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Leon Trotsky 19380310 The Case of Professor Pletnev

Leon Trotsky: The Case of Professor Pletnev

March 10, 1938

    [Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 253-256]

In this statement we are utilizing exclusively official data taken from the Moscow Pravda.

The defendant Pletnev, professor of medicine, is now sixty-six years old. He was the Kremlin physician almost from the days of the October insurrection. He never concerned himself with politics. Lenin, Krupskaya and all the officials of the Kremlin used his services. Pletnev enjoyed not a few distinctions. The Soviet press more than once lavished high praise upon him. But the situation suddenly changed in the middle of 1937: Pletnev was publicly accused of rape and sadism.

In Pravda of June 8, 1937, a long article appeared, describing in unusual detail the atrocious violation he allegedly committed upon a woman, “patient B.” The article quoted a letter from Mrs. B. to Pletnev which included the following lines: “Be accursed, base criminal, for implanting in me an incurable disease and mutilating my body … and so on. Pravda related that Pletnev, in view of Mrs. B.’s complaints, allegedly attempted to commit her to an insane asylum, and to her reproaches responded: “Get some poison and kill yourself.”

The article produced all the more shocking an impression since it was printed prior to any kind of trial of Pletnev. For one who knows the morals of the present Soviet bureaucracy, it is completely clear that such an article against a doctor of high standing could be printed in Pravda only with the consent of Stalin or upon his direct command. The suspicion naturally arose even then that the affair was connected with a deep intrigue against Pletnev and that the mysterious “patient B.” was in all probability a GPU agent.

Immediately, that is, before any kind of trial, so-called “public opinion” was mobilized from an unseen center; to put it more precisely, the doctors at Moscow, Kiev, Tula, Sverdlovsk, and so on were ordered to pass resolutions demanding the “most severe sentence upon this monster.” The resolutions were, of course, published in Pravda. We have these numbers of Pravda at hand.

On July 17 and 18, 1937, Pletnev’s case was considered in closed session by a Moscow court. In the USSR one is often given the death penalty for stealing a bag of flour. All the more reasonable was it to expect a merciless sentence upon a physician-sadist who had implanted an “incurable disease’ in and “mutilated” the body of a patient. Meanwhile, in the same Pravda of July 19, the readers learned that Pletnev had been “conditionally sentenced to two years’ deprivation of freedom/’ that is to say, actually freed from any punishment. The sentence seemed as unexpected as earlier the accusation had seemed.

Within seven months we meet Pletnev as a defendant in the deliberate hastening of the deaths of Menzhinsky, Kuibyshev, and Maxim Gorky. Pletnev of course confesses his guilt. It seems that he committed these monstrous crimes “upon the order” of Yagoda, former head of the GPU. Why did he submit to Yagoda? Out of fear. The Kremlin doctor, knowing all members of the government, did not dare to report the criminal but became his submissive tool. Is this improbable? Such is the testimony. We hear nothing more about the sadist Pletnev. “Patient B.” was not called to testify. She had completed her task prior to the trial. Sadism does not interest anyone any more. Now Pletnev, the physician since czarist times, is found to be a terrorist agent of the “Trotskyist-Bukharinist bloc” under the direct leadership of Yagoda, former head of the GPU.

Is it possible to doubt that between the two trials of Pletnev there exists a compact internal relationship? In order to attribute terrorist acts to the Trotskyists, it was necessary to invent them. With this objective, Yagoda, the executioner of the Trotskyists, was metamorphosed into an agent of the Trotskyists, and a doctor was metamorphosed into a poisoner. The accusation of sadism was proclaimed with such deafening ballyhoo seven months ago in order to break the will of the old doctor, father of a family, and to make an obedient tool of him in the hands of the GPU for the forthcoming political trial. Death threatened Pletnev when he was accused of ravishing “patient B.” However, behind the scenes an agreement was reached as a result of which only a conditional sentence was meted out to Pletnev. Such was the price of his fantastic confessions at the trial of the twenty-one.

Pletnev’s case is especially instructive because here all the springs are bared to view.

P.S. – The news has been widely spread through the press to the effect that Stalin supposedly was an agent provocateur during czarist days, and that he is now avenging himself upon his old enemies. I place no trust whatsoever in this gossip. From his youth Stalin was a revolutionist. All the facts about his life bear witness to this. To reconstruct his biography ex post facto means to ape the present Stalin, who from a revolutionist became a leader of the reactionary bureaucracy.