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The New International, November 1934

 

The Opposition and the Wrangel Officer

From New International, Vol.1 No.4, November 1934, pp.120-123.
This document was written by Trotsky and and is also available in his archive.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

One of the most infamous accusations launched at the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists on the eve of their expulsion from the communist party, was that they had been conspiring with a counter-revolutionary “Wrangel officer” for the overthrow of the Soviet government. This charge, together with a sensational report that a secret “Opposition printing plant” had been unearthed in Moscow, was hurled at a bewildered revolutionary public at the height of the internal struggle in September 1927. In connection therewith, a number of sterling Russian Bolsheviks were arrested and imprisoned by the Stalinist machine. Although the Oppositionists promptly proved that the “secret printing plant” consisted of a typewriter and a mimeographing machine for reproducing the illegally suppressed Platform of the Left wing, and that the “Wrangel officer” was no other than an agent of the GPU, the two stories can be heard solemnly repeated in communist circles to the present day. As a despicable sample of the frame-up system, the episode has few equals in modern history and shows the lengths to which the Stalin faction went to discredit and crush the Opposition. The prophetic warning letter to Bukharin is signed by the noted Leningrad Bolshevik, Zorin. The two other documents bear the signature of members of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission. This is the first time all three have ever been published in any language, the Russian not excluded, because they were suppressed by the Stalinists along with ninety percent of the other documents of the Opposition. – Ed.

TO THE Political Bureau of the CEC, CPSU (Bolsheviks) and the Præsidium of the CCC [1]

I. The Opposition Printing Plant and Its “Connection” with a Military Conspiracy

On the night of September 12, a number of party members’ homes was raided by agents of the GPU.

On September 15, the Secretariat of the CCC met to hear comrade Yaroslavsky’s report “concerning the participation of members of the CPSU (Bolsheviks) together with non-party men in the activities of an illegal counter-revolutionary organisation”; and resolved to “approve the action of the GPU.”

On September 22 a communication relating to the discovery of a printing plant was issued in the name of the Political Bureau and the præsidium of the CCC, and it was transmitted to all party organizations. This communication stated that “a number of the arrested non-party men were found to be actually involved with certain individuals from among the military circles who were planning a military overturn in the USSR after the manner of Pilsudski’s overturn”.

This assertion which was repeated in the communication several times was founded upon the September 13 communication of the GPU. We think it necessary to cite here the main section of the GPU communication.

“On September 12, 1927, the GPU learned that one of the former officers in Wrangel’s army had been approached with a proposal that he obtain a mimeograph by a certain citizen, one Scherbakov, son of a former manufacturer, and a non-party man; almost simultaneously information was received that the same individual had been approached by one, Tverskoi, a non-party man and a civil employee who turned out to be intimately connected with Scherbakov and who had information concerning the organization of a military overturn in the USSR in the immediate future. Acting upon the said information on that very night of the 12th, the GPU raided Scherbakov’s apartment; and the search revealed an illegal printing plant which was publishing the anti-party documents of the Opposition prohibited by the party. The GPU deemed it its duty to confiscate this literature, and in view of the connections between Scherbakov and Tverskoi to arrest all non-party men involved in this matter. In view of the extraordinary nature of the case (the organization of a military conspiracy) and the absolute urgency to track it down as fast as possible, the GPU was compelled to raid without delay the homes of those party members who as the search revealed were directly connected with the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization. Of course none of the party men was arrested.

“Since a number of party members (Gruenstein, Gerdovski, Mrachkovski, Okhotnikov and others) are involved in matters relating to the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization, the GPU deems it its duty to transmit all the details, together with all the material pertaining to this case to the CCC.

“In view of the fact that the testimony of the arrested non-party men has confirmed the existence of a group which sets as its aim the organization of the above-mentioned military conspiracy, we are continuing our investigation of this case.”

From this communication it may be gathered that Scherbakov, who did actually participate in the work of the Opposition printing plant, had applied to a Wrangel officer on a matter concerning a mimeograph. This same Wrangel officer was also approached by Tverskoi who had no connection whatever with the Opposition printing plant, but who had “information concerning the organization of a military overturn in the USSR in the immediate future”.

Thus, we have two cases before us: one case dealing with an Opposition printing plant, and another case dealing with a military conspiracy. Through what or through whom are these two cases linked up? They are linked up through the person of a Wrangel officer whom Scherbakov approached regarding a mimeograph, and whom Scherbakov approached regarding a mimeograph, and whom Tverskoi informed about an impending conspiracy.

On September 23, comrades Zinoviev, Smilga, and Peterson addressed a letter to the party organizations in which they put the following questions:

“Who is this Wrangel officer? What’s his name? Why is it being kept under cover?

“Has he been arrested?

“Why was precisely this Wrangel officer approached, and simultaneously at that, both for a mimeograph and with information regarding a military overturn in the USSR in the ‘immediate future’? For what reason was this latter information supplied him?

“Who was supposed to perpetrate this military overturn in the ‘immediate future’? Which group? Which organization? Which individuals?”

In reply to the letter of comrades Zinoviev, Smilga and Peterson containing the foregoing questions, the Political Bureau and the presidium of the CCC transmitted on September 27 a new communication to all organizations, this time a letter of the chairman of the GPU, comrade Menzhinsky, to the Secretariat of the CEC, CPSU (Bolsheviks). This letter reads:

“The Wrangel officer referred to in GPU communication to the CCC dated 9-27-27 was not arrested by the GPU because this citizen, whose name I can supply only upon the direct order of the CEC CPSU (Bolsheviks), has assisted the GPU on more than one occasion in tracking down White Guard conspiracies. Thanks to information he supplied were discovered, for example, the stores of arms of the counter-revolutionary Savinkov organization. It was he also who aided the GPU in catching the individuals implicated in the recent military conspiracy.

“The raids and arrests bound up with this case were made with the aim of discovering this military conspiracy.

“The discovery of an underground printing plant was an incidental and unexpected consequence of the arrest of non-party individuals connected with the group in the military conspiracy. The GPU did not hold and is not holding any inquiries into the matter of the illegal Opposition printing plant, in which party members were involved, but has given this case over to the CCC.”

Thus, the GPU communication of September 14 established that between the Opposition printing plant and the military conspirators there existed a link in the person of a Wrangel officer. However, the communication of the chairman of the GPU of September 27 admits that the Wrangel officer is no Wrangel officer but an agent of the GPU. Thus, according to the new interpretation of the chairman of the GPU himself the so-called connection between the Opposition press and the military conspiracy is personified by an agent of the GPU. This and this alone is the connection. There is not a single word about any other connection either in the GPU communications or in any other documents.

It is obvious that an agent of the GPU cannot be considered a counter-revolutionist. According to the GPU, Scherbakov applied to this GPU agent “with a proposal that he obtain a mimeograph”. These words must be obviously understood to mean that Scherbakov attempted to obtain a mimeograph through a citizen who nowise could be considered a participant in a counter-revolutionary military conspiracy, because this citizen happens to be a GPU agent. There is not to be obtained even the tiniest bridge between the press and the military conspiracy, unless the GPU agent is transformed into a Wrangel officer, precisely as was done in the first GPU communication.

As we already know, a certain Tverskoi also applied to this same GPU agent with information about the preparation of “a military conspiracy in the USSR in the immediate future”. From the first GPU text, where the GPU agent is recommended only as Wrangel officer, one might draw the conclusion that one, Tverskoi, unconnected in any way whatever with the Oppositionist press, informed a Wrangel officer about a military conspiracy – evidently in order to draw this Wrangel officer into the overturn. The second GPU communication presents the matter in just the reverse manner.

Tverskoi approached the GPU agent “with information concerning the organization of a military overturn” obviously in order to expose this overturn in time. Where then is the connection between the Opposition press and the military organization? One must presume that the GPU agent transmitted to the proper channels the information Tverskoi gave him regarding the military conspiracy. One would also assume that this agent informed the proper authorities concerning his negotiations with Scherbakov regarding a mimeograph, independently of the fact as to who had initiated these negotiations. Thus, the sole “connection” between the Opposition press and a military conspiracy was an agent of the GPU who was trailing White Guards and the Opposition. Even if we allow that the GPU agent had accidentally stumbled across the mimeograph – this agent still remains the only “link” between the Opposition press and the military conspiracy unbeknown to us.

It is true that the first GPU communication speaks in passing about an intimate connection between Tverskoi and Scherbakov without explaining whether it is a question of family, neighborhood, political or organizational ties. It is true that this same first communication says that the party members, “as the search revealed, were directly connected with the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization”.

But we learn from neither the first nor the second GPU document – what sort of an illegal organization is the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization. In the papers relating to the printing plant case, nowhere is any mention made of “the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization”. Yet the same GPU communication informs us that Scherbakov had some conversations with the GPU agent about a mimeograph; whereas Tverskoi gave the GPU agent information about the pending military overturn, What then does the “illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organisation” refer to? To the Opposition press, perhaps? But Tverskoi had no connection whatever with this press. To the military conspiracy? But nowhere is a single word said about Scherbakov’s participation in the military conspiracy. What then did the Scherbakov-Tverskoi “organization” consist of? The communication only informs us that they both applied to one and the same GPU agent, even though for entirely different reasons – one on a matter relating to a mimeograph, the other with information about a conspiracy.

With respect to the first GPU communication only, the reference to the “illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization” could be indirectly based on the fact that they both applied, even though for different reasons, to one and the same Wrangel officer, that is to say, a White Guard. But this construction collapses completely in the face of the second GPU communication which attests that not a Wrangel officer is concerned here but a member of a government institution, fulfilling secret commissions in the interest of the Soviet state. Consequently there is no illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization. It was precisely in order to maintain a semblance of such an organization that the GPU was impelled in its first communication to depict its own agent as a Wrangel officer. That is the incontrovertible testimony of the facts.

On September 27-28 the case of the communists participating in the Opposition press was heard by the Moscow CC and on the 29th by the CCC. At these hearings absolutely nobody supported the accusation that the communists were “directly connected with the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization”. To all the demands of the accused as well as of the CEC members – Yevdokimov, Zinoviev, Smilga and Trotsky – present during the CCC hearings that it be definitely and clearly stated what the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization consisted of, and wherein the connections lay between communists and this organization, the members of the MCC and the CCC indignantly replied by accusing the questioners of attempting to sidetrack the hearing to matters which had nothing at all to do with the case; that they, the accused, were seeking to befuddle the issues in order to escape giving answer to the question of the press, and so forth and so on. The indictment of the MCC and the CCC in the so-called printing plant case accuses the party members “of creating jointly with non-party bourgeois intellectuals an underground anti-party organization possessing its own illegal printing plant”. We have heard more than once the MCC and the CCC label the Opposition as “an underground anti-party organization”. But this is a question separate and apart. Fourteen party members were held accountable on the question of the Opposition press. Twelve of them were expelled. But what happened to the “counter-revolutionary Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization”?

The first GPU communication read:

“Since a number of party members (Gruenstein, Gerdovski, Mrachkovski, Okhotnikov and others) are involved in matters relating to the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization, the GPU deems it its duty to transmit all the details together with all material pertaining to this case to the CCC.”

This is of course entirely correct. But what has happened to all the “details” and “all the material”? When the accused comrades. Gerdovski, Mrachkovski, Okhotnikov, and others demanded that Tverskoi’s report be made public, that is, the testimony of one of the two founders of that very same “illegal organization” to which the above named communists supposedly belonged, the præsidium of the CCC refused them point blank – on the ground that Tverskoi and his testimony have no connection whatever with the matter under investigation, namely the Opposition press. By this very thing, the præsidium of the CCC declared the first GPU communication to be fraudulent, which asserted that Gerdovski, Mrachkovski, Okhotnikov and others were involved in the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization. The CCC turned out to have no information either detailed or abridged and no material at all on this score. Why? Obviously because the GPU sent no such documents to the CCC for the reason that it had none itself. Had such documents obtained, there would have been no need to pass off a GPU agent for a Wrangel officer, and on this masquerade to erect “the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization” in which communists were supposedly involved.

This, however, did not prevent the chairman of the GPU from concluding his second communication, which completely refutes the myth about the Wrangel officer, with the following words:

“It is no fault of the GPU that the allies of the Opposition among non-party intellectuals turned out to be connected one way [?] or another [?] with army men conspiring a military putsch.”

What does this imply? What sort of connections “one way or another” are these? This implies that the chairman of the GPU – who under the pressure of the letter written by comrades Zinoviev, Smilga and Peterson was compelled to disclose that the White Guard Wrangel officer was not arrested because he was no White Guard but an agent of the GPU – is nevertheless making an attempt to sustain at least a semblance of the accusation against the communists which was based upon this very same fake White Guard.

In the meantime both the September 22 and 27 communications of the Political Bureau and the præsidium of the CCC are making the rounds of all the organizations down to the nethermost nuclei. Moreover, the second communication which was written after the trick played on the party regarding the Wrangel officer was already exposed, concludes with the following words:

“The CEC and the CCC declare that they will cut away with an iron hand every attempt to draw into the internal affairs of the CPSU a bourgeois intellectual crew like the Scherbakovs and the Tverskoi s and the military putschists who hang on to their coat tails and strive to overthrow the regime of the proletarian dictatorship.”

These words leave no room for any doubts: the Opposition is accused of seeking to draw into the internal affairs of the CPSU not only bourgeois intellectuals but also the military conspirators who hang on to their coat tails. Consequently the Opposition is peeking to draw military conspirators into the internal affairs of the CPSU. This was written on September 27 in connection with the discovery of the Opposition press. But on September 29 this same præsidium of the CCC which had countersigned the foregoing words announced to the accused communists that Tverskoi, and his testimony, as well as the case concerning the overturn in general, had no connection whatever with the case relating to the Opposition press. If such is the case then what was the import of the signature of the præsidium of the CCC which was appended to the communications transmitted to all the members and candidates of the CEC, and the CCC of CPSU (Bolsheviks) and the præsidium of the Executive Committee of the CI and to all the Regional, District, and Section Committees and the Control Commissions of the CPSU?

From what has been said up to now, the following questions arise:

  1. When comrade Yaroslavsky reported (Sept. 15) to the Secretariat of the CCC “concerning the participation of members of the CPSU (Bolsheviks) in the activities of an illegal counter-revolutionary organization”, did he or did he not at the time know that the Wrangel officer – this only “link” between the Opposition press and the military conspiracy – is an agent of the GPU?
  2. If comrade Yaroslavsky was not aware of this, it implies that the GPU had misled him. Then it is necessary to establish who were the guilty ones on the staff of the GPU, and to hand them over to prosecution.
  3. If comrade Yaroslovsky did know, why did he fail to inform the Secretariat which in its decision found that “the GPU had acted correctly”? Did comrade Yaroslavsky mislead the Secretariat or, as we have already said, was he himself misled by the GPU?
  4. When did the Political Bureau and the præsidium of the CCC first find out the truth about the “Wrangel officer”? Was it at the time when the first communication was made public or when the second communication of the GPU was received in answer to the direct inquiry of comrades Zinoviev, Smilga and Peterson?

The significance of these questions is self-evident. The communication of the CEC and the CCC fooled the party on the question of the supposed connection between the Opposition and the military conspiracy. The party is not free from the influence of this trickery even now. On the contrary the periphery of this trickery is ever extending further and further in the country, attaining an increasingly coarser character. Who played the active and conscious role in perpetrating this trickery? Who was involved in it by dint of factional blindness? Who acted out of carelessness or slovenliness? And finally who is the actual organizer and instigator of the trick? Complete and unconditional clarity is needed on these questions. Without this clarity it is inconceivable to have an honest preparation for the fifteenth party congress.
 

II. The Military Conspiracy Case

Inside the party and far outside its precincts there has been set in circulation, in this manner, in two editions – the first and second – the vile myth concerning the Opposition’s presumed attempts “to draw into the internal affairs of the CPSU military putschists, striving to overthrow the regime of the proletarian dictatorship”.

Who are these putschists? What is this military conspiracy? During the session of the præsidium of the CCC we were told that this military conspiracy has no connection whatever with the Opposition press. We were told by the GPU that matters relating to the military conspiracy were still in process of investigation. Nothing is left us except to hope that the conspiracy will be exposed and those implicated fittingly punished.

However, even at this given stage we cannot pass over in silence the question of the military conspiracy – and not only because an attempt was made to implicate communists in this matter through the medium of a fictitious “illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization” which was built upon a single Wrangel officer who turned out to be an agent of the GPU Above we dealt with this aspect of the case with the utmost brevity possible, leaving aside many details, each of which deserves a separate treatment. But there is another aspect to the “case” no less instructive, and one which sheds some light upon the future.

We have already been told by the GPU that in addition to Scherbakov, there was another participant in the illegal counterrevolutionary organization – one, Tverskoi, the same individual who had informed the GPU agent about “the organization of a military overturn in the USSR in the immediate future”. The gravity of this information requires no comment. The same communication from the GPU of September 17 reads:

“The testimony of the arrested non-party men has confirmed the existence of a group which sets as its aim the organization of the above-mentioned military conspiracy.”

Thus Tverskoi’s information had been confirmed. What did Tverskoi’s information consist of? It is available in documents which the GPU handed over to the CCC It is true, that the præsidium of the CCC has refused to make this information public since it has absolutely no connection with the case. But on the other hand, we were indeed told by the same præsidium that those conspirators about whom Tverskoi had informed, were being drawn in by the Opposition to settle internal party questions. From the GPU we have learned that involved in the Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization are Gruenstein, Gerdovski, Mrachkovski, Okhotnikov and others. All this sufficiently justifies our interest in Tverskoi’s report. We append the main portion of Tverskoi’s statement, putting initials in place of proper names in order to confine ourselves to those names only which are already given in the communications of the CEC and the CCC Here is what Tverskoi reported:

“Citizeness N. related to me under the vow of great secrecy a conversation she had with M.M. told her that there was a movement going on in military circles headed by comrades Trotsky and Kamenev, obviously a military movement, and that this organization is active. No mention was made that this organization intended to make an overturn, but that was self-understood. From my conversation with N., I concluded that the Opposition was involved here, but when I asked her about it, she said that this was not all the case, although Trotsky and Kamenev were participating. From this I concluded that the organization has its own independent character. No mention was made that M. himself belonged to the organization, but this was also clear from the entire conversation.”

Such was Tverskoi’s information on the question of the “organization of a military overturn in the USSR in the immediate future”. We shall not here bring in the testimony of citizeness N. and citizen M. inasmuch as this testimony adds nothing new except for citizen M.’s reference to the fact that the information concerning the conspiracy was supplied him by an individual who happened to be very far away from Moscow. Neither Tverskoi, nor N. nor M. knew anything about the conspiracy at first hand. Tverskoi gets his information from N., N. from M. and M. from the above-mentioned and absent witness. The most concrete picture of the conspiracy is given by Tverskoi, in so far, at any rate, as he says that at the head of this conspiracy are Trotsky and Kamenev. According to the categorical statement of the chairman of the GPU, Menzhinsky, with whom comrades Yevdokimov, Zinoviev, Smilga and Trotsky had a conversation on this subject, there is no other material available concerning this military conspiracy case as yet. It was this information, and only this information, that confirmed, in GPU’s opinion not only the existence of the group setting as its aim the said “military conspiracy” but also the participation in this group of a “number of party members” (Gruenstein, Gerdovski, Mrachkovski, Okhotnikov and others).

Both Scherbakov and Tverskoi were arrested on the night of September 12. The very next morning, on September 13, the GPU was already writing to the CCC about the preparation of “a military overturn in the USSR in the immediate future”; about the “illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization”; and about party members who “as the search revealed were directly connected with the illegal Scherbakov-Tverskoi organization”. However, as it appears from the documents, the only party member implicated in the “organization of the military overturn in the USSR in the immediate future”, and indicated by name is – comrade Trotsky.

To our inquiry directed to comrade Menzhinsky why he who placed such extraordinary significance upon Tverskoi’s report had failed to inform comrade Trotsky about it, Menzhinsky replied that he could “not recall” if Trotsky’s name was mentioned in these reports. Let us recall that the first communication of the GPU came on September 13; the second on September 27, while the conversation took place on September 28. Comrade Yagoda who was present during the conversation explained that when an investigation points toward the implication of party members in a case, the related documents are transmitted to the CCC. This was done in this case too. As a matter of fact, as we already know, the statements of Tverskoi, citiziness N., and citizen M. concerning the military conspiracy were included by the CCC to that very volume of documents which deals with the Opposition press. The CCC in its turn also failed to communicate in any way whatever with comrade Trotsky. Comrade Yevdokimov accidentally became acquainted with these documents and then called them to the attention of comrade Trotsky and other Opposition members of the CEC.

What does all this mean? For the time being we refrain from making any political comments.
 

III. The Necessary Conclusions

We move that a joint session of the Political Bureau and the præsidium of the CCC be immediately called in order to draw up a new and a third communication to the party which must refute the false assertion contained in the first two communications. In other words, we move that the party be informed and that a categorical explanation be made to the party, with utmost clarity and precision possible concerning the decision reached by the præsidium of the CCC in which it refused to make Tverskoi’s report public, – the decision that the case relating to the Opposition press and the case of the so-called military conspiracy have nothing in common.

We move that the entire party be informed that it was misled by the first two communications of the Political Bureau and the præsidium of the CCC.

We move that a special committee of the CEC and the CCC, in which Opposition members of these bodies participate, be established to investigate this entire matter from beginning to end, to establish who are guilty and bring them to acocunt as soon as possible.

Only the hope that the Political Bureau and the praesidium of the CCC will satisfy our most lawful and elementary demands makes it possible for us not to give here the appropriate political evaluation of the facts and circumstances written down above.

We insistently urge that arrangements be made by phone to have such a session called today.

 

(Signed)
G. Yevdokimov, G. Zinoviev, I. Smilga, I. Bakayev, L. Trotsky
Moscow, October 1, 1927.

 

Footnote

1. CEC is the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and CCC is the party’s Central Control Commission. – Ed.

 
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