Historic Landmark in World Trotskyism.
Review by Corin Redgrave,
How the GPU Murdered Trotsky
by the International Committee of the Fourth International.
New Park Publications, Price £3.
News Line 14 July 1976, page 8
The book is described as a fighting contribution to the development of the world party of revolution. For as long as copies are available this will remain true
On August 20, 1940, Leon Trotsky was assassinated. It was the culminating blow of the Stalinist counter-revolution.
In the preceding period, the working class had suffered internationally a succession of terrible blows and defeats. Fascism had triumphed in Italy and Germany. The Spanish revolution had been defeated. Millions of workers were being marched into the slaughterhouse of World War II.
Every surviving member – save one – of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917, had been shot or imprisoned in the infamous Moscow Trials of 1936, 1937, and 1938.
Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the revolution and founder of the Red Army, was the sole survivor. Exiled by Stalin since 1929, he had been sentenced to death in the show trials. Trotsky had demanded that the Stalinists extradite him so that in court he could demolish in person the web of lies which the bureaucracy had tried to spin around him.
Stalin, fearful of Trotsky’s enormous political and personal prestige, and of the destructive effect which his presence in the dock would certainly have had on the prosecution’s tissue of
falsification, preferred to try and to sentence him in absentia. Already in 1938, he had had Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov, murdered in a Paris clinic. Now, with Trotsky’s own murder, he severed the last living link with the leadership of the Russian Revolution.
But Trotsky left behind him his most vital and indispensable contribution to the world revolution – the Fourth International, founded in 1938.
He himself had said, in reviewing the main events of his life, that it was not as Lenin’s second in command in October, nor as commander of the Red Army that his most important role lay. Rather it was in the struggle against Stalinism which he waged from 1923 onwards. First in the Left Opposition, then after the defeat of the German working class in 1933 – for which Stalinism and its criminal leadership was the principle culprit – in the fight to establish the Fourth International as the continuation of the struggle of Marx, Engels and Lenin for the world socialist revolution.
Today’s publication of How the GPU Murdered Trotsky is an historical landmark in the continuity of that struggle. This book answers a question to which almost every reader will bring some elements of common knowledge. A conventional account of Trotsky’s death has circulated in which the assassin, Ramon Mercader, orders from Moscow, and the brutal choice of weapon for the assassination, a sawn-off alpenstock are well known ingredients.
But after these bare facts, myth has been superimposed to shroud the real circumstances and political implications of the murder. Mercader was a lone psychopath, a rootless individual who stumbled into and out of history – thus runs the myth. This book totally and irrevocably shatters that myth. It shows how and why Trotsky was killed, and tracks down all those, living and dead, who had a hand in his murder. It traces the whole network of the conspiracy which the GPU wove around Trotsky and which finally closed on him in Coyoacan.
For this alone it is a unique contribution to history. But it is also much more. It shows how and why, and by whom, the myth was sustained for so long.
For – and this emerges at every turn of the story – the GPU planned and carried out Trotsky’s death from within the Trotskyist movement itself.
Present at the founding conference of the Fourth International, in France in September 1938, was a GPU agent by the name of Marc Zborowski whose party name was “Etienne”. In the enforced absence of Trotsky himself, Zborowski had himself nominated as the Russian representative!
Absent from the conference were its three honorary presidents, Sedov, Rudolf Klement and Erwin Wolf. All three had been assassinated in the months before.
Yet these were only the first blows delivered by Zborowski, Stalin’s prize agent. It was he who engineered the fatal meeting in Paris between Sylvia Ageloff, an American follower of Trotsky, and the assassin Mercader. When Ageloff returned to America, Mercader followed, and then, through her, gained admittance to Trotsky’s household in Coyoacan, Mexico.
Nor was this the end of Zborowski’s work. In 1941, thanks to Mrs. David Dallin, Lola Estrine, who arranged phony travel papers, he made his way to America. There he resumed his penetration of the Fourth International whose headquarters were now in New York.
Today Zborowski is alive and well, a much praised author of several anthropological treatises, on “The Problem of Pain”. He has paid his debt to society – a short prison sentence for perjury – and holds a lucrative academic job in San Fransisco. Horn rimmed and heavy-jowled he is transfixed in the pages of this book, an instant after swinging a punch at the photographer. His wife scowls beside him: “You can do nothing with these pictures if you know what’s good for you”.
Zborowski was one of a network of agents controlled by GPU master spy Jack Soble. These included Sylvia Franklin, throughout the 1940’s personal secretary to James P. Cannon, leader of the Socialist Workers Party, and Floyd Cleveland Miller, who led the Trotskyist faction in the seamen’s union, and Lucy Booker, who typed up reports in her Manhattan apartment where the GPU paid the rent.
All these and many more are assembled in the pages of this book. The evidence is painstakingly documented; culled from interviews, transcripts of US senate sub-committee hearings, the records of the Library of Congress, the sworn testimony of the spy trials of the 1950’s in New York.
Yet this in turn raises another question, the most important question of the book and one which makes it far more important than simply a journalistic investigation. If this evidence has been available for so long, and if the conclusions which flow from it are so inescapable, how has it remained in obscurity for so long? How has it taken almost 36 years to establish the truth about Trotsky’s assassination, and the attacks of the GPU which followed?
The answer is that just as Trotsky’s murder was organised and executed by agents in the ranks of the Trotskyist movement and even within Trotsky’s immediate circle, so the systematic suppression of all the evidence leading to this conclusion has been carried out by accomplices of the GPU amongst those who falsely claim to inherit the mantle of Trotskyism.
The Socialist Workers Party leaders, collaborators of Trotsky during his last years in Mexico, had a duty to bring to light all this evidence and lay bare the conspiracy which claimed his life.
Only so could they carry forward Trotsky’s fight and develop Trotsky’s own revolutionary practice. As his companion Natalya said: “At the same time Lev Davidovich [Trotsky] was taking part in the conduct of the investigation … Its slothful pace worried LD exceedingly. He followed the developments patiently and tirelessly … making superhuman efforts to force himself to refute the self-evident and hopeless lies or malicious equivocations, during all this with the intense perspicacity peculiar to him, and not allowing a single detail to escape his notice. He attached the proper significance to every single thing, and wove them all into a single whole.” (“Father and Son”, 1941)
Trotsky was guided by this method not out of deference to abstract canons of historical truth, but from the absolute necessity to train a cadre to meet and overcome all the attacks which imperialism and Stalinism would level at it.
Only in this way could the revolutionary party be built. It is 100 per cent certain that Trotsky would have wished all the details, every scrap of evidence concerning his assassination, to be brought to light. Any fears that because such an investigation would incriminate members or ex-members of the movement it would therefore – like washing ones dirty linen in public – lower the prestige of the International, would be pandering to the worst middle-class prejudices. Worse, it would disarm and imperil the movement.
And this is precisely what the Socialist Workers Party leaders have done. They allowed Zborowski, a key figure in the conspiracy, to disappear, virtually without trace. Search their publications, and all that can be found are three references, two of which are in the form of footnotes so marginal as to be scarcely noticeable, and so laconic as to be quite deliberately misleading.
Why? Not because of ignorance – the evidence was on their doorstep, ready to hand, and the most pressing reasons to make full use of it. And not from any misguided underestimation of the importance of such evidence. Quite the contrary.
The suppression of the evidence has been a conscious and deliberate act on their part. This is why two men, Joseph Hansen and George Novack of the Socialist Workers Party, stand indicted by this investigation as accomplices of the GPU.
The starting point for this book was the statement by the renegade Tim Wohlforth, then the National Secretary of the Workers League, in sympathy with the International Committee of the Fourth International – that his friend Nancy Fields’ family connections with the CIA were “unimportant”.
The Workers League Central Committee thought otherwise, and took precaution – an elementary, normal and necessary precaution in the Marxist movement – of conducting an investigation into these relations.
Wohlforth and Fields refused to participate in this inquiry although they had initially voted for it. Within a month of his replacement as national secretary, which he himself had voted for, Wohlforth was joining hands with Hansen of the SWP. Hansen and Wohlforth immediately made common cause in a slander campaign against the International Committee.
The sixth congress of the International Committee, meeting in London in May 1975 decided, however, that this experience required a complete investigation. The challenge presented by a new stage in the crisis of world capitalism, to build Trotskyist parties, and to transform parties into mass parties for the taking of power, necessitated the fullest attention to all questions of security.
The unprincipled activities of Hansen and Wohlforth signalled that a historical watershed had been reached in the struggle against revisionism all over the world.
In the course of this investigation, the International Committee was obliged to go beyond the unravelling of the many strands of GPU machinations which led to Trotsky’s murder on 20 August 1940. It was called upon to trace this deadly penetration through the 1940’s and 1950’s to the present day. The investigation became more than an investigation into Stalin’s terror machine and its techniques. Above all, it exposes those who masquerade as “Trotskyists” but who are in fact irrefutably indicted as accomplices of the GPU.
Two men, Joseph Hansen and George Novack, are indicted. They have shielded known agents of the GPU, suppressed the GPU crimes, and done their utmost to prevent any attempt to expose these crimes. From the time of the publication of the indictment in January this year, neither Hansen nor Novack have uttered a word in reply to these charges. Instead they have joined hands with Wohlforth, Thornett, Sklavos and every last renegade in a chorus of unparalleled abuse and slander against the leaders of the International Committee. The tactic is as old and as ugly as the GPU itself.
But the International Committee and particularly the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party, has fought unrelentingly against Pabloite revisionism and its cringing before Stalinism. Its perspective is Lenin’s and Trotsky’s – the building of independent revolutionary leadership in the working class to mobilise the working class to smash capitalism and establish world socialism.
The continuous story then of how Stalinism sought to behead this movement, and how the accomplices of the GPU have tried to cover their tracks, is more than a story. It establishes battle lines of demarcation between the International Committee of the Fourth International and every brand of revisionism, all the false claimants to Trotskyism.
This book will train and educate a new generation of revolutionary fighters. It is above all a fighting contribution to the development of the world party of revolution.
And it is also a superb testimony to the achievements of that struggle. Its compilation, its selection of photographs (many of them here published for the first time), its fine printing and magnificent page design, all of these show the powerful range of skills and talents that are brought to bear on this historic revolutionary task. Its publication is an achievement to be proud of.
In this crucial year – the 40th anniversary of the Moscow Trials and the 20th anniversary of Khrushchev’s 20th. Congress speech and the Hungarian uprising – How the GPU Murdered Trotsky will be of profound interest to workers, students and young people.
The investigation of the GPU crimes against the Trotskyist movement has only begun. It will not be complete until the GPU criminals have all been unmasked and their accomplices and their allies end their silence before an international inquiry along the lines of the Dewey Commission of 1937, which Trotsky used to expose the Moscow Trials frame-up.
The building of the International Committee of the Fourth International starts with the implacable defence of Trotsky’s principles and traditions and the development of the Marxist ideas that he fought for all his life and died for. The final chapter will be written when the Moscow bureaucracy has been overthrown in a political revolution by the Soviet working class and Trotsky politically rehabilitated.
The historical impetus for this rests in the hands of workers in the major capitalist countries who have the socialist revolution in front of them to carry out. The International Committee of the Fourth International is the only force which fights for the building of the world party of socialist revolution dedicated to making this a reality.