Above: Grigorii Zinoviev, one of the Jewish defendants in the 1936 Moscow show trial
Extract from) Letter to Michael Puntervold (26/10/36)
Translated by Stan Crooke from: Letter to Michael Puntervold (26/10/1936), International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam), inventory number 279. Puntervold was Trotsky’s lawyer during his exile in Norway. In the first half of the letter Trotsky discusses a recent Moscow show trial (19th-24th August), in which the defendants were accused of being Gestapo agents who were plotting to murder Stalin on Trotsky’s instructions. A number of the defendants were Jewish. After discussing the ‘credibility’ of the allegations, Trotsky turns to the significance of the fact that so many of the ‘culprits’ selected for the show trial were Jewish.
The other question to be asked is: Why did Stalin select specifically Jewish intellectuals for the role of the terrorist Nazi agents? Surely he should try and avoid at least this “unnaturalness”? But no! The Moscow trial – in which everything is brazen, rotten and false from start to finish – would not be the finished product of Stalin’s mind without this “unnaturalness”.
The first thing to note is that at all costs I had to send terrorists from abroad to Moscow, because it would otherwise be impossible to successfully take action against me abroad. But where was I to seek out these terrorists? An appropriate political milieu is needed for this. Send Germans, French or Turks against Stalin? That is impossible for reasons of language alone. The Russian milieu abroad is pro-White-Guard. The attempts to link me to the white terrorists (see the Slansky case mentioned above) did not lead anywhere. A game with real terrorists was too dangerous for the stage directors themselves. More docile and more viable characters therefore needed to be sought, ones who could also speak Russian. All that was left were the petty-bourgeois Jewish intellectuals from the peripheral states (Lithuania, Latvia). Not a few of them were to be found in Germany and elsewhere, especially in the apparatus of the Komintern. Given that a lot of material comes from Moscow, people are needed abroad who understand Russian, who have not been absorbed into the “indigenous” milieu, and who are always at the disposal of the Komintern (and, thereby, of the GPU as well). The Russian-Jewish petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals and semi-intellectuals from the peripheral states, lacking any meaningful connection to the working class, devoid of a revolutionary past, and also without any theoretical schooling, mobile and well-versed in languages, played and play a significant, mostly negative, sometimes miserable, role in the service of the Komintern. Once unsatisfied, they run overnight into the camp of the Opposition. On several occasions in the course of the last eight years I have warned my fellow-thinkers in various European countries in letters and articles (all of them are easy to find!) against the pretensions and intrigues of this specific social stratum – not, of course, because of national considerations but because of social and political considerations. That I found the terrorists specifically in this limited milieu, which I distrusted a priori, and that I did so with my eyes closed and without knowing them or checking up on them – that is really just too absurd. But the GPU simply could not find a different milieu. Only the Olbergs and the Bermans were at their disposal.
In doing so Stalin also pursued another goal. He has never had the least qualms about using the basest prejudices – including antisemitism – in the struggle against the Opposition. A wealth of evidence proving this could be provided. I mention just one example. The decree which stripped me of my citizenship did not call me simply Trotsky, and not Sedov either (in line with my official documents), but Bronstein, a name which had completely fallen out of use since 1902, when I called myself Trotsky for the first time. At the same time some Mensheviks were found with the same name, Bronstein, and they were amalgamated with me in the same document. My daughter, whose married name is Volkova and who is named as such in her Soviet documents, is also designated as Bronstein in the decree. From the same point of view, Stalin must have found it quite advantageous that the terrorists whom I supposedly sent all had Jewish names.
But not even the Gestapo should be considered so stupid. For secondary goals it can, of course, use agents whom it comes across by chance. But let us imagine that the Gestapo is preparing terrorist acts against Stalin and the others (which is entirely possible). In such circumstances, would it rely on young Jews of whom it knows nothing and who approached it with the explanation: “We are Trotskyists, we hate Stalin, and we would like to murder him with your help.” The Gestapo would most certainly arrest them, for it is utterly impossible to concoct a cruder provocation.