F.F. Raskolnikov

Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin

Raskolnikov's Open Letter to Stalin

This document, dated August 17, 1939, was first published in the Paris émigré newspaper Novqya Rossya of October 1, 1939. According to Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge, (p.257), in 1964 the author's widow, a resident of France, brought the original of the letter to Moscow. It circulated widely through samizdat channels in the mid-1960s. The translator is indebted to the Current Affairs Research Section of the BBC's External Services for a copy of the samizdat edition.—Brian Pearce

I shall tell that truth about you
Which is worse than any lie.*

[*From Griboyedov's play Woe from Wit, Act III, Scene 9.]

Stalin, you have proclaimed that I am an 'outlaw'. By so doing you have given me the same rights—or, more precisely, the same lack of rights—as all Soviet citizens, who under your rule live as outlaws.

For my part, I answer you with complete reciprocity: I return to you the entrance ticket into the 'realm of socialism' you have built, and break with your regime. Your 'socialism', which, now it has triumphed, can find room for those who built it only behind prison bars, is just as remote from real socialism as the tyranny of your personal dictatorship is without anything in common with the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is of no help to you if the respected Narodnaya Volya revolutionary N.A. Morozov, decorated with an Order, affirms that it was for this 'socialism' that he spent twenty years of his life under the vaults of SchhIsselburg fortress.[1a]

The elemental growth of discontent among the workers, peasants and intelligentsia called imperatively for a sharp political manoeuvre comparable to Lenin's turn towards the New Economic Policy in 1921. Under the pressure of the Soviet people you 'granted' a democratic constitution. It was received by the whole country with sincere enthusiasm.

An honest implementation of the democratic principles of the constitution of 1936, which embodied the hopes and aspirations of the entire people, would have meant a new stage in the extension of Soviet democracy.

But, in your mind, every political manoeuvre is synonymous with cheating and deception. You have cultivated a kind of politics without morality, authority without honesty, socialism without love for mankind.

What have you done with the constitution, Stalin?

Fearing free elections as a 'leap into the unknown' that would threaten your personal power, you have trampled on the constitution as though it were just a bit of paper, you have transformed elections in a miserable farce of voting for a single candidate, and you have filled the sessions of the Supreme Soviet with hymns and ovations in honour of yourself. In the intervals between sessions you quietly annihilate the 'ingratiated' deputies, laughing at their immunity and reminding everyone that the master of the Soviet land is not the Supreme Soviet but yourself.

You have done everything you could to discredit Soviet democracy, just as you have discredited socialism. Instead of following the line of the turn indicated by the constitution, you are suppressing the growing discontent by force and terror. Having gradually replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat by the regime of your personal dictatorship, you have opened a new stage which will enter into the history of our revolution as 'the epoch of terror'.

Nobody in the Soviet Union feels safe. Nobody, when he goes to bed, knows if he will escape arrest during the night. There is no mercy for anyone. The righteous and the guilty, the hero of October and the enemy of the revolution, the old Bolshevik and the non-party man, the collective-farm peasant and the ambassador, the People’s Commissar and the worker, the intellectual and the Marshal of the Soviet Union—all are equally subject to the blows of your scourge, all are whirled in your bloody devil’s roundabout.

Just as, when a volcano erupts, huge boulders crash thunderously into the mouth of the crater, so whole strata of Soviet society are being broken off and are falling into the abyss.

You began with bloody measures against former Trotskyists, Zinovievists and Bukharinists, then you proceeded to exterminate the old Bolsheviks, then you destroyed the Party and non-party cadres that grew up during the civil war and bore on their shoulders the task of carrying through the first Five-Year Plans, and then you organised a massacre of the Young Communist League.

You hide behind the slogan of struggle against ‘Trotskyist-Bukharinist spies’. But it is not since yesterday that you have held power. Nobody could have ‘insinuated’ himself into a post of responsibility without your permission.

Who put the so-called ‘enemies of the people’ into the most responsible positions in the state, the Party, the army and the diplomatic service? Joseph Stalin.

Who planted the so-called ‘wreckers’ in all the crevices of the Party and Soviet apparatus? Joseph Stalin.

Read the old minutes of the Politbureau: they are filled with appointments and postings of none but ‘Trotskyist-Bukharinist spies’, ‘wreckers’ and ‘diversionists’—and beneath them flaunts the signature: J. Stalin.

You make yourself out to have been a trusting simpleton whom some carnival monsters wearing masks have led by the nose for years on end.

‘Seek out and prepare the scapegoats,’ you whisper to your henchmen, and those who are caught and doomed to be sacrificed you load with the sins you have yourself committed.

You have fettered the country by means of fearful terror, so that even a brave man does not dare to cast the truth in your face.

The waves of self-criticism ‘without respect of persons’ die away respectfully at the footstool of your throne.

You are infallible, like the Pope! You never make a mistake!

But the Soviet people know very well that you are responsible for everything, you, the smith who is forging ‘universal happiness’!

With the aid of dirty forgeries you staged trials in which the Preposterousness of the accusations surpasses the mediaeval witch-trials you learnt about from your seminary textbooks.

You know that Pyatakov did not fly to Oslo, that Maxim Crorky died a natural death, and that Trotsky did not derail any trains. Aware that that is all lies, you spur on your minions: Slander away: from slander something will always stick.’

As you know, I was never a Trotskyist. On the contrary, I waged an ideological struggle against all the oppositions, both in the press and in broad meetings. Today as well I do not agree 100% with Trotsky’s political position, with his programme and tactics. While differing with Trotsky on points of principle, I regard him as an honest revolutionary. I do not believe and never shall believe in his ‘compact’ with Hitler and Hess.

You are a cook who prepares highly-spiced dishes that are ‘’digestible for normal people.

At Lenin’s tomb you swore a solemn oath to fulfil his testament and to preserve the unity of the Party like the apple of Your eye. Perjurer, you have violated Lenin’s testament. You have calumniated, dishonoured and shot those who for many years were Lenin’s companions in arms: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rykov and others, of whose innocence you were well aware. Before they died you forced them to confess to crimes they never committed and to smear themselves with filth from head to foot.

And where are the heroes of the October Revolution? Where is Bubnov? Where is Krylenko? Where is Antonov-Ovseyenko? Where is Dybenko? You arrested them, Stalin.[1]

You corrupted and befouled the souls of your collaborators. You compelled your followers to wade, in anguish and disgust, through pools of blood shed by their comrades and friends of yesterday.

In the lying history of the Party written under your direction you robbed the dead, those whom you had murdered and defamed, and took for yourself all their achievements and services.

You destroyed Lenin’s Party, and on its bones you erected a new ‘Party of Lenin and Stalin’ which forms a convenient screen for your autocracy. You created it not on the basis of a common programme and tactics, as any party is built, but on the unprincipled basis of love and devotion towards your person. Members of the new Party are not obliged to know its programme, but instead they are obliged to share that love for Stalin which is warmed up every day by the press. You are a renegade who has broken with his past and betrayed Lenin’s cause!

You solemnly proclaimed the slogan of advancement of new cadres. But how many of these young promotees are already rotting in your dungeons? How many of them have you shot, Stalin? With sadistic cruelty you exterminate cadres that are useful and necessary to the country, because they seem to you dangerous from the standpoint of your personal dictatorship.

On the eve of war you disrupt the Red Army, the love and pride of our country, the bulwark of its might. You have beheaded the Red Army and the Red Navy. You have killed the most talented commanders, those who were educated through experience in the world war and the civil war, headed by the brilliant Marshal Tukhachevsky. You exterminated the heroes of the civil war, who had reorganised the Red Army in accordance with the most up-to-date military technique, and made it invincible.

At the moment of the greatest danger of war you are continuing to exterminate the leaders of the Army, and the middle-ranking and junior commanders as well.

Where is Marshal Bhicher? Where is Marshal Yegorov? You arrested them, Stalin.

To calm anxious minds you deceive the country by saying that the Red Army, weakened by these arrests and executions, has become even stronger than before.

Although you know that the law of military science demands one-man command in the army, from the commander-in-chief down to the platoon commander, you have revived theinstitution of political commissars, which arose in the early days of the Red Army and the Red Navy, when we did not yet have commanders of our own, and needed to exercise political supervision over military specialists drawn from the old army. Out of distrust of the Red commanders you are introducing divided authority into the Army and undermining military discipline.

Under pressure from the Russian people you are hypocritically reviving the cult of the heroes of Russia’s history -Alexander Nevsky and Dmitri Donskoi, Suvorov and Kutuzov—in the hope that in the coming war they will help you more than the Marshals and Generals you have executed.

Exploiting your distrust of everybody, genuine agents of the Gestapo and the Japanese intelligence service fish successfully in the troubled waters you have stirred up, palming off on you quantities of false documents to blacken the best, most talented and honest people. In the poisoned atmosphere of suspicion, mutual distrust, universal spying and omnipotence of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs to which you have handed over for rending the Red Army and the whole country, any intercepted ‘document’ is accepted—or a pretence is made that it is accepted—as indisputable proof. By slipping to Yezhov’s agents forged documents which compromise honest members of the mission, the ‘internal service of the ROVs’, in the person of Captain Voss, has managed to destroy our Embassy in Bulgaria, from the driver M.I. Kazakov to the military attaché Colonel V.T. Sukhorukov.[2]

You are annihilating the most important conquests of October one after the other. On the pretext of combating ‘fluctuation in labour-power’ you have abolished freedom of labour, enslaved the Soviet workers and bound them to the factories. You have ruined the country’s economic organism, disorganised industry and transport, undermined the authority of the manager, the engineer and the foreman, accompanying the ceaseless leap-frog of dismissals and appointments with arrests and hounding of engineers, managers and workers whom you call ‘hidden wreckers, not yet exposed’.

After making normal work impossible, you have, on the pretext of combating ‘absenteeism’ and ‘lateness’ on the part of the workers, forced them to work under the whips and scorpions of harsh and anti-proletarian decrees.

Your inhuman repressions are making life unbearable for the Soviet working people, who for the slightest offence are dismissed from their jobs, with a record that damns them, and evicted from their homes.

The working class bore with selfless heroism the burdens of intense labour, undernourishment, famine, meagre wages, cramped living-space and lack of necessities. They believed that you would lead them to socialism, but you have betrayed their trust. They hoped that, with the victory of socialism in our country, when the dream of humanity’s brilliant minds about a great brotherhood of mankind had been accomplished, all would live in happiness and ease.

You have taken away even that hope: you have proclaimed that socialism has already been fully built. And the workers, bewildered, ask each other, in whispers: ‘If this is socialism, then what, comrades, did we fight for?’

Distorting Lenin’s theory of the withering away of the state, as you have distorted the entire theory of Marxism-Leninism, you promise, through the mouths of your illiterate, primitive ‘theoreticians’, who have occupied the places left vacant by Bukharin, Kamenev and Lunacharsky, that the power of the GPU will be maintained even under communism.[3]

You have deprived the collective farm peasants of every incentive to work. On the pretext of combating ‘the squandering of collective-farm land’ you have abolished their individual plots of land, so as to force them to work in the collective-farm fields .[4]

As the organiser of famine you have done everything possible, by the brutality and cruelty of the unscrupulous methods that are typical of your tactics, to discredit Lenin’s idea of collectivisation in the eyes of the peasantry.

While hypocritically calling the intelligentsia ‘the salt of the earth’ you have deprived the work of the writer, the scholar and the artist of even the minimum of inner freedom. You have forced art into a straitjacket in which it suffocates, withers and dies. The frenzy of the censorship, inspired by fear of you, and the understandable servility of editors who answer for everything with their heads, have led to sclerosis and paralysis in Soviet literature. A writer cannot get into print, a playwright cannot put his plays on the stage, a critic cannot express his personal opinion, unless he has received the official seal of approval.

You stifle Soviet art by demanding that it display courtierlike bootlicking, but it prefers to stay silent, so as not to sing Hosannas in praise of you. You are introducing a pseudo-art which hymns with boring monotony that famous ‘genius’ of yours which sets one’s teeth on edge.

Untalented scribblers glorify you as a demi-god, ‘born of the Sun and the Moon’, and you, like an Oriental despot, delight in the incense of their crude flattery.

You pitilessly crush Russian writers who, though talented, are not to your liking. Where is Boris Pilnyak? Where is Sergei Tretyakov? Where is Alexander Arosev?[5] Where is Mikhail Koltsov? Where is Tarasov-Rodionov? Where is Galina Serebryakova, whose crime was to be Sokolnikov’s wife? You arrested them, Stalin!

Following Hitler’s example, you have revived the mediaeval burning of books. I have seen with my own eyes the long lists, circulated to Soviet libraries, of books that are to be subjected to immediate and unconditional destruction. When I was ambassador in Bulgaria in 1937 I found in the list of forbidden literature to be burnt which was sent to me my own work of historical reminiscences, Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917. Against the names of many authors was written: ‘All books, pamphlets and portraits to be destroyed.’

You have deprived Soviet scholars—especially those working in the humanities—of that minimum of freedom of scientific thought without which the creative work of research becomes impossible. By means of intrigue, troublemaking and persecution, self-assured ignoramuses are preventing scholars and scientists from working in the universities, laboratories and institutes.

Outstanding Russian men of learning, of world-wide fame, like Academicians Ipatiev and Chichibabin,[6] you have


denounced to the whole world as ‘non-returners’, naively supposing that thereby you defame them, but you only disgrace yourself, by making known to the whole country and to world public opinion the shameful fact that the best scholars and scientists flee from your paradise, leaving to you the ‘benefits’ you confer: flats, motor-cars and tickets of admission to the dining-room of the Council of People’s Commissars.

You are exterminating talented Russian scholars and scientists. Where is Tupolev, the best Soviet aeroplane-designer? You have not spared even him. You arrested Tupolev, Stalin!

No field, no corner is left in which one can tranquilly carry on the work one loves. The theatrical director, remarkable producer and outstanding artist Vsevolod Meyerhold did not engage in politics. But you arrested him too, Stalin!

Although you know that, given our poverty in cadres, every educated and experienced diplomat is particularly precious to us, you have enticed to Moscow and destroyed nearly all the Soviet Union’s ambassadors, one after another. You have thoroughly destroyed the entire apparatus of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. Destroying here, there and everywhere the gold reserve of our country, its young cadres, you have exterminated talented and promising diplomats in the flower of their lives.

At a terrible moment of war-danger, when the spearhead of fascism is aimed at the Soviet Union, when the struggle over Danzig and the war in China are merely preparing places d’armes for future intervention against the USSR, when the principal object of German and Japanese aggression is our motherland, when the only possible means of preventing war is for the Soviet Union to enter openly into the international bloc of democratic states, concluding as soon as may be a military and political pact with Britain and France, you waver, hesitate, vacillate like a pendulum between the ‘axes’.

In all your calculations in politics, both external and internal, you proceed not from love for the motherland, which is alien to you, but from animal fear of losing your personal power. Your unprincipled dictatorship blocks our country’s way forward, like a rotten log.

You, ‘the Father of the Peoples’, betrayed the defeated Spanish revolutionaries, abandoning them to the will of fate and leaving other states to look after them. Magnanimous saving of human lives is not included among your principles. Woe to the conquered! You have no further need of them.

You have callously doomed the Jewish workers, intellectuals and craftsmen fleeing from Fascist barbarism, by shutting against them the doors of our country, which could hospitably offer refuge in its immense spaces to many thousands of immigrants.

Like all Soviet patriots, I got on with my work while closing my eyes to many things. I kept silent for too long. It was hard for me to break my last ties—not with you, your doomed regime, but with the remains of Lenin’s old Party, of which I had been a member for nearly thirty years, and which you destroyed in three. It was agonisingly painful to be deprived of my motherland.

More and more, as time goes by, the interests of your personal dictatorship will come into irreconcilable conflict with the interests of the workers, the peasants, the intelligentsia, the interests of the whole country, which you mock, as a tyrant who has risen to personal power.

Your social basis is shrinking day by day. Feverishly seeking support, you lavish hypocritical compliments on the ‘nonParty Bolsheviks’, you create new privileged groups one after another, you heap favours upon them, you feed them sops, but you cannot guarantee these new ‘caliphs for an hour’ not only the retention of their privileges but even their right to live.

Your crazy bacchanal cannot last for long. The list of your crimes is endless! Endless is the roll-call of your victims! It is impossible to enumerate them.

Sooner or later, the Soviet people will put you in the dock as a traitor to socialism and the revolution, the chief wrecker, the real enemy of the people, the organiser of famine and of judicial forgeries.

F. Raskolnikov August 17, 1939


[1a] N.A. Morozov (1854-1946), a leader of the Narodnaya Volya terrorist organisation, spent the years 1882-1905 as a prisoner in SchltIsselburg fortress. After the October Revolution, he was given the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner, and made an Honorary Academician. Raskolnikov refers to the statements in praise of Stalin made by Morozov in his old age.

[1] In another version of the ‘Open Letter’, the following words appear at this point: ‘Where is the Old Guard? You shot them, Stalin.’—B.P.

[2] ‘ ‘ROVS’ are the initials of the Russian name of the ‘Russian General Military Union’, the organisation of the ex-soldiers of the White Armies living as émigrés in Europe. In 1927 Captain K.A. Voss, chief of staff of the head of ROVS in Bulgaria, formed an internal service’ for the alleged purpose of carrying on secret intelligence work against the USSR. In 1938, however, after a number of incidents had aroused suspicion that Voss and his associates were actually double agents, the ROVS leadership dissolved this ‘internal service’. Voss is said to have worked for the Gestapo in Russia during the German invasion

[3] In another version of the letter, the following words appear at this point: ‘There is nothing to stop you announcing tomorrow that communism has been established. Crude vulgariser that you are, you have done everything possible to discredit Lenin’s theory of the building of socialism in one country.’—B.P.

[4] In another version of the letter, the following words appear at this point: ‘In your mockery of the collective-farm peasants, you have gone so far as to impose a meat-tax levied not per head of cattle but per hectare of land.’—B.P.

[5] Alexander Aroscv (mentioned above, p.356, as Muralov’s deputy in Moscow), gave particular offence to Stalin as a writer by his book, Km-ni (The Roots), published in 1953. The novel depicts the workings of the Bolshevik underground organisation in Tsarist times. ‘The character of Vano, a silent, sullen man, eternally smoking a pipe, was apparently intended to represent Stalin. Vano’s pride suffers because he is merely one of many instead of the top man, and this injured pride breeds distrust, bitterness and contempt for others.’ (V. Zavashilin, Early Soviet Writers, 1958, p.2’0.)

[6] V.N. Ipatiev (1867-1952) and A.E. Chichibabin (1871-1945), both distinguished organic chemists, ‘failed to return’ from visits abroad in 1930. Ipatiev’s autobiography, The Life of a Chemist (1946), describes the experiences which led him to ‘defect’.