The Secret War Against Latvia: Latvian Communist Party in Underground 1920-1940

Latvian Leftist Trade Union program with Soviet Symbols showing its allegiance to  underground Latvian Communist Party

Latvian Leftist Trade Union program with Soviet Symbols showing its allegiance to underground Latvian Communist Party

On August 11 1920 the war between Latvia and the Soviet Russia had officially ended. The short-lived Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was dissolved. However, the Latvian Communists were far from giving up. With the main leadership in Moscow, under the direction of the Comintern the Latvian Communist party fought secret war against the Republic of Latvia. In 20 years of underground struggle the party however failed to achieve its goals and was almost destroyed from the inside and outside when on 1940 Soviets tanks marched in Riga.

Latvian Communist Party (LCP) was successor of the Latvian Social democracy  (LSD) – originally a Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party from 1905, that was taken over by the Bolsheviks. On March 1-6 1919 during IV LSD congress the party was renamed to Latvian Communist Party.It was a height of the Soviet power in Latvia and communist minded LSD no longer needed to disguise as social democrats. The three main leaders were Pēteris Stučka, Fricis Roziņš and Kārlis Daniševskis. By their leadership the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic realized a genocidal destructive policy and was defeated and chased away from Riga. Fearing official peace talks between Latvia and Soviet Russia, LCP tried to provoke armed uprising in Valmiera that would be supported by uprising in Riga. Uprising meant to took place on January 11 1920 never took place and could not happen in the first place. On the same time Latvian – Polish united forces liberated Latgale and forced LCP to move to  Velikie Luki in Russia. On January 17 the reluctant LCP was forced to dissolve the soviet government and hand over the authority to LCP Central Committee (CC) On January 25 LCP CC made decision to leave Russian Communist (Bolshevik) party and joined the Communist International. Also called Comintern the Communist Party became the part of the soviet foreign intelligence in their quest to initiate the Socialist revolutions all over the world.

LCP created the CC Russian Bureau and Foreign Bureau. It was lead by Pēteris Stučka and J Lencmanis. After II Comintern congress a Latvian Section was created within the Communist Party Executive Committee it was the only foreign representative of the LCP. LCP gathered its funds from the stolen money and goods during the war. Special party enterprises “Products” and “Prometejs” was made to boost the party treasury. In Pskov district LCP owned two Soviet farms “Beryoki” and “Stretmutka”. “Stretmuka” was later ravaged by the fire. As the LCP started to run out of stolen resources the LCP moved away from Pskov and had over the farms to Commissariat of Agriculture. As stolen goods depleted LCP became dependent on soviet secret service funding and therefore became directed by it.

Until 1922 the LCP was mostly directed by  LCP CC Secret Task department was lead by Jānis Zukovskis who died on January 27 1920, and was replaced by Kārlis Kauliņš. The task of the Secret Task department was to ensure contacts with illegal party organizations and lead the partisan warfare and military espionage in enemy countries. What they were actually doing was to illegally cross the border to distribute communist literature, and escort spies. Also important way of achieving worldwide socialist revolution was to spread out the counterfeited money. LCP agents made trips to Latvia and exchanged the faked Latvian Rubles. It was way to gain more illegal funds. On 1922 the Latvian Section received 2 million faked Latvian rubles and gained back 1 023 000 genuine rubles. Many agents were caught so Latvian security services were aware of these actions.

At first LCP was still enthusiastic about restarting war against Latvia, however after  the end of the Russian Civil War, the LCP started to adapt to reality that worldwide socialist revolution is on the long delay that however will come sometime. Until then LCP had to reorganize and change its tactics. On 1921 Latvian government issued death sentences to communist agents Jānis Šlīfs, Augusts Bērce and Mārtiņš Čuče. They were replaced by Rūdolfs Salna and Jānis Krūmiņš. LCP also had cell in Berlin lead by Jānis Bērziņš whose main task in Berlin was to sell out the stolen goods, he was arrested on 1927 and was released on 1934 and died in Soviet Union shortly after. He as commissar of agriculture during the Soviet rule in Latvia. His college from those times Edgars Zanderfelds operated a secret typography and storage in Krāslava with many secret passages that operated till 1929 and was not discovered until 1940.

LCP sent a myriad of agents in Latvia. Some of them managed to infiltrate in the Latvian state offices and even army and police. Roberts Kalniņš first was arrested in 1921 on suspicion of LCP affiliation. He was found in possession with communist literature and being member of  LCP Cēsis section. On 1923 he took the job as secretary of Sigulda 7th infantry battalion and was accused of LCP connection and arrested. During arrest he confessed of being convinced communist and was sentenced for four years in prison. On 1929 he came back as secretary of the Tukums Healthcare Fund while being member of the LCP Tukums section. On 1930 he revealed himself by publishing brochure “In the prison of the humanitarian regime”. The brochure was banned. On 1930 he returned to Cēsis and was accused again of LCP affiliation. On 1932 he was arrested and then released and was caught of taking part in Valmiera communist circle “Moscow”. It was not enough and on 1933 he made trouble again by issuing satirical magazine that was banned for insulting the president of Latvia Alberts Kviesis. This is just a example of a convinced communist recidivist agent that worked for LCP.

LCP operated the exchange of information and agents, couriers operated on Latvian railways and transported sums of money to European communist counterparts. On 1926 two Lithuanian Poles attacked two official Soviet Diplomatic couriers, one of them was Latvian Teodors Nette who died in the event. Since both attackers also died in the event it was impossible to found out if they were simple bandits or secret agents to halt the soviet attempts of bringing counterfeit money to Europe. Possibly it was done by British Secret service.  

The Red Rifleman - the newspaper of the Liepāja Communist party War section 1920

The Red Rifleman – the newspaper of the Liepāja Communist party War section 1920

LCP also tried to use legal cover to affect Latvian politics. However, the elected members of the LCP legal cover parties were only instructed to work in open opposition as LCP feared that too open cooperation would mean LCP recognition of the Republic of Latvia. One of the leaders of the legal cover was Leons Paegle and Linards Laicens – two novelists and poets, also nationalists at start. Laicēns was one of the first to publicly present the idea of the national state, however fell out with Latvian Republic soon after its foundation. LCP created illegal “Legal work center” to coordinate the legal cover. LCP managed to split the Latvian Trade Union in two making loyal trade union bureaus in Riga and Courland. Leftist trade union members were used for elections in municipal elections and for legal press.

On 1928 Saeima (Parliament) elections two LCP affiliated movements entered parliament The Leftist Workers list and the Independent Socialist Party. On 1931 Workers and Peasant Fraction gained 6 seats. The real harm to Latvian government made by these legal communist party list was minimal. Elected deputies disrupted the parliament job by proposing unreasonable laws and singing Internationale that was official soviet anthem during parliament sections. On 1930 during the long and complicated presidential election process communists used humor to complicate the elections even more. As Alberts Kviesis was the leading candidate, communists proposed their own candidate Miezis. Because Kviesis in Latvian means wheat and Miezis means barley. Kviesis was elected but eventually Latvian Secret Police managed to uncover the Workers and Peasants fraction as LCP front organization and removed elected deputies from the parliament.

The election poster of the legal LCP election list Leftist Workers List

The election poster of the legal LCP election list Leftist Workers List

However, this also happened because LCP was unsatisfied with the fraction and their members who they saw too disloyal and weak. Linards Laicēns as election locomotive was disillusioned about his political mandate and wanted to depart. LCP itself begun to get rid of the fraction by alienating their members and forcing them to give up their mandates. Miezis was called to Moscow which he entered illegally and was commanded to give up his mandate, since he was in Moscow illegally he could not announce it. As he went back to Latvia he was arrested and sentenced in six years in correctional facility. However, that saved Miezis life as all other fraction members who emigrated to USSR perished in purges. Other members being afraid of moving to USSR wanted to live in Europe. LCP CC did everything to get them back. Laicēns accused of insubordination and bourgeois influence in the end was forced to move Soviet Union. On December 14 1938 he shot. Only emigrating fraction member who survived was Emīls Sudmalis.    

During 1928-1929 LCP for some reason was issuing strategy in case of Soviet invasion in Latvia  Talks about combat groups, taking over Daugavpils, sabotaging the Latvian army and cooperating with soviet secret service. On 1930 LCP tried to infiltrate group of communists within Latvian army garrison in Daugavpils. However, the plot failed because the majority of Daugavpils young communists were Jews, who spoke Russian and could not freely communicate with the Latvian soldiers.

Comintern  wanted to install radio transmitter in Riga to ease communication with Latvian based LCP. After long search for proper radio operator Arvīds Sviķis was selected. He graduated the Moscow Energetic Institute, and practiced at Leningrad Radio and learned to transmit in Morse code. As Czechoslovakian citizen Oldrich Adamek on July 1935 he entered Latvia. The code was made by two books – the 1st volume of the collected writings of Andrejs Upītis and Latvian-German dictionary. He was sent to create radio station in apartment in one of the relatives of the chief of the operation Lencmanis. This same person also worked in Soviet Trade Fleet office. LCP could not find better cover for radio building, however Latvian Police missed this too. With salary of 170 Lats and 60 lats for rent and 900 lats to buy radio parts a transmitter was built in October. However, its power was too low for signal to reach Moscow and they had to build a new transmitter. After seeing the real life in Riga, Sviķis on December 1 1935 went to Latvian Secret Police and confessed in everything. The apartment was raided and transmitter was found, all six members of the group was arrested. LCP was unaware that Sviķis was the one who turned in the group until 1939. After 1940 Soviet occupation Sviķis was sentenced for state treason and shot.

As Stalinist regime gained its power the inner struggle within LCP grew stronger. Stučka was old and ill, the new professional top members were looking to replace the old 1919 guard. Strautiņš or Citrons (Lemon) fought against old timer Jānis Lencmanis. Citrons who represented the party in Comintern Executive committee was in high position. Citrons and his supporters lost the power gamble after Stučka’s death on 1932. Then came the 1934 Coup of Kārlis Ulmanis. It was unexpected surprise to LCP. Party begun to search for scapegoats and excluded those who were unable to recognize their mistakes.  

The Comintern was discontent with the LCP work. Alarming criticism about 1919 Soviet Republic in press and books was wake up call. On 1936 Comintern was looking to punish the Foreign Bureau and get rid of unsatisfactory members.   In the end on June 21 1936 Comintern commanded to dissolve Central Committee and elect a new one and dissolve the Foreign Bureau. Also because of disagreement with the Riga Committee that was fired, the contacts with Latvia were disrupted. LCP was in crisis and considered useless to Comintern.

Jānis Kalnbērziņš convinced Stalinist was sent to Latvia to restore the party. After Hitlers raise to power the LCP European cell was moved to Copenhagen. Meanwhile in Latvia Kalnbērziņs conducted party member checkup. In Soviet Union all so called politemigrants – communists emigrating or exiled to Soviet Union was also under survey. Rūdolfs Salna a important LCP functionary who was tasked to sent report about them were too negative calling most of them unreliable and recommended to deport them from USSR. It was excuse for Stalin to call Latvian section full of spies or traitors. As the repressions against Latvians started large numbers of LCP members were arrested and shot. Salna himself, Citrons, Krūmiņš, Krastiņš were “revealed” as enemies. Meanwhile in Latvia most of the LCP members were arrested or placed in deep underground.

After 1937 surviving LCP lost contacts with Moscow and was unsure if they still are part of the Comintern as  Fricis Deklavs recalled in 1956. Party was weak and asked for support that Moscow declined. On 1939 on the eve of the WW2 it was punitive small organization no longer resembling party. Because of this on 1940 when Soviet Union occupied Latvia the Soviet puppet government contained non LCP members like Augusts Kirhenšteins and Vilis Lācis, famous biologist and famous writer, Bruno Kalniņš social democrat, possibly Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vilhelms Munters were recruited by soviet secret service and were the front men in soviet puppet government (except for Munters who was deported to light imprisonment in Russia). The Soviet occupiers had to make new LCP from the scratch using agents from Russia and local new recruits. The party was now completely connected to central soviet system and after WW2 became ruling local power adjacent to Moscow.

The history of LCP resembles the events today. Russia uses myriad or parties and non governmental movements with hidden allegiance to Moscow.  They either directed by locals or Russia sent agents. Sometimes their pro-Moscow stance is obvious, however the democratic laws and regulations allows them to operate further. The effect of such politics is clearly visible in Ukraine and also in Latvia. The main question is how to fight such covert war- with democratic laws or using their own preferred way – by force. The main goal of this covert war is loosing balance and  that is the most danger in defending our freedom and independence.

Selected Sources:

Niedra,Ojārs. Daugmalis, Viktors. (1999) Slepenais Karš Pret Latviju. Komunistiskās Partijas darbība 1920-1940. Arhīvi apsūdz. Rīga. Totalitārisma Seku dokumentēšanu centrs.

Kaņepe, Vija (Ed) (2001) Latvijas Izlūkdienests 1919-1940. 664 likteņi.



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