Joseph Hansen

Former Stalinist Official Reveals
How GPU Cooked Up “Evidence”

(6 July 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 27, 6 July 1947, p. 7.
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(Seventh in a series on the Moscow Trials and their significance)

When the curtain dropped on trials organized by Stalin in the USSR, some of the defendants were sentenced to concentration camps or prisons. They disappeared. But most off the victims were paid off very quickly for their services in slandering Trotsky and “confessing” Stalin’s greatness.

A bullet was sent crashing through their brains and the mouths that might have revealed the truth were covered with earth. Only the court record remained as indelible evidence of Stalin’s monstrous frame-ups.

Occasionally a muffled voice behind bars managed to spread an inkling of what had happened in the GPU torture chambers. But such voices, naturally, were very rare.

Consequently, the recent revelations of Victor Kravchenko are of exceptional interest. This former official, who rose to the top circles in the Stalinist regime before choosing voluntary exile, uncovered facts about a frame-up case that was little publicized by Moscow – the trial at Kemerovo in Novosibirsk November 19–22, 1936.

The Kemerovo case followed on the heels of the shocking Zinoviev-Kamenev trial. It constituted preparation for a bigger and better-organized frame-up to make up for the collapse of the Zinoviev-Kamenev show.

Absurd Charges

The names of part of the cast scheduled to appear in the second great Moscow Trial were made public at Kemerovo. Pyatakov was mentioned. Drobnis was a “witness.” Norkin was involved. All nine of the defendants at Kemerovo were pictured as instruments of Pyatakov, one of the heads of the Commissariat of Heavy Industry. “It is my explanation,” said Leon Trotsky, “but it is based on the situation, that the Novosibirsk trial was organized especially for Pyatakov, as the trial of July 1935 for Kamenev.”

The “crimes” for which six of these nine paid with their lives were “wrecking” activities. For instance, they were said! to have plotted “to damage the ventilation system, fill the pits with gas and cause explosions” in the Tsentralnaya Mine. The purpose of the explosives, said the Stalinist prosecutor, was to “arouse the resentment of the workers against the Soviet government.”

The absurdity of this accusation was revealed at the time of the trial by a group of French miners who happened to be touring the country under Stalinist guidance as friends of the Soviet Union. Kleber Legay, associate secretary of the National Federation of Miners in France, wrote an indignant protest upon the return home of the delegation:

“As a miner, and knowing perfectly the difficulty of mining, and having worked more than 30 years, during 12 of them as a delegate for the security of the workers in one of the most gaseous mines in France, I defy any technician, no matter how competent, systematically to put a mine in an explosive state without the inspectors, even if they were complete idiots, perceiving it within the hour.”

However, since Kemerovo is in distant Siberia and the record of the trial was never made public by the GPU except for brief extracts published in Pravda, this preparatory frame-up remained obscure until the publication a few months ago of Kravchenko’s book, I Chose Freedom. Kravchenko happened to live in Kemerovo as a plant administrator. He writes:

“The city had figured sensationally in the Moscow trials. Its chemical works and coal ines had been pictured as among the main targets of sabotage activity; and it was in Kemerovo that a ‘secret printing press’ was supposed to have been installed and used by the Opposition leaders.

“The chief ‘conspirator’ in this city,” continues Kravchenko, “had allegedly been Comrade Norkin, who was one of the defendants in the Pyatakov trial and duly executed a few hours after the trial. He worked in Kemerovo as representative of the Commissariat of Heavy Industry. For my sins I had to sit now in the very office from which Norkin, if his senseless confession were to be believed, had directed his crimes. I was in daily contact with some of the men who had worked with him and several who had testified against him.”

“As my acquaintance with these people flourished,” reports Kravchenko, “it was inevitable that Norkin’s name should come up now and then in conversation. Invariably they would be overcome with embarrassment and, it seemed to me, also deep shame. They scarcely needed to tell me – though at least one did – that they had lied under NKVD (GPU) pressure to save their own skins. Several times a gnawing conscience got the better of their discretion.”

A prominent Stalinist of Kemerovo told Kravchenko:

“If those engineers had. really wished to make trouble they could have blown the whole combinat sky-high. Why would they have limited themselves so considerately to minor damage and petty tie-ups of production? Why would they poison workers? Confessions. Fairy tales for foreign idiots!”

Another time an official at the “local headquarters of the coal trust” one day “went to a filing cabinet and drew out a manila folder, which he handed to me without a word.” Kravchenko “opened the folder and began to read at random carbon copies of reports to the Coal Administration in Moscow.”

These reports, Kravchenko reveals, were “made long before the explosions and other accidents subsequently called sabotage had taken place. In urgent and sometimes desperate language they warned that to avoid loss, of life and property, protective measures ought, to be taken without delay. The significance of these warnings was clear enough. Saboteurs would hardly have pleaded so vigorously for action to head off their own calculated crimes.

To this it should be added that Trotsky, the principal target of Stalin in the Moscow frame-ups, had likewise warned repeatedly from his exile of the inevitable disasters in store under the mismanagement of the Stalinist regime.

Kravchenko considers other charges levelled at the unfortunate defendants:

“Norkin’s confession about the underground printing set-up had been confirmed at trials in Kemerovo and Novosibirsk by other prisoners and supported by photographs of the press and copies of the anti-Soviet leaflets. It was one of the few confessions seemingly bolstered by documentary evidence. I was intrigued by the story and never missed a chance to get some light on it now that I was on the scene of the crime.”

Kravchenko now makes a most sensational exposure of the Stalinist frame-up machine:

“During nearly a year’s residence in Kemerovo I was able to piece together the facts, and they proved very unsavory indeed ... A secret typographical establishment did exist. Many times I was in the cellar where it stood; there were still signs of its presence. Leaflets attacking Stalin and calling for mutiny had in fact been printed. But the press had been installed, the leaflets had been composed and printed by the NKVD (GPU) itself. To make sure that no one would talk, the architects of the ugly hoax used only workers who would be physically unable to talk – prisoners awaiting execution, or sentenced to long terms of confinement. The job was done under cover of night.”

Kravchenko asked “one man who knew the facts” about the thousands of leaflets “supposed to have been distributed here.”

This was the devastating response:

“What nonsense! You know well enough that anyone caught with such a leaflet would have been arrested. Yet I don’t know of a single arrest on any such charge; neither does anyone else here. No one among the workers seems ever to have seen or even heard about the famous leaflets until the trial.”

Kravchenko’s testimony is of great importance, since he lived in Kemerovo and had an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the facts. His revelations cast a new glaring light on the frame-up in the Second Moscow Trial since one of the principal charges in that trial was the organization of “wrecking” activities at Kemerovo. We shall consider the Second Moscow Trial next week.


Last updated on: 18 June 2021