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New Militant, 8 February 1936

A Cry of Protest from a
Siberian Exile Camp

Letter of 13 Bolsheviks, Written in 1934,
Comes to Light for First Time

(January 1934)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 6, 8 February 1936, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We publish below an authentic document, shocking in its revelations of the tortures to which the Stalinist bureaucracy daily submits the best Russian and foreign revolutionists, when the latter come to the U.S.S.R. We make this letter public (written in Jan. 1934) only after great delay because one of the comrades, with whom it deals, has only recently managed to make his way abroad. But the letter retains its full force today because two out of the three Yugoslavs mentioned, and hundreds and thousands of other revolutionists are still in prison and exile in the same conditions so candidly described in this letter of protest. (I.C.L. Press Service)

* * *

To Akulov
Attorney General of the U.S.S.R.

On November 28, 1933, the Yugoslav comrade Ciliga, who spent three years in the political solitary at Verkhni-Uralsk, made an attempt at suicide, in the offices of the central bureau of the G.P.U. By slashing his veins: The agents of the G.P.U. succeeded in bandaging the comrade whose blood flowed freely, despite his resistance, and of saving him from death by medical care, although he did lose a great deal of blood.

This attempt at suicide took place at the central offices of the G.P.U., where Ciliga had been taken and after his sudden arrest while he was under medical treatment at Krasnoyarsk, in order to forcibly transport him from Krasnoyarsk to Yenesseisk, even before his treatment was finished. This tragic attempt at suicide by a revolutionary Communist, former member of the Political Bureau of the Yugoslav C.P., who for a number of years carried on his shoulders the full weight of Yugoslav reaction, was not the result of a sudden outburst of despair and of weakness of character, but an act of deliberate protest of an active fighter, deprived of the possibility of participating in the revolutionary struggle, the raison d’être of his life.

The entire past of comrade Ciliga and the system of repressions and persecutions with which the G.P.U. had surrounded him, demonstrate the truth of this contention.

Hounded by Bourgeoisie and Stalin

Three Yugoslav Communists, comrades Ciliga, Dedich and Draguich who had been able to withstand the repressions of the the Yugoslav bourgeoisie, came to the U.S.S.R., which they considered, like so many hundreds and thousands of other proletarian revolutionists abroad, to be their socialist fatherland. These three comrades were active functionaries of the Yugoslav C.P. Dedich had been the secretary of the District Committee of the party in a large workers’ community. Draguich was a member of the Central Committee of the party and Ciliga a member of the Political Bureau and on the staff of the central legal organ of the party. All three were hated for good cause by the Yugoslav government, all three could expect the most vicious terror from the Yugoslav bourgeoisie.

These comrades, who found a cruel exploitation of the proletariat in the U.S.S.R. and who had become convinced of the betrayal of the leading group, of its betrayal of the proletarian revolution, joined the opposition and soon shared the fate of the Russian Communists who carry on an unceasing struggle for the proletarian revolution and who, in the U.S.S.R., are also punished for it as they are in other countries by prison, by condemnation to life in concentration camps, by moral and physical abuse, by exile to the remotest corners of Eastern Siberia, to the province of Narym, to the favorite places where Czarist Russia loved to send its prisoners.

The Hunger Strike

The three comrades, sentenced in 1930 to three years imprisonment were transferred to solitary confinement at Verkhni-Uralsk and cut off not only from the proletarian movement of their own country but also from their families and friends. What the Yugoslav authorities failed to do, was accomplished by the government of Stalin and Molotov. Comrade Ciliga and the two other Yugoslav comrades, became the victims of the Soviet prison system, a system of provocation calculated to the meanest detail, which in the Spring of 1931 in the large Communist collective in the political solitary of Verkhni-Uralsk, numbering 176 persons, led to a hunger strike of 18 days duration as a protest against the shots fired through the window of a prisoner (Essayan) who was seriously wounded. Ciliga and his comrades who participated in the hunger strike, together with many Russian communists who suffered all sorts of humiliating beatings, were placed in chains and the water hose turned on them, as was the custom in the solitary of Verkhni-Uralsk.

Arbitrary Extension of Sentences

Ciliga and his comrades were becoming acquainted with a new reality, existing only in the U.S.S.R. and unknown to the Communists active in bourgeois-fascist Europe. In the U.S.S.R. every prisoner, on the termination of his sentence, may see it prolonged for a new indefinite period: for a term one, two, three years or more without the prisoner being indicted, heard or judged in any fashion whatsoever. There are many examples of Communists, who through the practice of the Russian prisons have had their sentences prolonged perpetually. The prison term of the Yugoslav Communists (three years) expired in May 1933. Seriously suffering, from isolation from the Communist movement of their country, the three Yugoslav Communists decided at this very moment to demand at any cost, the right to return to Yugoslavia,where, despite the danger which threatened them, they could function in the ranks of the struggling proletariat. The comrades demanded to be sent to Yugoslavia and announced that they would struggle to obtain this right by every means without eschewing the most extreme methods like the hunger strike and suicide. The reply of the G.P.U. was the order to transport them to another political solitary, in order to remove the possibility of their securing support in their struggle from the large important Communist collective, imprisoned for years in the solitary at Verkhni-Uralsk.

Ciliga’s Heroic Protest

Comrade Ciliga was separated from his friends (the fate of the other Yugoslav comrades is not known to us) and thrown into a dungeon of the prison at Cheliabinsk, where he carried on a hunger strike lasting 23 days to obtain the right to return to his home in his country. But the leading group in the U.S.S.R., which betrayed the cause of the revolution in his country, is at the same time indifferent when it comes to strengthening the ranks of the international proletariat by intrepid, strong and tested revolutionists. Moreover, it prefers its own government methods in regulating their affairs to the Communists who struggle against the international bourgeoisie.

In reply to comrade Ciliga’s hunger strike the G.P.U. informed him that his sentence would be extended two more years. Following this comrade Ciliga imperatively demanded his freedom, or else he would commit suicide as a protest against the extension of his sentence. The G.P.U., fearing that the international proletariat might find out about the death of the Yugoslav Communists tortured in the prisons of the U.S.S.R., freed comrade Ciliga and sent him into exile to far off Eastern Siberia.

Siberian Exile

But that in no way changed the situation of comrade Ciliga, since he was placed in the same conditions of absolute isolation as in the political solitary. Under the present Soviet regime exile means only that they continue their estrangement from life, but in different conditions. Separation from friends, from family, the impossibility of carrying on correspondence, which is intercepted by the local agents of the G.P.U. and in the greatest part destroyed or disappears without a trace. Repeated raids, frequent arrests without reason or charges – all of this makes of the places of exile, concentration camps with just a shred of freedom. And comrade Ciliga, sent into the wastelands of Eastern Siberia, and seeing no other prospect than of being transferred to a still more distant corner, finally tried to carry out his threat of suicide.

“We Hold Yon Responsible ...”

In making these facts known to you, we draw your attention to the fact that the life of comrade Ciliga is still in danger, although this time his attempt at suicide failed. Since the main demand of comrade Ciliga has received no satisfaction, we send you this warning and we hold you fully responsible for the system of provocations of the G.P.U. And of its intent to physically exterminate the Communists among whom comrade Ciliga is one of the victims. You are entirely responsible for the subsequent fate of comrade Ciliga who belongs to the international working class and who must be given the opportunity of returning to its ranks. We declare that the international working class will one day know the fate of comrade Ciliga and the other Yugoslav Communists although the treacherous policy of the leading group thrusts them into the remotest places. We call upon you to issue an order to the G.P.U. to put an end to the systematic persecutions against the Yugoslav Communists, comrades Ciliga, Dedich, Draguich and to give them permission to go abroad, since they are illegally and forcibly held in the U.S.S.R.

Yennisseisk, January 1934

SIGNED: Bobinski, Volkov, Gourovskaya, Dchinachvilli(?), Korkina, Ida Lemelman, Plomper, Rapoport, Simbirski, Sotnikov, Shapiro, Feodorov, Chikin.

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