Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, Part 1: The KGB in Europe and the West, Allen Lane: The Penguin Press, London, 1999, pp996, £25
THE prolific Professor Andrew provided the defector Gordievsky with extensive opportunities to relieve himself of his burden of secret knowledge and anti-Soviet speculation. In this much-reviewed work, he assists at the same holy office for another KGB defector who was smuggled out of Russia together with a huge volume of stolen KGB documents.
Andrew claims a leading position among historians of intelligence services, and asserts that the special viewpoint of the ‘intelligence historian’ provides unique panoramas over the twentieth century. The enormous scope of Mitrokhin’s theft (compared with Gordievsky’s operational material) presents Andrew with the challenge of meeting his claim.
What, then, do we learn of major consequence from the first volume of Mitrokhin/Andrew’s revelations and ponderings? Why, of course, that all the machinery of secret and overt oppression operated by Stalin and his successors was the direct and personal invention of Lenin, and that the Western secret services ought to have been supported by more determined capitalist governments. The Soviet state underwent no qualitative change between October 1917 and the Yeltsin coup. And regardless of its class nature, all the efforts of the Soviet state to defend itself against virulent monarchists, rabid restorationists, and the protracted subversive charivari from Savinkov to Solzhenitsyn appear reprehensible to the educated eye in the senior common room. The unique panorama is in fact no more than the battered picture postcard peddled over several decades by Pincher, West, Deacon, the Readers Digest and lesser spawn of the same brood.
For Socialists, the question raised by Mitrokhin’s revelations about the volume of technical espionage carried out by the Soviet Union and the other East European states is this: did the ability of the Stalinist regime to survive as long as it did depend more on espionage than upon the claimed benefits of a centralised, planned, nationalised economy (‘the gains of October’ as Trotskyists defined them)? Those who adhered to the ‘degenerated workers’ state’ theory (which by the 1980s at least should have been restated as ‘the workers’ state which has been degenerating for a very long time, but which is not yet totally degenerate’) often pointed to the Soviet Union’s growth in technical ability (Sputnik, Lunokhod, etc) as evidence that some residue of a higher form of production had survived the Stalin counter-revolution. Andrew is perhaps right to claim that he opens up a new perspective, but he resolutely turns his dinner-jacketed back upon it.
Fortunately, Andrew gets his conclusions out of the way by the end of Chapter Two, and devotes the bulk of his 750 pages to retelling stories of Soviet espionage and counter-espionage, illuminated by Mitrokhin’s stolen notes and extracts. This work has taken seven years (since Mitrokhin’s ‘exfiltration’) to compile, and no doubt much of the time was occupied in confirming that nothing was revealed that might be of use to today’s secret services if left concealed. (The effectiveness with which this cleansing was carried out can be judged from the response to the enormous volume of press quotations and reviews of the book. The world’s press, having expended hundreds of column inches to extracts and summaries of Mitrokhin/Andrew, has not uncovered a single additional spy.)
If Andrew’s conclusions are predictably disappointing, at least some of Mitrokhin’s materials are of interest. The published selections can, at this stage, only be regarded as the creation of a joint committee of Western intelligence services, but they indicate the scope and detail of the documents held in the KGB archive.
For readers of this journal, interest is likely to focus on three areas dealt with by Mitrokhin/Andrew: the Bolshevik period, Stalin’s campaign against Trotsky, and the Reiss affair. What does Mitrokhin’s material reveal here?
It is not surprising that Mitrokhin’s material on the Bolshevik period is thin. His access to files seems to have been when they were returned to the archive after use, and the earliest files were referenced far less often than operational cases. Most of the chapter ‘From Lenin’s Cheka to Stalin’s OGPU’ is based on sources that will already be quite well known — Pipes and Volkogonov are liberally mixed in amongst legitimate historians, and Andrew quotes his own previous work with Gordievsky effusively. New material is scarce. Mitrokhin had the opportunity to read the records of Kanegisser’s interrogation following his assassination of Uritsky, but only concludes that ‘the conflicts in the evidence have not been resolved’. The notes refer to the publication of the record of the interrogation of Kaplan (sourcing it not to the original, but to Pipes’ discussion of it), but it is not claimed that Mitrokhin ever verified the published account against the Cheka archive.
Sadly lacking here is any attempt to develop a portrait of Dzerzhinsky, and Ivanov’s 1994 work is not included in the bibliography. Similarly missing is Sergo Beria’s biography of his father. If an attempted history of the KGB can find space to refer to biographies of Henry Kissinger, Gary Kasparov, Tito, Hoover and numerous others peripheral to the matter in hand, in 23 pages of bibliography (58 pence worth out of the £25 price), then biographies of the KGB’s best-known bosses would merit at least a dismissive Cambridge accented acknowledgement. Andrew claims, without any supporting citation, that Dzerzhinsky ‘derived his intelligence tradecraft... from the Okhrana’. He puts forward the Malinovsky affair as a key example of the Bolsheviks learning from the Okhrana. Andrew neither cites nor includes in his bibliography Elwood’s study of Malinovsky. If he did, he might be forced to acknowledge that Dzerzhinsky had no part in the Bolsheviks’ response to Malinovsky’s provocation. It was Burtsev who led the Bolsheviks’ work against penetration and provocation, and more than once succeeded in running agents of his own inside the Okhrana. If Andrew wishes to build a case against the Bolsheviks that they sought to learn from their enemies, he might also refer to Serge’s What Everyone Should Know About State Repression, a simple practical guide to the enemy’s methods and how to resist them (and a glimpse of Serge at his most Bolshevik).
But exactly what are the Bolsheviks accused of here? Are the methods of gathering intelligence to be subjected to the same vacuous debate that Trotsky demolished in his ‘Is There a Proletarian Military Doctrine?’? Would Andrew and Mitrokhin regard the Bolsheviks as worthy and honourable enemies if they had never read Macchiavelli, or if they had declined to act against the enemies of the revolution who were attacking from every side until they had formulated a new and pure proletarian statecraft, blind to all questions of pressure and secret force, blackmail and bribery, whilst fighting against exactly those methods, presumably by waving red flags and manifestos?
And here again, Andrew and Mitrokhin don’t understand that they so nearly raised an important political question. Again they turn their backs on the panorama to which they have been selling tickets, like Mervyn Peake’s vendor of tickets to view the sunset. There are real questions to be asked about how an isolated workers’ state can conduct itself without undermining its own principles — just as there are about its diplomacy and its foreign policy, its economics (which is exactly why a study of Dzerzhinsky would be valuable). The resources and methods of a state are inevitably different from those of a party, even an international party. Hence the richness of Lenin’s thinking on the invasion of Poland and relations with Germany, and on the revolutionary potential of Asia. Hence also the poverty of Trotsky’s approach to foreign policy by the issuing of a few declarations. The question became clearer in relation to the Stalinist regime, but still merits study for the Bolshevik period; how are we to draw the right balance between politically unleashing the revolutionary potential of the workers in capitalist countries, and using the power of the workers’ state or states against those capitalist countries.
Andrew refers to Lenin’s instruction that certain confidential inner-party speeches be not recorded, and again cites Pipes, where mention is made of the speeches about the invasion of Poland. The correct credit here is to the editor of Revolutionary History, in whose work the first English translation of the speeches were contained.
Mitrokhin claims to have seen the Okhrana file on Djugashvili (Stalin), and that it was empty, presumably stripped on Stalin’s instructions. However, his material fails to add to the report documented by Radzinsky that the Baku Bolsheviks suspected Djugashvili of being both a provocateur and an embezzler of revolutionary funds.
Andrew gives two paragraphs to Riutin, again adding nothing to our knowledge of the man and his supporters. It is possible to accept that Andrew’s researchers failed to read Serebriakova’s article on Riutin in New Interventions, but not that they were unaware of the German original. Furthermore, it is not acceptable that no reference is made to Rogovin’s extensive research into the Riutin group and its platform. (Andrew is at least not going to fall into the pit that Pipes dug for himself in saying he had ‘never heard of’ Rogovin, in spite of citing him as a primary source.)
If there was a single advance in intelligence methods developed by the Cheka and its successors, it was the use of the grand deception to lure enemies in exile, and thus undermine their organisations. Mitrokhin and Andrew are at pains to avoid celebrating these achievements in the breaking of the Whites, but Mitrokhin’s stolen papers cannot avoid adding some details to our knowledge of them, particularly in the undermining and eventual destruction of Savinkov.
The sensitive reader will have detected a certain dissatisfaction on the part of the reviewer with Andrew and Mitrokhin’s account of the Bolshevik secret services. It is especially difficult to believe that Mitrokhin encountered nothing on the revolutionaries who detected problems with the direction taken by the state under Lenin’s leadership. Did the Cheka’s vigilance not extend to the Left Communists, the Workers Opposition, to Emma Goldman and Maximoff (again not cited), to the flocks of foreign supporters of the revolution who came to set up home in Red Russia, or to the Anarchists and Mensheviks? This is not only hardly credible, but is known not to be the case. How many Cambridge lacunae make a panorama?
Turning to the account of the persecution and assassination of Trotsky, the conclusion is similar — there are some snippets of new material, but little to change the big picture. The shape of Andrew’s account comes not from Mitrokhin’s stolen documents, but from published sources, mainly Levine and Sudoplatov. The assassination has been extensively researched for both historical and tendentious reasons, but Andrew does not show any familiarity with the material generated by the Healyite investigations (with the exception of a reference to Vereeken’s book in his bibliography). Moreover, he neglects to mention that the FBI file on the Trotsky case was recently opened to the public, and provides background to the concerns of that august agency about Stalinist agents in the USA. It should be stated here categorically that nothing revealed by the Mitrokhin material, at least as revealed in this volume, supports the accusations made by the Healyites against Hansen and Novack. Neither does it afford any clue as to the identity of the agent with whom Hansen was in contact.
There are occasional lapses from professional standards in this section. Sylvia Ageloff, for example, appears as ‘Angeloff’. This could be blamed on the publishers’ staff. But more seriously, in describing KGB surveillance of Trotsky at Alma-Ata, Andrew claims (citing Volkogonov) that Trotsky repeatedly described Stalin and his associates as ‘degenerates’ in correspondence. This reviewer took the trouble to check the third volume of The Challenge of the Left Opposition — the largest English language collection of documents by Trotsky of the Alma-Ata period. In that volume, Trotsky is careful not to use personal derogatory terms against Stalin, or even against Ustryalov.
It may be that Volkogonov, or more likely one of his research students, has seen and misunderstood some of Trotsky’s discussion of the degeneration of the state. It is just conceivable that the OGPU’s summaries of Trotsky’s correspondence were doctored for a receptive audience, and Volkogonov’s researchers accepted OGPU statements unchecked. Whatever the root of Andrew’s error, his failure to cite supporting evidence casts doubt on his scholarship, and reputation is everything for a scholar researching and exposing secret materials.
Whilst Andrew’s presentation may be unsatisfactory, Mitrokhin’s materials do present some new information. That Trotsky was subject to surveillance at Alma-Ata is not surprising (p78), but it helps to complete the picture to have it confirmed. And it may be that documents survive in the KGB archive as a result of that surveillance that are not available for study elsewhere. Mitrokhin saw documents relating to Blumkin’s arrest and killing, but these add very little to our knowledge in themselves. (Andrew’s familiarity with the recent official and semi-official histories of Russian intelligence does, however, point to a number of sources of which this reviewer had not been aware.)
There are also some reports on operations against the Left Opposition. Mitrokhin read an OGPU report on a demonstration by arrested Left Oppositionists in the Butyrka, which became a riot. He also describes how Opposition militants would be frequently summoned to police or security offices and kept waiting for hours before being sent back to work. Back in the workplace, these inexplicable absences would often lead to the suspicion that the militant was an informer, undermining his or her position more effectively than interrogation would have done.
There is a short account of the actions against Sedov, but no evidence to prove that his death was due to murder by the Stalinists. There is a bald statement to the effect that Rudolf Klement was abducted and murdered by the NKVD, but no references or further evidence are provided. Irwin Wolf is not mentioned, nor is Walter Held.
Most of the description of the preparation for the assassination of Trotsky comes not from new documents, but from Levine and Sudoplatov. Some background is filled in, for example, Eitingon’s murderous record in Spain against anti-Stalinists is referred to. Mitrokhin does not claim to have seen original operational case files on the assassination of Trotsky, but builds up a picture from the biographies of some of the participants.
The most interesting new information in connection with the assassination of Trotsky concerns the NKVD agent and adventurer Grigulevich, whose part in the plot has not previously been documented (although his code name Felipe was known to the Mexican police). In Spain, Grigulevich had been a leading Stalinist murderer of Trotskyists, as well as a trainer of stay-behind saboteurs. His major rôle in the plans for the assassination of Trotsky himself was to lead Siqueiros’ attack team, damping their enthusiasm and organising escape routes. He recruited and equipped the machine gunner in the team, Siqueiros having omitted to provide one.
Robert Sheldon Harte had apparently not been briefed on what would happen after he opened the doors to the Siqueiros/Grigulevich team. Andrew quotes Primakov to the effect that Harte responded angrily to the conduct of the assassins after he let them in, as a result of which he was taken away and shot, as a precautionary measure. Andrew gives a useful thumbnail biography of Academician Primakov, from which readers can decide for themselves if they take his account as good coin. Appointed head of the SVR (the foreign intelligence agency that succeeded to the KGB’s rôle in 1991), he had been a leading advisor to Gorbachev, and both Foreign Minister and Prime Minister under Yeltsin. Mitrokhin had seen his new boss’ file, and knew him to be the energetic KGB spy codenamed Maksim.
Following the failure of Siqueiros’ attack, Grigulevich made his way to Argentina, where from 1942 onwards he organised the sabotage of cargo ships bound for Germany. Possibly the most remarkable of his achievements was to be appointed adviser to the Costa Rican delegation to the UN, and subsequently as envoy to Rome. So deep was his cover that the speeches he drafted for the Costa Rican delegation were attacked by Vyshinsky himself for the Soviet delegation.
At the time of Stalin’s death, Grigulevich was planning an assassination attempt against Tito — a plan that was hurriedly shelved. He was suddenly and permanently recalled to Moscow in 1953, to avoid being exposed in the Orlov articles in Life magazine, but even this abrupt disappearance of a diplomat and his wife did not blow the gaffe. Grigulevich subsequently took up an academic career, and several of his books are listed in Andrew’s capacious bibliography.
The rest of Andrew’s account of Trotsky’s assassination does not add greatly to our knowledge. There is one moment of unintended humour (or perhaps it reveals the hand of an alienated researcher at Cambridge, or a sub-editor with Penguin. Having described Mercader’s seduction of ‘Angeloff’, Andrew goes on to inform us that ‘Mercader’s rôle at this stage was still that of a penetration agent’.
The assassination of Ignace Reiss is dealt with in less than a paragraph, and the references are all to previously known materials. It sheds no new light on the matter.
In conclusion, Andrew and Mitrokhin have a great deal of interesting material in their hands, and future works based on it will no doubt prove of value to readers of this journal. But such works are unlikely to be allowed to appear in the near future.