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Leon Trotsky 19380303 Four Doctors Knew Too Much

Leon Trotsky: Four Doctors Knew Too Much

March 3, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 206-209]

Four physicians are accused of having assassinated two Soviet functionaries, Valerian V. Kuibyshev and Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, and the writer Maxim Gorky.

Until now it was believed that these three persons had died of natural causes; Menzhinsky and Gorky had been ill for many years. Their death certificates were signed by half a dozen luminaries of Soviet medicine and also by the people's commissar of public health.

The corpses were cremated. Consequently, there cannot now be raised the possibility of exhumation and public examination. On what hook, then, can the accusations be hung? It is readily apparent that they again depend on "voluntary confessions."

I personally remember well two of the "physician terrorists," L.G. Levin and D.D. Pletnev. They were the official physicians of the government since the first years of the revolution. The two others, I. N. Kazakov and Dr. Vinogradov, I recall only by their names.

All four, as physicians, could not conceivably dream of attaining posts higher than they held. None of them ever attempted to take any part in political activity. Then what could have been their motive in committing the most reprehensible of all crimes – the murder of a patient by his physician?

The accusations become even more inexplicable if we consider the three supposed victims of terror.

Kuibyshev, though he dwelt upon the Soviet Olympus, was never considered by anyone a personage in his own right. He was transferred from pillar to post as a bureaucratic jack of all trades. He enjoyed no authority in the party; he had no political ideas. To benefit whom and to advance what was it necessary to do away with him?

Menzhinsky, already then gravely ill, became the head of the GPU in 1927, following the death of Felix Dzerzhinsky. The individual in the GPU who enjoyed Stalin's confidence for carrying out the more secret of missions was in reality Henry G. Yagoda. But since Yagoda, also one of the present accused, was held in general and merited contempt, the sick Menzhinsky was appointed as a blind for Yagoda's activities.

Often at government sessions Menzhinsky would lie prostrated, with a countenance contracted in pain. His death occurred not sooner but later than was expected. Why, in the name of reason, was it necessary to poison him?

The most astonishing fact of all, however, is the inclusion of Maxim Gorky's name in the list of those "assassinated." As a writer and a man he enjoyed the widest possible sympathy. At no time was he a political figure.

A victim of tuberculosis from youth, he was forced to live in the Crimea. Afterward, in fascist Italy, precisely because of the purely literary character of his activity, he met with no difficulties from Mussolini's police. In his last years Gorky again lived in the Crimea.

Since he was compassionate over the troubles of others and easily influenced, the GPU surrounded him with a veritable ring of agents under the guise of secretaries, whose task it was not to permit undesirable visitors near him. What sense was there in the assassination of this sick writer, at a time when he was sixty-seven years old?

The GPU's incredible choice of executioners and victims is explained by the fact that even the most fantastic frame-up must nevertheless be concocted out of some elements of reality. It must be remembered the GPU was finding itself in difficulties.

In spite of the fact that the "plot," as now explained, had already begun in 1918, in spite of the great number of terrorist "centers," the members of which were once the traditional leaders of the Bolshevik Party, members of the Central Committee and of the government, and finally, in spite of the participation in the plot of the generals of the Red Army (Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky, General I. E. Yakir, and others), in reality – that is to say, in the realm of the three dimensions – the world did not see a coup d'état, an insurrection, or terroristic acts, but merely arrests, deportations, and executions.

Actually, the GPU could invoke only one real terroristic act – the assassination of Sergei Kirov. This was done by a Young Communist, Leonid V. Nikolayev, in December 1934, for unknown reasons, probably personal ones. The corpse of Kirov has invariably appeared at all the political trials of the past three years. In turn, all the following assassinated Kirov – the White Guards, the Zinovievites, the Trotskyites, and the Rightists.

But in time this unique resource was exhausted. In order for the GPU to keep aloft the vast edifice of the "plot," new victims of "terror" had to be discovered. It was necessary to seek them from among more recently deceased dignitaries. But since the dignitaries had, indeed, died in the Kremlin – that is to say, under conditions excluding the intervention of outside "terrorists" – it was imperative to resort to the charge that the physicians of the Kremlin had poisoned their patients, in accordance, of course, with the instructions of Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, or, even worse, Leon Trotsky.

On first glance it is surprising not to find Gregory K. Ordzhonikidze, late head of heavy industry, included among the "victims" – Ordzhonikidze, who, in contrast to the three aforementioned personages, played an enormous political role as one of the more eminent members of the Political Bureau.

Here we come to the most perfidious knot in the juridical "amalgam." According to the information from Moscow, Ordzhonikidze strenuously opposed the extermination of the Old Bolsheviks. In taking such a stand he was completely in character, for Ordzhonikidze, more than anybody else in Stalin's entourage, retained a sense of moral responsibility and personal dignity.

His opposition, in regard to a question of such acute importance, represented a source of enormous danger for Stalin. Gorky was able only to lament and deplore; Ordzhonikidze was able to act. From this single fact stem the rumors of the poisoning of Ordzhonikidze. True or false, these rumors have an extremely persistent character.

Immediately following the arrest of Dr. Levin, chief of the Kremlin Hospital, information appeared in the foreign press to the effect that Dr. Levin himself had been the first to state that the death of Ordzhonikidze might have been due to poisoning. An extremely remarkable fact! Dr. Levin suspected the GPU of having poisoned Ordzhonikidze some months before the GPU accused him of having poisoned Kuibyshev, Menzhinsky, and Gorky.

Previously, none of the names of the other three physicians was connected with this affair. But it is very plausible that conversations on the cause of Ordzhonikidze's death should take place precisely among the physicians of the Kremlin. This was more than sufficient cause for arrests. The arrests, in turn, became the point of departure for the "amalgam" created.

The reply of the GPU was simple: "So you suspect that Ordzhonikidze was poisoned? We suspect you of having poisoned Kuibyshev, Menzhinsky, and Gorky. Confess! You will not? Then we will execute you immediately. But if you should confess that the poisoning was accomplished on orders from Bukharin, Rykov, or Trotsky – why, then, you may hope for leniency."

All this may seem incredible, but incredibility is the very essence of the Moscow trials. Such trials are possible only in the completely poisoned atmosphere under the heavy, tightly screwed-down lid of the totalitarian regime.