Leon Trotsky

The Moscow “Confessions”

Written: 18 December 1936.
First Published: The Red Flag [London], March-April 1937.
Translated: The Red Flag
Transcription/HTML Markup:Martin Fahlgren
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2008; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Despite all obstacles, truth hews out a way. The whole trial rests on confessions that are surprising in their crudeness and teeming with psychological contradictions. In order to understand the value of these standardised “confessions” by the clients of the G.P.U. one must begin by examining the standardised political capitulations, of which the “confessions” are the sequel and the immediate development. The history of the capitulations extends over the last thirteen years, and would, with the “human” documents, furnish matter for many dozens of volumes.

The content of the confessions in no way corresponds with the characteristics of a “crime,” whether carried out or not; rather it corresponds with the diverse needs of the Government. That is why the public confessions have a purely ritualistic, standardised character. Their sole political significance is to teach everyone to think, or at least to express himself, uniformly. But precisely for this reason no one among the persons in question has taken these “repentances” seriously. These confessions are not real confessions but a contract signed with the bureaucracy. The proof of this is that even I. N. Smirnov, one of the most sincere and honourable of men, in 1929 drew up in the space of a few weeks several different texts of confessions which were in flagrant contradiction with one another. (These texts were published at the time in the Bulletin de l’Opposition .) I must add that nearly all the confessions (tens of thousands of them) belonging to the thermidorean period had but one single object, namely, to attack me personally. In order to be received back into the bosom of the great family of the bureaucracy, or to assure himself at least the right to a morsel of bread, each oppositionist, semi-oppositionist, or even mere citizen, was compelled on all occasions to denounce Trotskyism and condemn Trotsky. The more startling the manner of these denunciations the more success they had. Confessions and renunciations have become for them very like the rituals of the church. Thus political confessions have paved the way for judicial confessions which are their inevitable consequence.

I repeat, these lines are being written in the claws of the Norwegian “Socialist” government. I am forced to confine myself to the most important facts. We must throw into relief particularly the following points:

1. It is false that “all 16 accused” have admitted their crime. There were not 16 accused who participated in a crime of the same nature or who were even suspected of a like crime. In actual fact the sixteen men in the dock had been meticulously chosen from among many hundreds, many thousands of “candidates.” Only those who had proved their aptitude for publicly fulfilling the role which had been assigned to them were in the first instance made to appear before the tribunal. (On this subject see the Livre Rouge .)

2. Did the G.P.U. use medical or chemical methods of compulsion? I do not know. But such a hypothesis is not necessary. It is enough to know the facts, the persons, and the circumstances in order to understand how the accused could have been forced to put the rope around their own necks. Among the accused there was not a single oppositionist or Trotskyist. They were all capitulators, persons who had confessed on many occasions, accusing themselves in their confessions of the most shameful actions and the lowest instincts; persons who had renounced all political conceptions, all reason for living, all personal dignity. (Of course, I am not speaking of real provocateurs , lost in the clutches of the G.P.U..) For years these ex-revolutionaries, demoralised and morally broken, had flitted hither and yon between life and death. Were narcotics still necessary? The very idea (which Rosenmark takes responsibility for) that these people had been spurred on by a thirst for power is absurd. They had renounced it long since. The idea that these people, who had renounced their programme, their banner, their personal dignity, who had many a time publicly covered themselves with mortification and calumny, could hope to attain power by political assassinations would seem an idiotic political conception.

“G.P.U. has Revolvers”

No, at the trial the accused gave themselves the lie as they had done before in their innumerable confessions. The G.P.U. took plenty of time to extort from its victims increasingly complete “confessions.” Today “A” admitted a little “fact.” If “B” does not admit the same thing it implies that all his past confessions and humiliations were “lies” (Stalin’s favourite word, Stalin the champion of “sincerity”). “B” hastens to admit what “A” has admitted, and even a little more. And now it’s “C’s” turn again. To avoid any overly crude contradictions, they are given the opportunity, if they wish, to elaborate their theme in common. If “D” refuses to associate himself with this he risks losing all hope of saving himself. So he outdoes the others in order to prove his goodwill (reread the stammering and hysterical confessions of Reingold). And now all the others must align their lies with those of “E.” ... The infernal game continues. The accused are under lock and key. The G.P.U. is in no hurry. The G.P.U. has Mauser revolvers. Jules Romains shows (in his Les Creatures ) how it is possible without having any “idea” or “theme” to write a truly poetical work by taking as a point of departure a play on words. The G.P.U. works thus. These gentlemen, having at their disposal neither facts nor a completed plan, construct their amalgam by a play on “confessions.” If one or another of the confessions appears inconvenient in the end, it is quite simply omitted as an unnecessary hypothesis. These “creatures” are free of all ties.

From time to time they give their victims a provisional liberty in order to allow the rebirth of vague hopes. At the first opportunity those who have been freed are arrested once more. Thus ceaselessly tossed between hope and despair these men become little by little the shadow of their former selves.

Nervous Collapse

But still this is not the end. For each one of them there comes a moment when they begin to resist. No, they cannot go to such lengths in denial of themselves. At this point the G.P.U. shoots the most obstinate.

Meanwhile the press unanimously continues to yell against the “traitors,” the “counterrevolutionaries,” the “agents of imperialism,” and so forth. The prisoners have no other press at their disposal than that of Stalin. Physical torture? I think not. The torture of calumny, of uncertainty, and of terror destroys the nervous system of the accused just as surely as physical torture. And one must add the fact of the incessant allusion to the dangers of war. Are you for the fatherland (that is, for Stalin), or against the fatherland? Pravda calls even André Gide’s book an “anti-Soviet witness.” A foreigner of less renown would have been treated long since as an agent of Hitler. What is to be said of the soviet oppositionists? Gide shows how they extorted from him a telegram of praise for Stalin and how the celebrated author was reduced to impotence and ... to capitulation. What shall we say then of the methods of the G.P.U.? Are you for the U.S.S.R. (that is, for Stalin), or against the U.S.S.R.? You have repented of course long ago; you are not dangerous to us as you yourself know; we don’t wish you ill. But Trotsky continues his poisonous work abroad. He continues his sapping exploits against the U.S.S.R. (that is, against the omnipotence of the bureaucracy). His influence is growing. Trotsky must be discredited once and for all. Thus your question resolves itself. If you are for the U.S.S.R. you will help us. If not, all your repentance was a lie. In view of the approaching war we shall be forced to consider you as agents of Trotsky, as foreign enemies of the country. You must admit that Trotsky has pushed you on to the path of terror. But no one will believe it!—Oh! we will undertake this aspect of the question. We have our Duclos and our Thorez, our Pritts and our Rosenmarks. Has Trotsky pushed you onto the path of terror, yes or no? He who replied “Yes” is ready to allow himself to be used further.

By repeating the questions endlessly, the replies can be made increasingly concrete. Smirnov and Goltzman tried to stop themselves in mid-road, between “terror in general” and the assassination of Kirov.

Others (but not all) went further. Whoever resisted was liquidated in the course of the “technical” preparation of the trial. The man against whom violence was successful was led on the scene to be presented to the eyes of Pritt in the capacity of an impartial expert.

Is it possible to talk to any honourable person about these “confessions” and neglect the fact that for years the G.P.U. has prepared and “questioned” the accused with the help of periodic capitulations, humiliations, self-degradation, calumnies, and also by means of reprisals? Only complete fools can shut their eyes to these facts. [1]

The story of this unfortunate sailor is but a tiny episode taken from the book of the confessions of the accused—and of their accusers and their judges. From being the instrument of the revolution, the G.P.U. has become the instrument of the soviet aristocracy, the personal instrument of Stalin, about whom Lenin warned in 1922: “This cook will prepare only peppery dishes.”

The statement that the accused admitted the facts which incriminated them independently of one another is a triple lie. There is no material proof of the confessions. The accused abandoned themselves to self-accusations and summary denunciations. They were utterly terrified that these accusations should be made more precise. It is not by chance that each time one of the accused, in order to support the logic of his own confessions, tried to make the times and places definite, the G.P.U. fell into contradictions that were only too crying. As far as the concrete elements of their own confessions are concerned, the accused contradicted themselves and each other. Only a fraction of these contradictions is brought to light in the Livre Rouge , about which Pritt and Rosenmark grit their teeth.

Sedov’s Meeting

Must we return again to Goltzman’s confessions? Among the accused of the older generation Goltzman alone “personally saw” me and was said to have received from me “terrorist” instructions. My son, Leon Sedov, is said to have been the intermediary and organiser of the meeting. His meeting with Goltzman is alleged to have taken place at the Hotel Bristol. This is the chief point in the confession.

Alas! My son has never been to Copenhagen. The fact that he did not go there in 1932 can be incontestably proved by means of visas, telegrams, and statements coming from more than thirty persons of different nationalities and different political tendencies. The Hotel Bristol, where the meeting is supposed to have taken place, has not been in existence since 1917. What then does Goltzman’s confession mean?

The declarations of Berman-Yurin, Fritz David and Olberg are full of similar absurdities and nonsense. Nevertheless, on the basis of these confessions, the defenders of the Rights of Man (and of the interests of the G.P.U.) consider me worthy of the death penalty. How far can human baseness go?

But however scandalous the confessions of Goltzman and others may be, their contradictions and their crude inventions seem to be merely decorations designed to adorn the walls of this strange monument of lies and errors.

The whole indictment and all the confessions center around the assassination of Kirov. The organisation of this murder, however, was a chain in the struggle against the Opposition. The plot against Kirov was organised by the G.P.U. for the purpose of striking a blow at the Leningrad organisation of Zinovievists. Stalin, Yagoda, Kirov himself, were in close touch with the conspiracy. This fact is proved beyond any shadow of a doubt by the trial of Medved, the former chief of the Leningrad G.P.U.. The plot against Kirov was to have had a fictitious character; it was essentially directed against the Opposition.

Stalin did not wish to kill Kirov; Kirov himself did not wish to be killed; but Nikolaiev, although surrounded on all sides by agents provocateurs , himself took his role too seriously. He escaped from their control and fired before the G.P.U. had succeeded in finishing its amalgam (see my pamphlet, The Stalinist Bureaucracy and the Assassination of Kirov , 1934). What is written there about the preparation of the Moscow trials (both the first and those which have followed) is the result of logical deduction. I have unveiled the plans of the G.P.U. month by month, year by year, stage by stage, especially since the beginning of 1929. The indelible traces of the methodical preparation of articles in the Soviet press, by the interviews of Stalin and Molotov, by various “antiterrorist” declarations of Litvinov at Geneva (apropos of the assassination of King Alexander and Barthou), and by a whole series of other documents, declarations, and suggestions which at the time seemed incomprehensible but which, at the present moment, clearly reveal their criminal meaning.

Turns Without Tears!

In summing up one may say: the trials of the terrorists have been arranged, not because Kirov was murdered, but the assassination of Kirov took place “by accident” during the feverish preparation of the trials against the terrorists.

Sycophants a la Pritt and Rosenmark consider it out of the question that Stalin’s infallible G.P.U. could organise trials which were merely criminal mises en scéne in which the roles had been fixed in advance. On the other hand they find it quite natural that the Opposition—which is a Communist tendency with a long tradition, with experienced cadres, with an elaborated programme and an abundant political literature, should suddenly make a volte face , quite unexpectedly, toward individual terrorism, which it has always condemned as adventurism without results. This tendency, which comprises many thousands of sympathisers, accomplishes this incredible volte face in complete silence, without any previous discussion, without any declarations, without any criticism, without any internal struggle, without any terrorist propaganda, without any literature.

But even this is not enough. This tendency, which has shown itself capable of the greatest sacrifices in struggle for its programme, enters into relations with the Gestapo! And moved to this by the “thirst for power”! As if power in the U.S.S.R. could be obtained with the aid of the Gestapo! And how can one attribute this “thirst for power” to tens of thousands of rank-and-file oppositionists, workers, members of young Communist organisations, who experience unheard of repressions and privations. Only a narrow and over-fed bourgeois who knows nothing of revolutionary struggle, and who, at the same time, is always ready to lick the boots of any government in power, could believe so vile a lie.

Let us, however, admit the impossible. Let us admit precisely that the Trotskyists, in contradiction to their doctrine, their programme, their present writings, and their private correspondence (which is at the disposal of any honest commission of inquiry), have become terrorists—without internal struggles or splits, without the inevitable defections and denunciations. Let us admit that terrorism was necessary for them to restore capitalism; why was this new programme accepted in silence by everyone, without reprobation, without criticism, without opposition? Let us admit further—a few absurdities more or less are of no importance—that in order to ensure the restoration of capitalism and the victory of fascism (yes, yes, even fascism), the Trotskyists signed a pact with the Gestapo, and that they have been pursuing their terrorist activity at least from 1931 to the middle of 1936. Where? How? But this matters little. It all took place in the fourth dimension. They were continually trying to assassinate all the “leaders,” to disorganise the economy, to prepare victory for Hitler and the Mikado.

Can we take all these base absurdities for legal tender? But what do we see in the end? In the middle of 1936, the leaders of this strange tendency, accused of having taken part in these crimes, suddenly repent, all at the same time, and admit to the crimes they had committed (that is, had not committed). Each one rushes to cover himself with as much mud as he can, and each tries to drown the voice of the others in singing the praises of Stalin, whom yesterday he wanted to kill. How can we explain this miracle of Saint Yagoda? Counter-revolutionaries, terrorists, mad fascists, transformed into hysterical flagellants. Let the Pritts and Rosenmarks explain this mystery.

Finally let us suppose that the idea of terrorism was in fact accepted at some time by this group of capitulators and by others, and that in their confessions before the tribunal an echo of the truth was heard (alleged plots of the type: “To hell with Stalin! “) But why bring the Trotskyists and Trotsky himself onto the scene? These people do not conceal their aim: to bring to an end the absolutism of the Stalinist clique, not by individual terrorist adventures, but by the methods of the revolutionary class struggle. In these circumstances, would it not be natural for an “objective” jurist to ask himself: did not the government promise these dishonest capitulators that it would soften their fate if they would consent somehow to implicate Trotsky, Enemy No. 1 of the Stalinist clique?

What more natural than the hypothesis that the confessions may contain a morsel of the truth? But no, you see, our jurists consider it impossible that the accused hoped to be reprieved. They asked for death themselves, then. They “freely” renounced counsel for the defense. What sinister hypocrisy! What shame!

These wretched men, humiliated and broken, asked death for themselves so that they might better fulfill their odious role, and thus attempt to save their lives. It was prearranged in the contract. At any price, the government required the illusion of men wretched and foundering.

The correspondent of the Daily Herald , the organ of the very party to which the dishonest Pritt belongs, wrote after the verdict: “The report is widely current that a decree, published only five days before, which gave them the right to appeal, had been specially designed to spare their lives.” (Retranslated from the French)

I do not know to what decree it is referring. It may be that they did nothing more than spread rumours of such a decree. In any case Stalin did everything to deceive the accused.

18th December, 1936


[1] Dr. Ciliga, a Yugoslav revolutionary who, as an oppositionist spent several years in the G.P.U.’s prisons and places of deportation, testifies: “I saw a sailor who, on many occasions, was told, on being taken out of his cell in the evening, that he was going to be shot. He was led into the courtyard, and then brought back to his cell. ’Since you are a worker we don’t want to shoot you like some White Guard. As a worker, you must confess sincerely....’ The sailor confessed nothing, but after these tortures he became half mad. Then at last they left him in peace. But they still ask him for confessions on the subject of his conspiracy against Stalin.”

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