Joseph Hansen

The Attempted Assassination of Leon Trotsky

(August 1940)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.4, August 1940, pp.85-91.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2005; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

MEXICO – At approximately four o’clock in the morning of May 24, some twenty-five men under the direction of Stalin’s GPU penetrated the high walls surrounding Leon Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan, and riddled with machine gun slugs the bedroom where Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, slept. Robert Sheldon Harte, the secretary-guard on duty and member of the Socialist Workers Party, was kidnapped and murdered, his body thrown into a shallow pit filled with lime. Leon and Natalia Trotsky owe their lives only to their own cool-headedness in a moment of terrible danger and to a fortunate accident – the belief of the assassins that they had completed their assignment.

Trotsky had been working very arduously the day prior to the assault, and as is his custom on such occasions had taken a sleeping powder. He awoke hazily, thinking he heard the explosions of firecrackers with which Coyoacan commemorates the special days on the calendar. But the explosions were too frequent and they were not far away, as it had at first seemed, but almost within the room. With the acrid smell of powder, Trotsky realized that this was the attempt which he had been expecting for twelve years. Stalin at last had commanded his GPU to correct what he once termed his “major error” – exiling the leader of the 1923 Opposition.

Natalia Trotsky was already out of her bed. She and her husband huddled together in a corner of their bedroom. Natalia made an attempt to shield Trotsky with her body; he insisted they lie flat on the floor without moving. Bullets tipped through two doors of their bedroom, thudding in the wall just overhead. Where were the police who had been stationed outside the walls? Where the guards inside? Surely bound hand and foot, or kidnapped, or already dead.

The door to the room where Trotsky’s grandson Seva slept, burst open and a few moments later an incendiary bomb flared up around a small cabinet standing there. In the glare, Natalia saw the dark silhouette of one of the assailants. They had not seen him enter before the bomb flamed, but a number of empty cartridges within the room and five or six shots directly through each of the empty beds proved that this assassin had been assigned to make the final check, to still any movement that might still exist after the cross-fire from the French window opening on the patio and the door to Trotsky’s study. In the darkness of the room, and hearing no sound whatsoever now that the machine guns were silent, the assassin undoubtedly mistook the form of the bed clothes for the lifeless forms of Natalia and Leon Trotsky. He emptied his gun on those forms and fled.

The old revolutionists then heard what was to them the most tragic sound of the night, the cry of their grandson from the neighboring room, “Grandfather!”

Natalia found her way into his room. It was empty. “They’ve kidnapped him!” she cried. This was the most painful moment of all.

Seva, however, had awakened when the assailants machine-gunned the door opening from his room onto the patio, the bullets striking the wall barely above him. He immediately threw himself out of bed and rolled underneath on the floor. The assassins smashed through the door and as they passed his bed, one of them fired into it, the bullet striking Seva in the big toe. When they had gone, Seva called out, and then ran from his room, crying, certain that his grandfather and grandmother were dead. He left splotches of blood behind him on the pathway in the patio and in the library.

The guards who had been pinned in their rooms by bursts of machine gun fire across the doorways, now checked the patio. The assailants were gone. They had taken with them the automobiles and kidnapped the guard on duty, Robert Sheldon Harte. Outside, the police were tied, lying helplessly on the floor of their sentry house.

How Did the Assassins Enter?

From the accounts of the guards, the depositions of the police on duty, and the subsequent confessions of some of the assailants who were apprehended by the Mexican police, the story of how the agents of Stalin managed to penetrate the walls is fairly clear.

Five policemen were on duty, three of them asleep. J. Rodriguez Casas, the officer in charge of the police detail since Trotsky’s arrival in Mexico, was home in bed at the time of the assault, according to his story.

The assailants, disguised as policemen, approached the two police on duty, shouted, “Viva Almazan!” and at pistol point bound all five. They then went to the barred doors. These doors are never opened at night except under most unusual circumstances and then only when the other guards beside the one on duty are awakened, unless he knows the person who asks admittance and has first checked to see that there is nothing suspicious.

Harte, member of the New York local of the Socialist Workers Party, had been in the household scarcely eight weeks. He had been selected for guard duty because of his trustworthiness and because of his willingness to take difficult assignments. His selection came as a grateful surprise to him. He was well known in the Downtown branch where he was a member of the Executive Committee.

The police on duty were themselves completely taken in by the disguises of the assailants, hence it should not be surprising that an American might likewise be deceived. It is quite possible, however, that among those who rang the bell at the door was one person known to Bob as enjoying the confidence of the household. The psychological effect of the police uniforms in conjunction with a few words from such a person: “Bob, these officials have a message of extreme importance for Trotsky,” could have sufficiently impressed Harte who had shown himself already to be of more trusting than suspicious nature. In this connection it is significant that one of the guards, also new to the household, levelled his gun on one of the assailants, drew bark the hammer, and then torn by indecision lowered his weapon. It is one of the rules of the guard to cooperate in every way with the Mexican police who have extended all possible courtesies to the household. One does not answer this courtesy with a bullet.

One of the police bound outside, Ramirez Diaz, reported that Bob was marched through the doors, protesting but not struggling, his arms pinned by two of the assailants. Despite contradictory versions by those who later confessed, and especially contradictory versions in the Stalinist press, Diaz maintained his story. Even after being held in prison for a month for questioning in relation to the assault, he declared before the court: “Bob was not mistreated by the assailants, because he went with them voluntarily, although held by the arms between two of them.” This story seems closest to the facts.

It must be added that it is not excluded that the assailants managed to penetrate or scale the walls in some way other than by the doors and surprised Bob from the inside.

Once within the patio, the assailants divided their forces. The house juts into the patio like the stem of a “T” with Trotsky’s bedroom occupying the middle of the stem between the study on one side and Seva’s room on the other at the base of the “T.” On the right hand side of the “T” is the south wall, on the left hand side the rooms of the guards against the north wall. Part of the assailants stationed themselves between the guards’ rooms and the house; the rest stationed themselves at the door of Seva’s room, the French windows of Trotsky’s bedroom; others went through the library and the dining room and forced the door to Trotsky’s study adjoining the bedroom. When they were posted they opened fire simultaneously, those on the left hand side of the house spraying machine gun slugs into the doorways of the rooms where the guards off shift were sleeping. The firing lasted three to five minutes. Some of the guards were able to return the fire, but apparently with no success, although that is difficult to determine since it is an invariable rule of the GPU to leave behind neither dead nor wounded who might serve to compromise the Stalinist organizations.

The assassins took the two automobiles, a Ford used for hauling supplies, and a Dodge. They left behind an electric saw, scaling ladders, rope ladders, drills, a defective bomb containing enough dynamite to have blown up the entire house, several untired incendiary bombs, one incendiary bomb which was broken on a lawn, destroying the grass, a third which was burning in the entrance to Seva’s room and which Natalia extinguished with blankets, suffering burns on her arm and leg.

The Ford stalled a short distance away, the Dodge was abandoned in one of the exclusive districts of Mexico City.

The tools which the assassins carried, together with the police uniforms for disguise proved that they had prepared well in advance a number of possible lines of attack – that they were not dependent upon the complicity of a guard as alleged later by the Stalinist press. Subsequent events proved that they had just as thoroughly prepared in advance a number of possible ways of placing responsibility for the attempt anywhere but on its author, Joseph Stalin.

The Mechanism of the GPU

Within the Soviet Union, the GPU, hated by the workers, feared by the entire population, feeds upon the workers’ state like a gigantic parasitic growth. It is the principal instrument with which the Stalin bureaucracy maintain, itself in power. With bribery, corruption, terror, prisons, firing squads it represses and stifles the people, hunts down ruthlessly any voice of opposition.

Outside the Soviet Union, the GPU as an instrument of foreign policy parallels the Comintern. But it is higher in authority than the Comintern and controls its policies and activities. Within the Central Committee of each national section of the Comintern sits at least one representative of the GPU. He is known as the agent of the GPU generally only to the secretary of the party, at most to one or two others of the more trusted members of the Central Committee. The rest can only guess his identity from the unusual degree of authority he exercises.

Within the national section, this highest agent of the Kremlin works at his leisure. He studies the membership of the party in co-operation with those members of the Central Committee who are aware of his identity. Through appeals to party loyalty, through open bribery, and especially through pressure upon those who are expelled from the party and thus cut away from friends, often deprived of a livelihood-sometimes deliberately with this end in view – he builds a national organization of the GPU. This organization is composed of the most daring, demoralized, and cynical members of the Communist Party. They are prepared for anything. They obey orders without the slightest question. They have limitless resources at their disposal.

The GPU enforces a division of labor in its crimes. Its direct agents carry out the technical part of the assignment. The press of the Communist Party, its orators, and its periphery of sympathizers and “friends” of the USSR serve as a protective covering for these agents, masking their activity, parrying aside any probing into their crimes. The assault upon Leon Trotsky furnishes us with a classic example of the GPU’s methods in plotting and carrying out a major crime beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.

The Moral Preparation

Since the arrival of Leon Trotsky in Mexico, the official Stalinist press and Stalinist-controlled press have carried on a campaign against him, endlessly demanding his expulsion from the country on the grounds that he is “an enemy of Mexico.” When Dr. Atl, a fascist journalist, was in prominence as a minor reactionary figure in Mexican politics, the Stalinist press attempted to link him by no matter what fantastic means with Trotsky. When the oil companies were expropriated, the Stalinist press charged Trotsky with being their “representative.” Lombardo Toledano, the attorney who heads the bureaucracy in the CTM (Confederation of Workers of Mexico), at a public meeting accused Trotsky of organizing a “general strike” against the Cardenas government – naturally without explaining what could motivate Trotsky to such action against the only government in the world willing to grant him the right of asylum. During the Cedillo uprising, the Stalinist press accused Trotsky of connections with Cedillo. Before the Stalin-Hitler pact, the Stalinist press accused Trotsky of being an agent of Nazi Germany. After the Stalin-Hitler pact, they accused him of being an agent of England and the United States. A standard charge was Trotsky’s alleged “interference” in Mexican politics; that is, his occasionally answering the calumnies of the Stalinists. This charge at one time received such prominence in the Stalinist press that President Cardenas himself intervened through an interview granted the newspaper La Prensa, characterizing Trotsky as a man of honor who had scrupulously kept his promise not to intervene in Mexican politics.

All these charges endlessly repeated, clearly pointed to a coming attempt to assassinate Trotsky. Again and again in the press of the Fourth International this activity of the Stalinist press was exposed as not simple literary exercises for its hacks but as nothing more nor less than preparation for an attempt at assassination. The Stalinists responded with gibes about Trotsky’s “persecution mania.”

The Physical Preparation

As this moral campaign against Trotsky went on in public, the GPU at the same time began sending some of its assassins and gunmen into Mexico, especially through the Mexican embassy in Paris where Bassols was in charge. Among them, for example, were the notorious GPU executioners in Spain, Mink of the American Communist Party and Vidali (also known as Sormenti) of Triest, who is now in Mexico under the name of Carlos Contreras.

The physical preparation of the assassination began at least last January as the war spread over Europe and the Mexican elections approached. In the tremendous events of the Second World War, Stalin hoped the assassination of Leon Trotsky would pass without furor. The Mexican elections provided the opportunity to cast the guilt upon the candidate opposed by the Stalinists. (Hence the cry of the assailants, “Viva Almazan!”)

When Hernan Laborde, del Campo and other leaders were purged from the Mexican Communist Party in March, it was upon the charge of “Trotskyism,” that is, not conducting a vigorous enough campaign against Trotsky. Up to that time they had done no more than raise the slogan of “Death to Trotsky!”

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Luis and Leopoldo Arenal, Antonio Pujol, who led the assault on the house, and David Serrano, member of the Political Bureau of the Mexican Communist Party, established a network of spies in Coyoacan, renting houses in all sections of the village which they used in some cases for only a few days. A former wife of Serrano, Julia Barradas de Serrano, with another woman member of the Communist Party, rented a room not two blocks from Trotsky’s house and began the task of seducing the police, carrying out their assignment with a thoroughness that matched the unvarying regularity of the pay they received from the GPU. They reported their progress from day to day to those higher up. One of the police, who became enamored of their unusually easy charms, gave them a photograph of the entire police detail as a “souvenir.” In their room after the assault, rough sketches of Trotsky’s house were found, apparently work sheets which had been cast aside in constructing an accurate plan of the interior.

The GPU attempted to buy the house which Trotsky at that time was only renting, thus forcing him to become through the timely help of friends in the United States a property owner for the first time in his life.

David Serrano, veteran of the Spanish civil war, who has all the earmarks of one who acts as representative of the GPU on the Central Committee of the Mexican Communist Party, set about to obtain police uniforms.

As the time drew near, the GPU even rented a partially abandoned cabin in the mountains, bought lime, and had a grave dug in the cave which served as the kitchen, a grave which the police are convinced was intended for Trotsky and Natalia but into which the body of Robert Harte was thrown.

A Nest of Assassins

For one reason or another, the GPU failed to draw a water-tight division of labor between its artists of the pen and its artists of the machine gun. Luis Arenal, known in the United States for his former connection with The New Masses, was a regular contributor to Futuro. Many of the sketches and drawings attacking Trotsky are unmistakably from his pen. David Alfaro Siqueiros was eulogized in Futuro, Lombardo Toledano’s monthly magazine, as “an artist of great prestige and of universally recognized qualities. Throughout America, from New York to Buenos Aires his work as a painter is appreciated. He is a man who honors Mexico. In any country in the world a person of this class is an object of consideration no matter what might be his political affiliation. In Mexico it is not like this. Lately he has been the object of arbitrary abuses by the city police.”

It was this painter whose qualities were not given due consideration by the city police who, donning dark glasses, a false mustache, and a uniform of the city police, headed the gang which made the actual assault. The above appreciation of Siqueiros was from the pen, apparently, of Alejandro Carillo, editor of El Popular, who threatened after the assault to have Trotsky jailed by these same city police for “defamation.”

Two others of the actual assailants were contributors to Toledano’s magazine Futuro: Felix Guerrero Mejia, and Nestor Sanchez Hernandez, the latter author of an article attacking Trotsky.

It is doubtful, however, that the main figures in the moral preparation of the attack, who are leaders in the Mexican Communist Party, such as David Serrano, participated as machine gunners. Still further removed from physical participation in the assault are such figures as the lawyer and “transcendental” orator Lombardo Toledano, whose job it is to function in the trade unions as a mask for GPU activity and an exponent of Stalinist policy without holding a membership card in the Party. Participation of these gentlemen disguised as policemen would have been too sharp a violation of a standard GPU rule. Nevertheless the pages of Futuro, El Popular, and La Voz de Mexico are filled with names of people connected with the assault to one degree or another.

The GPU Intensifies the Campaign

In the March issue of Lombardo Toledano’s Futuro, same month as the purge in the Mexican Communist Party, same month as the women spies were getting along famously with their assignment, all the Stalinist slanders were brought up to date and dumped into one article against Trotsky.

This article, appearing under the title, The Significance of Trotskyism,; was written by Oscar Greydt Abelenda, a professor in the Stalinist-controlled “Workers’ University” in Mexico City, a collaborator of La Voz de Mexico, in which he reported, for instance, a secret session of the plenum of the National Committee of the Communist Party, although he does not happen to be a member of that body. The article accuses Trotsky of:

  1. Being the “direct organizer of foreign counter-revolutionary intervention in Mexico.”
  2. Of having been recently “expelled” from the “tanks of the Gestapo,” (a) Trotsky’s connection with the Gestapo as brought out in the “celebrated Moscow Trials” having “never been disproved”; (b) the Hitler-Stalin pact having “placed in evidence that the services of Trotskyism had ceased to be indispensable for the Gestapo.”
  3. Of having placed himself “as is logical” in the “service of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States.”

The article further explains that Trotsky was expelled from the Gestapo because of the “links he had made with Wall Street.” Trotsky, the article continues, finding himself expelled from the Gestapo had to seek a new boss. “For Trotskyism this was nothing new, since from 1924 it has been found in the simultaneous service of various spy agencies, such as the British intelligence service.”

The article ends with the Stalinist moral: “Today it is completely evident that Trotskyism, in Latin America, is nothing more than an agency of penetration, of confusion, of provocation, and of espionage in the service of the imperialists of Wall Street.”

Although it is more than two years since the John Dewey Commission exposed all these ancient and mutually contradictory slanders of the Stalinists along with the entire macabre stage show of the Moscow Trials as nothing but a monstrous frame-up, the agents of the GPU still repeat the old calumnies as if the new chiefs of the GPU were incapable of improving upon the fabrications of the purged Yagoda.

When Trotsky named Futuro and its editor Lombardo Toledano as having participated in the moral preparation of the assault and hence of being agents of the GPU, Futuro responded with the cry, “Defamation!”

Covering Up the Trail of Blood

No one acquainted in the slightest with the historic struggle of the Left Opposition against the corrupt Stalinist bureaucracy entertained the least doubt that the assault was Stalin’s epilogue to the Moscow Trials in which he slaughtered the entire old Bolshevik guard. It was merely a question for the police to determine the identity of the specific GPU agents involved.

In order to shunt the police investigation down a false line, the GPU designed two alibis: (1) that the Communist Party had nothing to do with the assault; (2) that Trotsky had organized the assault himself.

There is every indication that the GPU planned to kill Trotsky, carry away his body, and then maintain either: (a) Trotsky organized the assault and kidnapped himself in order to cover up fleeing to the United States; (b) Almazan or Diego Rivera organized the assault in order to bring about United States intervention in Mexico; (c) all these elements, all enemies of Stalinism from completely different points of view, organized the assault jointly in connection with the Dies Committee. Inasmuch as Trotsky escaped them, they turned this carefully prepared defense of the GPU assassins against Trotsky himself and tried to kill him morally where they had failed physically.

On May 25, the day following the attack, Toledano’s paper, El Popular, writing cautiously because of its intimate connection with the GPU and the uncertainty yet as to whether the police might uncover the actual assailants, maintained (a) that a full investigation must be made and the guilty ones punished “no matter what their political affiliation”; (b) that it was an “assault against Mexico.” The first declaration was made to clear Toledano and cohorts if the assailants were captured; the second declaration was preparation for the charge of “self-assault” if the assailants succeeded in escaping the police. The possibility for a campaign on the latter line was further prepared by the declaration that certain aspects of the case were “unclear and suspicious.”

On this same day J. Rodriguez Casas, head of the police detail, informed the woman who did the cooking for the Trotsky household, that in his estimation the attack was a “self-assault.” This version was later repeated by this woman to the police. This fact, however, was not made public until almost a month later. Other events since then have cast an increasingly suspicious light upon her role.

It was also on this day or the following, as nearly as can be determined from the confessions of some of the GPU agents, that Harte was murdered in typical GPU style, a pistol bullet in the base of the brain, another in the temple. The last of the GPU agents with him, according to the confessions, were Luis Arenal, the contributor to The New Masses, and his brother, Leopoldo.

Why did the GPU kidnap and kill Harte? They could have tied him up as they did the police. Was it to prevent him from naming the person who tricked him into opening the door! Was it to prevent him from possibly identifying the assailants later in a police line-up?

On May 27, El Nacional published a most significant story: “Trotsky Contradicts Himself.” This “contradiction” consisted of the fact that one of the daily newspapers had reported Trotsky and his wife as saving themselves from the assassins by throwing themselves flat on the floor, a second newspaper as saving themselves by huddling in a corner, and a third newspaper had reported that Trotsky and his wife did not always sleep in their bedroom.

By a remarkable coincidence, the mechanics of which the GPU can best explain, this same story appeared word for word that same morning in Lombardo Toledano’s paper, El Popular. It was clear that the principal assassins, those who could give the leads to the higher-ups who were directly linked with the Kremlin, had succeeded in leaving the country. The GPU now believed it had succeeded in turning the police investigation down a false trail. It is still not clear as to the exact GPU agent who inspired the police in this direction. A good deal of suspicion clings to the lawyer Bassols, former ambassador to France, who is a well-known Stalinist and roundly eulogized in the Stalinist press.

The GPU line of “self-assault” now began to be pressed through all the various channels of the Communist Party. At a mass meeting, a Stalinist orator, one of the leaders of the Party, declared it “self-assault.” The attack was likened by the Stalinists to the burning of the Reichstag by the Nazis in 1933. (The Nazis blamed the fire on the Communists, just as the Stalinists now tried to blame the assault on Trotsky – that is the real simile.) The Communist Party issued a statement, declaring the assault to have been organized by the “agents of the Dies Committee” working through the ranks of Almazan’s party, that the purpose of the assault was a “provocation” as “part of the program of the oil companies.”

Slander the Name of Their Victim

At the same time, in direct contradiction to its accusation of “self-assault,” the GPU began a campaign against Robert Harte, charging that he was the “leader” of the assault, that he had “betrayed” his chief, that is, sold out to the GPU.

But Toledano’s paper, El Popular, on May 25, had reported – from undisclosed sources – that:

”The policeman Arias declared that when the individuals dressed as policemen and soldiers entered the house, they encountered Sheldon, and three of them overpowered the Secretary of Trotsky, tying him, which provoked energetic protests which he formulated in Spanish. In order to silence him, they gagged him too, and threw him into one of the automobiles which they had left standing in the street.”

This description of Sheldon’s resistance is found in no other report of the assault except the one in El Popular. It would indicate that Bob put up a desperate resistance. Toledano, with his first hand sources of information, naturally was capable of giving an accurate account of these details.

Beginning with May 27, however, every conceivable type of vilification was launched against Harte in the Stalinist papers. It was said that he had a photograph of Stalin in his room at home warmly autographed by Stalin himself (a GPU slander which not even a telegram to the contrary from his father could dispel); in actuality he was not an American but a Russian who had just got off a boat from Russia a week or two before coming to Mexico; the references with which he landed a job with Trotsky were so fabulously good that Trotsky had not even checked them; his baggage was still plastered with Moscow labels; he was a typical gangster type; during the assault he ran about the patio in his pyjamas; he had been paid a fabulous sum for the betrayal; it was impossible to steal Trotsky’s automobiles without Harte’s connivance as he had control of the ignition keys (in reality they were always kept in the cars for emergency use); he did not come as an agent of the assassins but was bought by them in Mexico; he came as an agent but was won over by Trotsky and so only carried out a partial treachery; he acted as a driver of one of the automobiles which earned away the assassins; he was very nervous when he left with the assailants; he was very calm when he left with the assailants and spoke familiarly with one of them known as “Felipe”; he was completely in Trotsky’s confidence and led the “self-assault”; he was snug and safe in his father’s home in New York.

These slanders were the moral lime with which the GPU hoped to obliterate all the trails leading to the body decomposing in the mountain cabin. For several days, as a matter of fact, the Stalinists succeeded in disorienting the police hunt. Two of Trotsky’s secretaries were held for two days in jail for “questioning.” Two friends of the Trotsky household, one a refugee from Germany, were held for four days in Guadalupe prison. The chauffeur of Diego Rivera was arrested. The house of Frida Kahlo, former wife of the painter, was searched. Seemingly the GPU was forging ahead with its campaign of moral assassination.

The Turn in the Investigation

On May 31, Trotsky issued a statement to the press, declaring categorically that the police hunt had taken the wrong lead. He described the methods of the GPU and named Lombardo Toledano and David Alfaro Siqueiros as being able to “cast light on the preparation of the attempt.” In government circles it was reported that President Cardenas himself gave a sharp turn to the police investigation, a turn which brought phenomenal success in uncovering the criminals.

The Communist Party denounced Trotsky’s declaration as an “insult to the police.” Who was Trotsky to tell them where to look for the criminals? On June 1, Luis Lombardo Toledano, younger brother of the “transcendental” orator, sent a declaration to the press written impressively by hand in green ink: “For Trotsky the police of Mexico are a stupid police. They don’t merit any respect. Mexicans think otherwise.”

Apparently the GPU considered the blows of Toledano the younger insufficient to counteract the impression Trotsky’s article had made. The Stalinist hacks went to work. They labelled the assault “an international blackmail.” They protested the arrest of some of the members of their party. They called for Trotsky’s expulsion from Mexico. They asserted that the assault was staged solely to contradict President Cardenas’ declaration that there was no Fifth Column in Mexico. They dragged in Almazan, the war-mongers, the oil companies, imperialism, hatred of the Soviet Union. They even thought up something bright and scintillating: Trotsky is “an instrument in the Yankee war of nerves against Mexico.”

Harry Block, intimate among the highest Stalinist circles of Mexico, editor of a mimeographed news clipsheet distributed free of charge in the United States by the Stalinist “Workers’ University,” and the man considered to be the liaison agent between Lombardo Toledano and the old GPU careerist, Oumansky, now Soviet ambassador to the United States, wrote an article casting doubt on the reality of the assault. The Nation in the United States, with its usual deference for Stalin’s requirements in periods of emergency, gave prominent place to this GPU report from Mexico.

The Communist Party protested with excessive volubility the arrest of two of its prominent members, David Serrano and Luis Mateos Martinez, declaring on June 7 that the police had affected these arrests “after Trotsky made subversive, anti-Mexican, and extremely dangerous declarations.” Their wordy protest added: “Our party considers itself outside of all suspicion, since it is a revolutionary party which supports the government of General Cardenas.” The Stalinists later amplified this profound argument by declaring that obviously they were not guilty, “since the Marxist movement does not believe in terrorism.”

The question, however, was not whether the Stalinist organization is Marxist, but simply: Did the GPU organize the assault?

La Voz de Mexico, Communist party weekly, on June 9 came out with a double headline and a three column story: “THROW TROTSKY AND HIS BAND OUT OF MEXICO!” The article considered it “improper that a chief of police should permit a Trotsky to tell the police what they must do to discover the authors of the ’attempt’.” The reason for this concern over the “propriety” of the police seeking information from Trotsky as to who had machine-gunned his bedroom soon became apparent.

The Mexican Police Solve the Case

The police department of Mexico City on June 18 announced that it had solved the case. Twenty-seven members of the Communist Party were under arrest. Among them, a number had made complete confession as to their participation. David Alfaro Siqueiros, the man who was an “honor to Mexico” according to Lombardo Toledano’s Futuro, was named as the actual leader of the assault. Above him were individuals from whom he took orders whose names were unknown to the staff members of the GPU caught in the police net. Haikys, formerly in the Soviet legation in Mexico and Soviet ambassador to Spain following the purge of Rosenberg in the civil war, was suspected to be one of these higher-ups. Carlos Contreras, GPU assassin in Spain, appears in the same category. Siqueiros, the Arenal brothers, Antonio Pujol, all members of the Communist Party, had fled Mexico.

The Stalinist press announced the arrests without mentioning the political affiliation of the prisoners, except indirectly in the case of Siqueiros, formerly the “honor of Mexico” but now “mad,” “undisciplined” and a “pedant.” The false mustache and dark glasses were undoubtedly the “pedantic” touch to his use of machine guns and bombs. It is not clear why they called him “undisciplined.”

From day to day further confessions were obtained, especially from Nestor Sanchez Hernandez, one of the contributors to Toledano’s Futuro, implicating more members of the Communist Party. Leads from the confessions brought the arrest of the chauffeurs who had driven the automobiles. Some of the police uniforms had been found in the possession of Communist Party members and a pistol which had been stolen from the police guard as they lay bound on the floor of their sentry house.

Lombardo’s El Popular now attempted a desperate switch in line to clear itself of complicity in the assault, issuing a statement, “reaffirming our attitude in the Trotsky case,” that is, the declaration of May 25 in which they demanded an “investigation” and punishment of the “authors no matter what their political affiliation.”

The Communist Party, completely bared in its true hideousness to the light of day, lacking any shred of respectability with which to cover itself, was capable only of blinking its eyes in the glare of the most unfavorable publicity it had suffered since the exposure of the GPU assassination of Ignace Reiss in Switzerland. It issued a declaration in the June 23 issue of La Voz de Mexico that is almost a chemically pure refutation of itself and a proof which could not be improved upon of the involvement of its staff in the assault. Note the attempt to hang their case on Bob Harte, whose body they had covered with quicklime :

”The work of a gigantic and refined provocation against the Communist Party of Mexico and the workers’ movement has been exposed to the public light ... Numerous persons appear directly or indirectly implicated (!) among them David Alfaro Siqueiros, named as the leader of the attack. The responsibility of one of the intimates of Leon Trotsky himself, his secretary Sheldon Harte, has been made clear ... None of the participants are members of the party (?); all are uncontrollable (!!) elements and agents provocateurs ... Public opinion has been surprised by the fact that despite the manifestation of the force of the assailants and the facilities and complicities – such as that of Sheldon – on which they counted, neither Trotsky nor his assistants nor his domestics suffered any harm. This reinforces the affirmation made by us since the beginning, in the sense that the provocation, planned with such refinement as even to have as instruments ’communists’ of straw, [With enough bone and gristle to handle a machine gun, however – J.H.] was directed in order to provide a legal base for the attack against and repression of the Communist Party and other revolutionary forces of the country. The espionage services of the warring countries and the Trotskyist organizations which work in Mexico – all these filled with spies and provocateurs as is proved in this self-same case of Sheldon who, while the majority of the implicated have fallen into the hands of the police, has eluded them – [The GPU considered the lime had worked long enough to make this a safe affirmation; also note the word “majority.” This word is thrown in deliberately to cover the most important GPU agents still at large. – J.H.] could surely say much about who are the real organizers of the attack on Leon Trotsky ... We insist once more that it would be healthy for the country that Leon Trotsky, who has given pretext for a monstrous provocation against the Communist Party and against Mexico itself, should leave Mexico.”

Stalin, as is well known, has long considered the deliverance of Trotsky into his hands an alternative far preferable to the uncertainty of machine-gunning his bedroom.

The Body of Robert Harte

The insistence of the Communist Party on the complicity of Harte was the clearest evidence of his loyalty to the Fourth International. Early in the morning of June 25, this loyalty was confirmed in the grimmest and most tragic way by the identification of his body which the police had discovered in following up the clues provided by one of the Stalinist prisoners.

The GPU was now completely unmasked, not only as the organizer of the assault but as the murderer of Robert Sheldon Harte.

Since the discovery of Harte’s body, however, the Stalinist press has not lessened its campaign against Leon Trotsky one whit. On the contrary it has sought to extend the campaign into the Mexican courts. Toledano’s papers El Popular and Futuro have filed suit for “defamation” and La Voz de Mexico has announced that it will do likewise. Every issue of La Voz continues to demand the expulsion of Trotsky from Mexico and now includes in this demand his secretaries, who it declares are the “executive body” of the Fourth International. A lawyer, Pavon Fores, member of the Central Committee of the Mexican Communist Party, has been assigned to represent the prisoners Serrano and Martinez. In six hours’ questioning of Trotsky before Judge Trujillo in charge of the case, Fores attempted to revive the theory of “self-assault” and to insinuate that Harte had talked with Trotsky about the assault the afternoon before it occurred.

When Trotsky answered Fores, he answered this whole maneuver of the GPU: “These questions seem directed toward resurrecting the corpse of the theory of ’self-assault.’ It would be better to resurrect the corpse of my friend Robert Sheldon Harte.”

Preparation for a Second Attempt

The continued clamor in the Stalinist press is nothing more nor less than the preparation for a second, still better prepared assault by the GPU. Such a second attempt on Trotsky is absolutely certain. Stalin having suffered all the moral and political damage of guilt in the first attempt must now show at least that he is powerful enough to carry out his will. Where he spent at least $10,000 for the technical preparation of the first attempt, he will now spend incomparably more. Trotsky’s life is in mortal danger.

The GPU a By-Product of World Reaction

In the Stalinist press the three letters “GPU” appear so rarely that it would seem the hacks of the Third International scarcely dare admit to themselves the existence of this dread modern Inquisition. Among the workers of the world there is great reluctance to believe that on the body of the workers’ state an organization so horrible as the GPU could have fastened itself. This has lent the GPU outside of the Soviet Union a certain protective coloration of unreality.

But a glance at the still fresh scars on the walls of Trotsky’s house where the machine gun slugs struck is enough to convince anyone of the brutal reality of Stalin’s terrorist organization. A few minutes reading of the Stalinist press will further convince one that the GPU is very real indeed despite the absence of its name in print.

The GPU is a by-product of world reaction in the period of war and fevered convulsions as society approaches the era of socialism. In the last analysis the GPU is a foul discharge from the decaying body of capitalism where it rests upon the Soviet Union. It directs its terror against the Fourth International in the first line because it is thoroughly aware that the Fourth International is the only force capable of giving the world working class a program that will lead to a successful socialist revolution. The destruction of capitalism will bring with it the destruction of the GPU and the end of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union. Like the other Inquisition, the GPU will become no more than a memory of that savage pre-historic past before the economic structure received rational organization.

In the great task of building that future society Robert Harte fell as a loyal soldier in the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat. He was not the first of Trotsky’s secretaries to become a victim of the GPU. He was the eighth. Before him the following heroes of the working class died: M. Glasman, G. Butow, Y. Blumkin, N. Sermuks, I. Poznansky, R. Klement, E. Wolf. But Bob was the first of the American section of the Fourth International to be struck down by GPU bullets. On one of the new fortified towers which have been constructed in preparation for the next assault by Stalin’s GPU, a plaque has been placed:

In Memory of
Murdered by Stalin


Last updated on: 23 May 2020