Victor Serge

Portraying the men and events of our times

The Diary of Victor Serge – II


From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 1, January–February 1950, pp. 51–7.
Thanks to Roland Ferguson.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Reiss, Krivitsky, Bastich, Others

Dec. 1937.

Have lived for a month in a stifling atmosphere of crime, full of mystery and revelations.

In July, Sneevliet informed me that a secret agent of Stalin, set up in Holland, from where he directs his operations, had decided to quit secret work. S. knew him from a long time back but has not run into him in years. “Ludwig” [Ignace Reiss] has been stunned by the execution of Kamenev and Zinoviev, by the atmosphere of terror which he has found at Moscow, by the decorations-the Order of Lenin-granted to the secret service men who have participated in the execution of Old Bolsheviks. Ludwig has warned us that a decision to use terror against the opposition abroad-against us-has been taken. We decided to ask for a public statement from him, which will permit us to have confidence in him and will put him under the protection of public opinion. Sedov is also of that opinion.

1st of August. I gave a lecture to the Pou group of the Ecole Emancipée [1] in a meeting hall near the Bastille. I broke the menacing news contained in the “Ludwig warning.” (Published an article under that title.)

August. Sneevliet has arranged a meeting with “Ludwig.” L. sent us his statement, which is forceful and vehement. The Committee of Inquiry on the. Moscow Trial is publishing it. S. had arranged a meeting with L., who is in hiding, at which we three will be present: S., Sedov and myself. Sedov postponed the meeting.

1st Sept. S. met me at the Rotonde, Boul. Montparnasse. He came from Amsterdam to meet L. No more time can be lost. L. is hiding in Switzerland, very much in danger; we have to arrive at some decisions with him- first of all in order to attempt to guarantee his security. If Sedov could not or did not wish to come we decided to leave without him for Rheims on the 5th. Sedov informed us he was sick. On the 5th we leave for Rheims. Appointment with L. in the station lunchroom at ten o’clock. Place a poor choice. The lunchroom was small, deserted, badly lit, several doors and obscure exits could be used in an assault against us.

We waited for an Hour in vain. We wandered through the town. “It’s strange.” said S., “Ludwig is a model of promptness ...” We drank some champagne in a bar. A young blonde woman came in with her escort. S. talked to me about the young people of his party killed in Spain, of the successive suicides, of his two sons. The one who recently committed suicide reproached him for not showing an active enough solidarity with the anti-Nazi refugees whom the Dutch government is interning or turning back. “But I don’t have the means!” said S. desperately. We talked about the mistakes of L.T., who is striving to create the Fourth Inter, without national sections worthy of the name. We concluded that neither the idea of a party nor the idea of an International should be played with.

A second appointment with L. at the post office at ten o’clock in the morning. We didn’t have the feeling of being followed. The town is provincial; at night the streets are deserted.

On the 6th, nobody at the post office. Uneasiness. We went to see the bombarded cathedral, which seems to have been licked by immense flames. At noon while waiting for our train at the station I bought a paper and noticed a paragraph saying that two days before a man named Eberhardt, a Czech, had been found riddled with bullets on the Chamblandes road near Lausanne, and that he had carried a railroad ticket for France in his pocket. There was no doubt. S. left for Switzerland, I returned to Paris, I informed the Committee of Inquiry, gathered together in a cafe, Place de L’Odéon. On the 13th we drew up a press release, explicit and giving the identity of Ignace Reiss. General silence in the press. Bergery of La Flèche promised to publish it and did. The silence is broken.

The 15th of Sept., in a little hotel near the Gare de l’Est, S. and Elsa Reiss, her child (around ten years old). Elsa, her lips constantly trembling, her eyes filled with tears – gray-blue eyes, an oval face, rather full. By luck she escaped poisoned chocolates brought by G.S. The police consider her in danger and, while we are untangling the threads of the crime, it has been recommended to S. by telephone that E.R.’s hotel be changed, taking maximum precautions. A Polish comrade, sent by Sedov, is coming.

Elsa said that a secret agent went to see me in Brussels – something was in the wind. He spoke of me with a sort of enthusiasm to Reiss and Krivitsky, who both knew me personally. The agent: Bastich.

Two or three days after my arrival in Brussels – from Moscow – therefore around April 20th, I was with Boris Pokitonov in a cafe on the Boulevard Anspach. We were on the enclosed terrace; I noticed a well-dressed gentleman with intensely dark eyes who sat down near us. I felt uncomfortable and mentioned it to Boris P. The gentleman came over and introduced himself: Bastich, whom I had known at Vienna in 23-25, militant of the Balkan Federation. Dr. Vlakoff its leader at the period of the assassination of Todor Ponitza. B. was then a revolutionary Bohemian, one of the survivors of the Serbian organization which had organized the assassination at Sarajevo; at the same period that I met him I met Mustapha, a member of the same group, but more influential, and Colonel Bojin Simich, friend of Dragutin Dmitrievich, who was shot at Salonika. There was also Kussovatz, a young Montertegrin. B. told. me he was living in Geneva, and that decided me not to keep the appointment which he asked me to make. If B. is living in Geneva, travels, is well-clothed, I said to myself, he is engaged in some shady political business which is best kept at a distance. I did right. The idea of the GPU did not occur to me ...

Beginning of Nov. Someone telephoned Gerard Rosenthal, asking for a meeting with us. Elsa thinks that it is Walter – a friend of Reiss, who shares his feelings, an old secret agent himself. “You surely know him,” she said. Meeting the 11th of Nov. at Gérards near the Gare St-Lazare. Gérard’s law office adjoins his father’s doctor’s office. Elsa S., Sedov, Gerard, myself. A little man in a gray overcoat, with a thin, sharp face, wrinkled, nervous, entered. I recognized Walter, from a lecture on Fr. lit, which I gave in ’27 (?) at Leopold Auerbach’s in the Kremlin at Moscow, I believe. He then came to see me at Leningrad with Brunn (Ilk) and a third person (Reiss)J All three were leaving on missions; we drank some good wine and jokingly founded the Society of Future Political Prisoners.

Brunn-Ilk had been a friend of mine in Austria – our vacations on the shore of the Worther See, at Maria-worth, at the foot of the Karawanken Mountains. He then directed the secret service in Yugoslavia – where he was imprisoned – in Hungary, in France. K. tells me that B.I. was one of his agents. Was decorated with the Order of Lenin. Sympathized with the Opposition, had the courage to come to see me at Leningrad after my expulsion from the party and my first imprisonment in ’28. On behalf of Trilisser, head of the secret service, he had offered me the post of councillor to Chiang Tso-lin in Manchuria. I refused, saying that I did not wish to belong to a state apparatus which would probably be called upon to play a deadly role in the repression (1925-26). Now Elsa enlightened me on his end. Charged with opening up discussions with nationalist officers in Germany, he assigned one of the most devoted Ger. Communists, Kippenberger, to remain close to General von Bredow; at Moscow, after the execution of Zinoviev, he was given the job of preparing the secret trial of Kippen.; he declared that he was innocent and refused to continue the preparations. Was sent on leave to a rest home in the Caucasus and was soon shot along with his wife. Stories like that are taking place one after the other.

The discussion with Krivitsky was stormy. He acknowledged that he had. been aware of the preparations for the assassination of Reiss and tried vainly to warn Reiss at the time of his visit to Paris. He couldn’t talk to him over the phone, but he kept calling the hotel and when Reiss would say hello he would hang up. R. was bound to understand. In a cafe at the Exposition he had been present at a meeting called by a special envoy from Moscow, where the execution had been decided upon. He avoided taking on any specific task. He claimed to have saved Elsa, whose disappearance he had been told to organize. He said to Sneevliet: “I have an agent in your party, but I don’t remember his name. He saw you in such and such a month, he came to your house, he has seen you at the office.” S. burst out: “You miserable bastard! You know all their names. I for one don’t believe in poor memories! What’s his name?” K. shook his head slowly: “I don’t know; there are too many names.” He said also: “There are so many agents surrounding you that I find it extraordinary being in safety among you.” His face is gray, shriveled, calm, his profile reminds me of a fish. We decided to aid him; to try to legalize his presence in France. He does not want to make a public statement.

“I am not going over to the Opposition; I consider its politics utopian. The USSR, despite all its crimes, remains the great force for progress. I will not betray it in any way. I do not want to, participate in crimes any more, that’s all. I won’t give any information to the French authorities. I do not go back to M., knowing that I would be shot. It was right at the station that I took the decision not to go back, and it was one hour afterwards that I telephoned you.”


February 20, 1938: In 35 (I believe) Agabekov published a book which is a very extraordinary document of betrayal and informing. A top functionary of the secret service of the NKVD in the Near East, he denounced all his agents and stoolpigeons in Persia, Greece, Egypt, Turkey. Professors, deputies, churchmen, postmen ...

N.P. V...r knew him and drew a detailed portrait of him.

Rather ugly, of an oriental type -Turk- A. showed up one day at the Poslednye Novosti [2] with a statement breaking with the USSR, which was published. Feared being shot down on any street corner. The next day when he arrived for his appointment at five o’clock at the editorial offices, two French detectives were waiting to take him to the police station for questioning. He turned pale, begged that someone go with him. Well received by Monsieur Pasquier, he picked up his confidence. He noticed that the curtains in the office reminded him of those in the office of Trilliser at Moscow, Questioned, he replied quite willingly, saying things which were startling. A French attaché at Istanbul was his agent. All the Egyptian diplomatic correspondence was read by his subordinates, etc. He was promised that things would be straightened out, but meanwhile he was temporarily taken to the Belgian frontier. He made the trip in profound anxiety. This expulsion was made on the demand of F.P.B., doubtlessly an old secret agent from the time of the Kutyepov [3] affair. (I no longer know who F.P.B. is.)

His reasons: he fell in love with a little English woman who was giving him English lessons at Istanbul. He confessed his profession to her and promised to renounce it. She accompanied him to Paris. They got married at Brussels.

A remark: “I bought men just as you buy rugs.”

At the Square Arts-et-Métiers he suddenly asked a Russian newspaperman who was accompanying him:

“How do you manage to live on a volcano without noticing it?”

Reply: “It will go on quite a while yet, you’ll see.”

Was said to have sympathized with the Opposition in ’23 when Zinoviev came to speak against Trotskyism to the personnel of the political police. A minority of 40 per cent remained firm “but basically we all were sympathetic.”

As chief of the secret service for the Near East, was living at Istanbul as an established Iranian businessman; with a considerable bank account. In leaving, kept only 1,000 pounds sterling, which he considered as being due him. At Constanza there was an attempt to kidnap him, a man was killed, he had the GPU agents arrested.

In Rumania, exploited the Siguranza [political police] by exposing secret services which he organized himself. Having made contact at Brussels with Russian émigrés of the “Eurasian” group who were willing to offer their services, hired them for the USSR through a certain Dumbadze. Sent one into Rumania with detailed instructions. At the same time notified the Siguranza of the arrival of a secret agent. Informed Prague of the agent’s trip through. Turned over copies of the reports he received. The “agent” escaped but A. had made around 100,000 lei. The old Burtsev figured out all this intrigue and got indignant: “That adventurer has manufactured an entire false GPU!” A. said cynically: “Why worry about the Siguranza?”

Lives like a bourgeois in Brussels, adores his wife, plays the stock market.


July, 1938. When the trial of the POUM was announced, went to the offices of Populaire: Magdaleine Paz, Angelo Tasca (Rossi). Lively discussion: they neither wished, nor were they able, to do anything. M.P. shows good will, is indignant, but feels powerless. The editorial board is not informed, is hostile to the extreme left, some influential members of the staff do not wish to enter a struggle against the Communists, even indirectly.

Rossi, excited and discouraged, attacked me:

“We have staked too much on moral force. You can lie, kill, multiply deceits and, as against us, appear correct before the working class. Look at that old bastard Cachin [4]: how many shameful actions, and how he is acclaimed! Their party is stronger than ours after years of rotten actions.”

I: “Everything will turn out all right some day.”

(How do I know?)

Rossi: “Yes, and it is perhaps you and I who will pay the costs of straightening out the accounts.”

In short: What does one crime more or less in Spain matter? Exhaustion. Don’t bother people from whom there is little to be gained. In the case of R., profound discouragement resulting from his experience with the Comintern.

M.P. is going to gather the signatures of writers. An attempt will be made just the same to get a short paragraph in Populaire.

It is a question of the existence of a group of comrades.

Anton Ciliga

July 19, 1938. Saw Ciliga again, after having thought him lost: the foolhardiness of going to Yugoslavia. He got back from Belgrade, saved by his Italian passport and his reputation as a writer. Big, awkward, pale, glasses, brown hair, the air of a perpetual student who is beginning to get old.

Portrait of Yugoslavia: under control of the fascists, Italian and Ger. Slavophile elements, even the reactionary ones, are Francophile and pro-Soviet. The Communists, influential and persecuted, have organized demonstrations for Yvon Delbos.

Arrested, A.C. asked to be put in touch with a lawyer. The warden of the Belgrade prison told him: “You’re lucky we haven’t broken your back. No lawyers for Communists here.”

False confessions were demanded of him on the “Moscow conspiracy.”

Yugoslav Communists whom we knew in Russia and who were imprisoned in Yugoslavia, have revealed the whole activity of the party and the Comintern. Everything is known. (Probably broken by torture.)

Incident witnessed: in a corridor, a man who had gone through a beating was soaking his swollen feet in a pail of water. Policemen were helping him stand up.

The warden of the prison threatened to smash A.C.’s ribs and break his back with a club. You die quickly from it after being moderately sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. “I gatov chelovyechik!” (And the good fellow is taken care of!)

Attitude of A.C.:

“I’m a political man, not a stoolpigeon.”

“If you kill me it will create a scandal. Moreover, I am Italian.

“I won’t say anything, even though you hold me for sixty years instead of sixty days.”

“If you try me I will say that you tried to extract false confessions from me.” Freed.

He is preoccupied with theoretical problems, is oriented toward an original form of libertarian syndicalism.

The Klement Affair, Krivitsky

July 20, 1938. Rudolf Klement (Adolphe) kidnapped from his home. Gerard R. has written me: “His meal was ready on the table, nothing had been touched ...”

Meeting at the Café Madrid, Boul. Montmartre, with Walter (Krivitsky). He is nervous, gray, wrinkled, suspicious, stares at people uneasily, feels hunted, takes fright at everything. I questioned him on the Klement affair. He knows nothing. “The GPU certainly, but I can’t figure it out at all.”

W.K.: “Are you convinced that Klement was not himself always a member of ‘our service’? Since Trotsky is rushing to form an organization for which history offers no base whatsoever it is in reality ‘we’ who must form it ...”

He spoke of the secret service as if he still belonged to it: “we.”

I replied that I knew Kl. sufficiently well at Brussels to be reasonably convinced of his honesty. Sectarian and devoted.

W.K. (satirically): “Reasonably! You are naïve. If he was really influential had to be an agent – or the work was badly done.”

“All right, I think that the, work was badly done.”

He relaxed, told me he is being looked for. “In the end, they will find me.” Complains of the nervousness of his wife. Then:

“Ah, if I had been listened to in ’23! We now would have Göring and we would be masters of Germany. We got together – the secret agents in Ger. – after the defeat of the insurrection. Nobody believed in the future of the little Nazi Party: schematic Marxism. I said: Everything is possible; in any case one of the leaders of this party must be ours. I proposed to place a man we could count on in it, a former officer, decorated and everything, a striking man – he would quickly have become one of the top-flight Nazi leaders ... He was given another role.”

“But aren’t there others in the Nazi Party?”

W.K.: “Obviously, but not on the top level ... Göring is, just the same, not with us. My man would have occupied Göring’s place; he was much stronger.”

Demoralized, egocentric, overwhelmed by little professional deformations, frightfully sad, W.W. believes only in the omnipotence of the secret service, and the fear of assassination dominates him.

Returning to the Fourth Int., W.K. spoke to me about “Trust,” that organization of counter-revolutionary “White” officers created abroad and in Moscow in ’22 and ’23. The GPU shot all of them, including the organizer, its agent, “for having used methods of police provocation.”

Brandler (Dzerzhinsky, Stalin, Semyonov).

December, 1988. We got together in the cafes of the Boulevard Montparnasse. On his larrge head he wore a black beret with the sides turned up like a burlesque magistrate’s cap. He has a thick body on short legs, bent to one side; he is as deformed as a hunchback without being a hunchback. A great deal of malice in his look, an ironic and familiar tone. Laurette pleased him. “Ah, there are still pretty women among us!” he said with satisfaction. “I thought the emigration was to be doomed to the curse of not having any ...”

The politics of his group, the CPO, cautious in regard to the USSR and full of reservations. He does not seem to despair of reforming the regime – either wishing to treat it cautiously in spite of everything or, in a demagogic sense, wishing to treat the masses cautiously who believe in it. But I was sharp and he did not get deeply involved in the discussion. The execution of Bukharin has overwhelmed him, destroying perhaps his last illusions.

We preferred to talk over memories. We used to get together at Moscow, in times of clandestinity, at the Lux, at L.’s, or at Duret’s with Engler (Thalheimer was present) ... The wife of L. was a stoolpigeon.

On Dzerzhinsky: “I had dinner one time at Kharkov with Dzer. and K. Radek. Dzer. related that during the red terror he had sometimes employed a subterfuge which consisted of publicizing executions which had not taken place. The effect was produced and lives were spared ... Dzer. said: ‘Our Chekists are part saint and part assassin ...’ Radek asked him brusquely: ‘And you – what do you think you are? Saint or bandit?’ Dzer. got pale, tightened his lips, got up from the table and went out.”

On Stalin: “In regard to the affairs of the German CP. I had several cordial talks with him. He was simple, occasionally jovial, familiar, full of common sense and good peasant craftiness ... Rather likeable, attracting confidence. Very good fellow, seemed very well balanced. I cannot understand these hecatombs ... He must have lost his head.”

B. thinks that in the Reiss affair, as well as in the Barcelona crimes, can be recognized the hand of Semyonov, that Sov.-Rev. terrorist who distinguished himself during the civil war in preparing assassination attempts against Bolsheviks, made a complete confession during the trial of the S-Rs in ’22, went into the service of the CP, was charged with special missions – very special. “He must be basically a sadist, a professional terrorist, a systematic half-insane person.” Easy to identify: lobe of one ear torn, bullet would below it. “He was in Spain. While being questioned, comrades noticed a man who had these wounds, sometimes on the right cheek, sometimes on the left, they say, and I do not know myself which is the good cheek.”

Victor Serge


1. At that time a left minority of the teachers’ union.

2. Paris paper of the late Russian conservative leader, Prof. Milyukov.

3. Former Czarist general, head of white émigrés In Paris, kidnapped in notorious case, presumably by GPU.

4. Marcel Cachin, leader of the French Stalinist party. Tasca himself is a former leader of the Italian CP who turned Social Democrat.

Last updated on 19 November 2014