Leon Trotsky's murder was no accident or spontaneous action by the dictator Stalin, but a monstrous preconceived act that was the culmination of a murder campaign against the whole of the old Bolshevik leadership of the revolution and those who stood by the genuine ideas of Marxism. We republish this article published in Militant in 1985.
"DO YOU think that Stalin has not discussed the question of your physical removal? He has considered and discussed it thoroughly. He has always been held back by the same thought, that the young people would pin the responsibility on him personally, and would respond by acts of terrorism. He therefore believed that he first had to disperse the ranks of the oppositionist youth.
But a job postponed is not a job abandoned."
(Statement of leading Bolshevik, Gregory Zinoviev to Trotsky, 1926).
ON 20 August 1940, Leon Trotsky was pick-axed to death by a Stalinist agent, Ramon Mercader.
Trotsky had devoted the whole of his life to the emancipation of the working class. He headed the famous Petersburg Soviet in the 1905 revolution, originated the Marxist theory of the ‘Permanent Revolution', became co-leader with Lenin of the October 1917 revolution, constructed the Red Army, and was co-founder of the Third Communist International.
His murder was no accident or spontaneous action by the dictator Stalin, but a monstrous preconceived act that was the culmination of a murder campaign against the whole of the old Bolshevik leadership of the revolution and those who stood by the genuine ideas of Marxism.
All those who posed any threat to the totalitarian regime of the bureaucracy were systematically hunted down and eliminated at the hand of the Stalinist secret police, the GPU.
Central to this murder plot were all those who stood close to Trotsky around the International Left Opposition that fought for the ideas of Leninism, of Marxism. The struggle between Trotsky's adherents and those of the Stalinist bureaucracy was not simply a debate about ideas. It represented a clash of living forces-between the parasitic ruling elite, defending its material privileges and the forces of working, class internationalism and socialist revolution.
This privileged elite derived its income and power from its bureaucratic control over the nationalised planned economy. To protect its ruling position, it expropriated the Russian workers and peasants politically. All the points of workers' democracy under Lenin and Trotsky were gradually crushed and gave way to the totalitarian dictatorship of Stalin - the personification of the bureaucracy. Only through this regime of Stalinist terror could this privileged cast be maintained.
Those who joined the Trotskyist opposition were met with terrible persecution, slander, expulsion, victimisation, the sack and imprisonment. Later they were driven into Stalin's concentration camps and murdered.
Nevertheless despite the trail of blood, persecution and lies, of historical falsification by the Stalin clique, the ideas of Leon Trotsky - of genuine Marxism have not only survived but have grown and became a beacon to all those activists to-day faced with the horrors of capitalism and Stalinism.
Trotsky's fate was bound up with that of the Russian October Revolution of 1917. This proletarian victory was seen by all as the beginning of a world transformation. Nobody in the Bolshevik Party - Lenin, Trotsky or even Stalin - believed that socialism could be established in one country, let alone a backward one like Russia.
The isolation of the revolution, due to the betrayal of the leaders of social democracy in the West, led to the growth of a parasitic bureaucracy, a caste of officials in the state, party and industry. The international defeats reinforced the feeling of isolation and weariness. As Trotsky explained:
"It is absolutely beyond question and of major importance that the Soviet bureaucracy became more powerful as the blows struck harder against the world working class. The defeats of the revolutionary movements in Europe and Asia gradually undermined the confidence of the Soviet workers in their internationally. Inside the country acute misery still reigned. The boldest and most devoted representatives of the working class had either perished in the civil war or had risen higher, and for the main part, been assimilated into the ranks of the bureaucracy, having lost their revolutionary spirit. Weary, because of the terrible efforts of the revolutionary years, without perspective, poisoned with bitterness because of a series of disappointments, the great mass fell into passivity". (Writings 1935-36 p 174.)
The Left Opposition was formed in 1923 by Trotsky to defeat this bureaucratic reaction against October. Just before Lenin's death, he and Lenin had organised a bloc to fight bureaucracy. In his 'testament' or 'will', Lenin called for the immediate removal of Stalin who became the figurehead of this reaction. In the will Trotsky was singled out as "distinguished not only by his exceptional abilities" - "to be sure, the most able man in the present Central Committee".
With Lenin's death in January 1924, Stalin and those who wished to denigrate Trotsky's authority suppressed the Testament and later denounced it as a Trotskyist forgery! Its authenticity came to light only in 1956 with Khrushchev's speech to the closed session of the 20th party congress.
Rise of Stalinism
The defeat of the German revolution in late 1923, together with Lenin's death resulted in a speedy crystalisation of the powers of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Soon after Stalin came out with the anti-Marxist theory of ‘Socialism in one country', which reflected the interests of the privleged elite. Zinoviev and Kamenev, two old Bolshevik leaders who had sided with Stalin could no longer stomach this betrayal and came over to Trotsky to form the Joint Opposition in 1926.
At the time, the defeat of the Chinese Revolution was a terrible blow to the Russian workers, who looked towards a workers' victory in the East. It was a great encouragement however to the developing bureaucracy. By November 1927, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party and Kamenev from the Central Committee.
As a result of this growing repression, Abramovich Yoffe, who had returned as Ambassador to Japan to work as Trotsky's deputy, committed suicide. Exiled to Alma Ata (January 1928) and later to Turkey (January 1929), Trotsky hit back at the betrayals and slanders of the Stalinists, and began to assemble the cadres of genuine Marxism on an international scale. In July, he published the first issue of the Russian Bulletin of the Opposition as the central organ of his work.
In the few years that followed, cruel personal blows were hurled against him; his young daughter Nina had died with consumption at the age of 26. His other daughter Zina, again suffering from acute ill-health, was driven to suicide in Berlin in early 1933. Both their husbands were sent to Siberia.
Trotsky's first wife, Sokolovshaya, was imprisoned in a labour camp where she died later. His son, Sergei, a scientist who was not interested in politics, was arrested on trumped-up charges - refused to betray his father - and perished in prison. Trotsky's secretaries and aides in the USSR were executed: Glazman, Butov, Sermuks and Pozansky.
The Stalinists, under orders from Moscow, constantly attempted to infiltrate Trotsky's household as well as the International Left Opposition, causing disruption, provocation and murder. Examples of Stalinist infiltration are numerous: Senin and Roman Well, Etienne Zborowski, Serge Efrom, Marcel Rollin, Louis Ducomet, Francois Rossie, Renata Steiner, Floyd Miller and Sylkvia Franklin to name but some.
Struggle against Hitler
Until the victory of Hitler in March 1933, Trotsky had conducted a vigorous campaign for a united front policy against fascism in Germany. However he was denounced by the Stalinist leaders who continued to lead the German working class into a bloody debacle. Ernst Thaelmann the leader of the German CP, stated in September 1932:
"In his pamphlet on the question, How will National Socialism be Defeated? Trotsky always gives but one reply: 'The German CP must make a bloc with the social democracy...' In framing this bloc, Trotsky sees the only way for completely saving the German working class against fascism. Either the CP will make a bloc with the social democracy or the German working class will be lost for 10-20 years. This is the theory of a completely ruined fascist and counter-revolutionary. This theory is the worst theory, the most dangerous theory and the most criminal that Trotsky has constructed in the last years of his counter-revolutionary propaganda". (Communist International, no 17/18, 1932, p 1329).
The failure to heed Trotsky's advice led to the paralysis of the German labour movement and resulted in the victory of Hitler without any major resistance. It was the greatest betrayal of international socialism since that of 1914. Feared by the capitalist class, Trotsky was refused the right of asylum by all the European powers. In 1933, however, he was allowed temporarily into France, but before long was expelled as an undesirable by the government.
From France, Trotsky was allowed into Norway where the Labour Party had recently come to power. Within a matter of a few months the purge trials opened in Moscow with Trotsky placed as the principal defendant. Stalin put pressure on the Norwegian government for Trotsky to be gagged. This it obliged by expelling his secretaries and placing him under virtual house arrest. Desperate to answer the lies and slander of the greatest frame-ups in world history, Trotsky eagerly accepted the offer of asylum from the Mexican government of Cardenas. He arrived in Mexico City in January 1937.
The bureaucracy sought a deal with the Western Democracies against Hitler and therefore attempted to demonstrate their respectability. The first Moscow Trial began the systematic frame-up and murder of the old Bolshevik leaders. Out of fear for the success of the Spanish revolution and the impulse it would give to the new political revolution in the USSR, the bureaucracy began to wipe out all living connections with the real traditions of October.
Between 1936 and 1938 it has been estimated that eight million perished in the terror, this ‘one-sided civil war' to use Trotsky's words.
An International Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials was established under the head of the distinguished American 'philosopher, John Dewey. All the testimonies and evidence were sifted vigorously. Trotsky was personally examined and cross-examined about the fantastic allegations of being in the pay of the Nazis, etc; made against him by the Stalinists.
He demonstrated, with the assistance of his extensive archives, that the forged 'confessions' in the trials were absolute lies and that they constituted the greatest frame-ups in history. The Dewey Commission found "the Moscow Trials to be frame-ups" and concluded: "We therefore find Trotsky and Sedov (his son) not guilty".
The Second Moscow Trial began within a fortnight of Trotsky's arrival in Mexico. Stalin's aim, however, was the physical annihilation not only of the old Bolsheviks inside the USSR, but the obliteration of the Trotskyist leadership internationally.
In Spain, the GPU murder gangs were used systematically to suppress all opposition to Moscow, leading to the the execution of Andres Nin, Andrades, Erwin Wolf (one of Trotsky's secretaries), etc. In September 1937, Ignace Reiss, a former GPU top agent who renounced Stalinism and came out in favour of Trotskyism, was murdered.
Years later, Leopold Trapper, a courageous anti-Stalinist and ex-leader of Soviet Intellegence working in the underground during the war, wrote. in his memoirs:
"Yugoslavs, Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs - all disappeared. By 1937, not one of the principal leaders of the German Communist Party was left, except for Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht. The repressive madness had no limits. The Korean section was decimated; the delegates from India had disappeared; the representatives of the Chinese communist Party had been arrested. The glow of October was being extinguished in the shadows of underground chambers. The revolution had degenerated into a system of terror and horror...
".......And yet we went along, sick at heart but passive, caught up in machinery we had set in motion with our own: hands, Mere cogs in the apparatus, terrorized to the point of madness, we became the instruments of our own; subjugation: All those who did not rise up against the Stalinist machine are, responsible, collectively responsible. I am no exception to this verdict....
"But who did protest at that time? Who rose up to voice his outrage?
"The Trotskyites can lay claim to this honour. Following thee example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did. By the time of the great purges, they could only shout their rebellion in the freezing wastelands where they had been dragged in order to be exterminated. In the camps, their conduct was admirable. But their voices were lost in the tundra.
"Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that - they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not ‘confess', for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party nor socialism."
Son, Friend, Fighter
In France the Stalinists infiltrated the Opposition's Headquarters and ‘collaborated' at the highest level with Trotsky's son Leon Sedov. On 16 Febuary 1938 Etienne Zborowski fingered him to the GPU who in turn murdered him whilst in hospital.
The grief stricken Trotsky wrote a moving tribute to his dead son under the title Leon Sedov - Son, Friend, Fighter:
"Together with our boy has died everything that still remained young within us. Goodbye, Leon, goodbye dear incomparable friend. Your mother and I never thought, never expected that destiny would impose on us this terrible task of writing your obituary. We lived in firm conviction that long after we were gone you would be the continuer of our common cause. But we were not able to protect you. Goodbye Leon! We bequeath your irreproachable memory to the younger generation of the workers of the world. You will rightly live in the hearts of all those who work, suffer and struggle for a better world. Revolutionary youth of countries! Accept from us memory of our Leon, adopt him as your son - he is worthy of it - and let him henceforth participate invisibly in your battles, since destiny has denied him the happiness of participating in your final victor."
A month after Sedov's death, Stalin launched the third a bloodiest of the purge trials. In Paris Rudolf Klement's decapitated body - another of Trotsky's secretaries - was found in the river Seine. The GPU murder network closed in on Trotsky, through a string of secret agents. Ramon Mercader, Stalin's prize assassin, set up the infiltration of the Trotsky household by seducing a young American Marxist, Sylvia Ageloff.
Meanwhile, the first failed attack on Trotsky's life came on 24 May 1940. Stalinist GPU raiders - led by the Mexican CP leader Siqueiros - forced entry to the premises a machine-gunned Trotsky's bedroom. Fortunately he, his wife and grandson narrowly escaped death. One of the guards on duty, Robert Sheldon Harte, was abducted and his decomposed body discovered in a lime-pit one month later.
"RETRIBUTION will come to the vile murderers. Throughout his entire heroic and beautiful life, Lev Davidovich believed in the emancipated mankind of the future. During the last years of his life, his faith did not falter, but on the contrary became only more mature, more firm than ever. Future mankind, emancipated from all oppression will triumph over coercion of all sorts. .. "
How it happened, November 1940 by Trotsky's wife, Natalya Sedova
The second attempt on August 1940 proved fatal. Leon Trotsky was murdered by the hand of GPU assassin Ramon Mercader. After being found guilty of murder he served a 20 year sentence and then returned to Eastern Europe where he was decorated for his services by the Stalinist regime.
Trotsky was the greatest martyr of the working class. Trotskyism or Marxism has been and remains this day, the most persecuted tendency in history. The attacks upon Militant and its supporters are but a continuation of this campaign.
Whilst the faint-hearts and skeptics made peace with Stalinism, Trotsky and a small band of co-thinkers defended the ideas of Marxism in a time of historic retreat and reaction. That was Trotsky's greatest role.
This new generation owes a colossal debt to those who fought against the stream. It is now up to us to arm ourselves with the genuine ideas of Marxism as a concrete preparation for the future storms and upheavals that will inevitably unfold.
First published in Militant 16 August 1985