Saturday, July 2, 2016

Grover Furr- Evidence of Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan (Part II)

Grover Furr- Evidence of Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan (Part II). Continue from Part I.
Source: Cultural Logic, 2009.

Objectivity And Persuasion.

Political prejudice still predominates in the study of Soviet history. Conclusions that contradict the dominant paradigm are routinely dismissed as the result of bias or incompetence. Conclusions that cast doubt upon accusations against Stalin or whose implications tend to make him look either “good” or even less “evil” than the predominant paradigm holds him to have been, are called “Stalinist.” Any objective study of the evidence now available is bound to be called “Stalinist” simply because it reaches conclusions that are politically unacceptable to those who have a strong political bias, be it anticommunist generally or Trotskyist specifically. The aim of the present study is to examine the allegations made in the USSR during the 1930s that Leon Trotsky collaborated with Germany and Japan against the USSR in the light of the evidence now available. 

This study is not a “prosecutor’s brief” against Trotsky. It is not an attempt to prove Trotsky “guilty” of conspiring with the Germans and Japanese. Nor is it an attempt to “defend” Trotsky against such charges. We have tried hard to do what an investigator does in the case of a crime in which he has no parti pris but only wishes to solve the crime. This is what historians who investigate the more distant past, or the history of countries other than the Soviet Union, do all the time. We do wish to persuade the fair-minded, objective reader that we have carried out a competent, honest investigation. Namely: That we have done the following:
  • collected all the evidence we could find supporting the contention that Trotsky collaborated with the Germans and Japanese;
  • collected all the “negative” evidence – any “alibi” Trotsky or his son and chief political aide Leon Sedov may have had. We have done this chiefly by paying serious attention to Trotsky’s testimony at the Dewey Commission hearings in 1937, where he himself laid out his defense;
  • studied all this evidence carefully and honestly; and
  • drawn our conclusions on the basis of that evidence.
We wish to persuade the objective reader that we have reached our conclusions on the basis of evidence and its analysis and not on any other basis, such as political bias. We are NOT out to arraign or “convict” Trotsky. We remain ready to be convinced that Trotsky did not collaborate with Germany and Japan if, in the future, further evidence is disclosed indicating that those charges are false. The Role of Appropriate Skepticism Throughout this essay we have tried to anticipate the objections of a skeptical critic. This is no more than any careful, objective researcher should do, and exactly what both the prosecution and the defense in any criminal investigation do with the evidence and interpretation. We have a lengthy discussion of evidence at the beginning of the essay. In the body of the essay we follow each presentation of evidence with a critical examination. In the final section subtitled “Conclusion” the reader will find a review and refutation of the objections a sharp but fair-minded critic might have. We are aware that there is a subset of readers for whom evidence is irrelevant, for whom – to put it politely – this is not a matter of evidence but one of belief or loyalty. We discuss the arguments normally raised from this quarter in the subsection titled “Objectivity and Denial.” In any historical inquiry as in any criminal case “belief” and “loyalty” are irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the hypothesis. By definition, a belief that is not rationally founded on evidence can’t be dispelled by a sound argument and evidence.

However, those who cannot bring themselves to question their preconceived ideas may nevertheless be provoked by those same prejudices to look especially critically at the evidence and to find weaknesses in its interpretation that might escape other readers for whom there is less at stake. This sometimes makes objections from such quarters worthy of attention. We have tried hard both to anticipate and to deal with such objections in a satisfactory manner. Evidence Before proceeding to cite and study the new archival documents we need to discuss the question of evidence itself. Whereas “documents” are material objects – in our case, writing on paper – “evidence” is a relational concept. We are concerned with investigating an allegation: that Trotsky conspired with German and/or Japanese officials.

We aim to gather and study the evidence that suggests Trotsky acted as alleged. There is no such thing as absolute evidence. All evidence can be faked. Any statement – a confession of guilt, a denial of guilt, a claim one has been tortured, a claim one has not been coerced in any way – may be true or false, an attempt to state the truth as the speaker (or writer) remembers it, or a deliberate lie. Documents can be forged and, in the case of Soviet history, often have been. False documents have on occasion been inserted into archives in order to be “discovered.” Or, it may be alleged that a given document was found in an archive when it was not. Photographs can be faked.

Eyewitnesses can lie, and in any case eyewitnesses are so often in error that such evidence is among the least reliable kind. In principle there is no such thing as a “smoking gun” – evidence that is so clearly genuine and powerful that it cannot be denied. The problems of identifying, gathering, studying, and drawing correct conclusions from evidence are similar in criminal investigation and in historical research. This is especially true when, as in our case, the research is to determine whether a kind of crime took place in the past. But there are important differences, and it’s vital to be clear about them. In a criminal trial the accused has certain rights. The trial has to be finite in length, after which the accused is either convicted or acquitted for good. The defendant ought to enjoy the presumption of innocence and the benefit of any reasonable doubt. The defendant is entitled to a qualified defender whose sole job it is to interpret all evidence in a way so as to benefit his client. Meanwhile, the judge and even the prosecution are supposed to be concerned not just about securing a conviction but also about justice. Once they are reasonably convinced that the defendant is innocent their duty is to dismiss the charges and discharge the accused even though they might be able to sway the jury to convict. These practices are intended to prevent an innocent defendant from an unjust verdict and penalty.

Historians are in quite a different situation. Dead people have no rights (or anything else) that need to be defended. Therefore the historian does not have to be concerned with any presumption of innocence, “reasonable doubt,” and so on. Unlike a legal verdict no conclusion is final. The historical inquiry need never end. It can, and will, be taken up again and again as new evidence is discovered or new interpretations of old evidence are reached. This is in fact what we are doing in the present article. We are investigating the question of whether Trotsky collaborated with German and Japanese officials in the light of new evidence, while at the same time reconsidering evidence that has long been available. Identifying, locating, gathering, and even studying and interpreting evidence are skills that can be taught to anyone.

The most difficult and rarest skill in historical research is the discipline of objectivity. In order to reach true conclusions – statements that are more truthful than other possible statements about a given question – a researcher must first question and subject to doubt any preconceived ideas she may hold about the subject under investigation. It is one’s own preconceived ideas and prejudices that are most likely to sway one into a subjective interpretation of the evidence. Therefore, the researcher must take special steps to make certain this does not happen. This can be done. The techniques are known, and widely practiced in the physical and social sciences. They can be adapted to historical research as well. If such techniques are not practiced the historian will inevitably be seriously swayed from an objective understanding of the evidence by her own pre-existing preferences and biases. That will all but guarantee that her conclusions are false even if she is in possession of the best evidence and all the skills necessary to analyze it.

Nowhere is a devotion to objectivity more essential or less in evidence than in the field of Soviet history of the Stalin period. As it is impossible to discover the truth absent a dedication to objectivity, this article strives to be objective. Its conclusions will displease, even outrage, a good many persons who are dedicated not to objectivity and the truth but to protecting the legend of Trotsky as an honorable revolutionary or to defending the Cold War – anticommunist paradigm of Soviet history.

Of course we don’t claim to have found all the relevant evidence there is. It is overwhelmingly likely that there is a great deal more such evidence, since the vast majority of primary source documents dealing with the Oppositions of the 1930s are still classified in Russia and the post-Russian states today and are inaccessible to any researchers. But what we have now is a lot. In our judgment there is more than sufficient evidence that Trotsky did indeed collaborate with Germany and Japan more or less as the Soviet government accused him in the 1930s. Why Trotsky may have done so is a question worthy of consideration. We have added some thoughts about this toward the end of this essay.

Trotsky’s Telegram to the Soviet Leadership.

The first document we want to present is one that illustrates both the promise and the problems of interpreting documentary evidence. June 1937 was a time of tremendous crisis for the Soviet leadership. In April Genrikh Yagoda, Commissar (head) of the NKVD until the previous September, and Avel’ Enukidze, until recently both a Central Committee member and high-ranking member of the Soviet government, had begun to confess about their important roles in plans for a coup d’état against the government. The month of May had begun with an internal revolt against the Spanish Republican government in which anarchists and Trotskyists participated.

The Soviet leadership knew this revolt had involved some kind of collaboration between pro-Trotsky forces there and both Francoist and German – Nazi – intelligence. By the beginning of June eight military officers of the highest ranks including Mikhail Tukachevsky, one of only five Marshals of the Red Army, had been arrested and were making confessions of conspiracy with Trotsky and Trotskyists, the Rights led by Bukharin, Yagoda and Rykov, and – most ominous of all – with Nazi Germany and Japan. On June 2 Nikolai Bukharin suddenly reversed himself and confessed to having been one of the leaders of this same conspiracy (Furr & Bobrov). That same day Lev M. Karakhan, a leading Soviet diplomat who at one time had been closely linked to Trotsky, also confessed. [8]

Marshal Tukhachevsky and the other military leaders evidently continued to make further confessions right up until June 9. On June 11 came the trial, where they confessed once again, and then their execution. Several high-ranking Bolsheviks and Central Committee members were associated with them. Before and during the Central Committee Plenum which took place from June 23 to 29 twenty-four of its members and fourteen candidate members were expelled for conspiracy, espionage, and treasonable activities. In February and March Bukharin, Rykov and Yagoda had been likewise expelled. Never before had there had been such wholesale expulsions from the Party’s leading body. Unquestionably, there was a great deal else that has never been made public. But these events, particularly the military conspiracy, appeared to constitute the gravest threat to the security – indeed, the continued existence – of the Soviet Union since the darkest days of the Civil War. Trotsky and his son Leon Sedov had been convicted in absentia at the first Moscow Trial in August 1936. [9]

At the second Moscow Trial of January 1937 Karl Radek had explicitly identified Leon Trotsky as the leader of an important anti-Soviet conspiracy. He had specifically mentioned Spain as a place where Trotsky’s adherents were dangerous and called on them to turn away from Trotsky. When the “May Days” revolt in Barcelona broke out on May 3 Radek’s warning seemed prescient. For the communists, but also for many non-communists who supported the Spanish Republic, this rebellion in the rear of the Republic appeared to be the same kind of thing the Rights, Trotskyists and military figures were allegedly plotting for the USSR.

On the eve of the June C.C. Plenum Trotsky chose to send a telegram from his Mexican exile not to Stalin or the Politburo but to the Central Executive Committee, the highest organ of the Soviet government. In it he directly challenged its members to reject Stalin’s leadership and turn towards himself.


A postscript to the original publication of this telegram reads as follows:

In June 1937 in Moscow, at the address of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) which was then formally the highest organ of state power in the USSR a telegram arrived from L.D. Trotsky in Mexico: [text of telegram]. Of course this telegram ended up not in the CEC but in the NKVD, whence it was directed to Stalin as a so-called “special communication.” He wrote on it the following remark: “Ugly spy. [11] Brazen spy of Hitler.” Stalin not only signed his name under his “sentence,” but gave it to V. Molotov, K. Voroshilov, A. Mikoian, and A. Zhdanov to sign. [12]

The late Trotskyist author Vadim Rogovin paraphrased this same article in a footnote: Trotsky’s telegram ended up not in the CEC but in the NKVD where it was translated from the English (the only way the Mexican telegraph could accept it for sending) and sent to Stalin as a so-called “special communication.” Stalin read the telegram and wrote on it a remark that bears witness to the fact that he had clearly lost his self-control: “Mug of a spy. Brazen spy of Hitler!” His signature beneath these words was completed with the signatures of Molotov, Voroshilov, Mikoian and Zhdanov, which expressed their agreement with Stalin’s evaluation [13].

The anonymous author of the article in Novoe Vremia (see note 10 above) dismissed Trotsky’s note as a fantasy on Trotsky’s part.

How should we understand Trotsky’s proposal? Could he have possibly supposed that they would accept his help? Or that in 1937 a turn towards “Soviet democracy” was possible? One can’t call this irony; it’s more like an illusion.

(As a number of scholars have shown, a “turn towards Soviet democracy” was indeed a point of struggle in 1937). [14]

Ιn his critical 1997 study of Trotsky Evgenii Piskun wrote:

This strange document bears witness to the fact that the leader of the Fourth International hoped that the USSR was going to undergo immense changes in the near future and that he would return to power again. But he was wrong this time too. When the June Plenum of the CC had ended the Party leadership had not changed. [15]

Rogovin agreed that Trotsky must have believed he had a good chance of coming to power: Trotsky was not a person given to taking senseless or impulsive steps. Despite the fact that the motives of his appeal remain unclear even today, it is natural to assume that Trotsky possessed information which showed that the true devotion to Stalin of the majority of Party and Soviet leaders was in inverse proportion to their official exclamations of this devotion, and that Stalin’s position was extremely fragile and unstable. This might have been the source of Trotsky’s hopes that, under conditions of the Great Terror which was tearing one member after another from the Party ranks, a consolidation of the leading figures in the country would be possible which would be aimed at overthrowing Stalin and his clique. (Rogovin 487).

Rogovin accepted unquestioningly the orthodox Trotskyist position that Trotsky was not involved in conspiracies with the Germans. This presented him a problem: How to explain Stalin’s handwritten comment on Trotsky’s telegram? Even Rogovin had to admit that, since the note was addressed only to his closest, most trusted associates, it appeared to prove that Stalin and the rest of them did genuinely believe Trotsky was guilty of conspiring with the Germans. All Rogovin could offer was the following formulation, which takes us to the heart of our matter:

The document, as well as many other documents of the Politburo, and even the personal correspondence of its members, show that Stalin and his “closest comrades-in-arms” expressed themselves in a conventional code which was designed to give the impression that they believed in the amalgams they were creating. Otherwise Stalin, who hardly believed in the existence of contacts between Trotsky and Hitler, would not have written such words in a document intended only for his most immediate circle. (Rogovin, note to p. 487; emphasis added).

We now possess additional evidence that Stalin did indeed believe that Trotsky was plotting with the Germans. Rogovin offers no evidence to the contrary. In addition we now also have evidence that Trotsky, as well as many others, actually were conspiring with Germany and Japan. The evidence concerning Trotsky is the subject of this article.

Trotsky’s telegram of June 18, 193716 will serve as an introduction both to the new evidence that has come to light since the end of the USSR and to the problems of and barriers to understanding what it means. To our knowledge no one has bothered to put all this evidence together or to reexamine in light of this new evidence the question of Leon Trotsky’s ties to Japan and Germany, ties alleged by defendants at the Moscow Trials and by the Soviet government. Why is this? We think the two very different comments by Piskun and Rogovin suggest an answer. Rather than being the subject of careful study with an eye to questioning previous knowledge, the new evidence is being marshaled in defense of old historical paradigms. Piskun’s paradigm – that Trotsky was probably preparing for some kind of coup against the Soviet leadership – has only rarely been heard for many years. Nevertheless, Piskun reads Trotsky’s telegram through the “lenses” of that paradigm, for the text of the telegram itself suggests nothing about any expectation of imminent change and return to power. The most that could be said is that the text is perhaps compatible with such an expectation. But we could never deduce such an expectation from the text alone. A sober reading of Trotsky’s telegram might be that it is evidence that Trotsky was hoping for a return to power in the USSR but nothing more. Rogovin’s interpretation is even more strained. According to Rogovin Stalin could not possibly have believed Trotsky was a German spy even though he wrote this on the telegram and only his closest associates would see it. Rogovin’s paradigm demands that Stalin had invented the charge that Trotsky was collaborating with the Germans (and Japanese). If that paradigm is to be preserved, then Stalin must be faking here too. No objective reading of the text of Trotsky’s telegram and Stalin’s remarks upon it would reach Rogovin’s conclusions. Furthermore, Rogovin has no evidence to support his position that Stalin invented the charges against Trotsky. He simply assumes this to be true.

Piskun and Rogovin represent antithetical poles in interpreting both this document itself and the question of Trotsky’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Germany and Japan. But charges of collaborating with the intelligence services of the major Axis powers were alleged not just against Trotsky but also against many of the defendants at the second and third public Moscow trials of January 1937 and March 1937. Elsewhere we have set forth a small part of the evidence that Oppositionists did, in fact, have some kind of clandestine political relationship, aimed at the USSR, with Germany and Japan. [17]

There is a great deal of such evidence concerning other Oppositionists. The present work concentrates on evidence concerning Trotsky specifically. We must look for evidence that such a relationship existed not because we are convinced a priori that one must have existed but because it is in principle impossible to find evidence of a negative – e.g. that such a relationship did not exist. If we find no evidence that the Oppositionists had such a relationship, then the only responsible conclusion would be that they did not have any – again, barring further evidence to the contrary that may turn up in the future. This is normal historical procedure in any investigation: only positive evidence “counts.”

This does not mean, however, that any and all “positive evidence” points to one conclusion only, or is sufficient to sustain any single conclusion. The present study does conclude that the evidence now at our disposal strongly supports the existence of collaboration between Trotsky and the Germans and Japanese. This creates a peculiar problem for us as historians since an article based upon the evidence – the present article – directly challenges the prevailing consensus on the Moscow Trials and specifically on Trotsky. 

  1. Lubianka. Stalin i Glavnoe Upravlenie Gosbezopasnosti NKVD. 1937-1938 (M.: “Materik,” 2004), No. 102, p. 225. Online at
  2. They were convicted of “having directly prepared and personally directed the organization in the U.S.S.R. of terroristic acts against the leaders of the C.P.S.U. and the Soviet State.” Report of Court Proceedings. The Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center. Moscow: People’s Commissariat of Justice of the U.S.S.R., 1936, p. 180.
  3. We have used the original English text of the telegram from a facsimile of the telegram itself in the Volkogonov Archive, Library of Congress, Washington DC. At this time international telegrams were normally sent in English; Trotsky sent it from Mexico. The comments of Stalin and his associates are not on the telegram itself but on the Russian translation provided to them along with it. The telegram was evidently first published in Novoye Vremia ! 50 (1994) ". 37. We have put this facsimile and the Russian translation with the remarks of Stalin and his associates on the internet at
  4. Shpionskaia rozha, literally “spy-face”. Rogovin translates it as “mug of a spy.”
  5. L.B., “Will there be no more ‘Secrets of the Kremlin’?” Novoe Vremia No. 50, 1994, 37.
  6. Vadim Rogovin. 1937. Stalin’s Year of Terror. Translated by Frederick S. Choate. Oak Park MI: Mehring Books, 1998, p. 487. Chapter 50: The July Plenum of the Central Committee.
  7. For the major sources and a summary of them in English see Grover Furr, “Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform”, Parts One and Two, Cultural Logic 2005. At
  8. Evgenii E. Piskun. Termador v SSSR. Idei L.D. Trotskogo i sovetskaia deistvitel’nost’ 1920-1980. Riazan’: Russkoe slovo, 1997, 73.
  9. The original telegram seems to be dated June 18, as that date, “18 JUN 1937,” is printed or stamped at the top of the last page. That appears to be the date the telegram was sent.. «06.20 [in Russian] 1937 '.» is written in small print at the top of the first page of the telegram. That may be the date it was received and translated. Stalin’s note, and the signatures of Molotov, Voroshilov, Mikoian, and Zhdanov appear on the translation of the telegram, to which the telegram itself is appended in the archive. Though the date on this translation, at the far upper left-hand corner, is not legible, it is probably June 20.
  10. Grover Furr and Vladimir L. Bobrov, “Nikolai Bukharin's First Statement of Confession in the Lubianka.” Cultural Logic 2007. At This is the English translation of an article and text first published in Russian in the St. Petersburg journal Klio No. 36 (March 2007).