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Leon Trotsky 19380317 A Reply to Ambassador Bilmanis

Leon Trotsky: A Reply to Ambassador Bilmanis

March 17, 1938

    [Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 272-274]

To the Editor of the New York Times:

In a letter to the New York Times of March 12, 1938, the Latvian minister in Washington, Alfred Bilmanis, denied "categorically" my statement that according to official Soviet sources the Latvian consul, Bissenieks, gave Nikolaev, the real assassin of Kirov, 5,000 rubles for his terrorist act and asked from him "some letter for Trotsky." (In the New York Times of March 8 it was written "from Trotsky," but that is evidently an error in the dispatch, which, moreover, has no importance from the point of view which interests us now.)

The Latvian minister declares that: (1) during Nikolaev's trial he himself was Latvian minister at Moscow and consequently should have possessed first-hand information; (2) "nothing of this nature regarding Mr. Bissenieks ever appeared in the Soviet press"; (3) this fact (the non-publication in the press) was also confirmed to me "yesterday" (i.e., March 9) by the Soviet Embassy in Washington; finally (4) "Mr. Bissenieks, formerly Latvian consul at Leningrad, is a most honorable person, who never had anything to do with the Nikolaev case."

The "categorical" character of this denial can permit one to imagine that I had invented this entire episode. However, I have invented nothing. The Latvian minister in his denial displayed regrettable imprudence concerning the facts.

The indictment in the Nikolaev affair was published in Pravda of December 27, 1934. In this official document it is reported that Nikolaev "visited many times the * * * consul in Leningrad * * * with whom he conferred on the possible forms of help for this (terrorist) group." In the official text the nationality and the name of the consul were replaced by asterisks. Later Nikolaev declared that "In the third or fourth visit to the consulate" the above-mentioned consul "gave me 5,000 rubles. Moreover, he said that he could establish a liaison with Trotsky, if I could give him some (!) letter from the group for Trotsky."

The main article of the same issue of Pravda (December 27, 1934) explains the political role of the consul: he was the connection between the terrorists and the "international bourgeoisie." The indictment did not say a word about whether or not the unknown-to-me Nikolaev gave to the unknown-to-me consul "some letter for Trotsky."

At the moment of the publication of the indictment the nationality and the name of the consul, for diplomatic considerations, had been, as mentioned, replaced by asterisks. But the matter did not stop here. The Moscow government was obliged within a few days to make public the name of the mysterious consul. In order to save space I am quoting from Leon Sedov's Red Book (Paris, 1936) precise data which can easily be verified in any editorial office. Here is what is given on pages 35-36 of Sedov's book: "On December 29, 1934, Le Temps reported that 'the foreign circles of Moscow . . . are lost in conjectures on the nationality of this diplomat.' On December 30 a telegraphic agency reported that a 'conference of the consuls was held, at which it was decided ... to demand that the Soviet authorities give publicly the name of the suspected consul.'

"Stalin was thus constrained, January 2, 1935, to give the name of the consul. 'The foreign consul mentioned in the indictment in the Kirov assassination is the Latvian consul, M. Bissenieks.' And the next day, January 3, Tass agency reported that the Latvian consul, Bissenieks, had been recalled by his government."

The whole world press published the official announcement that the consul who gave 5,000 rubles for the accomplishment of the terrorist act and demanded some kind of "letter for Trotsky" was the Latvian consul in Leningrad, Bissenieks. Having in mind the usual completeness and preciseness of information in the New York Times, I do not doubt that the whole episode as well as the name of the consul found a place in the columns of this paper at that time. It is easier, however, to check this in New York than in Coyoacan. Foreign journalists in Moscow then made an attempt to enter into connection with Mr. Bissenieks in order to determine his real role. But Mr. Bissenieks could not be reached. Mr. Bissenieks himself, as far as I know, has nowhere at any time refuted the official Soviet announcement about his role as described in the indictment.

It is impossible not to observe that in all the subsequent trials the consul was not named or mentioned once. Kirov was assassinated in turn by different "centers," but Mr. Bissenieks disappeared without a trace from all the following versions. If Mr. Alfred Bilmanis was at that time a member of the diplomatic corps in Moscow he could not have helped participating in the attempt of the diplomats to determine the identity of the consul accused of a grave crime. He could not but know the announcement of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs about the identity of the consul as well as the Tass dispatches. I can only regret that his memory has now betrayed him.

The present announcement of Mr. Bilmanis that Consul Bissenieks is a "most honorable person" and did not have any relation to the Nikolaev affair is, to say the least, belated and does not change anything in essence concerning all the facts mentioned above.

Was the name of Mr. Bissenieks mentioned in the Soviet press? Evidently not. But this "omission" is explained by the fact that publication of the name of the Latvian consul would have compromised the version about the connection of the terrorists with a foreign imperialism. The readers of the Soviet press presumed that the matter concerned a German or Japanese consul, and the head of the Soviet press evidently saw no reason for destroying this impression. But this circumstance changes nothing. The People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and Tass are no less official organs than Izvestia.

During the time of the two last big trials in Moscow I gave to the press dozens of factual statements and refutations. I gave hundreds of these to the International Commission headed by Dr. John Dewey (see The Case of Leon Trotsky, a verbatim report of the hearings held it Coyoacan). Not one of my statements was refuted even partially. The first attempt at factual refutation is the letter of the Latvian minister in Washington. Let public opinion judge to what degree this attempt is convincing.

Leon Trotsky