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New Militant, 19 October 1935


A. Tarov

Tarov Reveals Torture of Real Bolsheviks
in Stalin’sPrisons

(4 August 1935)


From New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 43, 19 October 1935, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Hundreds and thousands of Bolshevik-Leninists are languishing in Stalinist prisons. Only yesterday I was one of them, and together with them I underwent every conceivable brutality at the hands of the Stalinist jail keepers. Today I find myself in a semi-capitalist country, a “free man.” Sad to say, it seems to me that there is no free spot for a revolutionist on our planet. But for better or worse, today I have the opportunity to speak out publicly in protest against the Stalinist usurpers. My duty as a revolutionist obliges me to turn to the world proletariat with an appeal for help to free from the Stalinist jails the devoted and true revolutionists, the martyrs – the Bolshevik-Leninists. The world proletariat must learn that the land of Soviets as such is perishing imperceptibly, for Soviet power is unthinkable without a party of active and self-reliant Communists. That is why the struggle for a genuine Communist party, the struggle against the usurpers and the plebiscitary regime is a struggle for the salvation of the Soviet system from fatal degeneration.

To acquaint the working class with the condition of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the U.S.S.R. under the Stalinist regime, I intend to sketch briefly my own personal experience, in its unvarnished form. On June 30, 1934 I escaped from exile, from the city of Andijan, having in view a journey to Moscow, to appear personally before the Central Committee there, and take up my case with the proper people. Back in March, 1934, I sent a telegram to the Central Committee stating that I, as an Oppositionist and a follower of Trotsky, was ready to cease ideological and organizational struggle against the party leadership, and ready to faithfully fulfill all the orders of the party in the struggle for the defense of the October conquests and of the socialist construction, and at the same time I underscored the need for joint action on the part of all communists against the advancing Fascist reaction.

The “Reward” for Capitulation

After sending this telegram to the Central Committee, I awaited an answer which would free me from paragraph 58, and restore my party rights. Legally, to be sure, I had not been sentenced under this paragraph by any judge. But in reality, I was condemned to jail and exile for life. I had spent four years in jail, three in exile. Throughout this time I saw no living soul except the examining magistrate of the G.P.U., and the warden. The examining magistrate, as a rule, would go through a formal examination, and the turnkey would lock and unlock the door of my cell whenever it became urgently necessary. I was “sentenced” to solitary confinement, without any material evidence whatever. My room had been searched three times – and absolutely nothing was found. Nevertheless I was arrested and committed to jail. Any one who is a Trotskyist – must sit in jail or exile. Should one renounce the Opposition, then one obtains a “minus,” i.e. the right to live in the U.S.S.R., “minus” all the key centers of the country. To some degree this would constitute an improvement. For instance, one might be transferred from Northern Siberia to Southern Siberia.

Rank and file Oppositionists are ruthlessly tortured while given the advice to renounce their views. After an examination the magistrate before pronouncing the sentence offers the defendant that he renounce the views of the Opposition. And when in answer I gave a categoric refusal, it was my good fortune to hear in the sentence all the conceivable and horrendous epithets: “... for anti-Soviet, anticommunist, counter-revolutionary, and other unspeakable activities...” I served my last sentence on January 22, 1934 – a three-year prison term in the chief jails of’ the G.P.U. – but, nevertheless, I was “freed” only after a 14-day hunger strike, i.e., I was sent into exile.

The Oppositionists who were imprisoned in the Verkhne-Uralsk penitentiary, about 150 in number – there had been 485 of us in this prison, but many were transferred to other jails until only 150 remained there – went on a hunger strike in protest against the additional new prison terms. Prior to the hunger strike, in the summer of 1932, a Commission headed by a female, one Andreyev, arrived from Moscow to Verkhne Uralsk in order to improve the “conditions” of the imprisoned Communists. To all those who had served their time in solitary confinement, she added new terms. In a single day 103 men were given a new sentence for the term of two years. This was the sole accomplishment of this commission for “improving the conditions” of the Bolshevik-Leninists imprisoned in the Verkhne-Uralsk penitentiary. We had received no prior visits from any commission. We had demanded this commission ourselves, in protest against the bestial treatment of the prison administration. We were often beaten, the guards fired their guns through our cell windows, with the result that one of our comrades, Yessayan was shot in the chest. We demanded a commission, but, as a rule, we were refused.

The Hunger Strike

Then, 485 imprisoned Communists went on a hunger strike that lasted 18 days. A Commission arrived, transferred the “active prisoners” to other penitentiaries, and exiled the wounded Yessayan to Siberia. Thus, it “improved” our position. And then, another Commission came next year and extended our sentences. For this reason all of us who were imprisoned in the Verkhne-Uralsk penitentiary went on a hunger strike, in protest against this unheard off lawlessness. We began the strike on December 11, 1933. On December 20 the hunger strikers were dragged from their cells – in order to search the latter. Then they began feeding us by force. Unheard of scenes took place, desperate fights broke out between the jailers and the hanger-strikers. The latter were of coarse ignominiously beaten up. In our exhausted condition we were subjected to forced feeding by means of rubber tubes. The treatment was indescribable: thick rubber hose was shoved down our throats, the strikers were dragged into the “feeding cell” like dead cattle. There was not a single case of surrender.

On the 15th day of the strike our strike committee decided to discontinue it because many of the famished Communists tried to commit suicide. One of the G.P.U. functionaries from the Ural District appeared in the penitentiary and threatened the starving Communists with transfer to the Solovsky Islands. Our comrades, of course, drove him from their cells. The decision of the committee to call off the hunger strike was accepted by al the strikers unanimously. The G.P.U. representative was compelled to make a verbal promise (for some reason he refused to put it in writing) that all those who had served their sentences would be freed. Since my sentence terminated on January 22, 1934, I was transferred to the cell of those about to be “freed.”

On January 22, I was consequently set “free.” Under a close guard, I was shipped to Central Asia, under the jurisdiction of the Central-Asiatic G.P.U. We arrived in Tashkent, there being two of us – myself and comrade Zhahntnev. In Tashkent we were lodged in jail; the next day, after stubborn protests, we were exiled, without being sentenced. Zhantnev to the city of Frunze, myself to Andijan. And, then, in March, I sent a telegram to the Central Committee about my readiness to give up Oppositionist activity. Two months elapsed without an answer. I sent a special letter to the Central Committee. Another two months went by, and again there was no answer. Both in the telegram and in the letter I made no mention whatever as to my views. I did not consider my views and position to be “counter-revolutionary,” as is usually stated by the capitulators, but I emphasized that I would cease ideologic and organizational struggle against the leadership. In short, from my communications the Central Committee and the G.P.U. could conclude that the leadership under the pressure of the Opposition had not betrayed the revolution as yet, and had even corrected its mistakes on certain points. And what was most important now was to purge the party apparatus of the debris of bureaucratism, and to wage a struggle against advancing Fascism by combined forces of the Communists and revolutionary forces in the U.S.S.R. and the whole world.

The bureaucratic leadership evidently deemed it offensive to reply to such a communication. No answer came from Moscow. But the local department of the G.P.U. sent its own agents who plied me with the following questions:

The “Interview”

“Tell me, please, do you consider your views counter-revolutionary, or don’t you? In your opinion, is the Opposition and its activities counter-revolutionary or no? Do you think that Trotsky, for example, is the leader of the counter-revolutionary vanguard of the bourgeoisie, or don’t you?”

In answer I went into a detailed exposition of my views as to the Opposition, headed by Trotsky, and in turn I asked such questions as:

“And, what do you say, dear comrade, are these views off mine counter-revolutionary? Do you consider counter-revolutionary our Oppositionist work from 1923 up to 1930 against the Right opportunist tendency in the party? Indeed, in 1930 Centrism also began to fight against the Rights. Is one to consider this struggle counter-revolutionary too? As regards Trotsky, in my opinion, he is the most unswerving revolutionist devoted to the cause of the world proletariat. I consider him my ideological companion and comrade. I have no wish to fool the party, I can not consider as counter-revolutionary the revolutionary views of the Opposition.”

My interlocutor would sit mum, with his head on his chest. Incidentally, this chap was a fine fellow with some brains. But apparently he had had little occasion to listen to Oppositionists themselves, but he had heard a great deal about them from the official sources ... I had an identical conversation with one of the representatives of the local section of the G.P.U. I remarked, among other things:

“What is your opinion of such an act of lawlessness as this: I have passed six months in exile already without any sentence being passed, after serving a three-year prison term.”

The assistant chief of the G.P.U. in answer pulled out from a drawer some kind of a paper and read me a new sentence, three years in exile. But for some unknown reason he refused to allow me to read the sentence myself. This, of course, was a common trick on the part of the apparatus hirelings. They probably wished to scare me with a new sentence so as to make me snitch on the Opposition. Here I became completely convinced that these miserable functionaries had long ceased being communists, that I had to deal with a gang of hard-boiled bureaucrats who were incapable of understanding the integrity of sincere revolutionary words. Nevertheless I decided to go to Moscow, and personally speak with the upper crust of the party apparatus, in order to find out at last precisely what it represents, what sort of people were they who shriek about revolution and socialism and communism and compel me to consider my purely communist views as counter-revolutionary. In May I sent a telegram to the C.E.C. With a request for permission to go to Moscow to have some personal interviews concerning my case. This time I sent a telegram, with an answer prepaid. But it was useless – there was no answer. My attempts to gain permission to go to Moscow for personal interviews were not crowned with success. Then I decided to go without any permission. En route it became all too clear to me that no one would listen to me in Moscow, and that I would he immediately arrested for having fled from exile. I had no recourse left, except to escape abroad.

Torn from His Family

My renunciation of the Oppositionist struggle was sincere. Even at the present time I still hold to this point of view. From 1933, after the victory of Fascism in Germany, I took the position that all the communist and revolutionary forces of the entire world had to be united against the Fascist reaction, no matter what the cost, without regard to the internal differences between proletarian organizations, no matter how serious these might be. This is the point of view that I defended among the comrades. But under no condition would I agree to solidarize with the bureaucracy, as I emphasized in my letter of April 1934 to the Central Committee. I always held and still hold the standpoint of a stubborn and merciless struggle against the brazen bureaucracy which has usurped the rights of our party. My sincere letter and telegram to the C.E.C. and the G.P.U. were assumed, however, by the bureaucracy to be the first step of an ignominious capitulation. The miserable bureaucrat considered that I had become worn out in prisons and exile during the long years, torn away from my family, my wife and child, that I could, bear up no longer and was ready at last to kneel before the G.P.U. pleading for mercy. The miserable bureaucrat overlooked that in my letter I asked no mercy, but demanded the restoration of my party rights. The miserable bureaucrat evidently attached no importance to my words when I said:

“I cannot fool the party, I am not a bystander, I am a revolutionist and I am unable to serve passively in order to keep my belly full. I was an active communist – I still am and will remain one; there isn’t anything or anybody in this world that can sever me from my genuinely communist convictions; I considered and still consider the views of Trotsky and his followers to be genuine communist views. These views are a direct continuation of the views of Marx and Lenin.”

A Bureaucrat and a Communist

Never in my life have I run across so malicious and cynical a functionary as the assistant chief of the local G.P.U. section, Margolin by name, who, after reading my telegram to the C.E.C. and the G.P.U. addressed me as follows:

“Now, what can you tell us about your organization? Who was the leader of the Opposition movement in the Caucasus? Where did you function actively? We must make it hot for these Trotskyists.”

The miserable functionary became confused when I refused categorically. I told him:

“Up to now I fought against the C.E.C., and. I fought according to all the rules of the Opposition; I assume the responsibility of this struggle against the leadership without proceeding from considerations of my own personal welfare. I have in mind the necessity of a joint struggle on the part of all the revolutionary forces of the proletariat against the advancing counter-revolution. I cease the struggle not because I am in agreement with the opportunistic views of the bureaucratic upper-crust of the party, but because I hope our party will still succeed in restoring its rights and drive the brazen usurpers from its ranks.”

But whom are you telling this to? The apparatus bureaucracy, of course, well understood my letters and telegrams. That is why it refused to reply to my application. I remained in exile, without any new sentence having been passed on me. For some how or other, the government finds it difficult, without even a false document, to sentence one of its citizens to some sort of punishment. The tasks of the party bureaucracy boils down to isolating and torturing the Oppositionists until they publicly turn into so many rags, i.e., into miserable, political bystanders. The bureaucrat just does not want you to he a real communist. Hie has no need for it. He finds it harmful, and mortally dangerous. The bureaucrat does not want a self-reliant communist, he wants miserable flunkies, grafters, and bystanders of the worst type. That’s what he needs. Heroes not want a Communist party, he tolerates, only the name in order to use it for his usurping aims. Sad to say, the bureaucracy has attained its goal in many cases. Many Oppositionists were unable to withstand the harsh and interminable isolation – and they capitulated But in my case, the bureaucracy made a mistake.

Communist Despite All!

In jail, in exile, and emigration I remained what I was, a Communist, a devoted defender of the Soviet power and of the socialist construction. The land of the Soviets is my fatherland, in the socialist sense of the term. Under a different rule, under the rule of the enemies of the proletariat it would be alien to me. I am always ready to the last moment of my life to fight for the land of the Soviets. Is it conceivable that under a genuine proletarian rule the struggle against bureaucrats, thieves, and plunderers who unscrupulously appropriate Soviet wealth and who are the cause for ruining hundreds of thousands in hunger and cold – is it conceivable that a struggle, or even a mere protest against these scoundrels would be considered a counter-revolutionary crime? For my fight was for internal proletarian party democracy; I fought for a Leninist program, and Leninist statutes of our party. I fought and will continue to fight against the self-appointed leadership, and a party apparatus bound by mutual oath. For, according to the statutes of our party, the elected party, trade union and Soviet organs must be re-elected annually from top to bottom. But what do we see today? The post of party secretary has become a sort of specialty. If, for example, a Kahyani had served 8 years as secretary in the C.E.C. of Georgia until the membership would no longer tolerate him not only as the secretary of the Georgian C.E.C. but in the party as a whole, then this specialist in the craft of General Secretaryship departs from Tiflis, on the good counsel of the supreme authorities of course, and, hies himself to Alma Ata, again as General Secretary of Kazakstan. And a Mirzoyan belongs to the same species as Kahyani – from Baku to Uralsk, as the secretary of the District Committee. It is precisely for this reason that the party leadership feels itself absolutely under no obligation to the party masses who presumably elected him,. They recognize only supreme authority of the upper crust of the party apparatus. Hence flows the shameless servility and the shameful mutual covering-up of the bureaucratic upper-crust. Of course, under these conditions the party mass puts no trust in the leadership. As regards the non-party working class masses, the latter see the party only in the shape of the apparatus, and put no trust in the Communist Party as a whole. Hence flows the administrative pressure upon the party and the working class. That is why all jails, Solovsky Islands and exile areas are crammed today with party and non-party workers. And there is no need to talk about the peasants.

I do not intend, to go into the controversies between the Opposition and the leadership, but I think it necessary to say a few words on the question of the struggle against bureaucratism about which so much is being written in the official press, and so much pother made by outstanding officials – as if they, too, are not loth to struggle against bureaucratism. But in reality, let some one dare point a finger at a bureaucrat – and it is prison, or exile, or, at any rate, unemployment. And do any of you know what it means to be unemployed under the present regime? It means outright ruin for the family of the unemployed. He wanders from one office to the next, and is refused everywhere, despite the fact that suitable work is available. Everywhere every conceivable personage finds employment, there are jobs for thieves and swindlers. But there is no job for a man who comes out against the bureaucracy.

Destroying the Revolution

At party and workers’ meetings the assembled are in complete apathy. They have to be almost driven to meetings. Not only non-party but even party workers are very reluctant to go to meetings. At the meetings, “bold” speeches can be made only by the party and trade union parrots. They can be so bold as to always and everywhere praise the leadership, beginning with Stalin, and then down the line according to rank. Then a resolution is presented, and the assembled are terrorized by labelling as counter-revolutionists anyone who dares to object even to a single point in the resolution. Naturally, such a situation in the country tends to discredit the authority of the Soviet power and of the Revolution. The party leadership has despotically terrorized the entire party. In the party there is a complete lack of the conscious party discipline which was once the pride of our party. Barracks discipline reigns in the party, a mechanical fulfillment of orders. Hence, it is easily understandable why all sorts of grafters, charlatans, and shady characters of every description – thieves of the “gentleman” type – feel very much at ease and are very bold in the party, the Soviet, and trade union apparatuses, and consider it their native duty to look upon Soviet wealth as their own “property.” And who is there to supervise them? Who is there to punish them for the plundered national resources? The rank and file communists? Sad to say, the latter have been frightened by prisons and the Solovsky Islands, where languish for many long years the boldest communist and non-party workers, under lock and key, behind bars. Is it really possible that the world proletariat will maintain silence while in the land of the Soviets the imprisoned communists hang out the red banner from their cell-bars on the anniversaries of the October Revolution, and the turnkeys rip it down with rakes? ...

Even the Infants Persecuted

Unfortunately I am unable here to dwell on all the abominations perpetrated in the Soviet prisons under the regime of the usurpers. I will depict only a single scene that I witnessed. In the Petropavlovsk prison, in a small cell, some 25 cubic meters in volume, are lodged 35 women, eight with suckling infants. The cell is ventilated by a peep-hole. I shall never forget those tiny emaciated bodies – I saw them through the peep-hole of our cell. The children stood in line, clasping their mothers’ bosom in order to obtain their infinitesimal ration of fresh air at the peep-hole. Let the world proletariat look upon this brand of shame on the faces of the jail-keepers of the plebiscitary regime. Is it conceivable that there were no communists in this city? Is it possible that they remained uninterested in the jails of their city where thousands were suffering from hunger, cold and, filth? Wasn’t there a prosecuting attorney? One is ashamed even to mention this title. There were! They were all there! Even a member of the Central Committee was in this city at the time – Mikoyan, by name. His picture was printed on the front page of the local paper. But Mikoyan was a personage in transit, his arrival could serve only as the signal for arresting an additional hundred women with suckling babes. One can refrain from mentioning Mikoyan. But what were the local communists doing? Nothing! They have no independent voice. They haven’t the right to think. For example, if a suckling babe is in the hands of an arrested working or a peasant woman, then it means that the baby is guilty, it must sit in its mother’s lap in a small cell with 35 women, and stand in line for “fresh” air.

The brazen bureaucracy of the Stalinist regime will label my words counter-revolutionary. Let them label them as they will. My duty is to tell the truth, and only the truth, for truth is the most dependable weapon in the hands of the proletariat against its enemies. Indeed, if all the working class organizations told only the truth and nothing but the truth, then the victory off the world proletariat over its enemies would have been assured long ago.

August 4, 1935

A. Tarov

Note by ETOL

A. Tarov was a pseudonym adopted by Arben Davitian (1895–1944), an Armenian revolutionary, who joined the Bolsheviks in 1912. During the Civil War he was a commissar in the Red Army in the Caucasus. During the 1920s he joined the Left Opposition and in 1927 he was expelled from the party and exiled in Siberia. In 1931 he was jailed. After Hitler’s victory in Germany like Christian Rakovsky he decided to capitulate to Stalin and offer to serve in the struggle against fascism in any capacity. He attempted to leave his place of exile and go to Moscow to argue his case (as described in this article), but en route he realised the futility of this and escaped to Iran, where he got in touch with the international Trotskyist movement. With help from them and other sympathisers he eventually succeeded in getting to France. During the German occupation, under the pseudonym Armenak Manoukian (or Manouchian), he joined the Groupe Manouchian, a unit of the French Resistance comprised mainly of foreign exiles. He was captured with other members of the group by the Vichy secret police in November 1943 and shot by the Germans in February 1944.

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