Peter Sedgwick

Agents and Frameups

(1 July 1965)

From Labour Worker, 1st July 1965.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The recent serialisation in the Sunday yellow press of some reminiscences by “Gordon Lonsdale,” the Soviet spy now resident in the USSR, is only the latest of a number of “exposure” stories about Russian espionage services that have been put out from the USSR, with official approval, since the fall of Khrushchev. True enough, the Lonsdale titbits have been for foreign consumption only. But the Soviet press has run a number of features on the exploits of the brilliant spy Richard Sorge, an anti-fascist agent masquerading as a Nazi devotee who worked his way into the confidence of high German and Japanese diplomatic circles. Sorge informed Moscow, well in advance of the exact dates of the German invasion of Russia and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour; his circle was eventually detected by Japanese counter-intelligence and he and several collaborators were executed in Tokyo. On November 5th last year it was announced that he had been posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, and on January 20th last, several of his entourage (two of them still alive in Eastern Germany) were respectively decorated with the Order of the Red Banner, Order of the Red Star and Order of the Patriotic War (first class). More recently, in February, the life-story of the hero-spy “Etienne” has been publicised; “Etienne” worked in Soviet anti-Nazi intelligence before and during the war, suffering torture and death in the process.

The Other Etienne

This might remind us that there was another Soviet spy with the very same pseudonym, whose field of operations was a far less creditable one: “Etienne” was the cover-name within the international Trotskyist movement, of one Mark Zborowski, an agent of the NKVD (later self-confessed) who managed for several years to hold the most confidential position, next to Trotsky and his son, in the direction of the Fourth International. The coincidence provokes a thought: since the Soviet authorities are now willing to disclose a few “official secrets” about the past operation of their intelligence-services, would not they be able to demonstrate, even more convincingly, a break with the legacy of High Stalinism if they were to come clean about the role, in the distant and the recent past, of Russian-based agents-provocateurs in world labour and revolutionary movement? Gone, it seems, is the absurd pretence of Stalin’s and Khrushchev’s day that espionage was the prerogative only of capitalist and fascist agencies. It would be a pity if an even more improbable myth were to be generated, that the international NKVD worked on the slogan, “No enemies to the Left!” Until this particular heritage of Stalinism is openly liquidated, we shall have reason to suspect that it is still being carried on, doubtless with less fervour than in Beria’s time.


Moscow Trials

A similar stage of incomplete frankness appears to prevail in the official Soviet attitude to the Moscow Trials. Two of the executed defendants in the open Trials (A. Ikramov and N. Krestinsky) have now been declared innocent in the Soviet press, though without reference to their part in the frame-up of Trotsky. There has been little progress for some time now in the development of a consistent account of the Trials in CPSU publications: Krestinsky, whose “confession” was particularly crucial in the 1938 Trial, was rehabilitated in an article by the veteran diplomat Maisky in late 1963, and the declaration of Ikramov’s integrity only confirms an earlier hint to the same effect. A serious public re-examination of the charges against Trotsky, Bukharin and the other Old Bolsheviks would no doubt call down retribution from the Chinese, who would rejoice in this fresh evidence of Russian conciliation towards “traitors.” But the present unsatisfactory official line (or rather lack of one) puts CP members abroad into a quite impossible position. Only last year the British Stalinist R. Palme Dutt published a book (The International) in which he indicated that the Moscow Trials were still to be regarded as valid, even though the less Public Purges were suspect. The CP should be given no peace by the rest of the Labour movement until it has set the record straight and publicly repudiated its old slanders. This, to judge from its past capabilities for Jesuitry and evasion, is likely to take some time.


Last updated on 25.11.2004