Spartacus Blog

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov

Wednesday, 16th April, 2014

John Simkin

Victor Serge has pointed out that towards the end of 1937 Lev Sedov, the son of Leon Trotsky, suffered from ill health. "For several months Sedov had been complaining of various indispositions, in particular of a rather high temperature in the evenings. He wasn’t able to stand up to such ill-health." On 9th February, 1938, he suffered severe stomach pains and was taken by Mark Zborowski to the Bergere Clinic, a small establishment run by Russian émigrés connected with the Union for Repatriation of Russians Abroad in Paris. Sedov had a operation for appendicitis that evening.

It was claimed that the operation was successful and was making a good recovery. However, according to Bertrand M. Patenaude, the author of Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009): "The patient appeared to be recuperating well, until the night of 13-14 February, when he was seen wandering the unattended corridors, half-naked and raving in Russian. He was discovered in the morning lying on a bed in a nearby office, critically ill. His bed and his room were soiled with excrement. A second operation was performed on the evening of 15 February, but after enduring hours of agonizing pain, the patient died the following morning."

Leon Trotsky was devastated by the death of his eldest son. In a press release on 18th February he stated: "He was not only my son but my best friend." Trotsky received information from several sources that Lev had been killed by the NKVD. He asked Rudolf Klement to carry out an investigation of Zborowski. According to Gary Kern "Klement put together a file and planned to take it to Brussels on July 14, where he would circulate it among various branches of the Opposition. But no one in Brussels ever saw him." Klement's headless corpse was washed ashore in August 1938. He was identified by a friend from peculiar scars and marks on the body.

Gradually information emerged that Lev Sedov had been murdered. Walter Krivitsky was an NKVD agent who decided to defect after the recall and execution of agents such as Ignaz Reiss, Theodore Maly and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko. He told the FBI that Mark Zborowski, who had been posing as a Trotsky supporter in Paris, was in fact working for Mikhail Shpiegelglass, the head of Administration of Special Tasks (AST) and was the victim of its clandestine unit called the Mobile Group, which was busy murdering supporters of Trotsky who were living in exile. He claimed that Zborowski was involved in the killing of both Sedov and Reiss.

Another defector, Alexander Orlov, also claimed that Sedov had been murdered by Zborowski. Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001) has argued that Orlov believed he had been a victim of the NKVD: "What concerned Orlov greatly was the fact that the hospital Sedov had been taken to, and where he expired, was the small clinic of Professor Bergere in Paris. Exactly a year earlier, Orlov had been in the same clinic because of his car accident while at the front. He had been cared for at the Bergere Clinic because it was a hospital that was trusted by the KGB to take care of high-ranking Soviet officials. Professor Bergere and his staff were sympathetic towards the Communist cause and under the influence of the KGB. Orlov was in Spain at the time of Sedov's death and was unable to ascertain the complete facts, but speculated that at the moment the KGB Centre had been apprised of the circumstances by Mark, the decision had been made to take advantage of the situation and eliminate Sedov. The autopsy performed by the KGB hirelings had to have been bogus to conceal the true cause of death."

According to Orlov, Sedov had been murdered because of his attacks on Joseph Stalin. He had written several articles about the Show Trials in the Bulletin of the Opposition. These were eventually published in the book, The Red Book (1936). The book begins with an analysis of Stalinism. "The old petit-bourgeois family is being reestablished and idealized in the most middle-class way; despite the general protestations, abortions are prohibited, which, given the difficult material conditions and the primitive state of culture and hygiene, means the enslavement of women, that is, the return to pre-October times. The decree of the October revolution concerning new schools has been annulled. School has been reformed on the model of tsarist Russia: uniforms have been reintroduced for the students, not only to shackle their independence, but also to facilitate their surveillance outside of school. Students are evaluated according to their marks for behavior, and these favor the docile, servile student, not the lively and independent schoolboy.... A whole institute of inspectors has been created to look after the behavior and morality of the youth."

Sedov went on to argue that Stalin was sending a message to the world that he had abandoned the Marxist concept of Permanent Revolution: "Stalin not only bloodily breaks with Bolshevism, with all its traditions and its past, he is also trying to drag Bolshevism and the October revolution through the mud. And he is doing it in the interests of world and domestic reaction.... The corpses of the old Bolsheviks must prove to the world bourgeoisie that Stalin has in reality radically changed his politics, that the men who entered history as the leaders of revolutionary Bolshevism, the enemies of the bourgeoisie - are his enemies also.... They (the Bolsheviks) are being shot and the bourgeoisie of the world must see in this the symbol of a new period. This is the end of the revolution, says Stalin. The world bourgeoisie can and must reckon with Stalin as a serious ally, as the head of a nation-state. Such is the fundamental goal of the trials in the area of foreign policy. But this is not all, it is far from all. The German fascists who cry that the struggle against communism is their historic mission find themselves most recently in a manifestly difficult position. Stalin has abandoned long ago the course toward world revolution."

Sedov looked closely at the trial of Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev. and Ivan Smirnov. He wrote that he suspected that five of the sixteen defendants (K.B. Berman-Yurin, Fritz David, Emel Lurie, N.D. Lurie and V. P. Olberg) were NKVD plants: "The defendants are sharply divided into two groups. The basic nucleus of the first group consists of old Bolsheviks, known world-wide, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, and others. The second group are young unknowns, among whom are also some direct agents of the GPU; they were necessary at the trial to demonstrate that Trotsky had taken part in terrorist activity, to establish a link between Zinoviev and Trotsky, and to establish a link with the Gestapo. If after having fulfilled the tasks assigned to them by the GPU they were nonetheless shot, it is because Stalin could not leave any such well-informed witnesses alive.... The very conduct of the two groups at the trial is as different as their composition. The old men sit there absolutely broken, crushed, answer in a faint voice, even cry. Zinoviev is thin, stooped, grey, his cheeks hollow. Mrachkovsky spits blood, loses consciousness, they carry him away. They all look like people who have been run into the ground and completely exhausted. But the young rogues conduct themselves in an easy and carefree manner, they are fresh-faced, almost cheerful. They feel as though they are at a party. With unconcealed pleasure they tell about their ties with the Gestapo and all their other fables."

Sedov rejected the idea that Marxists like Trotsky would resort to assassination as a revolutionary act. He points out how followers of Karl Marx in Russia rejected the policy of the People's Will and the Socialist Revolutionaries who attempted to assassinate the Tsar and his ministers: "Individual terror sets as its task the murder of isolated individuals in order to provoke a political movement and even a political revolution. In pre-revolutionary Russia, the question of individual terror had importance not only as a general principle, but also had enormous political significance, since there existed in Russia the petit-bourgeois party of the Socialist Revolutionaries, who followed the tactic of individual terror with regard to tsarist ministers and governors. The Russian Marxists, including Trotsky during his earliest years, took part in the fight against the adventuristic tactic of individual terror and its illusions, which counted not upon the movement of the masses of workers, but on the terrorists' bomb to open the road to revolution. To individual terror, Marxism counterposes the proletarian revolution. From his youth, Trotsky adhered resolutely and forever to Marxism. If one were to publish everything which Trotsky wrote, it would make dozens of thick volumes. One would not be able to find in them a single line which betrayed an equivocal attitude toward individual terror."

Sedov quotes Leon Trotsky as saying in an article in 1911: "Whether or not a terrorist attack, even if successful, provokes disturbance in the ruling circles depends on the concrete political circumstances. In any case, this disturbance can only be short-lived; the capitalist state does not rest on ministers and cannot be destroyed together with them. The classes which it serves will always find new men; the mechanism remains intact and continues its work. But the disturbance which the terrorist attack brings to the ranks of the working masses themselves is much more profound. If it suffices to arm oneself with a revolver to arrive at the goal, why then the efforts of the class struggle? If one can intimidate high-ranking people with the thunder of an explosion, why then a party?"

In the The Red Book (1936) Sedov looks at the assassination of Sergy Kirov: "If we approach the question of individual terror in the USSR, not from a theoretical, but from a purely empirical point of view, from the point of view of so-called common sense, then it suffices to draw the following conclusion: the assassinated Kirov is immediately replaced by another Kirov-Zhdanov (Stalin has as many as he needs in reserve.) Meanwhile hundreds of people are shot, thousands, and very probably tens of thousands, are deported. The vise is tightened by several turns. If Kirov's assassination helped anyone, it is certainly the Stalinist bureaucracy. Under the cover of the struggle against terrorists, it has stifled the last manifestations of critical thought in the USSR. It has placed a heavy tombstone on all the living."

Mark Zborowski went into hiding and reached in 1941 and immediately made contact with David Dallin and his wife Lilia Estrin. They helped him find employment at a factory in Brooklyn and set him up in an apartment. A few months later he moved to a more expensive home at 201 West 108th Street, where the Dallins also lived. It was later discovered that the NKVD were paying Zborowski to spy on the Dallins. In 1944 he helped with the search for Victor Kravchenko who had defected to the United States.

The former NKVD agent, Alexander Orlov, appeared before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in September 1955. He disclosed that Mark Zborowski had been involved in the killing of Ignaz Reiss and Lev Sedov. Zborowski appeared before the committee in February 1956. He admitted to being a Soviet agent working against the supporters of Leon Trotsky in Europe in the 1930s but denied that he had continued these activities in the United States. Other evidence suggested he was lying and in November 1962, he was convicted of perjury and received a four-year prison sentence.

Elsa Poretsky, the widow of Ignaz Reiss, had a meeting with Zborowski soon after he was released from prison. She asked him if he had leaked the letter from Walter Krivitsky that enabled the NKVD to find out where her husband was hiding in Switzerland and killing him. Elsa later told a friend: "A wry, pitiful smile on his distorted face and a shrug of the shoulders were his only reply."

Previous Posts

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

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Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

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