Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3
More on Jan Valtin
I have a few comments to make on Mike Jones’ article on Out of the Night by Jan Valtin (Richard Krebs) (Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 1). It is undoubtedly true that Out of the Night should be treated with a great deal of caution, as befits any work that was given official recommendation by the United States government in its propaganda war against the Soviet Union. However, I feel that Jones goes too far in completely rejecting the book out of hand. As one of his footnotes (no. 6) acknowledges, parts of what Krebs has to say about his activities were true: he gives what are now known as accurate details about the underground Comintern organisation in existence in Copenhagen from the early to mid-1930s. Furthermore, Jones’ uncritical use of Richard Jensen’s claim that the International of Seafarers and Harbourworkers was a quite normal trade union organisation just will not do. Sufficient published research and memoirs exist on this to leave no doubt that the ISH played a major role in Comintern-Soviet communications and espionage activities. Again, a lot of what Krebs describes of his own experiences vis-à-vis the ISH rings true.
Finally, I find it strange that Jones bolsters his arguments on the work of Erik Nørgaard, a Danish journalist and author who has himself made substantial use of Out of the Night in his books on Danish Communism and the Comintern’s illegal organisations. To quote Nørgaard:
Out of the Night was a fantastic book. It recounted in a dramatic way and with an extensive gallery of characters the most dramatic and horrifying behind-the-scenes events of Communists and Nazis in the interwar years. A part of the story was untrue, some of it was greatly exaggerated, and some of it was completely unlikely, but a significant event could also be verified as true. Krebs wrote a great deal on those events which other eyewitnesses did not dare to, could not or would not comment on, however gradually. Despite everything, as a few witnesses stepped forward in the following years – as late as 1985! – it was possible to establish that Richard Krebs was overall closer to reality than his critics thought in 1941 in the USA, and later, after the war, in other parts of the world.’ (Erik Nørgaard, Krig og slutspil: Gestapo og dansk politi mod Kominterns ‘bombefolk’, Copenhagen 1986, p. 44)
Updated by ETOL: 22.9.2011