1929: Yakov Blumkin, Trotskyist spy

Add comment November 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Yakov Blumkin was executed on this date in 1929.

It was a decade and more since he’d made his great historical mark, the July 1918 assassination of German diplomat Wilhelm von Mirbach.

Blumkin (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) undertook this as a deadly — so he hoped — strike against Bolshevik power. In the aftermath of the fledgling Soviet government’s controversial peace treaty with Germany to exit World War I, the hit was ordered by Blumkin’s party, the Left SRs, as a means to instigate renewed hostilities. Simultaneous with the murder, Left SRs launched a failed coup in Moscow, again on the inspiring policy of resuming the horrible war.

But Bolshevik Cheka director Felix Dzerzhinsky didn’t take this sort of thing personally, and by 1919 he’d made this ruthless operative into Moscow’s own asset. The ensuing decade would feature James Bond-esque adventure in Persia, the Caucasus, Arabia, Mongolia, and beyond; he was Leon Trotsky’s friend and, for a time, his secretary, who helped edit Trotsky’s Military Writings.

Blumkin lived large, and was not above flaunting his terrorist’s notoriety — “always brandishing his revolver in public places,” in the disdainful recollection of Nadezhda Mandestam. Blumkin adored poetry and poets; Victor Serge, another of the many writers he knew, is full of Blumkin anecdotes in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary, where he recalled him just back from Persia

more poised and virile than ever, his face solid and smooth-shaven, the haughty profile of an Israelite warrior. He stayed in a small apartment in the Arbat quarter, bare except for a rug and a splendid stool, a gift from some Mongol prince; and crooked sabres hung over his bottles of excellent wine.

Poets could be dangerous enough in the Stalinist nightmare years to come but it was that old Trotsky association that put him on the leading edge of the purges — especially since it wasn’t just ancient history. Blumkin apparently met with Trotsky secretly in Turkey after the latter was exiled, and even carried secret messages from him for friends still in the USSR. Reckless enough in retrospect but Blumkin was a veteran practitioner of the double game. Moreover, the judges were split on the penalty until Stalin personally weighed in — a reticence on recourse to this measure that purgees charged with personally conspiring with Trotsky would certainly not enjoy as the terror ripened in the 1930s.

Unlike many others who fell prey to political prosecutions in this period, Blumkin has never been rehabilitated by Russia/the USSR.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Russia,Shot,Spies,USSR

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