The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials


The trial considered that it established the following contacts of Trotsky with the defendants:

1. With Smirnov and Holtzman, through Sedov. With Holtzman directly, in Copenhagen;
2. With Dreitzer, through Sedov and through direct written contact;
3. With Berman-Yurin and Fritz David;
4. With Olberg, through Sedov;
5. With M. Lurie, through Ruth Fischer-Maslow.

To help the reader orient himself on this question, we provide a diagram of these contacts, p. 93. The diagram is drawn, of course, on the basis of the facts given at the trial, and not according to reality.

Smirnov and Holtzman

On August 5, 1936, that is, a few days before the beginning of the trial, I.N. Smirnov was broken. Having resisted until then—Vyshinsky tells us that Smirnov’s interrogation consists of “only these words: I deny this, I still deny it, I deny,”—even Smirnov took the path of false confessions. Describing his meeting with Sedov in Berlin, he says: “In the course of our conversation, L. Sedov, while analyzing the situation in the Soviet Union, stated his personal opinion that under present conditions only the violent elimination of the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and the Soviet government could bring about a change in the general situation in the country.” But this false testimony was not enough for Stalin. He demanded more “precise” formulations. Another week passes, a week of terrible moral suffering, and on August 13, the day before the prosecutor signed the indictment, Smirnov finally yielded: “I confess that I knew after the conversation with Sedov in 1931 in Berlin, that the directives for terror as the only means capable of changing the situation in the Soviet Union, were his personal directives. [60]

In all this, obviously there is not one word of truth. The only truth is that in July 1931, Sedov met I.N. Smirnov [61] completely by chance, in a large department store in Berlin, the “KDV.” I.N. Smirnov had known Sedov intimately for many years. After a second of confusion, I.N. Smirnov agreed to meet with him and have a talk. The meeting took place. During the conversation, it turned out that I.N. Smirnov had already been in Berlin for a long time, but he had made no attempt to establish any ties with the Opposition and would not have made any attempt, if not for this chance encounter in the department store KDV. This fact is indirectly confirmed even by the court transcripts, according to which I.N. Smirnov arrived in Berlin in May 1931. But the meeting of Sedov and Smirnov didn’t take place until July. (If Smirnov, as the prosecution wishes us to believe, had come to Berlin with the specific aim of contacting Trotsky, one cannot understand why, having arrived in May, he would have waited, that is, lost, two months).

First the two speakers exchanged information. During the conversation, I.N. Smirnov, without speaking directly on the question of his break with the Opposition, insisted that between L. Trotsky and himself, there was the following disagreement: He, Smirnov, did not share Trotsky’s point of view about the necessity of conducting political work in the USSR. With this, Smirnov wanted in some way to explain and justify his break with the Opposition. Smirnov thought that the present conditions in the USSR did not allow any oppositional work to be carried out and that, in any case, it was necessary to wait until these conditions changed. A characteristic trait: in speaking of the Opposition, Smirnov said you, not we, your point of view, your comrades, etc. Without there having been any suggestion by Sedov, Smirnov categorically declared that he did not want and would not enter into any relationship with the Bolshevik-Leninists in the USSR. This is not the place to polemicize with Smirnov’s point of view, but how far all this is from “terrorism” and the “representative” [62] of Trotsky in the USSR! On the political questions, the speakers established that their points of view were rather close, although I.N. Smirnov did not express it categorically, touching in general on the political questions from the point of view of passive contemplation. At the end of the conversation, it was only understood that if the possibility came up, I.N. Smirnov would send information on the economic and political situation in the USSR, with the help of which one could here, abroad, be oriented more correctly on Russian questions. But I.N. Smirnov would not make any promises in this respect either. Is it worth the trouble to deny that there were conversations and “terrorist instructions”? Let us only note in passing the absurdity of the fact that Sedov could have “personally” given “instructions” to I.N. Smirnov, an old Bolshevik, one of the pioneers and leaders of the party, and one who was old enough to have been Sedov’s father. But perhaps Sedov was transmitting “instructions” in Trotsky’s name? Smirnov himself denied it, categorically, in front of the court.

Thus the meeting had an accidental, semi-personal character and in any case stood outside any organizational relations whatsoever. The principal interest of this meeting was that it made possible direct personal contact with a man who had recently left the USSR. In perceiving Soviet reality, such personal encounters were more precious than dozens of the best articles.

For more than a year, there was no news of any kind from I.N. Smirnov. It seemed that this chance meeting would have no results, not even in the sense of receiving some scraps of news from him.

And suddenly, in the fall of 1932, a Soviet employee arriving in Berlin from the USSR looked up Sedov. This was Holtzman. He said that I.N. Smirnov, who was a close friend, had learned of his trip abroad on official matters and had asked him to visit Sedov in Berlin.

Holtzman himself was never an active Oppositionist, although he had sympathy for the Opposition. He was a fairly typical representative of that layer of old Bolsheviks who were called “liberals” in the milieu of the Opposition. Honest men, they half-way sympathized with the Opposition, but were incapable of fighting the Stalinist apparatus; they had gotten used to not expressing their thoughts openly, adapting to the apparatus, grumbling in their narrow circle and were not averse to offering this or that service to an individual Oppositionist, especially one in exile. Holtzman did not come in the name of the organization of the Left Opposition, with which he, like Smirnov, had no connection, nor in the name of any other group, because none such existed (nor, even less, in the name a “center”!) But he came on behalf of Smirnov personally, whom Holtzman cited. Smirnov asked him to tell Sedov what was happening in the Soviet Union and give him a short letter, concerning the economic situation in the USSR. This letter was printed in the form of an article in the Bulletin (No.31, Nov. 1932) under the title The Economic Situation in the Soviet Union. This article contained considerable statistical material and facts and had a purely informational character.

This was the only document brought by Holtzman. As far as the rest is concerned, he limited himself to verbal information on the political situation in the USSR, on the state of people’s spirits, etc. On the basis of this information, the editorial staff of the Bulletin composed some “correspondence” from Moscow, which appeared in the same issue (No.31).

From the entire character of this meeting, it is absolutely clear that Holtzman received neither “instructions” nor a letter, and did not ask for any either. If he did carry some sort of material into the USSR, it could only have been the Bulletin.

His aim was to gain a close knowledge of Trotsky’s point of view, his assessment of the Russian question, in particular, so as to able to inform Smirnov.

Holtzman quickly returned straight to the USSR. He did not go to Copenhagen and did not see Trotsky. (On this point, see the chapter Copenhagen).

But since this meeting between Holtzman and Sedov provided nothing for the purposes of the GPU, they forced Holtzman to testify about his imaginary trip to Copenhagen, in order to give more weight to all the charges of the indictment, by directly linking Holtzman with Trotsky. We’ve already seen how pitifully this attempt failed.

These two facts, i.e., that meetings of Smirnov and Holtzman with Sedov actually took place, are the only drops of truth in the Moscow trial’s sea of lies. The only ones! All the rest are lies, lies from beginning to end.

But what does the fact of the meetings of Smirnov and Holtzman with Sedov prove? It proves that there were meetings and nothing more.

On January 1, 1933, I.N. Smirnov was arrested. It was also then, perhaps a bit before, that Holtzman was arrested. Smirnov was sentenced by the GPU to ten years in an isolator for “ties with the Opposition abroad.” Without a doubt, Stalin and the GPU knew at that time, i.e. at the beginning of 1933, all the circumstances of I.N. Smirnov’s meeting with Sedov because I.N. Smirnov had nothing to hide. Smirnov was arrested alone. None of his close friends (Safonova, Mrachkovsky, et al.) were arrested; some among them were only deported. This alone shows that the GPU—as a result of the investigation of Smirnov’s case—considered it established that his ties “abroad” were of a purely personal nature, that there was no “center” or group organized around Smirnov. Otherwise the arrests would have been much more extensive and it would not have been Smirnov alone who was sentenced to imprisonment in an isolator.

On the other hand, if the “contact” with Smirnov had been of an organizational nature, then after Smirnov’s arrest someone else would have automatically had to renew this contact. But, from the court evidence itself it obviously follows that the “contact” existed only with Smirnov and that after his arrest, it ceased.

This did not stop Stalin, three and a half years after Smirnov’s arrest, from turning this ill-fated meeting, which had already cost Smirnov a sentence of ten years in isolation, into a new case about a terrorist center and terror, and—from shooting Smirnov.

The charges mention Holtzman’s name all of one time and that only in passing. He, they say, had received instructions from Trotsky during a private meeting. Throughout the trial, Holtzman is referred to as the one who received terrorist instructions. During the trial, it is not once said that Holtzman passed these instructions on to Smirnov, the only defendant with whom Holtzman was personally linked. Holtzman himself denied categorically having transmitted “instructions.” The one at the trial who figures as the transmitter of Trotsky’s instructions about terrorism is not Holtzman, but Y. Gaven, who supposedly personally received terrorist instructions from Trotsky, and passed them on to I.N. Smirnov. The charges speak of Gaven as the only person who had passed on terrorist instructions from Trotsky to the “Unified Center,” and it is Gaven alone who is cited in the testimony of Smirnov, Mrachkovsky, Safonova, and others. He is also the one that the prosecutor Vyshinsky mentions five or six times in his indictment speech. There is not a single word of testimony at the trial concerning the fact that Holtzman passed on terrorist instructions from Trotsky. Meanwhile the Gaven case is for some reason “set aside,” and he is not summoned before the court, even as a witness. Holtzman, however, was shot for the “instructions” which he supposedly received, but which he passed on to no one. This is the version upheld during the whole trial. But in the verdict, everything comes out just the opposite; the name of Gaven is not even mentioned; Holtzman is cited as having passed on Trotsky’s instructions about terror to the Unified Center. This confusion was inevitable, because it flows from the whole nature of the trial,—a crude and insolent police machination.

Is it necessary to say that Trotsky did not transmit through I. Gaven, any more than through anyone else, any kind of terrorist instructions and did not meet with Gaven abroad, any more than he met with a single man of the defendants?

The Missing Document

(Trotsky’s “Letter” to Dreitzer)

As is well known, the prosecution did not have at its disposal during the trial a single shred of material evidence, a single actual document or letter. In order to fill in this gap, a “letter” from Trotsky to Dreitzer and Mrachkovsky was indeed cited from memory and in quotes. The original, of course, was absent.

This story begins with Dreitzer’s trip to Berlin (in the autumn of 1931) when he “met twice in a cafe on Leipzigerstrasse with Sedov [Trotsky’s son]. Sedov told him that Trotsky’s directives would be sent later.”

This is the purest fabrication. Not only did Sedov never meet Dreitzer in Berlin, but he has never met him and they are not personally acquainted. (For those who know Berlin, we note parenthetically, that a cafe on Leipzigerstrasse is a place very poorly suited for a conspiratorial rendezvous ... )

The three lines quoted above are all that Dreitzer says about his rendezvous in Berlin. There were no “instructions.” Nor were there any conversations about terror. Why then, one should ask, was it necessary for the GPU to “send” Dreitzer to a rendezvous in Berlin? We will now find this out. Jumping ahead three years, Dreitzer testifies further that “in October 1934, Dreitzer’s sister brought him a film magazine from Warsaw, given to her for Dreitzer by an agent [?] of Sedov. Dreitzer easily discovers within this magazine—since he had agreed with Sedov in Berlin on the means of contact (Here’s the solution! Now we understand why the GPU invented the rendezvous in Berlin)—a handwritten letter from Trotsky in chemical ink which contained the order to proceed without delay in the preparation and execution of terrorist acts against Stalin and Voroshilov ... Dreitzer immediately sent this letter to Mrachkovsky, who ... after learning its contents, burned the letter out of conspiratorial considerations.”

It is not without interest to note, first of all, that this highly important testimony of Dreitzer’s was made only after many weeks and perhaps even months of interrogation (in the volume containing his testimony it is recorded on pages 102 and 103). It required 100 pages, of forced confessions, for him to “remember” this very important fact.

The letter had been brought from Warsaw. Neither Trotsky or Sedov had ever been in Warsaw. By what means did the unknown sister of Dreitzer (why wasn’t she summoned as a witness?) receive this highly conspiratorial handwritten letter from Trotsky, through whom, through whom, under what circumstances? Quite reasonably, no one tells us a word about all that. If one admits, ad absurdum, that Trotsky had actually been capable of writing a letter containing the directive to kill Stalin, it is still impossible to imagine that Trotsky had been so careless as to entrust such a letter to Dreitzer’s sister who was a complete stranger to him, and what’s more, to write it in his own handwriting, as if for the express purpose of giving the GPU death-dealing evidence against him. The letter wasn’t written in Code. [63] This form of activity is worthy of a student terrorist, but not of an old revolutionary with experience in conspiratorial matters. If the GPU were unable to obtain the letter, it is only because it was never written.

Dreitzer further testifies that after he received the letter in Moscow, he familiarized himself with its contents. The letter was written in chemical ink, in such a way that it had to be developed in order to be read. After having developed and read the letter, Dreitzer sent it to Mrachkovsky in Kazakhstan, How would it be necessary to act in such a case? You would have to rewrite the letter in chemical ink, not to mention that it would be necessary to write it in code. And what does Dreitzer do?

Mrachkovsky states “that in December 1934, when he was in Kazakhstan, he received from Dreitzer a letter from Trotsky written in chemical ink ... Mrachkovsky stresses that he knows Trotsky’s handwriting very well and that he did not have the slightest doubt that the letter was actually written by Trotsky.” These details are of enormous interest. It turns out that Dreitzer did not recopy Trotsky’s letter, but sent Mrachkovsky—the original, which he had developed.

Dreitzer sends a foreign magazine to Mrachkovsky in Kazakhstan. In its margins, quite openly, as if it were written in ordinary ink, a letter is written in Trotsky’s hand, and what a letter! It calls for the assassination of Stalin and Voroshilov!

We are sure that never, anywhere in the entire history of revolutionary struggle, was there even an instance of sending a developed chemical letter (and what a letter!) absolutely openly for thousands of miles. This case would be without precedent in the history of illegal correspondence. Would be, we say,—because it didn’t happen. But “there was” something even more fantastic. Mrachkovsky, it turns out, received Trotsky’s original letter (“written in chemical ink”) undeveloped. Thus, in transit, a miraculous transformation of the developed letter sent by Dreitzer took place: when Mrachkovsky received it was no longer developed. Nothing like this has ever happened not only in revolutionary practice, but in nature in general.

No, what incompetents, these GPU people! The Stalinist bureaucrat-investigator doesn’t even know how to lie properly!

But we still have to say a few words about the content and style of this crudely constructed falsification.

During the trial, two versions of this letter were given: one according to Dreitzer’s “recollections,” the other according to Mrachkovsky’s. The two versions, apparently similar, differ on one very essential point. Mrachkovsky says that Trotsky gave instructions that “in case of war, one should hold a defeatist position.” With Dreitzer, “it’s necessary in case of war to make good use of all the defeats ...”

The Left Opposition has always irreconcilably taken the position of unconditional defense of the USSR. In Mrachkovsky’s version, Trotsky makes a 180 degree turn on this highly important question, by taking a position which is exactly the opposite of that which the Left Opposition and Trotsky have defended for many years, as well as in their latest works. This point of the letter alone could not have failed to strike those to whom it was written, and it could not have failed to embed itself in their memory forever, because it meant a break with all the past. Meanwhile, in this extremely important question the testimonies of Mrachkovsky and Dreitzer contradict each other.

In the same way, it is impossible not to notice that Trotsky’s “letter”—in which he proposes to assassinate Stalin and Voroshilov, take a defeatist position and organize illegal cells within the army, — takes all of eight or nine lines! You would think that such an extravagant “platform” would have at least required some explanation. And one more thing: if Mrachkovsky or Dreitzer had actually received such a letter, they would have undoubtedly taken it for a crude provocation.

This incompetent and ignorant forgery is significantly inferior as far as “quality” goes, to other “police” productions such as the celebrated “Zinoviev letter,” not to mention “the bordereau in the Dreyfus affair.” [64]

Let's draw up a short balance sheet:

1. Berman-Yurin and Fritz David were not linked to any other defendants. They could be included in the trial only by means of a tenuous thread, tying them to Trotsky and Sedov. We have already shown that this “thread” was a product of the GPU. Let’s break it. Berman-Yurin and Fritz David hang in mid-air. It becomes clear that they were included in the trial as the basis of an amalgam.

2. Olberg, outside of Sedov, is not linked to any of the defendants. We have already shown what kind of a person this Olberg was, what kind of character belonged to this “contact,” which stopped in 1932. Let’s break this thread as well. Olberg also hangs in mid-air. He also was included in the trial for the sake of the amalgam.[65]

3. M. Lurie is included in the trial through Ruth Fischer-Maslow who supposedly transmitted to him terrorist instructions from Trotsky at the beginning of 1933 in Berlin. But Trotsky at this time had no connection [66] with Ruth Fischer and Maslow, because they held different political positions. (This contact was not established until 1934.) Of course, the proposition that Ruth Fischer and Maslow, in their own name, gave “instructions” to Zinoviev is the purest absurdity. The thread which ties the anti-Trotskyist scribbler, M. Lurie, to Trotsky breaks in two places. [67] (They break easily, these rotten threads!)

4. Dreitzer. Everything necessary about this connection has been said in this chapter. Let’s break this thread as well.

5. There remains the triangle of Sedov-Smirnov-Holtzman. We have drawn it, in contrast to the other lines, with a solid line, because the fact of the meetings itself is true. This is the only truth in the whole trial. These meetings took place in 1931 and 1932. Since then there has been no other contact whatsoever; from the beginning of 1933, both Smirnov and Holtzman were in prison. (The thread which directly links Trotsky with Holtzman was “broken” in the preceding chapter.)

As far as these two meetings are concerned, one participant (Smirnov) categorically denied having received terrorist instructions from Trotsky; “it was the personal opinion of Sedov,” he says; the other (Holtzman) did not transmit terrorist instructions and was so hopelessly discredited by the story of his “trip” to Copenhagen. However, they were to prove Trotsky’s participation in terrorist activity, especially in Kirov’s assassination. And the verdict says that “L. Trotsky, from abroad, hastened by every means possible the preparation for Kirov’s assassination.” (Although this wasn’t mentioned once at the trial itself.)

In order to explain why it was necessary to assassinate Kirov, who played no independent role, they tell us that it was the revenge of the Zinovievists for the fact that Kirov had crushed them in Leningrad. But what then does Trotsky have to do with it? When Kirov crushed the Zinovievists in Leningrad, they were just as hostile to the Left Opposition as were the Stalinists.

On the role of Trotsky in Kirov’s assasination, Zinoviev testified in a much more eloquent manner: “In my opinion, Bakaev is right when he says that the true and principal culprits of the odious assassination of Kirov were, in the first place, myself—Zinoviev, Trotsky and Kamenev.”

For four years Zinoviev led terrorist activity of unprecendented scope. And Zinoviev, one of the principal defendants, speaks of the role of the principal defendant, Trotsky, in a very uncertain way (“in my opinion”, with reference to a third person.

No comment.

On the basis of irrefutable facts, we have shown that there was neither terrorism nor a “center”; we have also shown how much these contacts of Trotsky with the defendants are worth. Of the Stalinist “schema,” there remains only a blank space. In order to fill it with a “schema” which corresponds to reality, it would be enough to draw two rectangles: one large Stalin, the other smaller—Yagoda. The Moscow trial is their creation from start to finish.


[60] In this example, the investigative technique is once again revealed: the accused are constantly pushed, one degree at a time, toward false confessions. (L.S.)

[61] In describing Smirnov’s meeting with Sedov, as with a number of other questions where Sedov is mentioned, we are using his testimony. (L.S.)

[62] At the trial, Smirnov was always called Trotsky’s “representative” in the USSR. Such personal “representation”—a “junior leader” represents not the organization, but the “senior leader”—was, of course, completely alien to the Opposition and, on the other hand, is a highly typical invention for the bureaucracy, in the farm and image of their “leader” and his personal representatives—his minions. But, in general, how could Smirnov have “represented” the Opposition? He, who had publicly broken from it in the USSR in the presence of thousands of Bolshevik-Leninists true to the cause? Until 1934, the Left Opposition in the USSR was headed by Rakovsky whose moral authority during that period could not have been compared with I.N. Smirnov’s authority. (L.S.)

[63] Holtzman had already said that a code existed for correspondence with Trotsky. (L.S.)

[64] “Zinoviev letter”: published by the Tory Daily Mail during the 1924 election campaign after the fall of the first Labour Government. It purported to be from Zinoviev, then President of the Communist International, to the British party containing instructions about the military section of the British CP. In fact it was a crude forgery, concocted by White Russian emigres in Paris and conveyed through agents connected with the Conservative Central Office. Its aim was to weaken Labour’s electoral chances, and this it did, not by diminishing the Labour vote, but by scaring pro-liberal middle class voters into supporting the Tories. This allowed Baldwin to become Prime Minister again in 1925. (Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, Vol. 2)

[65] The Dreyfus Affair: Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish captain on the French General Staff who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in 1895 on a false charge of espionage. The War Office, monarchists and the Church conducted a viciously anti-Semitic campaign which split the nation into warring camp. The Republicans finally triumphed and Dreyfus was exonerated in 1906. The crudity of the frameup has long since served to make the Dreyfus Affair a paradigm of political falsification.

[66] This fact can be established on the basis of documents and the testimony of numerous witnesses. (L.S.)

[67] As far as M. Lurie’s “ties” with Zinoviev are concerned, it is interesting to note that M. Lurie, who brought such important terrorist instructions for Zinoviev to Moscow in March 1933, met with him only in August 1934! (L.S.)

Last updated on: 13.2.2005