Joseph Grigulevich: A Tale of Identity, Soviet Espionage, and Storytelling


This paper explores the life of Joseph Grigulevich (1913-1988), a famous early Soviet illegal intelligence operative, who conducted various "special tasks" on behalf of Stalin's foreign espionage network. These included the murder of dissident Spanish communist Andreas Nin (1938), a participation in the assassination of Leon Trotsky (1940), posing as a Costa Rican ambassador (1949-1952), and an abortive project to assassinate Joseph Bros Tito (1952). In contrast to conventional espionage studies that are usually informed by diplomatic, political, and military history approaches, I employ a cultural history angle. First, the paper examines the formation of Grigulevich's communist and espionage identity against his background as a cosmopolitan Jewish "other" from the interwar Polish-Lithuanian realm. Second, it explores his role in the production and invention of intelligence knowledge, which he later used to jump start his second career as a prominent Soviet humanities scholar and a bestselling writer of revolutionary non-fiction.

Publication Title

Soviet and Post Soviet Review