Roman Malinovsky, 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. Another Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin, became convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. David Shub, a member of the Mensheviks, 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 made him his deputy inside Russia.
In 1912, the wife of Alexander Troyanovsky, was arrested. As David Shub, the author of Lenin (1948) has pointed out: "In February 1913 Troyanovsky's wife, who had just returned from Austria with instructions from Lenin, was arrested in Kiev. She had been asked to become secretary to the Bolshevik group in the Duma. Important secret documents were found in her possession. Very few people had known of her arrival. Both Bukharin and Troyanovsky suspected Malinovsky's hand in her arrest. To confirm their suspicions, Troyanovsky sent a registered letter to his wife's father, telling him he knew who had betrayed his wife to the police and that he was determined to square accounts with the informer. The letter brought the results Troyanovsky expected. His wife was immediately released." 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.
Shub argues: "Convinced now that his wife's arrest was the work of an agent provocateur, Troyanovsky investigated the details of her trip to Russia, whom she met there - as well as the circumstances of her arrest and release. All the evidence pointed strongly to Malinovsky." After discussing the matter with Nikolai Bukharin, both men wrote to the Central Committee demanding that Malinovsky appear before a Party court. Lenin, speaking for the Central Committee, forbade them to spread these rumours about Malinovsky. Lenin called their action worse than treason, and threatened to have them expelled from the Bolsheviks if they persisted. Bukharin obeyed, but Troyanovsky decided to resign from the party.
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."
In June 1914 Lenin published an article in Prosveshchenie, where he continued to attack people like Jules Martov and Fedor Dan who continued to denounce Malinovsky as a spy: "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.
Malinovsky told Vladimir Burtsev: "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 that took place in secret Malinovsky admitted he had been a spy being paid 6,600 rubles by the Okhrana. He argued: "If I refused to accept the money the Okhrana would have suspected me of playing a double game. I had to show that I was faithful." The judge replied: "But you had already proved that by delivering our best comrades to the police." Malinovsky also told the court he had made a full confession to Lenin in 1914.
Malinovsky used his full oratorical talents in a six-hour defence speech. It ended with the words: "I am not asking for mercy! I know what is in store for me. I deserve it." David Shub, the author of Lenin (1948) has pointed out: "Lenin sat facing Malinovsky, his head bent over a desk while he wrote on a pad. It was obvious, according to Olga Anikst, a Bolshevik witness; that Lenin was undergoing an emotional conflict. He remained in the same position for hours. When the defence counsel said that if Malinovsky had had friends to guide him he would never have become a spy, Lenin stirred, looked up at Malinovsky, and nodded his head many times. When the verdict of death by shooting was read, Malinovsky began to tremble and his face was distorted by fear. He had obviously expected Lenin's intercession. It is possible that before appearing he had been promised clemency. Lenin himself was undecided. A delegation of Petrograd Bolshevik workers attending the trial demanded to be allowed to witness the execution, apparently fearing that Lenin might commute the sentence of the agent provocateur who once enjoyed his full confidence."
Roman Malinovsky was 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?"
Si Liberman has argued: "Malinovsky's life was a series of crimes, his talents, his mind, and his will being used for one purpose: to sell himselfatthe highest possible price where he could do the most possible harm to the liberation of the working class. He will go down in history as one of its greatest traitors."