross of Fire. It was disbanded by a government decree of 18 June 1936.
[vii] Although the word ‘fascism’ appears in the text, it is clearly an error. It should read Trotskyism. (Trans.).
[viii] Francisco Franco (1892-1975). A Spanish general from 1926. In 1934-1936, he was the head of the General Staff and later was the Military Governor of the Canary Islands. He was a key member of the Military Junta Executive which organized the rebellion against the Popular Front government in 1936. From September 1936, he was a head of the “Spanish State” and the Commander-in-chief of the rebel armies. After 1939, he was the Spanish head of state and the leader of the Spanish Falange Party for life.
[ix] Emilio Mola (1887-1937). A Spanish general, he was the head of the Spanish Military Union from 1932. On the eve of the mutiny against the Popular Front government he was the military governor of Navarra. He was a member of the Junta of National Salvation (23 July -- 30 September 1936), the first government of the Spanish rebels. He was the Commander of the rebels’ Army of the North. He died in a plane crash in 1937.
[x] This article by G. Dimitrov was published in the August (#14) 1936 issue of the Kommunistichesky Internatsional.
[xi] Second International -- The International Union of Socialist Parties was formed in 1889, and almost ceased to exist after the outbreak of the World War I. In 1919, the 2nd International was re-created as a union of Social Democratic parties. In 1923, after merging with the so-called 2 1/2 International, it was reorganized as the Labor and Socialist International.
[xii] Leon Blum (1872-1950). The leader of SFIO, head of the first (4 June 1936 -- 21 June 1937) and fourth (13 March -- 8 April 1938) Popular Front governments in France. On 13 February 1936, members of the Royal Youth and of the youth wing of the extreme right-wing movement Action Français attacked Leon Blum as he was driving home from the Parliament.
[xiii]F. 495, op. 184, d. 73, Outgoing telegram for 1936, l. 78. My thanks to Fridrikh Firsov for sharing this material with me.
[xiv]Kommunisticheskii Internatsional, No. 14 (1936), 4-6.
[xv] SeeDiary of Georgi Dimitrov, entry of 18 December 1936.
[xvi]F. 495, op. 10a, d. 39, l. 49.
[xvii]F. 495, op. 21, d. 34, l. 210.
[xviii]See the discussion of Pyatnitsky's comments to the party committee meeting of 20 February 1935 in Chapter 2.