Police spies in our movement – nothing new

January 11, 2011 at 12:17 am (history, Jim D, revolution, Russia)

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 Police agents  (eg Mark Kennedy, below) are nothing new…



Mark Kennedy

Roman Malinovsky (above, left), the son of Roman Catholic peasants, was born in the Plotsk Province of Russian Poland, on 18th March, 1876. He was orphaned at an early age and was in trouble with the local police for getting involved in criminal activities. His third offense being that of robbery with breaking and entry, for which he had served a prison term from 1899 to 1902. A man who once shared a cell with Malinovsky, later remarked: “Malinovsky’s life was a series of crimes, his talents, his mind, and his will being used for one purpose: to sell himself at the highest possible price”.

On his release from prison in 1902 Malinovsky joined the Izmailovsky Guards Regiment. After four years service he left the army and found employment as a lathe operator in a factory in St. Petersburg. He became involved in trade union activities and eventually became the full-time secretary of the Metalworkers Union. He joined the Bolsheviks and took a prominent role in organizing workers during the 1905 Revolution. However, he was now well-known to the police and in November, 1909, he was arrested and expelled from the city.
Malinovsky went to Moscow with his wife and two children but in May, 1910, he was arrested once again. It was while he was in prison he agreed to become an undercover agent for the Russian secret police. For 100 roubles a month Malinovsky supplied reports on Bolshevik members, locations of party meetings and storage places for illegal literature.

In 1911 Malinovsky began working for S. P. Beletsky the director of Okhrana. Beletsky later admitted that: “Malinovsky was given the order to do as much as possible to deepen the split in the Party. I admit that the whole purpose of my direction is summed up in this: to give no possibility of the Party’s uniting. I worked on the principle of divide et impera.” Beletsky ordered Malinovsky to “attach himself as closely as possible to the Bolshevik leader (Lenin)”. Beletsky later testified that, in view of this important mission, he freed his agent at this time “from the further necessity of betraying individuals or meetings (though not from reporting on them), as arrests traceable to Malinovsky might endanger his position for the more highly political task.”

Malinovsky met Lenin in 1912. According to Bertram D. Wolfe: “When he met Lenin at the Prague Conference of 1912, he was thirty-four, robust, ruddy complexioned, vigorous, excitable, a heavy drinker, a rude and eloquent orator, a gifted leader of men.” Lenin was impressed with Malinovsky and suggested that he should join the Bolshevik Central Committee. Lenin also advocated that Malinovsky should be a Bolshevik candidate for the Duma. Malinovsky became known as an eloquent and forceful orator. Before making his speeches he sent copies to Lenin and S. P. Beletsky.

After being elected in October, 1912, Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies. Lenin argued: “For the first time among ours in the Duma there is an outstanding worker-leader. He will read the Declaration (the political declaration of the Social Democratic fraction on the address of the Prime Minister). This time it’s not another Alexinsky. And the results – perhaps not immediately – will be great.”

Malinovsky was now in a position to spy on Lenin. This included supplying Okhrana with copies of his letters. In a letter dated 18th December, 1912, S.E. Vissarionov, the Assistant Director of Okhrana, wrote to the Minister of the Interior: “The situation of the Fraction is now such that it may be possible for the six Bolsheviks to be induced to act in such a way as to split the Fraction into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Lenin supports this. See his letter (supplied by Malinovsky)”.

Rumours began to circulate that Malinovsky was a spy working for Okhrana. This included an anonymous letter sent to Fedor Dan about Malinovsky’s activities. When Elena Troyanovsky was arrested in 1913 her husband wrote a letter claiming that if she was not released he would expose the double agent in the leadership of the Bolsheviks. S. P. Beletsky later testified that when he showed this letter to Malinovsky he “became hysterical” and demanded that she was released. In order that he remained as a spy Beletsky agreed to do this.

According to Bertram D. Wolfe in 1913: “He (Malinovsky) was entrusted with setting up a secret printing plant inside Russia, which naturally did not remain secret for long. Together with Yakovlev he helped start a Bolshevik paper in Moscow. It, too, ended promptly with the arrest of the editor. Inside Russia, the popular Duma Deputy traveled to all centers. Arrests took place sufficiently later to avert suspicion from him… The police raised his wage from five hundred to six hundred, and then to seven hundred rubles a month.”

Another Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin, became convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. David Shub has argued: “There was a wave of arrests among the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Among those rounded up was Nikolai Bukharin… Bukharin, then a member of the Moscow Committee of the Bolshevik Party, had distrusted Malinovsky from the start, despite the latter’s assiduous attempts to win his confidence. For Bukharin had noticed several times that when he arranged a secret rendezvous with a party comrade, Okhrana agents would be waiting to pounce on him. In each case Malinovsky had known of the appointments and the men whom Bukharin was to meet had been arrested.”

Bukharin wrote to Lenin claiming that when he was hiding in Moscow he was arrested by the police just after a meeting with Malinovsky. He was convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. Lenin wrote back that if Bukharin joined in the campaign of slander against Malinovsky he would brand him publicly as a traitor. Understandably, Bukharin dropped the matter.

Nadezhda Krupskaya later explained: “Vladimir Ilyich thought it utterly impossible for Malinovsky to have been an agent provocateur. These rumors came from Menshevik circles… The commission investigated all the rumors but could not obtain any definite proof of the charge.” Instead of carrying out an investigation into Malinovsky, Lenin launched an attack on Julius Martov and Fedor Dan, who he accused of acting like “gossipy old women”.

In June 1914 Lenin published an article in Prosveshchenie: “We do not believe one single word of Dan and Martov…. We don’t trust Martov and Dan. We do not regard them as honest citizens. We will deal with them only as common criminals – only so, and not otherwise… If a man says, make political concessions to me, recognize me as an equal comrade of the Marxist community or I will set up a howl about rumors of the provocateur activity of Malinovsky, that is political blackmail. Against blackmail we are always and unconditionally for the bourgeois legality of the bourgeois court… Either you make a public accusation signed with your signature so that the bourgeois court can expose and punish you (there are no other means of fighting blackmail), or you remain as people branded… as slanderers by the workers.”

On the outbreak of the First World War Malinovsky resigned from the Duma and against the orders of the Bolsheviks he joined the Russian Army. He was wounded and captured by the German Army in 1915 and spent the rest of the conflict in a prisoner of war camp. Surprisingly, in December 1916, the Bolshevik newspaper, Sotsial Demokrat, reported that Malinovsky had been “fully rehabilitated” for his past crime of “desertion of his post”.

On 2nd November, Malinovsky crossed the Russian border and turned up in Petrograd. He visited the Smolny Institute, the Bolshevik headquarters, on three days running, demanding to be taken to see Lenin. On the third day, Gregory Zinoviev saw him and ordered his arrest. He was taken to Moscow for trial and Nikolai Krylenko was appointed as prosecutor.

Vladimir Burtsev interviewed Malinovsky and he told him: “When the Revolution triumphed in Germany and Russia and the possibility of participating prominently in political activities was lost to him forever, he decided to go back and die, rather than to flee into the obscurity of an Argentina or a similar place of refuge. Of course, he could have committed suicide, but he preferred to die in the view of everybody, and had no fear of death.”

At his trial Malinovsky admitted he had been a spy and commented: “I am not asking for mercy! I know what is in store for me. I deserve it.” After a brief trial was found guilty and executed that night. The historian, Bertram D. Wolfe, has asked the following questions: “How much did Lenin know of Malinovsky’s past? Why did Lenin exonerate Malinovsky in 1914, against the evidence and against the world? Why did he rehabilitate him in 1916? Why did Malinovsky return to Russia when Lenin was in power? Did he count on Lenin? Why did Lenin then not lift a finger to save him?”

From: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSmalinovsky.htm


  1. Dr Paul said,

    A couple of things here. Firstly, perhaps because I’ve been around 30 years or more on the left and have seen too many things to be surprised, I find it remarkable that the climate activists are so outraged that the old bill put an infiltrator in their midst. Seeing that they deliberately go around causing economic disruption, such as closing down power stations and aerodromes, did they really think the powers-that-be are not going to try to disrupt their shenanigans?

    Anyone involved in political protest or industrial action will inevitably be watched in one way or another by the state. It is naive to think otherwise. When I was a supporter of a fast-growing, noisy left-wing group, I often wondered who the state infiltrator might be. Was it the one who advocated adventurist stunts, the one who often disagreed with the leadership, the one who always most loyally advocated the party line? Now I wonder what the infiltrator did when the group started falling apart and finally gave up. Did he vote for winding it up on the basis that it was a job well done, or oppose dissolution as it meant that he was out of a job? (Of course, there may well have been more than one, perhaps each on opposing sides of a factional battle.)

    Yes, it must be horrible to descover that someone you trusted and perhaps befriended is in fact a spy working for the state. But let’s not be naive about it: anyone actively involved in protest activities will be spied on.

    Secondly, on the Malinovsky affair. The final paragraph above insinuates, vide Wolfe, that Lenin knew that he was a spy, but kept him on nonetheless. From what I’ve read, Lenin was appalled when he discovered that what he’d written off as gossip about him, including from amongst his own comrades, was in fact true. Lenin didn’t save him because, I feel, he saw him as a traitor and didn’t deserve to live, having done much to disrupt his party whilst claiming to be a comrade.

    The Russian left-wing movement was riddled with state spies, and there would have been loads of claims and counter-claims about who was a spy, some no doubt put around by real spies to discredit genuine leftists. Lenin thought he was right in thinking that Malinovsky was not a spy, and probably stiffened his defence of him all the more as people continued to make accusations. He was probably just as angry at his own gullibility as he was about Malinovsky’s guilt when the latter was proved.

  2. Matt said,

    Two quick points:

    The Russian Bolsheviks were clearly successful despite being riddled with state spies.

    Spies like Malinovsky may even play a positive role: he was forced because of his position to make a Bolshevik speech in the Duma that would have influenced workers notwithstanding what he later turned out to be.

  3. anon said,

    Lets move on nothing to see there. Lets put up loads of irrelevant ancient stuff about it. Don’t even mentionany recent examples involving this State. Lets not learn any lessons.

  4. charliethechulo said,

    anon: and let’s not learn any lessons, eh? let’s just pretend this is the first time it’s ever happened. And wallow in our own anarchist ignorance.

    • anon said,

      dear charliethechulo:

      1    /ˈaɪrəni, ˈaɪər-/ [ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-]

  5. charliethechulo said,

    OK, anon: you were being i-ron-ic. I apologise for not getting it. It’s just so difficult to tell irony from anarchist ignorance these days. Sorry.

  6. Rosie said,

    If you’re an activist group who hasn’t got a bona fide police agent in your midst, do you get pissed off because the state reckons you’re no danger at all?

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