Assassins at Large. Hugo Dewar 1951

Chapter V: Europe’s Little Russia

Lenin once characterised Spain as the ‘little Russia of Europe’. The description is apt, perhaps more so today under the dictatorship of Franco than when it was coined. Lenin referred to the semi-feudal, semi-capitalist economy of Spain, which was reflected in a general social and political situation remarkably analogous to that of pre-revolutionary Russia. But during a period of the Spanish Civil War the analogy took on another aspect: for, because of the military aid given by Soviet Russia to the Spanish Government, the Soviet representatives in that country exercised a considerable political control there. The extent of this control, the degree to which the Stalinists felt themselves masters, is expressed without ambiguity in the following quotation taken from the organ of the Communist Party of the USSR:

So far as Catalonia is concerned the cleaning up of the Trotskyist and anarcho-Syndicalist elements has already begun and it will be carried out with the same degree of energy as in the USSR. (Pravda, 17 December 1936, author’s emphasis)

In view of the vast wave of arrests, summary executions and deportations to remote regions of Siberia that accompanied the first Moscow Trial (19-24 August 1936), there could be no mistaking the precise meaning of the words ‘cleaning up’. Stalin’s political opponents in Spain would be dealt with in the same manner as they had been dealt with in Russia. And it must be borne in mind that ‘political opponent’ means, in the Communist vocabulary, anyone who questions the infallibility of Stalin.

Yet the Communist Party of Spain prior to the outbreak of the Civil War had been a numerically small organisation with little influence over the mass of the population, and even at the end of 1936 had by no means succeeded in breaking the great hold over the workers of the anarchists and socialists, who were, moreover, particularly strong in Catalonia. How, then, could Pravda be so confident that Russian policy would dominate ‘so far as Catalonia was concerned’? The reason for this confidence was that Pravda knew of a power in Spain that had nothing to do with political parties; a power that, while it worked in and through these parties when possible and expedient, was yet separate from them, uncontrolled by any popular body; and a power whose leading strings went back to the Kremlin. Pravda knew that the GPU was in Spain.

The Catalonian sector of the Spanish political front was considered of particular importance by the Stalinists, because this was the most industrially developed area of Spain and consequently possessed the most highly organised and politically advanced elements of the working class. It was there that a most dangerous competitor, the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxists (Workers Party of Marxist Unity, commonly called the POUM, had risen during the early months of Franco’s attack to the status of a mass party. This is not the place to trace the history of the POUM; it is sufficient for our purpose to point out that it arose largely as a result of a breakaway from the Stalinist Party, that in contradistinction from that party it claimed to carry on the true traditions and principles of Communism, and that many of its members were greatly influenced by the ideas of Leon Trotsky, although the organisation as such consistently dissociated itself from his views on the strategy of revolutionaries in Spain, and, reciprocally, Trotsky himself made no secret of his fundamental disagreement with the policy of POUM. The official Trotskyists in Spain never rose above the position of a negligible and completely uninfluential sect. Although both before and during the Civil War the numerical strength of the POUM was always relatively small compared with that of the anarchists and socialists, it was still much superior to that of the Spanish Communist Party, disoriented and enfeebled by constant Comintern-dictated cleansings, until the arrival of Soviet military aid and technical personnel boosted it to a power in the councils of the Republican Government.

The leader of the POUM, Andreas Nin, had formerly played a role in the top circles of the Stalinist apparatus. An early and ardent proponent of the Russian Revolution, he had in 1920 been sentenced to death for his revolutionary activity and had fled to Russia, where he became a member of the Profintern (Red International of Trade Unions), an organisation set up as a counter-influence to the trade unions under the dominance of the Second International. In Stalin’s struggle to control the Russian Communist Party, and thereby also the Comintern, Nin sided with the Zinoviev – Trotsky opposition bloc of 1927. After a speech in support of Trotsky at the Fourth Congress of the Profintern in 1928, he was removed from his post and arrested by the GPU. In 1930, together with his wife and seven-year-old child, he was expelled from the Soviet Union, without papers or money. He managed to make his way back to Spain, where he was again arrested by the Spanish authorities, but the rise of the popular tide against Spanish absolutism secured his release. It was mainly owing to his leadership that the majority of the Catalan membership of the Communist Party broke away from the dictatorship of the Comintern in 1931. After the proclamation of the Republic in that year the working-class movement made great strides forward, and although he was twice arrested by the Republican authorities, once in 1932 and again in 1933, it was not possible to hold him merely on the charge of carrying on revolutionary propaganda since his long record of battle for socialist ideals had given him a considerable standing in the now influential workers’ movement. His standing among the workers, coupled with his unrelenting opposition to Stalinism, inevitably brought him the intense hatred of the Communist Party.

The rapid growth in numbers and influence of the POUM after the outbreak of the Civil War made an offer of entry into the Catalan Generalidad inevitable. The offer was accepted and Nin became Minister of Education. The Stalinists, rejecting democracy within the workers’ movement – since consultation with the rank-and-file and acceptance of its views would make impossible the overnight switches in policy required from time to time by the Kremlin – recognised, as the above quotation from Pravda shows plainly enough, that the POUM was a threat to their plans. Following the lead given by the Russian press, a private circular distributed to all ‘locals’ of the Catalan PSUC [1] in December 1937 stated:

The POUM occupies a counter-revolutionary position; the line taken by the POUM is identical with the provocative policy of international Fascism. All members of the PSUC must realise the criminal role played by the POUM. The leaders of the POUM must be unmasked as agents provocateurs introduced into the working class to destroy it, and they must be presented as such to the workers.

These words show the particular role assigned to the Communist Party in the struggle against Stalin’s opponents in the working-class movement. It is the task of the Communist Party, and this applies of course to all countries, to create the required ‘public opinion’ which makes possible the physical suppression of opponents. A high-pressure campaign of abuse and levelling of charges based upon conscious distortion of facts and downright falsehoods – such a barrage precedes the physical attack, covers it while in process and continues when it has been completed.

Underlining the Soviet-inspired character of the charges against the POUM, the Soviet Consul in Barcelona accused this party of having ‘sold out to International Fascism’. The Trebala, daily organ of the PSUC, followed this up by calling the POUM leaders ‘agents of the Gestapo and Trotskyists’. An example of the depths to which this campaign sunk has been given by Henry Beattie, one-time member of the Canadian Communist Party and a fighter in the International Brigade. Beattie related in the press on his return from Spain and his breach with the Stalinists, how he had been instructed to declare at public meetings that the ‘Trotskyists’ in Spain ‘used to kill off wounded militiamen’. Beattie declared that he had carried out this instruction ‘in submission to Party discipline’ (cf LD Trotsky’s article in the Scottish Labour paper Forward, 11 December 1937). This was part of the ‘ideological’ preparation for the events of May 1937 and the Barcelona ‘Moscow Trial’ of 1938. It was the screen of slander behind which the GPU could carry out its assassinations.

The May ‘uprising’ has been presented by the Stalinists, and accepted by their dupes, as a revolt of irresponsible anarchist and POUM elements against republican discipline; as an effort on the part of these people to wrest control from the Republican Government in Barcelona; as a deliberate, Franco-inspired disruption of the unity of action of Republican Spain against Fascism. In reality, as their actions at the time plainly demonstrated, the anarchists’ leaders had no desire to seize sole power in Barcelona. Nor could the POUM, which clung to the ‘old-fashioned’ Marxism of Karl Marx and opposed the Blanquist tactics of the Stalinists, have so run counter to its principles as to attempt a coup d’état when in an obvious minority position. The true origin of the Barcelona street battle of May has been hinted at by Fred Copeman, former leading British Communist and member of the International Brigade. In his book Reason in Revolt (Blandford Press Ltd, 1948, p 119) he writes:

It was decided that Wally Tapsall should make an enquiry on behalf of the Brigade. On his return he reported what he had found, being fully aware of the serious political repercussions that were likely to spring from it. He was of the opinion that the Spanish Communist Party were not unconnected with the uprising, and that the POUM were being used as a blind.

It is not here possible to unravel the whole tangled background of the May uprising, a detailed and fully documented story of which, exposing the role played by the Stalinists, will be found in Felix Morrow’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain (Pioneer Publishers, New York, 1938). But it should be understood that throughout Spain a duality of power came into existence after the outbreak of the Civil War and that this duality of power found its sharpest expression in Catalonia. An analogy may be made with the situation in Russia when the Kerensky Government faced the threat of Kornilov’s attack on Petersburg (Leningrad). United against Kornilov, the workers were yet urged by the Bolsheviks to establish and make secure the basis of their own independent power. In a like manner the workers in Catalonia, united against Franco, were also involved in a political struggle, veiled for the most part but nevertheless existing, to secure their hegemony, to conduct the war as a revolutionary social war on behalf of the working masses and not for the aims of a bourgeois democracy, such as had been achieved in England and France by the revolutions of 1642 and 1789. Confused as the POUM and Anarchist leadership of the revolutionary wing of the workers’ movement was, and inadequate to cope with the situation as it proved to be, it nonetheless expressed the broad, elemental drive of its rank-and-file towards a new social order. The Spanish Communists, on the contrary, supported the ‘Kerensky’ trend, in obedience to the will of Stalin, whose Popular Front tactic was then in full swing, and who at that time did not wish to appear as the ‘exporter’ of revolution. Aided by the Stalinists, the republican-democratic elements in Spain engaged in an unceasing battle to whittle down the conquests of the revolutionary wing and to restore ‘normality’. Workers’ militia and workers’ police which were organised by and were directly responsible to the revolutionary parties had to be eliminated; workers’ control over production had to be abolished. Key point of this conflict in Barcelona was the Central Telephone Exchange, in the hands of the anarchists and the POUM, and it was the struggle to control this that gave rise to the bloody events of May 1937.

On 3 May three lorry-loads of Assault Guards arrived at the Telephone Exchange. They were under the personal command of the Commissioner of Public Order, Salas, a member of the PSUC. That was the spark that exploded the powder. The subsequent fighting demonstrated that anarchist-controlled forces were powerful enough, had their leaders so desired, to take over the government. They did not do so. The workers who had resisted the attempt to smash workers’ control of the vital Telephone Exchange were called upon by the anarchists’ leaders to withdraw; they were disarmed; the barricades set up in the streets were torn down.

It would perhaps be too much to say that the May ‘uprising’ was engineered by the Stalinists solely with the purpose of crushing the POUM and discrediting the anarchists. The event arose inevitably out of the circumstances of dual power and wider struggle for dominance, a struggle waged more efficiently, skilfully and, above all, ruthlessly by the Stalinists-cum-Republicans than by their opponents. But there can be no doubt at all that the Stalinists provoked this particular incident and then used every possible trick to throw the responsibility on to their opponents and make it appear as a ‘stab in the back’ of Loyalist Spain. If they could succeed in removing the anarchists and the POUM from the political scene they had no doubt of their ability to gain the ascendancy over the moderate Republican elements with whom they were then running in harness. Under the pretence of fighting for a democratic republic they would firmly establish in Europe an outpost of Stalin’s totalitarian empire.

The Stalinists concentrated their major fire against the POUM. José Díaz, leader of the Spanish Communists, declared at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party in May 1937: ‘The POUM must be eliminated from the political life of the country.’ An article by the Stalinist deputy, Miguel Valdés, published in the Lérida newspaper, UHP, expressed the policy in plainer terms: It is necessary’, he wrote, ‘to exterminate Nin and his little group of friends.’

On 28 October 1936, the first Russian tanks appeared on the Loyalist front. On 8 November the International Brigade, organised and recruited by the Stalinists but at first containing men not entirely subservient to them, made its appearance in beleaguered Madrid. Russian tanks, Russian aeroplanes, Russian arms and Russian ammunition – there were the material foundations upon which Stalin’s influence was based, upon which his temporary dictatorship in Loyalist Spain rested. Little as the military aid proved in the final analysis to have been and poor as the quality of some of the material was, it was yet something, and in comparison with the aid coming from the democratic countries of the West it was magnificent largesse.

Small wonder that the GPU had its way and found no one resolutely to oppose it in the upper councils of the Loyalist Government.

So in June 1937, the Soviet agents in Spain felt themselves sufficiently entrenched to begin putting into execution the threats made against the POUM. Its leaders were arrested and charged, of course, with espionage on behalf of Franco. Today the world has become used to charges of this nature made by Stalin against his opponents and trials based on them have become a commonplace in the Eastern European countries under his domination. But it was in Spain in the year 1937 that the first dress-rehearsal of this tactic was carried out on non-Soviet soil.

Shortly after the arrest of the POUM leaders, Andreas Nin was reported missing. It transpired that in fact Nin had not been officially arrested.

The news of the charges made against the POUM and the disappearance of Nin led to a movement of protest throughout the international working-class movement. In mid-August the late James Maxton, leader of the British Independent Labour Party, went to Spain on a tour of investigation. As a result of his enquiries he stated in a duly notarised report:

M Irujo, Minister of Justice, M Zugazagoitia, Minister of the Interior, M Prieto, Minister of War, have all insisted on the fact that the Spanish Government was not responsible for the disappearance of Nin. M Irujo asserted: ‘Nin has never been in a government prison... Nin has never been in a state prison. He disappeared in a private house which was not a prison.’ It was, said M Irujo, a villa surrounded by a garden situated in the town of Alcalá de Henares, an empty hotel used specially for Nin... M Irujo declared that there were no proofs of espionage against any of the members of the Executive of POUM, and that the famous document ‘N’ was worthless. [2]

Stalin’s ‘Moscow Trial’ in Barcelona did not work out quite so smoothly as those organised in Russia itself. In the first place, the political opinions and activities of the accused were too well known outside as well as inside Spain. In the second place, the conditions for the process of moral and physical torture necessary to the manufacture of confessions did not exist in Spain. In these circumstances it was found necessary to put off the trial from one month to another. But the Stalinist influence was steadily growing. Prieto was at last dropped by Negrín, [3] head of the Loyalist Government, who was well under the thumb of the Stalinists.

It has been suggested that the removal of Prieto was the high-water mark of Stalinist influence in Spain. At any rate it was not until after a combination of political pressure at the top, and strong-arm tactics together with a campaign of slander and innuendo from below had succeeded in eliminating Prieto from the scene that the trial of the POUM leaders was at last begun on 11 October 1938, that is, eleven months after their arrest and imprisonment.

During all this time a widespread agitation had been conducted on their behalf throughout the working-class movement abroad. The day after the trial opened Vincent Tewson, Secretary of the British Trade Union Council, interviewed the Spanish Ambassador and expressed, on behalf of his organisation, his disquiet at the whole affair and the conviction that the accused were entirely innocent of the charges brought against them. Fenner Brockway, then General Secretary of the ILP, declared that:

As a result of my interviews and conversations I gained the conviction that the responsible Spanish authorities consider that the persecution and oppression exercised against the POUM spring from political motives and that nothing justifies the accusations of a criminal character or of treason which have been made against them by a certain political section.

This was the general opinion of all those in the workers’ movement not completely blinded to justice and reason by faith in Stalin’s infallibility.

But although in Spain individual government spokesmen expressed their personal opinions about the trial in the sense indicated by Brockway, a forthright public condemnation of it, a vigorous campaign against it and against its known instigators, was not in accord with the policy of friendship with the Soviet Union dictated by the exigencies of the Civil War.

During the trial the Stalinists tried hard to ensure that the atmosphere in which it was held should approximate as closely as possible to that in which the Moscow Trials had taken place. Writing from prison, one of the accused, Julián Gorkin, charged that:

We have just been informed that the trial has been authorised upon the insistence of Azaña. The matter was discussed in the Council of Ministers and it seems that the Stalinist Minister demanded an outright condemnation. Finally he consented to the holding of the trial with the condition that it should be conducted without any fuss. And now you should see their press. Each day they flood the streets of Barcelona with handbills and publish despicable slogans and boxes in their press. The Acting Attorney-General is, without the shadow of a doubt, their faithful instrument. Behind him towers the powerful shadow of the GPU.

Petitions were circulated demanding the death penalty and it was even alleged that in certain Army divisions Stalinist officers obliged men to sign these as a matter of discipline. If this was so, it was no more than might be expected of those who in all other respects did their best to imitate the Soviet model. Altogether, no effort was spared in Barcelona in 1938 to inflame public opinion against the accused both before and during the trial. But in spite of all this massive pressure the result can hardly be acclaimed by the Stalinists as a success. The ‘evidence’ of espionage in the service of Franco was believed by no one. The court was compelled to admit that the accused had all ‘a well-known and firmly established anti-Fascist record’. The power of the GPU was strong enough however to make such an obvious frame-up possible and to secure prison sentences for five out of seven of the accused. Julián Gorkin, Juan Andrade, Enrique Androher Pascual and Pedro Bonet Guito were each sentenced to fifteen years; Jorge Arguer Salto received eleven years; Daniel Rebull and José Escudor were acquitted. The sentenced men were found guilty, under Article 238, No 4, of the Common Penal Code, of attempting to implant ‘in Catalonia and the rest of Loyalist Spain a political and economic social order different from the present one’, and attempting to ‘wrest the nation, or part of it, from the authority of the Government’.

This quotation from the court’s findings shows that the Stalinists failed in their major aim of having the POUM branded as a Franco fifth column. On the contrary the court was compelled to recognise that the accused were Franco’s mortal enemies. This fact was, and remains, extremely unpalatable for the Stalinists. They reacted to it in their characteristic manner. They not only ignored this finding of the court, deliberately omitting whole passages in their newspaper ‘reports’ of the trial, but, in an effort to maintain the slander they had started, they continued to lie in the brazen manner of men for whom the lie is the most important weapon in the ideological armoury. To this day they have not ceased to propagate this lie. The unabashed open supporter of the GPU and the undercover fellow-traveller continue, each working in his own particular sphere of operations, to perform the duties in which they excel – the slinging of mud at anyone who dares to oppose the beloved Leader.

It must be emphasised that this blackening of political opponents by the use of the lie direct or indirect is inseparable from the Stalinist method. Covered by the propaganda smokescreen poured out by the Communist Party, the GPU disposes of its victims. The list of those done to death by the GPU or its aides in Spain is long. At the head of this list stands the name of Andreas Nin.

Nin, as has been noted, was never arrested by the Republican Government, was never an inmate of one of its jails after the May event. He was traced to the villa or hotel in Alcalá de Henares, one of the many unofficial prisons maintained by the GPU in Spain, and then all trace of him was lost – until one morning his body was picked up from the gutter of a street in Madrid. Andreas Nin would never again raise his voice in protest against the judicial murders of the Moscow Trials; would never again agitate and organise against the Stalinists’ aim of dictating to the Spanish workers’ movement. Who had an interest in stopping his mouth? In the language of the law – cui bono? Who had openly called for his extermination? There can be but one answer to these questions. The error of allowing him to leave the Soviet Union alive in 1930 had been made good. The GPU, aided by the Spanish Stalinists, had assassinated him.

If there is any doubt that Nin was a victim of the GPU, consider these others who also disappeared without trace or were assassinated in Spain. Kurt Landau, Austrian refugee from Nazism, former editor of Der Funke – kidnapped and killed. José Robles, Professor of Spanish Literature at the Johns Hopkins University in the United States, vanished without trace. He was on holiday in Spain when the Civil War began. He offered his services as an interpreter to General Goriev, Soviet Officer-in-Command in Madrid. In the spring of 1937 the rumour was circulated in Valencia (one does not have to guess by whom) that he had been shot as a spy. But all that is definitely known is that he one day vanished and has never been seen since. Marc Rein, son of the exiled Menshevik Raphael Abramovich, whose name figures in the 1931 Moscow frame-up trial, also disappeared without trace. [4]

On learning of his son’s disappearance Abramovich rushed to Spain and spent a month of desperate and fruitless searching for him. But Marc Rein was never found. In his book Men and Politics (Jonathan Cape, London, 1947, p 407), Louis Fischer naively comments: ‘Nin, Rein and Robles were isolated and regretted instances of an evil wartime phenomenon that had been wiped out by the middle of 1937.’ On the contrary, these were by no means isolated instances but simply the more outstanding examples among many less well-known cases of kidnapping and murder. Nor did they cease by the middle of 1937. Nor, as this book shows, were they confined to Spain, the consequence of passions aroused by civil war. What we are investigating are not at all unpremeditated crimes committed in the heat of the moment, but actions deliberately and calculatedly carried out for political ends. Fischer himself relates (ibid, p 379) another instance – the disappearance of one of his own assistants. This man was a:

... Pole of about forty-five, named Wolf... One morning he disappeared. My suspicions induced me to ask Marty [5] and Marty replied fiercely that he knew nothing. But later I learned the facts. In the middle of the night, three Polish comrades entered Wolf’s room and instructed him to dress and come with them... He was arrested for ‘Trotskyism’. Marty had given the order. Four others were arrested that same night.

Secret arrests in the middle of the night, kidnappings and summary executions were a regular feature of Stalinist activities in Spain and only someone merely skimming the political surface could fail to understand this. The policy proclaimed by Pravda of exterminating political opponents was carried out in Spain under the direct orders of the GPU. The complete list of the victims of this policy will perhaps never be drawn up. The fate of these persons was, with the exception of certain of the more outstanding personalities, obscured by the wholesale carnage of the Civil War; the cries of protest uttered in short-lived little bulletins with a tiny circulation, such as Independent News, were drowned in the thunder of explosives. Many more names of those who were killed by the GPU could be given, but in order to round off the picture it is necessary to add only one or two more cases to those already cited.

Walter Schwarz, German political refugee, a member of the German KPO (Communist Party Opposition) since 1923 [6], joined the POUM and spent a year with its militia on the Aragon Front, where he became political commissar of the Twenty-Ninth (Lenin) Division. He was arrested in August 1937 and accused, on evidence as flimsy as that brought against the POUM leaders, of being Agent No 7 (sic) of the Gestapo.

On Thursday morning, 6 May 1937, the body of Camillo Berneri was found in a Barcelona gutter, where it had been flung by PSUC (that is, Stalinist) guards who had torn him from his home the night before. Berneri was a refugee from Mussolini’s regime, the recognised spiritual leader of Italian anarchism. He had described Stalin’s policy in Spain in four words: ‘It smells of Noske.’ [7]

Margaret Buber, wife of Heinrich Neumann, leading German Communist who was arrested in Moscow in 1937 and never heard of again, tells of another case – that of an Englishman, Hamilton Gold (Under Two Dictators, Gollancz, 1949, p 169):

In about 1935 this young man – he was about twenty-five then – had come to Russia with an Intourist party. He was an enthusiastic Communist and Russia was for him the land of promise. Whilst in Moscow he made the acquaintance of a Russian who suggested that he should stay in the Soviet Union and work at his job – he was a wireless mechanic. He agreed with alacrity. Then came the Spanish Civil War and the Russians sent him to Spain as a wireless technician. Towards the end of 1937... Hamilton Gold was in Barcelona. Whilst there he was invited to go on board a Russian ship in the harbour to examine a new type of wireless apparatus. He went on board and was prevented from leaving. He was taken off at Odessa as a prisoner.

Hamilton Gold received a sentence of ten years’ imprisonment for ‘espionage’. His real crime was that while in Spain he had during the course of his work learned too many secrets. [8]

But for the fact that Margaret Buber managed to survive the terrors of the Nazi concentration camp to which she was handed over by the Soviet Government in 1940, the fate of Hamilton Gold would never have been revealed to the outside world. Who can say how many more similar tragedies have occurred? He is one of many from all parts of the globe who became entangled in the net. Too late he learned the extremes to which the Soviet would be driven by an almost pathological suspicion of all those, even the most subservient, the most supple-spined enthusiast of the Faith, who came over from the ‘enemy camp’. If the very fact of normal friendly contact with a foreigner laid the Russian subject open to a charge of treason, how much the more perilous was the situation of a passportless, friendless, obscure and uninfluential foreigner in that land! [9]

Russell Blackwell, an American with a long and honourable record in the labour movement, was another who attracted the attentions of the GPU. Released from their hands by the Loyalist Government through the intervention of the United States Department of State on 1 August 1938, he was seen safely on board a ship bound for home. Once aboard, however, he was again arrested by the ‘secret police’, that is, the GPU. It has not been possible to trace him further and it may be that he was one of the lucky ones who eventually managed to get clear. But Bob Smillie, member of the British Independent Labour Party, who went to fight with the POUM militia, was not one of the fortunate. He was arrested at the French frontier when on his way back to England. His papers were in order but he was nonetheless flung into jail. He died in Valencia Prison. The cause of his death was officially given out as acute appendicitis, but even if this was the immediate cause of that robust young man’s death, is it unreasonable to suggest that the conditions of his imprisonment were the real basic cause? In view of the oft-repeated, openly proclaimed intentions of the Stalinists to ‘exterminate Nin and his little band of friends’ – among whom was Smillie – is it too far-fetched to assert that, if he had indeed suffered from appendicitis, they would have denied him proper medical attention? If Bob Smillie’s death had been just a single isolated case, we should be the first to admit that it might have been due to bad administration of the prison, reprehensible but not necessarily criminal, that is, deliberate. But put this case into the setting of all those other political assassinations, summary executions under a thin disguise of legality, kidnappings in which the victims were never again found alive or dead, and it must be granted that it fits into the general pattern of GPU activity.

Into this pattern fits also the case of Erwin Wolf, young Czechoslovak refugee and at one time secretary to Trotsky, and that of Hans Freund (known as Moulin), another member of the Trotsky organisation. Both of these men were kidnapped by the GPU in Spain and never seen again.

Thus was the ‘cleaning up’ process carried out in Spain ‘with the same degree of energy as in the USSR’. [10]

It would be extremely naive to regard the assassinations carried out by the GPU in Spain as an ‘abnormality’, a purely wartime phenomenon possible only in the peculiar conditions existing at that time. Civil war admittedly has the effect of cheapening the value of human life, but the history of the ‘purges’ in Russia leaves no room for illusions – in no circumstances has individual human life any sacredness in the eyes of the men in the Kremlin (except, of course, their own). The palpable and partially successful attempt to frame up the POUM leaders and to achieve their ‘legal’ murder demonstrates the existence of a calculated plan of campaign. This plan was supplemented by the murder of Nin and of others. Failure to achieve the full objective does not alter the fact that the Barcelona trial was an attempt to reproduce the procedure of the Moscow Trials. It was indeed the first dress-rehearsal on foreign soil of the political demonstration trial later to be more successfully staged in Hungary and Bulgaria. Through Pravda, official organ of the Russian Communist Party, that is, the Soviet Government, that is, the police-terror apparatus of the GPU, that is – Stalin, this objective of the extermination of all ‘Trotskyist and anarcho-syndicalist elements’ was publicly proclaimed and systematically pursued. The circumstances of civil war unquestionably favoured the GPU work, but, as has been seen, this work also went on in the peaceful atmosphere of Switzerland. The only difference was of degree and not of essence. One would have to be blind indeed to see no connection between these activities in Spain and the fate of Koutiepov [Kutepov] and Miller, of Navachine [Navashin] and Klement, of Sedov and Reiss.

A further link in this chain is provided by the strange death of Walter Krivitsky, otherwise Samuel Ginsberg, holder of the Order of the Red Flag, one-time chief of the Western European Section of the Soviet Military Intelligence.


1. The PSUC (Partido Socialista Unificado de Cataluña) was formed by the merger of the Catalan Socialist Party with the Communist Party, along the lines of the technique now made familiar by events in Russian-occupied Germany and Eastern Europe.

2. The document ‘N’ constituted the major, if not the only ‘evidence’ against the accused. It consisted of a scaled plan of Madrid and photographs of airfields, etc, found in possession of a French spy who at first declared that he had relations with the POUM and then later in court retracted this confession, alleging that it had been extracted from him by police ‘pressure’. The whole circumstances surrounding this document, which, moreover, the Minister of Defence declared was of absolutely no value from a military viewpoint, were so shady that at the trial of the POUM leaders the charges of espionage were dropped, in spite of the fact that this charge constituted the main body of the indictment.

3. Note his words on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution (published in The Communist International, no 10-11-12, 1937, p 1231) under the title ‘Greetings from the CC of the Communist Party of Spain’: ‘With exceptional perspicacity, Stalin has directed the life of the people along the road upon which it has achieved the historic stage when the ideal had been transformed into life... The Soviet Union has demonstrated to Europe its role as a civilised people, which is the disinterested friend of peace and maintains respect for other peoples.’

4. Raphael Abramovich was alleged to have gone to the Soviet Union in 1928 in order to contact members of the so-called ‘All-Union Bureau’ and urge upon them the acceptance of a policy of intervention in Russia by the imperialist powers. At the time he was alleged by the prosecution to have been in Russia he was photographed outside the Maison du Peuple in Brussels, in company with other delegates to the International Socialist Congress in August 1928 (see The Moscow Trial and the Labour and Socialist International, The Labour Party, London, nd).

5. Leading French Stalinist active in Spain on behalf of the GPU during the Civil War. He appears in Earnest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (pp 408, et seq).

6. A slip on the author’s part; the KPO was formed in December 1928 – MIA.

7. German ‘Majority’ Socialist leader; an organiser of the notorious ‘Freikorps’, military arm of the German counter-revolution in 1919 (see M Philips Price, Germany in Transition, The Labour Publishing Co Ltd, 1923).

8. There is also the case of Walter Held, Trotskyist, refugee from Hitler, who was living in Sweden when the Nazi-Soviet war broke out. Held and his wife, fearing that the Nazis would invade Sweden, decided to try and get to the United States. The only way open to them was across Russia. They obtained the necessary visas and started off on their journey. Somewhere in Russia they were both taken off the train. Lucien Blit, Polish socialist who escaped from Russian imprisonment, informed the author that one day a man carrying two suitcases was thrust into the cell occupied by his Polish comrade, Ehrlich. This man was Walter Held. His wife had been taken off by the police to another prison. Neither of them has been heard of since.

9. Consider the fate of Carola Neher, famous German actress, widow of the poet Klabund; of Zensl Mühsam, widow of the libertarian poet Erich Mühsam, who was done to death in a Nazi concentration camp; of Käthe Schmidt, Grete Sonntag, Wally Adler; of the internationally known Herman Remmele and Heinz Neumann. All these people were more or less prominent in the German Communist movement, some of them famous names in the world labour movement; all of them took refuge in the Soviet Union when Nazism swept Germany; all of them were sentenced as ‘Trotskyists’ to long terms of imprisonment, which it is highly unlikely they will have survived. It was at one time reported that Carola Neher had been shot. The Soviet authorities have never either confirmed or denied this report; her fate and the fate of others is surrounded by the silence of the tomb. What hope then for the unknown and altogether friendless exile!

10. It was also of course necessary, in order that no stray ends should be left lying around, that the Soviet representatives in Spain (those, that is, who revealed themselves as such to the public) should also be kept quiet. ‘The public figures of this period, the Ambassador Rosenberg, his second-in-command and successor Geikis, Michael Koltsov, nominally correspondent of Pravda, Generals Kleber and Goriev disappeared...’ (Max Beloff, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, Volume 2, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1949, p 31) Rosenberg was recalled in February 1937. It was reported that he had been appointed to Tiflis, but he never turned up there. Koltsov will be remembered in connection with the Miller affair in France.