The assassination of Leon Trotsky

Submitted by AWL on 12 September, 2006 - 12:42

Sixty five years ago, on 20 August 1940 Leon Trotsky was struck with a fatal blow from an ice-pick by an agent sent by the CPU, Stalin’s secret police in the USSR. Here, Trotsky’s partner for four decades Natalia Sedov Trotsky tells the story of Trotsky’s death. The article was first published in the Fourth International in May 1947.

On 8 June 1940 Leon Trotsky wrote “I can therefore state that I live on this earth not in accordance with the rule but as an exception to the rule.” Everything we have said in connection with the crime that cut short his life is today [mid-1947] being wholly confirmed by the confession of Louis Budenz, a former leader of the American “Communist” Stalinist Party, in his book,“This Is My Story”, published in March of this year. The testimony of this GPU sub-agent, who took part in the conspiracy against the life of LD Trotsky introduces nothing factually new, but it does authoritatively collaborate everything we said on the basis of general political considerations as well as by taking into account the numerous facts which occurred during the years of our exile.

The confessions of Louis Budenz throw light upon the entire activity of Stalin’s secret “Apparatus”, which has usurped power and which acts with bloddy arbitrariness. According to Budenz, Earl Browder and Jack Stachel [leaders of the CPUSA] participated in the plot against Trotsky’s life. The plan of Stalin’s terroristic deed was discussed in New York. For many reasons, and in the first instance because Constantine Oumansky, who for many long years was attached to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs in the capacity of secret police agent, participated both in the “accidental” and non-accidental deaths of Stalin’s enemies, it is difficult to suppose that he was not involved in one way or another in the crime perpetrated in Mexico during his stay as Soviet Ambassador in the United States. Oumansky himself “fell victim of an accident”. Was he perhaps in reality doomed to perish?

Louis Budenz leaves much that is unsaid… he probably knows much more!

But under the conspiratorial system, where each of the participants in the plot is told only what concerns him and nothing more, Bundenz might have remained uninformed about some of the most important things. Let us hope that presently others will come forward with supplementary revelations.

Stalin cherished the project of physically destroying the leader of the anti-totalitarian Opposition even before the expulsion of Trotksy from the Russian Communist Party. Some time after the death of Lenin, as was testified by Zinoviev and Kamenev, who at that time formed with Stalin the secret ruling Triumvirate, Stalin posed to himself the task of getting rid of his opponent at any price. This found its confirmation in attempts which at that time looked like accidents, but which were highly suspicious nevertheless. Thus in 1924 when LD was recuperating in Kislovodsk, we happened one night to be returning in a hand-car from a hunting rip together with Muralov and our guards. The hand-car suddenly jumped the rails and overturned. We escaped only with contusions. But we never received a plausible explanation of what had caused the derailment.

On 7 November 1927 during the demonstration in celebration of the 1917 revolution, the Trotskyist Opposition marched with its own banners and its left slogans. Shots were fired at Trotsky. At that time the Stalinist clique could not go beyond attempts of this sort.

To the uninitiated it might appear incomprehensive why Stalin should have first exiled Trotsky abroad and then tried over a period of years to do away with him. In 1928 when Trotsky was exiled to [Soviet] Central Asia, it was still impossible to talk not only about shooting him but also about arresting him. The generation with whom Trotsky had passed through the entire October Revolution and the Civil War was still alive. The Political Bureau felt itself besieged from all sides and Stalin’s project could not have been realised at that time either politically or psychologically. Even the legal exile of LD was not managed successfully by Stalin; it was broken up by a huge demonstration which took place at night in the railway station.

The tumultuous crowd set up a large portrait of the leaders of the October Revolution on one of the cars, cheered enthusiastically and halted the train as it started moving. But Trotsky was not on it. The departure had been cancelled. Here, too, Stalin was obliged to resort to deception and to a secret train in order to achieve the exile.

The exile of Trotsky

The year spent by LD in Central Asia was one of intense discussion by correspondence with his co-thinkers. The entire community in exile stirred with the greatest activity; in Moscow and Leningrad sympathies for the Opposition kept growing. The experience of that year brought Stalin to the decision to exile Trotsky abroad. His choice fell on Turkey. Stalin calculated that once he had succeeded in completely blackening Trotsky in the eyes of the entire country, he would then be able to obtain from the friendly Turkish government the return of Trotsky to Moscow for the final settlement of scores.

The question came up for discussion in the Political Bureau. Stalin said: “Trotsky must be exiled abroad in the first place because he provides here the ideological leadership for the Opposition which keeps growing numerically; secondly, in order to uncrown him in the eyes of the masses as soon as he turns up as an ally of the bourgeoisie in a bourgeois country; thirdly, in order to uncrown him in the eyes of the entire world proletariat; the Social Democracy will exploit his exile against the USSR and come to the defense of ‘the victime of Bolshevik terror — Trotsky’; and fourthly if Trotsky comes out with exposures of the leadership we will brand him as a traitor. All this shows the need to exile him.” (We had in our possession a copy of the minutes of the session of the Political Bureau at which Stalin gave the foregoing arguments.)

On 16 December 1928 to an ultimatum issued by Moscow that he cease and desist from revolutionary activity, Trotsky replied: “Only completely corrupted functionaries could demand of a revolutionist that he renounce political activity, that is, renounce serving the Party and the world revolution. Only contemptible renegades could be capable of binding themselves to do so.”

On 18 January 1929 came the GPU order exiling Trotsky outside the boundaries of the USSR. Upon the demand that he acknowledge receipt of this order Trotsky wrote: “This decision of the GPU, criminal in its content and illegal in its form, was presented to me on 20 January 1929.”

We were brought from Odessa to Istanbul on the steamship Ilyich.

On 18 July 1933, the “left” government of Daladier issued to Trotsky permission to settle in France, ostensibly with the same rights as other foreigners. But in reality he was forbidden to live in Paris and was immediately placed under strict police surveillance. On 6 February 1934, after a rabid campaign in the press, Albert Sarraut, the then Minister of Internal Affairs signed an order deporting Trotsky from France. But there could not be found a single foreign government that would agree to accept him. For this reason the order of deportation could not be carried out. From one day to the next L’Humanite (French Stalinist daily) kept writing: “Fascist Daladier has summoned the social-fascist Trotsky in order with his assistance to organise intervention against the Soviet Union.” This did not prevent the Stalinist party from entering two years later into an anti-Fascist people’s Front with the “fascist” Daladier.

In June 1935 the Social Democratic Party of Norway formed the government there. Trotsky turned to Oslo with a request for a visa. On 10 June he was deported from France and we left for Norway.

The realisation of Stalin’s project had to be postponed. As Lenin said, “this cook prepares only peppery dishes.” Stalin needed more potent means for achieving the deportation of Trotsky from Norway, ie his being in effect handed over to the GPU. To this end Stalin staged the Moscow Trials. Cringing before threats, Norway resorted to the internment of Trotsky. It seemed as if the possibility of obtaining a visa to any other country was completely out of the question. But the government of the Republic of Mexico in the person of Lazaro Cardenas issued a visa to Trotsky — this was in the days when Mexico had no diplomatic relations with the USSR. Stalin’s plans fell to pieces; nothing else remained for him except to prepare the terrorist act.

For his part Trotsky awaited with certainty an attempt against his life. In March 1940 the congress of the “Communist” Stalinist Party of Mexico proclaimed a course toward the “extermination of Troskyism”.

The armed assault

On 24 May 1940 took place the armed assault upon our house, which was led by the painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, a former member of the Mexican Stalinist party. Robert Sheldon Harte, one of Trotsky’s young collaborators was kidnapped by the Stalinist bandits and murdered. We escaped unscathed thanks to a fortunate combination of circumstance, despite the carefully prepared strategic plan of the GPU.

After the death of Leon Trotsky the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition wrote: “To this failure (of the attack led by Siqueiros) we owe the most dramatic document of modern political literature; in it a man explain why he will be killed and lays bare all the threads of a plot that tightened more and more closely around him…” (The reference here is to Trotsky’s article, “The Comintern and the GPU”* completed a few days before his assassination.)

David Alfaro Siquerios, freed on 10,000 pesos bail and prohibited to leave the country where he had committed a capital political crime, nevertheless fled from Mexico, not without the assistance of prominent individuals. His trial was suspended without explanations, and a few months later the pres reported the theft of all the court records in his case and the impossibility in view of this of proceeding with the trial. Not so long ago he filed an application for readmission to the Stalinist Party from which he was in his day expelled. The complete violation of legality by Siqueiros demands that he be arrested at once.

The revelations of Louis Budenz, former editor of the Daily Worker, the Stalinist daily in the United States are quite specific and have become widely known. The conscience of world public opinion can neither remain indifferent to the crimes that have been committed nor permit them to pass unpunished.

The participation of the leaders of the “Communist” party of the US in the plot against Trotsky, attested to by Louis Budenz, provides sufficient grounds to bring before the court, Bundenz himself, together with Browder and Stachel, and to place them in the hands of the Mexican judicial authorities.

Millions of people are under a monstrous delusion: they identify the
October Revolution with the bloody totalitarian regime that engulfed it, the regime with its “Apparatus” of espionage, corruption and slander; with its Comintern [the “Communist International”], the organiser of murders, formally dissolved in 1943 but still continuing its evil activities. The time has come for those who continue to grope in the dark to open their eyes. The responsibility for crimes committed in Coyoacan and for other innumerable crimes falls directly — and to a far greater extent than on his contemptible secret agents — upon Stalin himself. The interests of the complete investigation of this exceptional court case denand Stalin’s presence; he must appear before the courts as the author and arranger of the crime. Stalin bears the responsibility before the world’s public opinion, before posterity and before History.

* This article can be found at:
www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/
1940/1940-gpu.htm