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Gordon Haskell

Two Fingers Against The Wall

Bulgarian Employee Of American Consulate Describes
How Stalinist Confession-Extracting Process Works

(13 March 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 11, 13 March 1950, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Some new light has been cast on the methods used by the Stalinist totalitarians to obtain their canned “confessions” by a unique document released to the press last week by the State Department. The man who wrote it after going, through the confession-processing himself this week went on the dock in a Bulgarian show trial – and acted out his “confession” while the world read of the story behind it.

The victim, Michael Shipkov, a Bulgarian employee of the U.S. consulate in Sofia, had been arrested by the Bulgarian government, put through the confession-manufacturing machinery, and then released to spy on his American employers. Instead he wrote his story up in an affidavit. Arrested again as he tried to escape the country, he has now become one of the actors-by-command in the latest court farce staged by the Stalinists, speaking the required script about his “espionage activities” for the U.S.

Shipkov’s document once again spotlights one of the most disgusting features of Stalinism. The methods he describes to break down prisoners are not in themselves a new kind. They have been developed from the crude third-degree methods used by the American police against radicals and criminals alike, through the refinements of the Gestapo and SS torture chambers, to the scientific “interrogations” of Stalinism whose chief aim is not so much to obtain information but to destroy the self-respect, and resistance – in fact, the very humanity – of the victim.

Shipkov relates that at the Sofia headquarters of the State Security Militia he was subjected to 39 hours of uninterrupted questioning at the end of which he signed his “confession” and promised to spy for his torturers. Teams of “investigators” worked on him in relays. He was made to face the wall at a distance which permitted his middle finger on each hand to reach the wall. He then had to step back a foot and with his feet flat on the floor leaned against the wall supporting himself only with one finger on each hand.

Against the Wall

“This posture,” Shipkov wrote, “does not appear unduly painful, nor did it particularly impress me in the beginning. And yet, combined with the mental strain, with the continuous pressure to talk, with the utter hopelessness and the longing to go through the thing and be sent down into silence and peace – it is a very effective manner of breaking down all resistance. I recall that the muscles on my legs and shoulders began to get cramped and to tremble, that my two fingers began to bend down under the pressure, to get red all over and to ache, I remember that I was drenched with sweat and that I began to faint, although I had not exerted myself in any way ...

“No attention is paid to the suffering, nor is there any place for hope that they would take pity on you. And when the trembling increases up to the point when I collapsed, they made me sit and speak. I did get several minutes respite, catching my breath, and wiping my face, but when I had uttered again that I was innocent, it was the wall again.”

After a time of this, Shipkov relates that he broke down, and told them he was willing to confess to having been an American spy.

“At this moment,” he wrote, “I believed that I had covered the worst and that I would tell them I am a spy and a traitor and that I would be sent below into a cell to await or serve my punishment. And that did not appear very grim at the moment.

“It is a very painful surprise to realize the error I was in. The interrogation took on again; unrelaxed. Here I want to describe their method of interrogation: You are a spy and a traitor, tell us what tasks you were given to do, who gave them to you, in what manner and with whose help you achieved them and to whom and in what manner did you report? No further indication and no generalities, no over-all statements of guilt accepted. And this went on, hour after hour, throughout the night, throughout the day, without respite or end.”

Monstrous Aim

Step by step Shipkov relates how he was forced to create a whole spy plot out of his imagination. His only guide as to what he should “confess” was the reaction of satisfaction on the part of his interrogators. He found that the things which pleased them most were those which conformed almost ridiculously to the pattern of all the other confessions and self-recriminations he had read.

The relays of interrogators did not seem too interested in the “revelations” made, but were quick to pick up self-recriminations and other indications of the growing self-abasement of their victim. They dangled before him prospects of freedom if he confessed all. They spoke of his youth and the prospects of his life. They delved into his most intimate personal relations, and forced him to drag into his “confessions” people with whom his relations were merely personal.

The monstrosity of the “interrogation” was not so much in the physical violence, which was not lacking. The monstrosity resides in the destruction of the humanity of the victim, a destruction which Stalinism demands as a symbol of the completeness of its totalitarian power over the souls as well as the bodies of men and women. This destruction permits them to involve in their net hundreds and thousands of people who have never committed a political act against the regime, but who may be useful in incriminating political enemies or dissidents in the structure of Stalinism.

The concluding paragraph of Shipkov’s statement is the most moving evidence that could be adduced of Stalinism’s barbarism.

“However, with the first acceptance [of guilt] my power of resistance grew weaker and I slipped steadily lower and lower, not only drawing punishment, but time and time again speaking of others, friends and relatives of mine, involving them in deeds or thoughts utterly untrue, unfounded, slanderous. And then the feeling of resistance is wholly broken; and I remember going deeper and deeper in this awful disloyalty, feeling utterly degraded and wretched, and yet powerless to protest and deny. Indeed, the only things I did not tell them were things they never thought of leading me into describing. At the end, when I wrote down the confession of guilt and repentance, I remember that the whole thing appeared fantastic and ridiculous but it seemed to give them complete satisfaction.”

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