Anton Ciliga

Jugoslav Communist Escapes From Siberia;
Bares Anti-Bolshevik Terror of Stalin

Revolutionists Held in Jails, Solitaries
and Concentration Camps

Three Loyal Hungarian Stalinists, in Conflict with Bela Kun, Clapped into Jail

(9 December 1935)

Source: New Militant, Vol. II No. 4, 25 January 1936, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Copyright, Jan. 1936, by New Militant Publishing Co. Reproduction in whole or part without permission from the publishers forbidden.)

The author of the following letter, former member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Jugoslavia, comrade A. Ciliga, spent five and a half years in solitary confinement and in Stalinist exile. Comrade Dr. Anton Ciliga is at the present time not connected with any political organization.

* * *

December 9, 1935

Dear Comrades,

You have requested me to give you IMMEDIATELY, even though briefly, information on my own case, on the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists and on the penitentiaries and exile in general. Bearing in mind that the exigencies of the case demand speedy information, I will try to reply as best I can to your request, even though it may be to the detriment of a rounded-out picture. But I hope, in a following letter, to fill in the gaps of this communication.

1. I begin with the fate of the group to which I myself belonged.

In the month of May, 1930, a group of Jugoslav communists who were in Russia on a mission for the Jugoslav Communist party, were arrested at Moscow and at Leningrad by the G.P.U. The group was arrested for connection with the Trotskyist opposition. Three were incarcerated in solitary confinement in the penitentiaries of Verkhni-Uralsk for three years: 1) Stanka Draguitch (Russian surname, J.V. Kovalev), former member of the C.C. of the Jugoslav C.P., leader of one of the most important Jugoslav organizations in the city of Zagreb; 2) Mustapha Deditch (Russian surname. Victor Soloviev), former secretary of the Trade Union Committee of the Province of Herzegovina, at Mostar; 3) Dr. Anton Ciliga, the author of these lines, former member of the P.B. of the C.P. of Jugoslavia, editor of the legal central organ of the party, Borba, at Zagreb, and foreign representative of the C.C. of the party.

A comrade, Stephan Haeberling (Russian surname, V. Suslov), former member of the party Committee of the province Voievodiny (formerly South Hungary), at Novi Sad, was exiled for three years to the Urals. A score of our friends were exiled to, and placed under surveillance in various corners of European Russia.

Two Russian comrades, connected with us (Victor Zankov and Oreste Glibowsky), were also sent to the penitentiary of Verkhni-Uralsk on November 7, 1930; we were not mentioned in the list of prisoners which was published in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition No. 19, as the list was drawn up in October 1930.

Comrade Tarov, who escaped from the U.S.S.R. (see his letters in the New Militant of Oct. 19, 1935), mentions our group, but because of the similarity in the names of the two countries, he made an error regarding our country of origin and wrote “three comrades from Czechoslovakia” instead of “three comrades from Jugoslavia.” Another inaccuracy, concerning myself, slipped into his letter. He writes: “One of them, former member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, a devoted partisan of the Fourth International.” My position on the Fourth International is certainly correctly stated, but I was not a member of the E.C.C.I. I was a member of the party delegation under the E.C. and I was assigned to work in the Balkan Secretariat of the E.C.C.I.

In the summer of 1931, my comrades and I participated in the hunger strike which lasted 18 days and in which over 150 prisoners participated in the penitentiary of Verkhni-Uralsk. The hunger strike was provoked by rifle fire from the guards directed at the prisoners, one of whom, Gabo Essayan, who was standing peacefully at his window, was wounded. The strike also had as an objective the improvement of our famine rations. The atmosphere of terror and the famine rations drove two prisoners (Vera Bergner and Victor Krayny) insane.

At the end of three years of imprisonment, in 1933, my comrades and I demanded of the Soviet authorities that they allow us to return to our homes abroad. We fasted a long time (23 days) to obtain this demand. The Soviet authorities not only refused us permission to leave, but increased our sentence by two years, without trial and without new charges. (The Soviet laws authorize the G.P.U. to renew automatically and without trial the periods of imprisonment and exile. This law is enough to make one’s hair stand on end, but it is on this fact that the entire history of years of political exile in Russia is based.) Following this hunger strike we were taken out of the penitentiaries and were sent into exile in various outlying districts. I had to go to Eastern Siberia, to the city of Yenisseisk; comrade Deditch to Western Siberia, the village of Kolpachevo, department of Narym ; comrade Draguitch, to Saratov on the Volga; comrade Haeberling was sent from city to city until he reached the Urals. Comrade Draguitch escaped and returned to his

home abroad. In 1934 he was arrested on the Russo-Polish border and locked up in the secret dungeons of the Solovietzki Islands, from where, for over a year, no further news has come from him.

Exile Without Trial

When in 1935 we ended the second term of our exile, the G.P.U. this time extended our exile for three years without trial or new indictment. Thus a foreign-born worker or a militant worker who comes to Russia no longer has the right to leave it, he is changed into a species of eternal prisoner if he is dissatisfied with the condition of the proletariat and the general situation in Russia.

I personally was finally able to escape from Russia after two and a half years of desperate struggle in which I found myself continuously between life and death. I succeeded because I had a foreign passport, because I had a family abroad which was able to do something, and because I squarely posed the question: release or death. But my comrades have remained in exile and in dungeons—only active assistance by the European proletariat and by the democratic movement can set them free.

In the penitentiary of Yaroslav are three members of the political bureau of the C.P. of Hungary. They support the general line of the Hungarian C.P. and of the C.I. but they are opponents within their own party of the Bela Kun group. They were invited to Moscow to discuss the controversial issues in the Hungarian party and were arrested on the spot and imprisoned in the penitentiary of Yaroslav.

Hundreds of foreign comrades are officially in exile in the Russian provinces and factually in the status of prisoners in Russia, without the possibility of returning to their countries because of their opposition to their party or to the C.I.

On my departure, which was a deportation from Russia, the G.P.U. men robbed me, seized my scientific notes, my manuscripts, and not only my private correspondence, both Russian and foreign, but also my official correspondence with the consulate on the subject of my passport, without giving me any kind of document to confirm the confiscation of this material.

The Concentration Camps

2. On the concentration camps.

The new and most frightful scourge for those who are persecuted politically in Russia is the concentration camp. There are many concentration camps in Russia, in every region and of varying importance. The new Pharaohs (jailers – Ed.) in these places “educate” hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants and tens of thousands of criminals, receiving in exchange gratuitous labor. The peasant women and female criminals who are among them are sentenced to “serve” the men and are placed in the condition of practically forced prostitution.

The political prisoners are sent, to my knowledge, into four camps: Ukht-Pecherski (Zyryan), Marinski (Central Siberia), Karagandinski (coal mines of Kazakstan) and the Solovietzki Islands. In the month of December 1934, a new hunger strike broke out in the penitentiary of Verkhni-Uralsk. The prisoners demanded that an end be made of these “additional” sentences of imprisonment, and the immediate release of men arbitrarily held in this way (that is to say, two-thirds of the prisoners). The hunger strike was stopped on the thirteenth day by the dispersal of the comrades to various penitentiaries, concentration camps, and by forced feeding. Nearly 30 comrades were then sent to the concentration camps: most of them, headed by the strike committee (Theodor Dingelstedt, Joseph Krashin, Sasha Slitinski) were sent to the Solovietzki Islands. Some of them. Dado Yenoukidze, nephew of the famous ex-secretary of the C.E.C., M. Bielov, G. Boiko, etc., to the Ukht-Pecherski camp. In the summer of 1935, almost the whole Bolshevik-Leninist colony of Central Asia (Samarkand, Chemkent, Alma-Ata, Akmolinsk. Aktoubinsk, Pavlodar, etc.) were in the major part sent to the concentration camps for a five-year period. Aside from the Bolshevik-Leninists, a considerable section of anarchists, some Zionists, and a few Social Revolutionaries and social democrats are to he found in the concentration camps. The political prisoners are subject to the regular camp regime, they must live and work with the criminals. The criminals are incited against the “politicals." Tens of comrades have endured long hunger strikes, demanding the substitution of the penitentiary for the concentration camp [Vladimir Smirnov, Jr. and S. Slipski, both of the “Democratic Centralism” group (the Sapronovists), did a 35-day hunger strike for this modest demand]. Several dozen others have conducted hunger strikes for establishing a regime for political prisoners in the camps. In the struggle for this demand fatal accidents occurred in the Marinski camp (among the anarchists). A group of prisoners in the Solovki and certain individuals in the Ukht-Pecherski and Marinski camps have succeeded in obtaining a partial regime for political prisoners, but a large majority of the prisoners, principally in the Marinski and Karagandiski camps, are under the regular regime. In the Marinski camp, during summer, a group of prisoners (among them the anarchist Sandemisky) was forced to walk, or rather to run, to their jobs in the fields, which were at a distance of ten kilometers from their quarters, where they worked until late into the night.

Upon expiration of his sentence in the summer of 1935, Dingelstedt was removed from the Solovki and exiled to Alma-Ata, S. Kraskin to Turukhansk. It is necessary at all costs to secure the liberation of political prisoners from the concentration camps and to put a stop to the practice of sending them there.

Life in the Penitentiaries

3. Some remarks on the penitentiaries and exile

In the solitary confinement cells of the penitentiary of Verkhni-Uralsk is to be found at the present time the principal part of the Zinovievists (Zinoviev, Kamenev. Kukline, Zalutski and also Smilga), also the well-known leaders of the Workers’ Opposition, Shliapnikov (ill and deaf), and Medvedyev, the leader of the “Democratic Centralism” group, who directed the insurrection of October 1917 at Moscow, former secretary of the C.E.C. at the time of Lenin, the old worker-Bolshevik Timophee Sapronov (he is seriously ill and unless the European proletariat releases him from the penitentiary he will not survive his five-year term).

The Zinovievists behave generally in a capitulatory fashion but in varying degrees and ways. Zinoviev is busy principally with questions of Fascism (he brought a load of books on Fascism) and with the history of the Russian situation. Kamenev is 98.5 percent in agreement with the general line. Some think that everything is over and that it will be necessary to begin all over again. Kamenev has received as the outcome of a new trial a sentence which runs to ten years. The second trial was based on the charges of a plot against “himself” (that is to say, Stalin). The principal hero of the accusation was Kamenev’s own brother, the painter Rosenfeld. There were 36 indicted, a mixed and very suspicious collection. The result was two executions (a member of the G.P.U., whose name I do not recall exactly, either Cherviakov or Chernodski, and the second, a member of the Kremlin Guard). The rest were condemned to 5 to 10 years, half were transported to Verkhni-Uralsk (most of them courtiers of the Kremlin). Kamenev denied categorically that he knew anything about this affair and insisted that he saw the principal accused individuals for the first time in his life during the trial. His brother announced during the trial that thanks to his last minute arrest, the “catastrophe” was barely averted. This famous brother was sent to another place. He is not to be found at Verkhni-Uralsk. For his categorical refusal to know anything about this affair, Kamenev received not only an increase of about ten years, but was sent to a common cell (No. 57, third tier, north aisle of the penitentiary, with 12 men in a large cell). I may also mention the S.R., Volkstein who was scientific collaborator at the Military Academy. She spent five years in the secret part of the penitentiary of Yaroslav before coming fo Verkhni-Uralsk. There she partly lost her power of speech. In the penitentiary of Verkhni-Uralsk are also to be found twenty men of the Right Opposition (Slepkov, Astrov, etc. Riutin was there before, I do not know if he still is). Finally, some anarchists (Barmach), S.R.’s, Zionists, social democrats, and 40 to 50 Bolshevik-Leninists.

Who People the Solitaries?

In all, some 200 prisoners. In the penitentiaries of Chelabinsk, Yaroslav and Sousdal are to be found other groups of political prisoners of all currents. At Sousdal the second leader of the “Democratic Centralists,” V.M. Smirnov, is to be found. He served his five years at Sousdal in 1935; he was at liberty for half a month at Oulala (Oirat Tour) and at the present time he has been imprisoned for another five year term at Sousdal. Voya Voyovitch, former secretary of the Y.C.I., is also to be found there. His wife, Budzinskaia, is at Verkhni-Uralsk (with the sister of Unschlicht). Taking advantage of the change that has taken place in the prisoner personnel, the administration has again worsened the legal conditions and the rations of the prisoners. Famine rations have again been introduced, particularly in the penitentiaries of Yaroslav and of Verkhni-Uralsk. With the decrease in construction during the second Five Year Plan, unemployment has become a daily phenomenon in exile. At Yenisseisk, where I spent my last year, half of the exiles literally starved to death. The children of a new arrival to the concentration camp, M. Belov, became ill because of malnutrition and died of hunger before the eyes of all. The same news arrives from Minussinsk, in Central Asia, from the Narym Province of Archangel. At Minussinsk, there are, at the present time, Kossior, Moussia Magid, Dorochenko, Yakoubson, the social democrat, etc. At Yenisseisk: Papermeister Pavel, Balmonchov, Grail, Doubenbaum, Kolomenko; the Viennese V. Langer (he is systematically deprived of work); the S.R.’s, Teodor Isaievitch Tsederbaum, Marc Levine, Eva V. Losman, the left S.R.’s, the brother and sister Louissin, the Zionists, Bernstein and Kogan: the sister of Medvedyev and a large number of Leningradists.

In the spring of 1935, Siberia was filled up with Leningradists. They were transported there in entire trainloads, whole families with children, wives, parents, etc. Many of them have been sent into places which are all the way north: Obdorsk, Doudinno, Vorilsk, Turakhansk, Verkhneiarsk. Several tens of thousands of comrades were exiled from Leningrad. A group of women, the sister of Zinoviev, the widow of Chatski (who was shot), the sister of Kuklin, etc., are to be found in exile at Vorogod (between Yenisseisk and Turakhansk). The situation of the major part of the Leningradists is tragic. The Zinovievist functionaries haven’t a very noble bearing, and deport themselves without dignity. The workers’ section keeps its mouth closed, makes no requests, tells no lies to the G.P.U., doesn’t fall on its knees ten times a day in order to be pardoned.

At Yenisseisk a group of Oppositionists was arrested during the summer (the Democratic Centralists Davidov and Boiko, the Bolshevik-Leninist Maksimov) and two groups of Zinovievists. The Oppositionists are accused of having endeavored to “sway” the Zinovievists. In the course of the affair it was shown that the G.P.U. persuaded and tried to force the Zinovievists to bear witness that the “oppositionists” had “swayed” them. The Zinovievists sent a general statement about this affair to the prosecuting attorney of the U.S.S.R. It was also discovered that the local G.P.U. was acting in a provocative way on instructions from Moscow. At present the whole group has been in prison for three months, the hearing is over and a decision is awaited from Moscow.

Help the Exiles!

To compel Moscow to provide work for the exiles, to eliminate the famine rations in the penitentiaries, to release political prisoners from the concentration camps, to release from exile and from dungeons and to allow the Jugoslav comrades Deditch, Draguitch and Haeberling to return abroad – these tasks leave me no peace, I think of them day and night. And I am ready to do everything in my power to relieve the fate of the hundreds of comrades with whom I spent five and a half years in prison and exile and with whose terrible situation I am so well and so directly acquainted. I think something can be achieved by the pressure of the European workers and of the democratic movement.

4. On political life in the solitaries, penitentiaries and in exile.

There remains too little time to enable me to describe this aspect of the situation as it warrants. It will be necessary to do it separately and a little later, in a week or two. I may say, in a few words, that at Verkhni-Uralsk the political life was very intense, a host of articles used to appear on all questions of social life in the U.S.S.R. and also on the principal question of international politics during the period 1930–33: Fascism, Germany. A series of papers appeared (written by hand), issued by all the groups, sub-groups and currents. Great discussions were held. In 1931–32, the Bolshevik-Leninist group underwent splits and lived in organizational chaos. In 1933–34 a rapprochement in opinions was reached anew and a single B.-L. collective was set up with a single paper. Several (about ten) Bolshevik-Leninists went over to the Democratic Centralists. Conflicts and splits also took place among the Democratic Centralists and among the partisans of Myasnikov, but in 1933–34 there was also a rapprochement and a “federation of left communists” was created. The views of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the penitentiaries were oriented in the same direction as those of the Opposition abroad and of comrade L.D. Trotsky.


With fraternal greetings,
A. Ciliga


Last updated on: 20 March 2018