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Albert Gates

Sixteen Years Of Terror

(September 1940)

From New International, Vol. VI No. 8 (Whole No. 47), September 1940, pp. 167–171.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Struggle Begins

THE murder of Leon Trotsky culminated an epoch. It marked the end of the epoch of Old Bolsheviks, for Leon Trotsky was the lone survivor of that grand school of revolutionary Marxists. His murder at the same time was the final personal victory of Cain Stalin, and, if any more evidence was required, of the irrevocable counter-revolutionary degeneration of his bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and therewith the Communist International.

The struggle in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union between the Russian Left Opposition and the Stalin regime was accompanied by the introduction for the first time of A SYSTEM OF TERROR as the means of deciding inner-party political disputes. The system of terror inside the Party became inevitably a system of terror in Soviet life. Here it was not merely a matter of an isolated physical encounter or some altercation not part of the normal life of the revolutionary party, the trade unions, the Soviets or the collective. Here was systematized terror developing with increasing tempo beyond the party, into the very life of the Soviet population and thenceforth into the Communist International, penetrating the most gigantic world events of the past decade.

The struggle against the Russian Left Opposition which began initially as a normal political struggle gradually exhibited tendencies of dangerous portent. For the first time in the history of the Russian Communist Party hooliganism, planned in advance by the leaders of the Stalin clique, entered into the discussions. Physical outbursts against Oppositionists were so frequent as to become the rule at all meetings. Stalin promoted all persons who demonstrated their adherence to his faction by attacks, singly or in group fashion, upon Oppositionists.

Discussion meetings in the years 1924-1927 were characterized by great disorder. Squads of Stalinist hecklers moved from meeting to meeting disrupting them by cat-calls, hooting, whistling, denunciatory outbursts, which provoked fights and broke up discussions.

These measures employed against the Russian Left Opposition, at first regarded as the result of over-zealousness, were only the beginnings of a far more intensive period of repression. Hooliganism gave way to the dominance of the GPU in the life of the Party and in the existence of the Old Bolshevik Guard, hitherto free of supervision by the secret police. Thereafter the police regime controlled. The failure to disperse the Left Opposition by the measures of suppression inside the Party, essentially due to the vigorous struggle led by Trotsky, brought about a complete transformation in the manner of life of the party leaders as well as the ranks.

The End of Thinking

In the dark of the night. Oppositionists were dragged from their beds, sent to prison or exile without any charge except that of opposition to Stalin. Failure to capitulate to the unrelenting bureaucratic regime meant at best imprisonment or deportation to the icy wastes of the Siberian tundras, life in a solitary, in either case without visible means of support, loss of contact with the movement, suffering severe cold, police brutality and political persecution.

It was not sufficient for the Left Opposition to declare in 1927 that it would accept the discipline of the Stalinist majority has demanded that the Left Opposition renounce its views, that is, the THINKING of them. It was to this demand that Leon Kamenev was compelled to declare at the 15th Party Congress in 1927:

“But if to this unconditional and complete submission to all Congress decisions, the complete cessation, complete liquidation, of every form of factional struggle and dissolution of the factional organizations, we should add a renunciation of our views – that in our opinion, would not be acting like Bolsheviks. This demand of renouncing views has never been put forward in our party. If we should renounce views which we advocated a week or two ago, it would be hypocrisy on our part, and you would not believe us. If I should come here and say that I renounce everything I published in my theses two weeks ago you would not believe it. It would be hypocrisy on my part and such hypocrisy is unnecessary. This hypocrisy would bring decay into the very essence of the matter from the very beginning, from the moment the cornerstone of peace is being laid. No one wants that. Of course, I speak of the views which are really our views ... (Voroshilov: ‘We want the renunciation of your Menshevik views!‘) – the views laid down in our document – the platform and theses – signed by us and not of the exaggerations which are often ascribed to us.”

It was not enough that the Opposition pledged to carry out the decisions of the Party congress and end the factional struggle. The Bureaucracy sought proscription of thinking. Thus Kalinin, in answer to Kamenev, declared: “The authors of that statement (the Statement of the Opposition Bloc accepting the decisions and discipline of the Congress – AG) say that they renounce the propagation of their views ... they ‘renounce‘. They ‘promise‘ to submit to all Party decisions. But ... they consider their views correct. (!!!)” Severe pressure brought about recantations and capitulations. But recantation and capitulation was not enough because the totalitarian regime could not afford the luxury of permitting the active existence of people, who even though they had surrendered, might at one time or another revert to previous positions. Capitulators, declarations of fealty notwithstanding, began again the long trek to Siberian exile, or to prison.

The genuine Trotskyists, that section of the Left Opposition Bloc which maintained its integrity, refused to capitulate but rather intensified the struggle against Stalin, suffered the worst repressions. Whether in prison (or in Siberia), they were under constant surveillance. In this period, more than three thousand Oppositionists were thus deported or imprisoned. These direct measurer designed to smash the Opposition were accompanied by an economic reign of terror against all Party and trade Union members. The threat of unemployment which, in the Soviet Union, meant complete starvation, was held like a Damoclean sword over the heads of Party militants and the general population to warn against opposition to the regime. Economic measures had already been employed against the Left Opposition and the moral effects of this regime of political and economic terror was devastating upon all sections of the masses.

While all these measures could not at once be transferred to the International, to the degree to which they were employed they introduced a new method of political struggle in the world parties. The writer well remembers the birth of the Trotskyist movement in the United States in 1928. Unfamiliar with the extent of the Russian experiences, how scandalized we were when we encountered for the first time, physical assaults, disruption of meetings, homes burglarized, and attempts at economic bribery. We were soon to learn, however, that this system had become the way of life in the Stalinist movement; it had become natural and normal in its relationship to all opponent movements.

Repressions Become Terror and Assassination

Symptomatic Beginnings

There were shadows of a more intensified regime of repression as far back as 1924. Glasman, a secretary of Trotsky‘s and close follower of the Left Opposition, unable to withstand continuous hounding, committed suicide. Terrifying implications of what was yet to come! But then, he was not a leading figure – only a secretary to Trotsky. Not too great attention was paid to the loss. The political struggle had only just begun around the issues of bureaucratism, industrialization, collectivization. Socialism in One Country and international policy. But the hooliganism of 1924–27, the suicide of Glasman, the early arrests and deportations were to give way to the most macabre developments. The 15th Party Congress sealed the fate of the defeated Opposition. It not only sealed their fate inside the Russian Party, the Comintern, the trade unions, and the fast disappearing Soviets, it also gave Stalin the signal to go ahead with his aim to “exterminate the Opposition.” Therewith began the violent period which has not ended to this day.

International defeats in China, Austria, and Great Britain, the weariness of the masses in the Soviet Union, strengthened the reactionary and bureaucratic elements and gave birth for the first time since the revolution of a powerful nationalism fostered in the first place by Stalin and his clique. The heroes of the October Revolution began to fall at first one by one, then in groups and finally by the hundreds and thousands. There was considerable shock when the great Joffe committed suicide. His last letter addressed to Trotsky described how unbearable life had become to him as he watched the degeneration abound. But they were few who understood what Joffe vainly tried to explain. At the end of 1927, the activist Pitersk was shot. The GPU report stated in cold police language: “killed in an attempt to escape.” On November 17, 1928, 300 Oppositionists from Moscow were arrested. In the proletarian centers of the USSR another 300 comrades were imprisoned, 118 in Leningrad, 55 in Moscow, 42 in Kiev, 15 in Baku, 35 in Kharkov, 9 in Odessa, 8 in Saratov. Beatings of the arrested were daily occurrences. In Leningrad and Kharkov the GPU “proceeded with special violence.” There were new capitulations, rearrests of the capitulators and repeated return trips to Siberia. In 1928, Trotsky, already expelled from the Party was exiled to Alma Ata. It would appear that the terrific defeat of the Left Opposition, the arrests and decapitations would result in a lifting of the repressions. But it was only the beginning, for the revengeful Stalin had not yet accomplished his task to “exterminate the Opposition.”

The Trotsky Deportation

At the beginning of 1929, Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union to begin anew his world wanderings, this time from Turkey. The deportation of Trotsky was highly symbolic. If it was not understood by the revolutionaries then, who continued to hope for a regeneration and reform of the regime and the Comintern, it is clear now, that the deportation of Trotsky signalized the complete and irrevocable decay of the Stalinist bureaucracy. We are too prone to overlook the significance of resultant factors of political and economic policy, when we do not yet clearly foresee the significance of the latter. Our hopes of reformation were in reality shattered when Trotsky took up exile in Prinkipo.

In the same year Blumkin, once a member of Trotsky‘s military secretariat, a hero of the October Revolution, visited Trotsky at Prinkipo while on an official Soviet mission in Constantinople. Upon his return to Moscow, the unsuspecting Blumkin informed the capitulator Radek of his visit, who thereupon reported the facts to the GPU and Blumkin was shot. It was in 1929 that the Oppositionists Rabinovich and Silov were reported to have committed suicide in prison. Haenrichsen, a Leningrad metal worker and active Oppositionist, was reported to have committed suicide in prison. Yet an examination of his body showed the marks of terrific beatings. His wife also was arrested.

Butov, Trotsky‘s secretary, who accompanied him to his place of exile in Alma Ata was arrested for this act along with 150 Bolshevik-Leninists. Accused of espionage, he went on a hunger strike that led to his death.

Conditions in Exile

In preparation for the Party congress in 1930, 300 Bolshevik-Leninists were arrested in Moscow. A large number of Oppositionists arrested in the provinces were sent to Butirskaia prison (Ukrainians). For refusing to implicate others, Zabrovskaia, Blumenfeld and dozens more were placed in solitaires. Up to the month of May another 500 were arrested. Once arrested they lost their RIGHT to work. In prison and in exile they were without money and without means to buy provisions in order to supplement their meagre allowances. No relations were permitted among those exiled. In protest against conditions unheard of under Czarism, the exiles went on a hunger strike which was followed with brutal beatings and forced feeding. Yanovskaia, a militant Oppositionist had her new-born baby taken from her and was sent to solitary. Golodni was sentenced to 10 years. in solitary. The Stalinist turnkeys would taunt the suffering Oppositionists when protesting their brutal treatment by saying: “Go to Moscow.”

At the end of the same year, M. Joffe, the wife of the famous Joffe, was arrested together with Okudjava, Kinkadze and others. Endless persecution drove her to death, like so many other exiles. Vladimir Mayakovsky, the great revolutionary poet, could not withstand the “new life”, and in April 1930 committed suicide. The rate of suicide rose tremendously in this period throughout the USSR. It was one form of protest against the regime of terror.

Kote Zinzadze, old Bolshevik, valiant revolutionist and an old-time friend of Stalin died in exile in 1931 for lack of medical aid and general means of livelihood. Between 1931 and 1934 there was an apparent lull in the terror, with only the trial of the “industrialists” to disturb what appeared to be a placid atmosphere. Yet the preparations of a bloody future was laid in these years. The “industrialists” trial was a rehearsal for the Moscow Trials which began in 1936, and allowed the GPU to gain experience, burnish its roughened edges and make certain, so they thought, insuring the legal murder of the old Bolsheviks. In this period the “ideological” steps were taken. Opponents of the regime were denounced as terrorists, saboteurs, diversionists, espionage agents, and traitors.

The exiled Trotskyists were like doomed men. In exile or in prison they were constantly harassed by the GPU agents with the single aim of making life even more unbearable than it already was. But these revolutionary Bolsheviks remained steadfast. Capitulators were few indeed. For every known leader of the Left Opposition who gave way to Stalin, there were tens and hundreds of young stalwarts. While yet in Turkey, Trotsky, who still managed to receive an occasional letter, postal card and even theses from his Siberian comrades, spoke in glowing terms of the rise of a new school of young Marxists. I remember him saying that if these people were able to live free and active lives, they would surpass the pre-war Marxists. Some of their economic studies according to him were characterized by elements of genius. But the mistakes of Czarism were not the mistakes of Stalin. He had learned and he made doubly certain that none of the exiles would return to live their normal lives in the centers of the Soviet Union. They were living corpses awaiting only their demise.

Consequences of the Kirov Murder

The assassination of Sergei Kirov in 1934 was the signal for the opening of the most nightmarish period in the history of the Soviet Union. Here was murder on the grand scale. It is not yet known for certain what the inner relations were of the Stalinist political committee, but it is known that the murder was committed with the direct knowledge and participation of Stalin and the Leningrad GPU operating directly under orders from Yagoda.

Nationwide dissatisfaction with the regime was current. The difficulties of life had increased after the “glowing” successes of the five year plan and the “irrevocable victory of the socialist society.” The Kirov assassination became the lever which the bureaucracy employed to forestall the rising resentment of the masses, to instill fright in their very hearts, to consolidate even more their monstrous power.

Nikolaiev and his group of 16 Komsomolists were tried and executed. In December of the same year 100 more were shot. Purges, arrests, deportations followed with endless precision. There were no charges, no trials; the GPU acted swiftly and vengefully, their methods not unlike those of the dreaded Ovra and murderous Gestapo. Thousands were forcibly removed from their homes in Leningrad and deported to Siberia, many of them enrolled into convict labor battalions. The nation was a veritable graveyard. Fear became the all-influencing factor in the life of the masses. The years of the witchhunts were coming. Denunciations brought thousands of new victims.

With devilish mockery, Stalin announced in 1935 the establishment of the constitutional commission to complete the draft of the “most democratic constitution in the world.” The liberal sycophants of the world, the new fellow-travellers, the Stracheys, Bates, Hicks, Barbusses, Schumans, and their ilk, heaped paeans of praise upon Stalin, “the gentle father of all the people.” Behind the facade of the new constitution, the murderous regime marched on in its mission as the mortician of the country. Of the framers of the constitution, six were shot, one committed suicide, and nine were missing.

Zinoviev, Kamenev and their followers were held “morally and politically” responsible for the Kirov Assassination and were imprisoned. Their turn was to come. In the mean-time the terror continued unabated. In the trial of August 1936, sixteen were shot. Among them were Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Yevdomkimov, Mrachkovsky, Bakayav and Dreitzer. But this was only the beginning. Information was lacking, but it was certain that throughout the reaches of the Soviet Union the same method operated.

The Hangman’s Years

The Moscow Trials

The year 1937 is the hangman‘s year. The sadism of the regime reached its height. From August, 1936 to October 1937, 808 were executed, some with trial, most without. Data from 20 provincial papers showed that 403 were executed from September 5 to October 10, 1937. On November 8, 14 were shot, adding to the eight who were executed three days previously. Goloded, following Cherviakov as the president of the Council of White Russia, committed suicide. Baletsky, head of the Ukrainian Communist Party was recorded as a suicide victim. Luibchenko, the president of the Council of the Ukraine committed suicide. In Ulan Ude, Inner Mongolia, sixteen were shot.

In the Piatakov trial of January, 1937, thirteen were executed, including such figures as Piatakov, Muralov and Serebriakov. This trial was followed by the decapitation of the military staffs. Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Putna and others were shot. There followed the executions of Mdivani and Okudjava. People disappeared without leaving a trace. No one had information, no one dared to speak. Each one sought to improve his own position by denouncing his neighbor or comrade. Despite the veil of secrecy it was possible to determine from official records that 1,203 high functionaries were executed in this frightful year in which additional “Moscow Trials” were held to give the executioners axe a “legal” status. Ambassadors were removed and replaced in rapid succession. In a brief period the ambassadors from Finland, Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, China, Roumania and Poland disappeared, and considering subsequent developments, the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the invasion of the Baltic countries, it is easy to understand, at least in part, reasons for their disappearance.

Other well-known figures of the Communist International who had found haven in the Soviet Union and functioned in the various apparatuses of the Comintern and the Russian C.P., likewise began to disappear. This was especially true of the exiles, those revolutionaries who fled their countries to seek safety in the “socialist fatherland.” In 1937, Bela Kun, whose name is associated with the Hungarian revolution was shot. Piatnitsky was executed, as were Magyar and Valetsky. From the German Communist Party, F. Wolf was shot. Eberlen was shot. Hermann Remmele, who began his revolutionary career in the International Socialist Youth movement in 1907, was shot. There were many rumors about the great Marxist scholar, Riazanov. He was erroneously reported dead on many occasions, until it was ascertained that this terrible information was correct. Stalin killed him.

The Spanish Civil War was not to evade the heavy hand of the Kremlin assassin. The revolutionaries were marked men of the GPU. Andre Nin was seized by the Russian agents and tortured. He was taken from a Madrid prison by the GPU and they found his dead body weeks later. POUM leaders were assassinated. The same was true of the Anarchists. Moulin of the Fourth International was shot. Edwin Wolf, a secretary of Trotsky, was seized in Catalonia by the GPU and murdered. The list continues to grow.

Stalin Settles with Former Allies

Poor Tomsky, he foresaw what was to come. He knew that Stalin would not rest until the entire Old Guard was liquidated. Unable to observe the murderous course continue he committed suicide. He would not be part of the indignity of the trials. Yagoda, the foul director of the GPU who organized the Nikolaiev trial in 1934, the Zinoviev trial in 1936 and the Piatakov trial in January 1937, was himself removed for clumsiness and subsequently executed. The truth was that he knew too much, and he was replaced by the sadistic nonentity, Yeshov. Yeshov was entrusted with the trials of the Right, of Bucharin and his comrades. When that was done he too was removed. But what a holocaust. Nicholai Bucharin was shot. Alexis Rykov was shot. Aveli Yenukidze, for many years an intimate of Stalin, was shot. Jan Rudzutak, Leo Karakhan, the Meshlauk brothers, they too were shot. And they were followed by Grinko, Krestinsky, Rosengoltz, and Zeiinsky. And next? The generals, Alksnis and Garmarnik, and Admiral Orloff.

The Polish Communist Party was dissolved. To insure its death, fourteen members of political and central committees of the Polish Party residing in Moscow were executed. Lensky, Bruno Jascensky, Domsky, and Lapinsky, after Valetsky, fell in the slaughter.

The leaders of the German Communist Party who had followed Stalin loyally in capitulating to Hitler were repaid for their devotion. Look at the list of the dead: Kupfersten, Ottwald, Heinz Neumann, Schubert, Werner Hirsch, Ziskind, Birkenauer, Sauerland, Gerber, Professor Halle and Rudolph Haus.

It is impossible to list all the martyrs. Their names are legion. We have not touched the trial of March 1933 when Connor, Kovarsky and Wolf, along with thirty-two other functionaries and agronomists, were executed; of the disappearance of the heroic Vassili Pankratov and the suicides of Bogdan and Lominadze. Everyone knows how Nina Trotsky, a victim of tuberculosis, was permitted to die, without medical aid. How Anna Lvovna, Trotsky‘s first wife was persecuted to her death and of the disappearance of Sergei Sedov. The hopelessness of life and persecution drove Zinaida Trotsky to her death. Then followed the mysterious death of Leon Sedov, who until his illness was in apparently good health. Rudolph Klement, secretary of the Fourth International, disappeared and was later found beheaded, his body floating down the Seine River. Sheldon Harte fell a victim of the bloody GPU in the year 1940 while a guard at Trotsky‘s home in Coyoacan.

It is impossible, in an article of this character, to give a proper evaluation of the lives and roles of each of these great figures of the international revolutionary movement. They fell, one by one, the victims of a revengeful assassin, who consolidated his power in the interests of the counter-revolution. But each of them were only stepping-stones to the murder of the titan of them all, the heroic and courageous, Leon Trotsky. Stalin at last achieved his goal. The chapter was now closed. The Kremlin murderer stands dripping with the blood of countless proletarian martyrs.

What Is Left of the Old Bolshevik Guard

Let us examine the wreckage and see what remains. Who are some of the dead? Let us list some of them and years they had spent in the revolutionary movement: Ivan Smirnov, forty years; Gregory Zinoviev, thirty-five years; Leon Kamenev, thirty-six years; Georgi Piatakov, twenty-seven years; Gregory Sokolnikov, thirty-two years; Leonid Serebriakov, thirty-two years; Nikolai Muralov, thirty-two years; Yacob Drobnis, thirty-one years; Sergei Mrachkovsky, thirty years; Alexis Rykov, thirty-four years; and Trotsky himself with more than forty years, all of them devoted to the cause of the working class. And the host of others? Their service in the movement would read in the same way. But let us see what these losses have meant to the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern.

Then and Now

At the 6th Congress of the RCP, July–August, 1917, there was a central committee of twenty-one elected. Of this committee, seven died of natural causes; six of the remaining fourteen abandoned political life and became ordinary functionaries. Of the other eight, seven were shot as counter-revolutionaries. Only Stalin remained.

At the 7th Congress in March 1918, a central committee of fifteen was elected. Six died, while two ceased political activity. Seven remained. Six were shot as counter-revolutionaries. Only Stalin remains.

Nineteen members were elected to the Central committee at the 8th congress held in March 1919. Three died. Three ceased political activity. Thirteen were left. Eleven were shot or assassinated as “counter-revolutionaries.” Only Stalin and Kalinin remain.

In March and April 1920 the 9th congress was held. There were 19 members elected to the central committee. Three died. Two retired. Fourteen remained. Of the remaining fourteen, eleven were shot or assassinated as “counter-revolutionaries.” Only Stalin, Kalinin and Andreyev remain.

Of the Central Committee of the RCP, between the years 1917 and 1921, the years of the revolution, the civil war and the consolidation of the Russian Revolution, Lenin, Dzherzinsky, Artem and Stutchka, died. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Yevdomkimov, Smirnov, Serebriakov, Rykov, Smilga, Krestinsky, Preoboshansky, Bucharin, and Rudzutak were shot, Trotsky was murdered and Tomsky committed suicide. Only Stalin, Kalinin and Andreyev remain.

Of the program commission of seven elected at the 7th Party Congress in 1918, Lenin died, six were executed by Stalin and he alone remains.

Of the Political Bureau of seven elected at the 13th Party Congress in May 1924 six were shot or murdered. Only Stalin remains.

From 1919 to 1929, all the essential and fundamental reports were read and all the essential and fundamental resolutions were written by five persons: Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bucharin and Radek. The first four are dead. Radek lives the uninspired life of a cravenous capitulator and informer.

Gone is Shliapnikov, Old Bolshevik; the historian Anishev; Shatzkin, leader of the Young Communist League and an organizer of the Young Communist International; Sharov, one of the founders of the Russian party; Eismont, Old Bolshevik; Yakovlev, Kudlin, Medvediev, Uglanov, Riutin, Putna. Gone too, is Sliepov, former editor of Pravda; Jan Sten, former leader of the “Stalinist Left,” Vuyo Vuyovich, brilliant leader of the youth, Fedorov, the historian Seidel, Arkus and a host of others. All of them had contributed mightily to the development of the Bolshevik Party.

The Marxist theoreticians of the Russian Revolution, the makers of the revolution, the founders of the Communist International, those great figures who helped to educate many thousands of revolutionaries the world over, are dead, the victims of the counter-revolutionary degeneration of the Stalinist bureaucracy, victims of the revengeful Cain Stalin. We have not done their heroic lives the justice they deserve in this review – but we have not forgotten them. Their lives are indelibly recorded in the history of our time, in the first gigantic victory and experiment of the modern proletariat.


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