Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New Militant, 15 February 1936

A. Tarov

“My Escape from Stalin’s Prison”

Record of a Worker Bolshevik

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 7, 15 February 1936, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A few words about myself. I was born in 1895. My father was a mason, my mother, a housekeeper. I went to work at the age of 14, first as a locksmith, and then as a pressman.

Joined the Communist Party in 1917. Served on all fronts during the civil war in Trans-Caucasia: first as a rank and file soldier in the Red Army, then studied military science in the training school. Became a commander and worked in the army as organizer and leader of communist detachments.

Since 1921, in accordance with the decision of the party, I did party work as instructor and organizer, under the C.E.C. of the Trans-Caucasian C.P. I always worked among the rank and file of the party.

In 1923 I was ordered by the party to take courses in the Communist University. I attended the university three years, was kicked out for an Oppositionist speech, and sent back. But I still continued to work in the party, first as the agitprop of the district, then as secretary; later I held a responsible post in the central apparatus.

During the discussion of 1927, the bureaucratic upper-crust could no longer tolerate seeing me in the Central Committee and I was packed off into the trade union field. Here I served as chairman of the workers’ committee of railroad construction crews. In 1927 I was expelled from the party for carrying on oppositionist activity, and later removed from my post.

Arrest, Exile and Prison

On September 24, 1928, I was arrested as a Bolshevik-Leninist. That same night many comrades of the Opposition were also placed under arrest. Inasmuch as on the next day the relatives and friends of the incarcerated Oppositionists massed by the hundreds at the doors of the local G.P.U., the bureaucracy was compelled, that very day, to free three quarters of the arrested Oppositionists, holding only 31 people, myself among them.

We remained one and a half months in the G.P.U. cells. Towards the end of December we were exiled to Kazakstan – (Kizil-Ordoo). Once there, we were dispersed in the towns of Kazakstan: I was sent to Akmolinsk; comrade Dandnrov to Adbasar; comrades Fanosi and Garyakin to Semipalatinsk; comrade Seta Nazaryani to Petropavlovsk; comrade Danilev to Chemkent. (In Tiflis, seven more Georgian comrades joined us: comrades Kakaya Meleize, Khukhuya, the names of the others I do not recall.)

In Akmolinsk I found L. Ginsburg. S. Andreichin, D. Arshavsky, A. Snoskarev, Arto Nuridjana and two other comrades from Leningrad whose names I cannot recall. From Osseti there came to join us comrades Zhantnev, Khugayev. Zaloyev and Xenia Djikayev; from Baku came comrade Gasanov; from Georgia, comrades Shevashev, Kivraya, Goguadze and Tsintsadze; from Odessa, comrade Shura Kretyvski.

Capitulators Returned to Prison

In 1930 many capitulated, and there remained only 11 of us in Akmolinsk. But the capitulators are now sitting in jail for having carried on Oppositionist activity. For example, at present in the Verkhni-Uralsk solitary are incarcerated former capitulators, L. Ginsburg, Popov, Pavlov and others – 25 in all. They are kept apart. The prisoners’ commune in the solitary refused to accept them as members because they are for the “General Line”, and only against the existing internal regime.

On January 22, 1931, the anniversary of Lenin’s death, the entire Akmolinsk colony of the Bolshevik-Leninists was arrested at night. Among those arrested were the following comrades: Snoskarev, Zhantnev, Khugayev, Xenia Djikayev, Zalayev, Goguadze, Kierava, Tsintsadze, Gasinov, Zinov and his wife (Kira) and myself. (On the night of their arrest, Zinov and his wife, Kira, capitulated).

On the next day we were transported from Akmolinsk to the Petropavlovsk prison. In Petropavlovsk we were placed in infected cells. Together with us were also incarcerated four comrades, local worker-communists because they were members of the Opposition. I remember only one name, that of comrade Chekanov. Two of them were exiled, one to Arkhangelsk, the other to Western Siberia; the other two were sentenced together with us to three years in prison.

Infected Cells

In the Petropavlovsk prison, in the infected cells all the comrades with three exceptions (comrades Khugayev, Djikayev, and myself) contracted spotted typhus, one after another. They were transferred to the city hospital. Fortunately there were no mortalities. The moment they passed their crisis, the convalescents were shipped to the prison infirmary. On the seventh month after our arrest we were transferred to the Verkhni-Uralsk solitary.

Just at that time, in the latter prison, the incarcerated Bolshevik-Leninists, to the number of 450, called a general hunger strike in protest against the prison regime and the arbitrary treatment of the Bolshevik-Leninists by the administration.

Ice Water

Prior to this first general hunger strike, as far back as 1930, the prison administration, with warden Bizukov at the head, used to issue orders to spray the Bolshevik-Leninists with ice water (this, in winter, in Siberia!)

The order was executed. During the hubbub, while our comrades attempted to plug up the vents in order to keep the water from their cells, the agents of the G.P.U. aimed the hose directly into the eyes of the comrades, as a result of this comrade Pogasyan lost his eyesight.

And in April 1931, a guard fired his rifle through the bars of a cell window, wounding comrade Essayan in the chest. During the days set for the celebration of revolutionary holidays we had sharp clashes with the prison administration. On such days we were either forbidden to take our daily walk or were beaten up for singing the Internationale.

Hunger Strike

The administration began to act a little less barbarously only after the general 18-day hunger strike of 450 Bolshevik-Leninists in the Verkhni-Uralsk solitary. But toward the end of 1931, on the occasion of Stalin’s rabid attack on Rosa Luxemburg (I forget whether it was on November 20 or 21) we were subjected to a general search at night. The G.P.U. agents rushed into the cells at night and searched every nook and cranny. In the dark a desperate brawl ensued between the imprisoned Bolshevik-Leninists and the administration. Bizukov the warden of the prison received a substantial wallop on the jaw. Many of us were tied hand and foot and dragged from the cells.

The Honor Roll

I list below the imprisoned Oppositionists in the Verkhni-Uralsk solitary whose names I am able to recall:

1) Dingelstedt; 2) Elzin: 3) Solntsev; 4) Klukov; 5) Gorodetski; 6) Kostya Khugayev; 7) Misha Khugayeb; 8) Bazazyan; 9) Redazubov; 10) Aaron Papelmeister;11) Moses Papelmeister; 12) MishaPapelmeister; 13) K. Popov; 14) Popova; 15) Rosa Smirnov; 16) Rosa Rozova; 17) Lena Danilovich; 18) Babayan; 19) Tsintsadze; 20) Socrates Gevorkyan; 21) Tsintsadze, Jr.; 22) Solovyan: 23) Khanbndakov; 24) Garnilov; 25) Meladze; 26) Minasyan; 27) Miritadze; 28) Pavlov: 29) Ziloyev; 30) Fedorchenko; 31) Zhantnev; 32) Khugayev, 3rd; 33) Kapytov; 34) Kassel; 35) J. Drapkin; 36) Gerdovsky; 37) Stopalov; 38) Gazaryan; 39) Pogosyan (now blind, but still in prison); 40) Davidov; 41) Davtyan; 42) Dimitriev; 43) Stelinsky; 44) Demchenko; 45) Saakyan; 46) Essayan; 47) Sasoon; 48) Avryan; 49) Yakovlev; 50) Volodya Smirnov; 51) Valentin Smirnov; 52) Avetisa; 53) Golubchik; 54) Zankov; 55) Sasarov; 56) Peter (a cossack); 57) Spitalnik; 58) Pestel.

Then there were three comrades from Czechoslovakia whose names unfortunately I have forgotten. One of them was a former member of the E.C.C.I., a fervent partisan of building the Fourth International (It is too bad that I forgot the name of this comrade).

(Editor’s note: Comrade Tarov’s memory failed him in this case. Because of the similarity in the names between the two countries, he confused Jugoslavia with Czechoslovakia. He is here referring to Jugoslav comrades Ciliga, Dedich and Draguich. Ciliga was not a member of the E.C.C.I. but working under the E.C.C.I. in the Balkan federation. See the New Militant, Jan. 25th and Feb. 8th.)

There were many, many other comrades whose names, too, I am unable to recall.

At the present time I am aware of the following colonies of exiles:a large one in Akmolinsk, where comrade Musya Joffe (the wife of the noted Soviet diplomat, A.A. Joffe who committed suicide – Ed.) is; one in Frunze (comrades Zliantnev, Kolya Tsintsadze and others); in Uralsk – comrade Jenny and her husband (I forgot their last name). Comrade Jenny gave birth to a son in May 1933 in the Ver-khni-Uralsk solitary.

* * *

Across the Border

... One fine day I changed my clothes, rode to the railroad station, boarded a train and bade “farewell to the G.P.U. of Andijan.” Sitting at the car window I gazed at the agents of the railways (G.P.U. who always line the platform when the trains are about to leave. They stand with very solemn faces as if on parade).

As soon as the train pulled away from the station I tore to pieces the document issued to me by the G.P.U. From that moment, I ceased to be an exile.

I arrived at Ashkabad. My original intention was to cross the frontier over the Ashkabad mountains. But it proved unfeasible. Gangs of bandits were infesting the hills. I was advised not to try it. So I kept on riding. And when it was no longer possible to go by train, I walked on foot. After many years of close confinement, the miraculous beauty of the scene took my breath away, but I had to keep going ...

The Local Population

The shore of the river is my road. It leads to the village hilltops. After 25 versts, I come to Mussulman villages. The inhabitants are poor but they have the faces of freemen. They are badly dressed, but vigorous and merry people. They consider the Soviet power to be their own, but, in their opinion, somebody keeps hindering them, the toilers, from getting the boons of the Soviet system. They blame the spoilers and thieves who pillage the Soviet wealth and prevent the toilers from building Socialism quickly. They spoke freely about everything.

One woman said:

“How can our leaders fail to understand this!Now, for instance, they proposed to us that we plant this year twice as much in these hills as we did hitherto in peace time. And in order to fulfill the plan, we began to till both our pasturelands and meadows. And now look, you see the result before your own eyes. Our hills have become bare, so skinny the bones alone remain. In the old days we used to grow little but we got a good deal, we fertilized the land and got good crops. To us, mountain people, pasturelands are important. Our village used to have 1,500 cows, and 12,000 sheep. And now, only 80 cows and 350 sheep. How can we live well? And what can we grow in these hills except lentils? Is it possible that these wise people do not understand this?”

The Villagers’ Opinion

“How can they?” broke in another woman very indignantly.“These people with lily-white hands think that if we plant lentils we’ll get cream butter. If they did not butt in, our kolkhoz would have five times more than it has now and the State would get five times as much as it got hitherto. The kolkhoz is a good thing, particularly for us poor people, but the State says – everything belongs to me, a piece of bread is enough for you.”

The woman considered me a communist. They were not afraid of communists. The only thing they feared was the Political Department. The latter is the absolute master of the village, and rules everybody and everything in the village.

The villagers were all preoccupied with the question of the workday. They were not interested in anything except matters relating to the kolkhoz. They did not view as their own affair everything relating to the kolkhoz. In their minds, the kolkhoz is a state enterprise managed by the Political Department, while the kolkhozniki are merely laborers, working in the kolkhoz and receiving a meager ration for their workday. The tabulation of workdays is on display on a wall in the village reading room. The men and women in the kolkhoz crowd around the tabulation to find out who has the most workdays to her credit. They were all preoccupied with this and, I might say, with this alone.

... Came the last and decisive day. It was noon. I clambered atop a small mound, covered with fruit trees and began assiduously to study the locale. I fixed the position of the border patrols. A macadam road cut across the gardens close to the river bank. The patrols paced the road. I had to seize the opportunity – a few minutes – to make my way to the river and plunge into the water. It was impossible to take my things along.

The river was broad and the current rapid. I threw away my sack and bag. I put on a military costume, but not the boots, and barefoot (I kept only my civilian costume) I walked into the open, and proceeded calmly towards the bank. No sooner did I reach the river, quickly stripped off the uniform and was about to tie on my civilian costume when a cry came from a distance: “Halt! Halt!” ...

With the civilian clothes in my hands I plunged into the water. The patrols, without being aware where the cry was coming from, raised an alarm and began firing. I swam under the water, keeping under as long as was possible. Whenever I stuck my head out for air, I heard rifle fire. The clothes became waterlogged and hampered my progress. In the meantime the current was rapidly carrying me away. Below was the “foreign”rock-bound shore – the river in flood tide – and should the current carry me further down I would have no chance to get to that shore. I found myself compelled to abandon my only suit, with my money in its pockets. I clambered out on the“foreign” shore, in my underwear. For a long time I lay among the reeds. I could observe the Soviet patrols approach the river bank and pick up my military uniform – they obviously thought that it was some border-patrolman who fled away ...

And then I found myself once again sitting in jail, this time a “foreign” one ...

* * *

Concerning the Mensheviks

... The centrists today do not attach any particular political importance to the existence of the Russian Mensheviks. The latter have compromised themselves in the eyes of the broad masses of the toilers by their behavior during the October revolution. And it is very difficult to restore by means of phrases the pre-revolutionary authority of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. That is why they are not much of a danger to the Stalinist regime. Our youth sees nothing revolutionary in the Mensheviks. Especially the Georgian Mensheviks. The youth see in them only the return to capitalism.

The authority of the dictatorship of the proletariat is great in the eyes of the toilers of the U.S.S.R. Stalin hides his counter-revolutionary face precisely behind the authority of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The exploited classes so warmly acclaim the dictatorship of the proletariat because otherwise it would be impossible to expropriate the capitalists.

In the Verkhni-Uralsk solitary there were 16–28 Mensheviks, the majority Georgians. I underscore Georgian Mensheviks because in contrast to others they hold views that are peculiar, and deeply chauvinist and have nothing in common with internationalism. They were set free; only four remaining. During the hunger strike of the Bolshevik-Leninists, on the 14th day they announced a twenty-four hour hunger strike as a protest against the arbitrary treatment of the Bolshevik-Leninists by the prison administration. I happened to engage in conversation with two Georgian Mensheviks. I came away with the conclusion that, they are now gratified that one of “theirs”, Djiugashvill (Stalin), is in power. I also had a discussion with a Zionist. He told me that the Zionists are also entering the Second International, and he himself is a former social-democrat. During the conversation, he expressed the opinion that the Menshevik social democrats committed an unpardonable mistake in the 1917 revolution, i.e.,they failed to conduct a decisive policy for the conquest of power and fought against the dictatorship of the proletariat.

... Of the Mensheviks, Zionists, Dashnaks (members of the Armenian nationalist party Dashnak-Tsutiun) and others whom I ran across in exile and prison, I can say that they are not dangerous to the Stalinist regime. The Russian Mensheviks have not yet discarded their old shirts, as the social democrats abroad are trying to do. These old personalities are not harmful to Stalin. He arrested them together with the communists in order to throw a screen around his counter-revolutionary actions toward the latter. Today, Stalin is surrounded by the worst anti-proletarian elements.

In jail I met also communists who were incarcerated although they were in agreement with the “General Line.” They were against the existing internal regime. (It never enters the mind of these beggars that a given regime is the result of a given policy.) The Mensheviks at least expressed their protest against the brutality practiced upon the Bolshevik-Leninists by a one-day hunger strike. The followers of the “General Line” did not even do that. They did not even issue a verbal protest, but kept sitting quietly alongside us. The Red Army soldiers who, on the orders of the administration, fed us by force – even they taunted the “General Liners” for such cowardly behavior ...

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 24 March 2015