Source: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.5, October 1940, pp.115-123.
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.
Since the May 24 machine-gun attack by the GPU on Trotsky’s bedroom, the house at Coyoacan had been converted into a virtual fortress. The guard was increased, more heavily armed. Bullet proof doors and windows were installed. A redoubt was constructed with bomb-proof ceilings and floors. Double steel doors, controlled by electric switches, replaced the old wooden entrance where Robert Sheldon Harte had been surprised and kidnapped by the GPU assailants. Three new bullet-proof towers dominated not only the patio but the surrounding neighborhood. Barbed wire entanglements and bomb-proof nets were being prepared.
All this construction had been made possible through the sacrifices of the sympathizers and members of the Fourth International, who did their utmost to protect Trotsky, knowing that it was absolutely certain that Stalin would attempt another and more desperate assault after the failure of the May 24 attack. The Mexican government, which alone of all the nations on the earth had offered asylum to Trotsky in 1937, tripled the number of police guards on duty outside the house, doing everything in its power to safeguard the life of the world’s most noted exile.
Only the form of the coming attack was unknown. Another machine gun assault with an increased number of assailants? Bombs? Sapping? Poisoning?
I was on the roof near the main guard tower with Charles Cornell and Melquiades Benitez. We were connecting a powerful siren with the alarm system for use when the GPU attacked again. Late in the afternoon, between 5:20 and 5:30, Jacson, known to us as a sympathizer of the Fourth International and as the husband of Sylvia Ageloff, former member of the Socialist Workers Party, drove up in his Buick sedan. Instead of parking it with the radiator facing the house, as was his usual custom, he made a complete turn in the street, parking the car parallel to the wall, nose pointed towards Coyoacan. When he got out of the car, he waved to us on the roof and shouted, “Has Sylvia arrived yet?”
We were somewhat surprised. We did not know that Trotsky had made an appointment with Sylvia and Jacson, but ascribed our lack of knowledge of such an appointment to an oversight by Trotsky, something not uncommon on his part in such matters.
“No.” I responded to Jacson: “wait a moment.” Cornell then operated the electrical controls on the double doors and Harold Robins received the visitor in the patio. Jacson won a raincoat across his arm. It was the rainy season, and although the sun was shining, heavy clouds massed over the mountains to the southwest threatened a downpour.
Trotsky was in the patio feeding the rabbits and chickens—his way of obtaining light exercise in the confined life he was forced to follow. We expected that as was his usual custom, Trotsky would not enter the house until he had finished with the feeding or until Sylvia had arrived. Robins was in the patio. Trotsky was not in the habit of seeing Jacson alone.
Melquiades, Cornell and I continued with our work. During the next ten or fifteen minutes I sat in the main tower writing the names of the guards on white labels to be affixed to the switches connecting their rooms with the alarm system.
A fearful cry wrent the afternoon calm—a cry prolonged and agonized, half scream, half sob. It dragged me to my feet, chilled to the bone. I ran from the guard-house out onto the roof. An accident to one of the ten workers who were remodeling the house? Sounds of violent struggle came from the Old Man’s study, and Melquiades was pointing a rifle at the window below. Trotsky, in his blue work jacket became visible there for a moment, fighting body to body with someone.
“Don’t shoot!” I shouted to Melquiades, “you might hit the Old Man!” Melquiades and Cornell stayed on the roof, covering the exits from the study. Switching on the general alarm, I slid down the ladder into the library. As I entered the door connecting the library with the dining room the Old Man stumbled out of his study a few feet away blood streaming down his face.
“See what they have done to me!” he said.
At the same moment Harold Robins came through the north door of the dining room with Natalia following. Throwing her arms frantically about him, Natalia took Trotsky out on to the balcony. Harold and I had made for Jacson, who stood in the study gasping, face knotted, arms limp, automatic pistol dangling in his hand. Harold was closer to him. “You take care of him,” I said, “I’ll see what’s happened to the Old Man.” Even as I turned, Robins brought the assassin down to the floor.
Trotsky staggered back into the dining room, Natalia sobbing, trying to help him. “See what they have done.” she said. As I put my arm about him, the Old Man collapsed near the dining room table.
The wound on his head appeared at first glance to be superficial. I had heard no shot. Jacson must have struck with some instrument. “What happened?” I asked the Old Man.
“Jackson shot me with a revolver; I am seriously wounded ... I feel that this time it is the end.” “It’s only a surface wound. You will recover,” I tried to reassure him.
“We talked about French statistics,” responded the Old Man.
“Did he hit you from behind?” I asked.
Trotsky did not answer.
“No he did not shoot you,” I said; “we didn’t hear any shot. He struck you with something.”
Trotsky looked doubtful; pressed my hand. Between the sentences we exchanged, he talked with Natalia in Russian. He touched her hand continually to his lips.
I scrambled back up to the roof, shouted to the police across the wall; “Get an ambulance!” I told Cornell and Melquiades: “it’s an assault—Jacson ...” MY wrist watch read at that moment ten minutes to six.
Again I was at the Old Man’s side, Cornell with me. Without waiting for the ambulance from the city, we decided that Cornell should go for Dr. Dutren, who lived nearby, and who had attended the family on previous occasions. Since our car was locked up in the garage behind double doors, Cornell decided to take Jacson’s car standing in the street.
As Cornell left the room, sounds of renewed struggle came from the study where Robins was holding Jacson.
“Tell the boys not to kill him,” the Old Man said, “he must talk”.
I left Trotsky with Natalia, and entered the study. Jacson was trying desperately to escape from Robins. His automatic pistol lay on the table nearby. On the floor was a bloodspattered instrument which looked to me like a prospector’s pick, but with the backside hammered out like a pick-axe. I joined in the struggle with Jacson, hitting him in the mouth and on the jaw below the ear, breaking my hand.
As Jacson regained consciousness, he moaned; “They have imprisoned my mother ... Sylvia Ageloff had nothing to do with this ... No, it was NOT the GPU; I have NOTHING to do with the GPU ...” He placed heavy stress on the words which would separate him from the GPU, as if he had suddenly remembered that the script of his role called here for a loud voice. But he had already betrayed himself. When Robins brought the assassin down, Jacson had evidently believed it was his last moment. He had writhed in terror; words he could not control had escaped from his lips: “They MADE me do it.” He had told the truth. The GPU had made him do it.
Cornell burst into the study. “The keys aren’t in his car.” He tried to find the keys in Jacson’s clothing but without success. While he searched, I ran out to open the garage doors. In a few seconds Cornell was on his way with our car.
We waited for Cornell to return—Natalia and I kneeling at the Old Man’s side, holding his hands. Natalia had wiped the blood from his face and placed a block of ice against his head, which was already swelling.
“He hit you with a pick,” I told the Old Man. “He did not shoot you. I am sure it is only a surface wound.”
“No,” he responded, “I feel here ”(indicating his heart) “that this time they have succeeded.”
I tried to reassure him, “No, it’s only a surface wound; you’ll get better.
But the Old Man only smiled faintly with his eyes. He understood ...
“Take care of Natalia. She has been with me many, many years.” He pressed my hand as he gazed at her. He seemed to be drinking in what her features were like, as if he were leaving her forever—in these fleeting seconds compressing all the past into a last glance.
“We will,” I promised. My voice seemed to flash among the three of us the understanding that this was really the end. The Old Man pressed our hands convulsively, tears suddenly in his eyes. Natalia cried brokenly, bending over him, kissing his hand.
When Dr. Dutren arrived, the reflexes on the Old Man’s left side were already failing. A few moments later the ambulance came and the police entered the study to drag out the assassin.
Natalia did not wish to let the Old Man be taken to a hospital—it was in a hospital in Paris that their son, Leon Sedov, was killed only two years ago. For a moment or two Trotsky himself, lying stricken on the floor, felt doubtful.
“We will go with you,” I told him.
“I leave it to your decision,” he told me, as if he were now turning everything over to those about him, as if all the days of making decisions were now gone.
Before we placed the Old Man on a stretcher, he again whispered: “I want everything I own to go to Natalia.” Then with a voice that tugged unendurably at all the deepest and most tender feelings in the friends kneeling at his side ... “You will take care of her ...”
Natalia and I made the sad ride with him to the hospital. His right hand wandered over the sheets covering him, touched the water basin near his head, found Natalia. Already the streets were jammed with people, all the workers and the poor lining the way as the ambulance sirened behind a squadron of motorcycle police through the traffic on its way to the center of the city. Trotsky whispered, pulling me down insistently near his lips so that I should not fail to hear:
“He was a political assassin. Jacson was a member of the GPU or a fascist. Most likely the GPU.” Impressions of Jacson were going through the Old Man’s mind. In the few words left to him, he was telling me the course he thought should be followed in our analysis of the assault, on the basis of the facts already in our possession:—Stalin’s GPU is guilty but we must leave open the possibility that they were aided by Hitler’s Gestapo. He did not know that Stalin’s calling card in the form of a “confession” was in the assassin’s pocket.
At the hospital, the most prominent doctors in Mexico gathered in consultation.
The Old Man, exhausted, wounded to death, eyes almost closed, looked in my direction from the narrow hospital bed, moved his right hand feebly. “Joe, you ... have ... notebook?” How many times he had asked me this same question!—but in vigorous tones, with the subtle innuendo he enjoyed at our expense about “American efficiency.” Now his voice was thick, words scarcely distinguishable. He spoke with great effort, fighting against the encroaching darkness. I leaned against the bed. His eyes seemed to have lost all that quick flash of mobile intelligence so characteristic of the Old Man. His eyes were fixed, Is if no longer aware of the outside world, and yet I felt his enormous will power holding away the extinguishing darkness, refusing to concede to his foe until he had accomplished one last task. Slowly, haltingly, he dictated, choosing the words of his last message to the working class painfully in English, a language that was foreign to him. On his death-bed he did not let himself forget that his secretary spoke no Russian!
“I am close to death from the blow of a political assassin ... struck me down in my room. I struggled with him ... we ... entered ... talk about French statistics ... he struck me ... Please say to our friends ... I am sure ... of the victory ... of the Fourth International ... Go forward.”
He tried to talk more; but the words were incomprehensible. His voice died away, the tired eyes closed. He never regained consciousness. This was about two and a half hours after the blow was struck.
An x-ray picture was taken of the wound and the doctors decide that an immediate operation was necessary. The surgeon in charge of the hospital performed the delicate work of trepanning in the presence of leading Mexican specialists and the family doctors. They discovered that the pick-axe had penetrated seven centimeters, destroying considerable brain tissue. Some of these doctors declared the case absolutely hopeless. Others gave the Old Man a fighting chance.
For more than twenty-two hours after the operation, despair alternated with the desperate hope that he would survive. In the United States friends arranged to send a world famous brain specialist, Dr. Walter E. Dandy of Johns Hopkins, by airplane. Hour after agonized hour we listened to the Old Man’s heavy breathing as he lay on the hospital bed. With his head shaved and bandaged he bore a startling resemblance to Lenin. We thought of the days when they had led the first victorious working class revolution. Natalia refused to leave the room, refused food, watched dry-eyed, hands clenched, knuckles white, as the hours passed one by one during that long, horrible night and the endless following day. The reports of the doctors noted favorable signs, an occasional improvement, and up until the very last, we still felt that somehow this man who had survived the Czar’s prisons, exiles, three revolutions, the Moscow trials, would survive this unspeakably treacherous blow of Stalin.
But the Old Man was over sixty years old. He had been in ill health for a number of months. At 7:25 p.m. on August 21, he entered the final crisis. The doctors worked for twenty minutes, utilizing all the scientific methods at their disposal, but not even adrenalin could revive the great heart and mind which Stalin had destroyed with a pick-axe.
On August 17 Jacson showed Trotsky a draft of an article he intended to write on the recent dispute in the Fourth International over the Russian question. Trotsky invited Jacson to come into his study while he read the draft. This was the first time Jacson was alone there with Trotsky. To Jacson it meant that the time was ripe. It was a dress rehearsal for what the GPU had ordered him to do.
Trotsky offered a few suggestions to the author, but told Natalia that the draft showed confusion and was without particular interest.
On August 20, Jacson came to the house with the finished article. Under the title The Third Camp and the Popular Front, it ostensibly dealt with the Burnham-Shachtman theory of a “Third Camp” in the World War. The idea of the article, a comparison of the class basis of the “Third Camp” with that of the French Popular Front was not Jacson’s, but an idea first expressed to my knowledge by Otto Schuesler, one of the secretaries of Trotsky. Jacson picked up the idea in conversation with the guards and wrote some kind of an article for no other purpose than to cause Trotsky to sit down at his desk in a helpless position while he raised the pickaxe from behind.
It was Jacson’s plan, apparently, to kill Trotsky with one blow, silently, and then to leave the house as he had come, without arousing attention—with his revolver gripped in his pocket in case it was necessary to shoot his way out. He carried a large sum of money in his pocket—$890—indicating that he hoped to escape. Besides this, he carried a letter of “confession”, obviously dictated by the GPU – planted on him for discovery by the police in the event he was shot by the guards. He expected either to escape or be killed.
Jacson met Trotsky near the rabbit hutches, told him that he had brought the finished article, that he and Sylvia were leaving for New York the following day. Trotsky responded with his typical cordiality, but continued placing dried alfalfa in the feed troughs.
Catching sight of Natalia on the balcony between the kitchen and the dining room, Jacson left Trotsky. He wore his hat, kept his raincoat pressed close to his body as he advanced to make his greeting.
To Natalia he appeared nervous and absent minded, as if he were in deep abstraction. Jacson asked her for a glass of water; he was very “thirsty” he explained. Natalia offend him tea, as she and Trotsky had just finished their customary afternoon cup and there was still some left in the pot. Jacson refused, however, saying that he had eaten but a short while before—”the food is still sticking in my throat.”
After drinking the glass of water, he returned with Natalia to Trotsky’s side at the rabbit hutches. “You know that Jacson and Sylvia are returning to New York tomorrow?” asked Trotsky. “They have come to say goodbye.” Then in Russian: “We should prepare something for them.”
A few minutes conversation passed before Trotsky without enthusiasm asked, “You wish me to read your article?”
“Good, we can go into the study.”
Without notifying any of his guards, Trotsky took Jacson into his room. Natalia parted from them at the door and went into the kitchen.
Later, as he lay bleeding on the dining room floor, Trotsky told Natalia that it flashed across his mind as he entered the room, “This man could kill me.” But he did not listen to the intuitive warning from the subconscious layers of his mind. As a proletarian revolutionist, Trotsky had carried his life in his hands for too many years.
Trotsky seated himself at the wide table, scattered with books, newspapers, manuscripts. Near an ink-well a few inches from his hand lay his .25 calibre automatic—it had been oiled and reloaded just a few days before. He began reading Jacson’s article. Jacson sat behind and to the left of Trotsky, near the switch that would set off the alarm system.
“The opportunity was too good to be lost,” Jacson told the police afterward. “I took the ’piolet’. I raised it up high. I shut my eyes and struck with all my strength ... As long as I live I can never forget his cry ...”
Trotsky staggered up from his seat as the assassin wrenched the weapon loose and struck again at his victim’s face. Chairs were broken, papers and books scattered, the dictaphone smashed, blood spattered over the desk, on the books, the newspapers—on the last pages of the manuscript of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.
In the morning here at the house in Coyoacan when I am half awake, it still seems that I can hear the Old Man’s voice calling. Sometimes it seems that he is impatient, as if he were anxious that the day should begin energetically—as if then were mountainous tasks before us and only a few short hours left. Every stone, every turn in the paths, even the shade from the tall pines where the Old Man used to talk with us in the patio is a memory, keen, raw, painful ... The Old Man is everywhere. And yet the house seems empty and vacant, like a ruin left long ago to crumble into dust.
Couldn’t we have prevented it?
When I feel like this—the intolerable burden of what might have been, I remember the pressure of his hand as he lay on the floor.
I remember what he said about his escape in the May 24 assault: “In war, accidents are inevitable, favorable accidents and unfavorable—it is a part of war.”
I remember Natalia’s words: “On the morning of August 20, when we got up, L.D. said, ’Another lucky day. We are still alive.’ He had repeated that every morning since May 24.”
Trotsky knew that Stalin had decreed his death. He knew that Stalin counted on the assassination being lost in the titanic events of the Second World War where whole states are wiped out and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of human beings means no more than a brief headline in the daily dispatches from the battlefields. Trotsky knew that against all the enormous resources of the powerful state apparatus controlled by Stalin, were pitted only the courage and woefully inadequate means of a small handful of revolutionaries. Trotsky knew that all the tactical advantages were with the enemy; the chosen moment, surprise, the ability to attack a fixed position with a number of variant methods. It was virtually certain that with enough attempts, one time sooner or later the accidents of war would be unfavorable to us. Trotsky even predicted that the next assault would occur when Hitler launched his battle against England.
Trotsky’s politics were never the politics of despair. He fought with every ounce of his energy; nevertheless many times during the month in which we constructed our “fortress”, I knew that he felt himself doomed.
“I will not see the next revolution,” he told me once, “that is for your generation.” I felt in his words a deep regret—what pleasure to see the class struggle in its next stage of development, what keen joy to participate in one more revolution—what vistas opening for the human race in the coming period!
“It is not like before,” he said again. “We are old—we don’t have the energy of the younger generation. One becomes tired ... and old ... It is for your generation, the next revolution. We will not see it.”
Yet Trotsky carried on despite the fact that he knew all the probabilities were against his personal survival. He was fighting against time, steeling the Fourth International, arming it with the ideas of Bolshevism.
Each day in this period of world war, of factional struggles, was of immeasurable value to the new generation of revolutionary cadres. Trotsky knew it better than anyone. He wanted to hand us intact the entire heritage of Bolshevism which was in his charge, even down to the smallest item. He anew what that heritage had cost, what it was worth to us in the epoch now opening before us. The time was so short!
Since September 1937 Trotsky’s secretaries tried to institute a system in the household whereby everyone who entered would be searched for concealed weapons. They also attempted to make it an iron rule that Trotsky was never to talk with anyone alone in his study. Trotsky could not endure either of these rules. Either we trust the people and admit them without search, or we do not admit them at all. He could not bear having his friends submit to search. No doubt he felt that in any case it would be useless and could even give us a false sense of security. If a GPU agent succeeded in entering, he would find some way of setting at naught what search we could make. Trotsky had dozens upon dozens of friends in Mexico, whom the guards – so far as their vigilance was concerned – placed in the same general category as Jacson before the assault. As to our second proposal that someone should always remain with him in his study, this too was never effective. So many of his guests had personal problems—would not talk freely in the presence of a guard! Sometimes I was able to remain in the room merely by sitting down contrary to Trotsky’s instructions to leave, but both he and I felt uncomfortable about it, and he would never permit this discourtesy from anyone else. Trotsky was the builder of the political party and a worker in the field of ideas. He preferred to trust his friends rather than to suspect them.
All of Trotsky’s guards tried to make themselves suspicious of everyone. Trotsky, however, was interested not only in being guarded, but in teaching his guards by example some of the fundamentals of organizing a political movement. Mutual suspicion in his eyes was a disintegrating force much worse than the inclusion of a spy in the organization, since such suspicions are useless anyway in uncovering a highly skilled provocateur. Trotsky hated personal suspicion towards the members and sympathizers of the Fourth International. He considered it worse than the evil it was supposed to cure.
Whenever this subject came up, he was fond of telling the story of Malinovsky, who became a member of the Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Party, its representative in the Duma and a trusted confidant of Lenin. Malinovsky was at the same time an agent of the Czar’s secret police, the dread Okhrana. He sent hundreds of Bolsheviks into exile and to death. Nevertheless, in order to maintain his position of confidence, it was necessary for him to spread the ideas of Bolshevism. These ideas eventually caused his downfall. The proletarian revolution is more powerful than the most cunning police spy.
Could the guards have prevented the assassination of Trotsky? With more precaution could they have prevented Jacson from ingratiating himself into the household? From using a more subtle method? Poisoning? A shot from ambush on a picnic? direct suicidal assault with some weapon especially built by the GPU to escape our limited means of detection?
The GPU itself answered this question through the mouth of its agent, Jacson: “In the next attack, the GPU will use different methods.”
Jacson came to Mexico in October 1939. According to his story, he was told not to force an entry into the household but to let the meeting be “casual.” He followed his instructions perfectly. For months he did not come near Coyoacan but stayed in Mexico City. When Sylvia Ageloff, his wife, who was well known to the household, came to Mexico, he did not attempt to enter the house with her. But he utilized her to become known to the Rosmer—friends of Trotsky and Natalia since 1913—who were staying at the house after bringing Trotsky’s grandson from France. Through these trusted people he became known by name to the household. Many of the guards knew him, were accustomed to admitting him for a few moments to the patio where he would wait to meet whomever he had come to see. It is absolutely certain that Robert Sheldon Harte knew him and trusted him. But he did not meet Trotsky until after the May 24 assault.
On May 28, the Rosmers were leaving Mexico via Vera Cruz, carrying out the decision of several months before to return home. Jacson had offered, some weeks previously, to take them from Mexico City to the port. He had told them that he went to Vera Cruz every two weeks on business anyway, and could combine this trip with the affairs of his “boss.”
He came out to the house early in the morning, rang the bell and was invited inside to wait until the Rosmers were ready. Trotsky was in the patio, and met Jacson for the first time. They shook hands. Trotsky continued with his chores about the chicken yard. Jacson retired and began speaking to Seva, Trotsky’s grandson, to whom he gave a toy glider. Both Natalia and Trotsky noticed him in Seva’s room and asked Seva what it meant. Jacson then explained the working of the glider to them.
Trotsky with his customary thoughtfulness for others asked Natalia if Jacson should not be invited in. Natalia responded that he must have already had his breakfast. At the table, however, as a matter of courtesy, he was invited to come in and have a seat. He took a cup of coffee. This was the first time Jacson sat down at the table with Trotsky.
Jacson cultivated friendly relations with consummate skill. Already well known for his generosity, his car was at the constant disposal of the household. When he went to New York he left it for the use of the guards. He did small services not only for Trotsky and Natalia, but also for everyone connected with the house. When friends were visiting, he took them sightseeing. If it was necessary to make a trip, he offered his car and himself as a chauffeur.
In the dispute between the minority and majority, on the Russian question, he supported Trotsky’s position, even against that of his wife, Sylvia Ageloff. In talking with the guards, he was careful to mention the donations he claimed he had given to the French section. He told Jake Cooper that he knew Rudolph Klement; was in Paris when the GPU had foully murdered him. He was fond of mentioning that he had met James P. Cannon in Paris. Thus he built up an impression of himself as one known to our people.
Following the assault of May 24, he entered the house ten times in all before he carried out the GPU order to murder his host. Twice he came with Sylvia Ageloff, had tea with the Trotskys. When Trotsky reviewed the controversy in the Fourth International, Jacson warmly defended Trotsky’s views, attacked those of Sylvia.
Upon one visit he gave Natalia an elaborate box of chocolates, saying that it was a gift from Sylvia.
Nevertheless, Jacson—mainly because he was not a member of the Fourth International and because his political ideas seemed confused and far from being serious—was never accepted as an intimate or a close friend of the house.
When Jacson took a trip to New York after the May 24 assault, returning in the last part of July, he admitted that he had not visited any of the members of the Socialist Workers Party.
“Why!” we asked with astonishment.
Jacson glibly explained that it was because he spent so much time in the evenings arguing with Sylvia and her sisters, trying to convince them that the majority viewpoint was correct, that he didn’t have time to visit so much as the headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party. He said that he spent his days “slaving in an office on Wall Street.”
The fact that he had not contacted the headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party produced a bad impression on the guards, which they communicated to Trotsky. Trotsky responded :
“It is true, of course, that he is rather light minded and will probably not become a strong member of the Fourth International. Nevertheless, he can be won closer. In order to build the party we must have confidence that people can be changed.”
Trotsky added that Jacson was carrying on some studies in French statistics which could prove useful to us.
It is my conviction that Trotsky, who saw the possibility for anyone to develop into a revolutionary, wished to utilize Jacson as an example in point. The very distance which the guards kept between themselves and the apparently difficult job of turning this rather unpromising clay into a revolutionary, spurred Trotsky into making a stronger demonstration. He suggested to me specifically that I should go out of my way to become friendly with Jacson in order to help bring him closer to the Fourth International.
It was precisely at this time that Jacson was plotting how to murder Trotsky.
In a conversation with Jacson, in which Cornell and I participated, Trotsky asked Jacson what he thought of the “fortress.” Jacson responded that everything seemed well done, but “in the next attack the GPU will use other methods.” “What methods?” one of us asked.
Jacson shrugged his shoulders slightly.
When Frank Jacson was taken to the hospital, the police found in his pocket a letter of “confession.” This letter obviously intended for use by the GPU in its propaganda following the assassination, constitutes documentary evidence that Jacson was a paid agent of the GPU. It alone would fix the guilt for Trotsky’s murder directly on the Super-Borgia in the Kremlin.
Like the classic “confessions” manufactured by the GPU for use in the Moscow Trials, the “confessor” starts out as an ardent “Trotskyist,” is ordered on fantastic missions by superiors lacking names, accepts the assignments without murmur, is finally “ordered by Trotsky” to kill Stalin and “spread sabotage in the USSR,” discovers Trotsky is “linked” with a “foreign power” (with whatever power Stalin has not signed a pact), immediately becomes “disillusioned,” repents, acknowledges the genial Stalin to be right and the successor of Lenin, and “confesses” all. This pattern, developed to its finished form by Yagoda in the Lubianka torture chambers has, despite the discovery that Yagoda was a super-poisoner for ten years under Stalin, been repeated now monotonously and with little change.
Jacson’s letter includes a few variations for the local use of North American supporters of the GPU, such as Lombardo Toledano, Harry Block, correspondent of the Nation, and Frank Jellinek, correspondent of PM and the Stalinist “Federated Press.”
These variations include the slander that Trotsky sneered at the Mexican Revolution, supported Almazan. These sentences in Jacson’s letter sound as if they had been lifted bodily from the Mexican organs of the GPU – La Voz de Mexico, Futuro, and El Popular, where Trotsky was accused of being “linked with the Dies Committee,” an “agent of Wall Street” and a “traitor” who committed “self-assault” for no other reason save that of embarrassing the Cardenas government which had given him asylum alone of all the governments in the world.
Jacson claims he was a disillusioned member of the Fourth International. Lie! This was simply an attempt of the GPU to trick world opinion into believing its hands are spotless. Under questioning by the investigating judge he has now admitted he was never a member.
Jacson claims a “member of the Bureau of the Fourth International” sent him to Mexico to see Trotsky because “something more was expected of him than being a simple militant.” Another lie written in the jargon invented by the GPU for the Moscow Trials!
Jacson says that Trotsky ordered him to go to Shanghai, steal the China Clipper, fly across Manchukuo to Russia, and there, without knowing a word of the Russian language, begin spreading sabotage and plotting the death “of the leaders of the USSR!” Recall the Stalin-Hitler dictum: “The grosser the lie, the more readily will people believe it.” Jacson’s letter could not follow this dictum any closer.
The story is more absurd than the story concocted by the GPU in 1936 about the airplane in which Pyatakov was alleged to have flown from Berlin to Oslo in order to help Trotsky make a pact with Hitler.
In Jacson’s letter, the GPU again over-reached itself, succeeded in accomplishing nothing but convincing the world of Stalin’s guilt in the murder of Trotsky.
It is merely necessary to substitute in Jacson’s letter the three letters “GPU” for the “member of the Bureau of the Fourth International.” Then the story told by Jacson as to how he was ordered to go to Mexico to see Trotsky becomes clear. The reasons for the infinite caution and casualness with which he approached the household become apparent. The whole “confession” crumbles before one’s eyes and the truth stands revealed: GPU agent Jacson is lying in the easiest way possible for him—wherever possible he attributes to the Fourth International the actual instructions given him by the GPU.
According to the declarations the assassin made to the police, he was furnished a false passport by “the member of the Bureau of the Fourth International,” who “proposed that he go to Mexico to see Trotsky.” On his final trip to Coyoacan from Mexico City, Jacson claims that he stopped on Avenida Insurgentes and burned this false passport along with his other personal papers. Why did Jacson burn this passport? The reason is not difficult to determine. Forgers always leave certain identifying marks. In the hands of government experts it would have been possible to trace such a passport back to those who falsified it, just as it is possible for experts to trace forged money back to the particular individual who made it. In the case of Jacson’s passport the identifying mark would have been “GPU.”
The passport on which Frank Jacson entered the United States was issued in March 1937 to Tony Babich, resident of Canada and a naturalized British subject, born at Lovinac, Yugoslavia, June 13, 1905. Tony Babich used this passport to travel from Canada ostensibly on a visit to his home. He went to Spain, instead, where he fought in the Loyalist army. On May 12, 1939, the Spanish government issued a death certificate for Tony Babich.
What happened to Tony Babich’s passport?
It is well known that the foreigners who enlisted in the Loyalist army were systematically robbed of their passports by the GPU. Walter Krivitsky, former head of the Soviet Intelligence Service in western Europe, reported that the diplomatic pouches sent to the USSR from Spain carried bundles of these passports in every mail. That is obviously what happened to the passport of Tony Babich. In the hands of the GPU it underwent certain alterations by the most skilled passport forgers in the world. The name of Tony Babich was changed to read “Frank Jacson.” The photograph of Babich was removed and replaced by that of the man who later murdered Trotsky.
The GPU attempts to picture Jacson in his “confession” as a naive lad in the beginning, so gullible that he instantly packed his valises and sent to his mother for $5,000 when the “member of the Bureau of the Fourth International” asked him to go to Mexico. It would be interesting to hear the GPU explain how this innocent “rabbit.” as Jacson labels himself, gained his expert knowledge of passport regulations between the United States and Mexico.
When he left Mexico the last time, he applied at the American Consulate on June 12 for a transit visa to Canada. Apparently he utilized this transit visa to enter the United States without giving up the Mexican tourist card which was issued to him in October 1939. From an information available, he did not apply for a tourist card on his second entry, but merely walked across the border and took passage to Mexico City, exhibiting his original tourist card with its time extension to whatever authorities demanded his credentials. Only a person with an expert acquaintance with these matters could have done this.
When Jacson was struggling with the guards, he cried out several times: ’They have imprisoned my mother!” When he was dragged out of Trotsky’s study, he repeated, “Ma mere! Ma mere!” If he is not a subject of the USSR, it is possible that the Gestapo, as a slight service to Stalin, turned Jacson’s mother, possibly his whole family, over to the GPU, subsequent to the German invasion of the Lowlands and France. Jacson was then threatened with the death of his family if he did not carry out Stalin’s order to assassinate Trotsky. It is possible that Jacson’s story about being born in Persia of Belgian parents is true, but there are many indications that his story about the “Mornard” family and its wealth is a complete fabrication:
Jacson was well supplied with money. He claims that during the last days of August, 1939, his “mother” gave him 85,000 in addition to the $200 given him by the alleged member of the Bureau of the Fourth International. In New York City he entrusted $3,000 to Sylvia Ageloff. Later, in October 1939 he established a letter of credit with the American Express agency in New York City for approximately $2,500. On this letter of credit he cashed heavy checks in January of this year, again in May of this year, just before the first assault on Trotsky, and withdrew the balance early in June. When he was taken by the police he had more than $890 in his pockets. In Mexico he bought an automobile for 3,500 pesos. When he traveled, he used airplanes. In Mexico he lived expensively from October, 1939, up until the time of the assassination without holding any job whatsoever.
Although he listed himself on his tourist card as a “mechanical engineer” he declared upon his capture that he had studied journalism and was a journalist by profession. To the household he claimed that he worked for a mysterious individual who at first dealt in oil for the Allies, but who had lately shifted to diamonds. He claimed that he was paid $50 a week by this mysterious boss.
Sylvia Ageloff testified to the police that after she met Jacson in Paris he began working for the “Argus Press Service.” He sold a number of Ageloff’s articles on child psychology to this service, but told Sylvia it was impossible to find out where they were published since she could then deal directly with the magazine, cutting the Argus’ service out of its commission. He himself, he claims, wrote sports articles at a high salary for the Argus Service. Sylvia Ageloff never saw any of her own articles in print. The Argus Service, it is clear, was merely another name for the GPU even though it might have had “Argus” printed on its letterheads and across some office door.
In personal appearance, Jacson before the assault struck one as a nervous individual, prematurely aged, darkened as if some poison were working its way through his skin. His features twitched. He talked rapidly but found words with difficulty, causing him occasionally to stumble in his utterances. While he was not husky, nevertheless he appeared wiry. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, dressed neatly, rarely covered his dark hair with a hat. It was impossible to carry on a sustained political conversation with him; he always wandered into another subject. He claimed to be an ardent sympathizer of the Fourth International, and especially devoted to Trotsky, of whom he said many times in an admiring tone, in the presence of the guards: “He has the greatest intellect in the world.”
Since the assault, Jacson has appeared completely prostrated and near collapse. When he is brought into the judge’s chambers for questioning, he drags his feet as if they were weighted to the floor, hangs his head, requires the support of two men. During the questioning he keeps his eyes on the floor, answers in tones that are scarcely audible, refuses to speak in any language but French, although he is quite familiar with Spanish and English. However, he dropped this mask completely when Albert Goldman pressed him on his story about the alleged member of the Bureau of the Fourth International who had sent him to Trotsky. He appeared suddenly alert, cautious. He sat up in his chair, gesticulated, employed histrionics. At times his eyes would peer balefully from under his bandaged head, like an animal in a trap studying its captor before lunging.
In view of the consummate skill with which he penetrated the household, ingratiated himself, brutally carried out his horrible assignment and stuck to the line prepared for him by the Stalinists, Jacson can be considered one of the most finished products of the GPU terror machine.
We can now look back upon some of the previous murders of our comrades committed by the GPU and begin to fix the sinister role played by Frank Jacson.
In February 1938 Leon Sedov was stricken with an intestinal ailment. He was taken to a hospital. Somehow his whereabouts leaked out to the Stalinists. Leon Sedov died within a few days under the most mysterious circumstances.
“What is your opinion about the death of Sedov?” Judge Trujillo asked Jacson at the preliminary hearing.
The assassin hesitated, fumbled for words, replied sullenly: “Only what is printed on the case.” “Was it the GPU!” “Yes. The GPU killed Leon Sedov.”
An intensely interesting statement! Was it a single slip of the tongue, an unintentional admission of a truth well known among the agents of the GPU? Was it the very height of deviousness—a conscious attempt to separate himself from the GPU by implying: the GPU did THAT job but NOT THIS one? Or was it the admission of a fact he knew to be true because of his personal involvement in the murder of Sedov and which he admitted as a welcome relief from the strain of constant lying because he did not feel it could be dangerous to him? The last hypothesis seems the most likely. It would explain his hesitation when the question was first asked—should he lie? was it necessary? “only what is printed ...” A cautious reply made to gain time while he decided on the danger involved in answering truthfully: “Yes, The GPU killed Leon Sedov.”
Just before the World Conference of the Fourth International in September, 1935, Rudolf Klement, secretary of the organization, was kidnapped. A letter forged in his handwriting was’mailed to Leon Trotsky from Perpignan, a small town in southern France with which Jacson shows great familiarity. This letter, in terms almost identical to those in Jacson’s letter of “confession,” reports Klement’s “disillusionment” over his supposed discovery that Trotsky was negotiating to make a pact with “Hitler.”
That the “Klement letter” was a GPU job became clear, a few days later, when Klement’s body was found floating in the Seine river at Paris. The head, arms and legs had been amputated by someone with a knowledge of anatomy.
Jacson was proud to show off at a dinner table his general knowledge of anatomy. With a sharp knife, a roast chicken under his hands seemed to fall apart almost by itself.
Why was Klement killed? It was Trotsky’s opinion that Klement stumbled across some information of utmost importance concerning the GPU. The identity of a provocateur—perhaps proof that the GPU murdered Leon Sedov, was preparing the assassination of Trotsky.
Jacson knew David Alfaro Siqueiros, the leader of the May 24 assault. “By accident,” Jacson told Judge Trujillo, he gave to Sylvia Ageloff as his business address in Mexico that of the house named “Ermita” which was frequented by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
It is easy now to reconstruct the night of May 24. Jacson rang the bell during Harte’s shift. Harte answered the door.
“It’s Jacson—I have a message of utmost importance.”
Harte, who knew Jacson, as admitted by the assassin himself, opened the door, holding it by the safety latch. He saw Jacson, whom he recognized as a friend of the house. He saw the GPU agents in disguise as Mexican policemen, took them for genuine and opened the door.
That was why Harte was murdered. He could have identified the GPU agent who tricked him into opening the door. This phase of the May 24 assault, one of the most mysterious, can now be considered solved. Likewise, in all probability Jacson was the mysterious “French-Jew’ who spoke Spanish with a decided French accent, who gave orders to Siqueiros, who drove about in a black Packard with New York license plates, who furnished the money for the May 24 assailants.
We can picture the scene in GPU headquarters in New York when Jacson returned to make his report following the failure of the May 24 assault:
“Go back and finish the job yourself; or—”
Indignation and sorrow over the murder of Leon Trotsky by Stalin swept through the working class on a world wide scale. Telegrams and letters poured in from all the countries from which the censorship would permit. Working class organizations, one after the other in Mexico, passed re solutions condemning the murder of Trotsky by the GPU.
President Lazaro Cardenas issued a scathing denunciation of the perpetrators of the murder, naming them as “agents of a foreign power” and “traitors” to Mexico.
Only the friends and agents of the CPU were silent or tried to insinuate that Jacson’s “confession” was true. El Popular, Lombardo Toledano’s paper, for instance, published the declaration of Trotsky’s murderer under the front-page headline: “Sensational Confession of the Assassin of Leon Trotsky—Launches Tremendous Accusation Against the Dead Chief of the Fourth International.” This was the biggest play El Popular gave to the whole assassination, which of course is only natural for an organ of the GPU.
In a more cautious form El Popular expresses the same sentiment toward Trotsky as that expressed by David Serrano before Judge Trujillo. Serrano, a member of the Political Bureau of the Mexican Communist Party and believed to be the GPU representative on that body, was arrested in connection with the May 24 assault. It was he who ordered the police uniforms with which the assailants disguised themselves. It was his ex-wife who acted as one of the spies who seduced the police on guard at the Coyoacan house.
“The Third International is opposed to personal terror,” Serrano declared cynically in testifying before Judge Trujillo “but I would not be sorry if anything happened to Trotsky.”
“You understand that a statement like that will go against you in the case?” asked the judge astonished. “I understand; but that’s what I believe.”
This was on August 1, not three weeks before the assassination. It was the order from the GPU representative to finish the job.
Among those working for the GPU in the campaign against Trotsky is Frank Jellinek. This man, long known to be at least a close sympathizer of the Stalinists, came to Mexico in the fall of 1937. He tried to visit Trotsky, was refused admittance. Later he came to the press interview which Trotsky gave following the verdict of the John Dewey Commission that he was innocent of the charges levelled against him in the Moscow Trials. Jellinek came with his friend, Frank Kluckhohn, and had to be called to order by Trotsky because of the disturbance he was creating. Frequently seen with leading Stalinists in Mexico, he wrote reports on the May 24 assault in accordance with the GPU line. What is most interesting about Jellinek, however, is what he did when Trotsky appeared in the Coyoacan court to answer questions by Serrano’s attorney, Pavon Flores. Although Flores is a member of the Political Bureau of the Mexican Communist Party and one who survived the March purge, which prepared for the assault of May 24, he consulted Jellinek in the courtroom so frequently as to give Jellinek the appearance of wielding a great deal of authority. Following the murder of Trotsky, Jellinek wrote a report in PM, which attempted to bolster Jacson’s self-portrait of warring factions in the Fourth International as the matrix out of which came the murder. Jellinek reported “quarreling factions are now competing for Trotsky’s body.” What quarreling factions? Those of James P. Cannon and Albert Goldman! (PM, Aug. 23)
Jellinek’s defense of the GPU is as stupid as Jacson’s “confession.” The hand which becomes warped to the handle of a pickaxe loses its dexterity with a pen.
During the construction work when we were converting the house into a fortress, Trotsky often walked about the patio, suggesting changes, improvements. Nevertheless, he did not feel happy about having to live in such a place. Often he told me: “It reminds me of the first prison I was in, at Khirghizan. The door make the same sound when they shut. It is not a home; it is a medieval prison.”
The place was, indeed, like a prison. Trotsky confined himself to living behind those twenty-foot walls as if he were serving a term in a Czarist jail.
One day he caught me gazing at the new towers. His eyes twinkled in one of those warm, intimate smiles of his, a glance and nod that took one into his confidence.
“Highly advanced civilization—that we must still make such constructions.” he said, his eye brow lifting good humoredly.
“Yes,” I responded—it was not the first time he had made this remark to me—”just such constructions in order to organize the economic system on a rational basis.” “To have to spend a life-time on that!”
The hot Mexican sun high-lighted his eagle features, cut his white bushy hair away from the dark vines behind him. His eyes were no longer on me but speculatively on the towers, and I was suddenly looking at the life’s task of a Bolshevik from a thousand years in the future.
The Old Man taught those about him like that—with half jest converting even his own distastes into something valuable for this new generation surrounding him.
Trotsky enjoyed the Mexican country-side; liked sitting beside a good chauffeur and driving off the paved highway onto some obscure road filled with chuck holes, boulders, mud, bayonet-bladed cactus. Such roads reminded him of the old days and campaigns with the Red Army. But these excursions, which he called “walks,” were dangerous, and for months at a time the Old Man would deny himself the pleasure.
On the last “walk” the Old Man took, he slept much more than usual. As if he were exhausted and this were his first opportunity in a long time to rest. He relaxed in the seat beside me and slept from Cuernavaca almost to Amecameca, when the volcanos, Popocatapetl and Ixtaccihuatl, the sleeping woman, gather great fleecy clouds about their white summits. While one of the other cars re-fueled, we stopped beside an ancient hacienda with towering strongly buttressed walls. The Old Man regarded the walls with interest: “A fine wall, but medieval. Like our own prison.”
As we approached Coyoacan, he slid down low in the seat so that his head would not show—from any of the windows facing the streets near our house might come a burst of machine gun fire.
“After this we must have two of the best drivers in the car,” the Old Man said. He was thinking of the danger connected with these enjoyable “walks”—the chance of the driver being killed. But there was never another “walk” on which to carry out his suggestion.
From the May 24 assault until the week before his death, Trotsky worked on uncovering the GPU—fighting its agents and its friends, such as Lombardo Toledano who carried on a rabid campaign of vilification, slander, foul personal attacks under the monotonously repeated slogan of the GPU: “Expel the Traitor Trotsky from Mexico.”
On the Saturday before the assault Trotsky told me that he had practically finished all his work in relation to exposing the perpetrators of the May 24 assault and that now he expected to return to his “poor, neglected Stalin book.” But before doing so he wanted to know what I thought about his writing something on the question of militarism. We discussed the form and content of such an article, whether it would be an article for Fourth International, something for the Socialist Appeal, or because of world conditions an unsigned article.
The thesis of the project in his own words as I recall them was as follows:
“We must now launch a fight to the finish with all the remnants of pacifism in our ranks. This pacifism is not only a heritage of our entry into the Socialist Party but a heritage of the last imperialist war. Even the Bolsheviks in 1914 did not have the perspective of taking power. Our politics then flowed more or less from a sheer opposition point of view to the official politics of the government. Even Lenin when he was in Switzerland wrote some articles in which he said that the second or third generation may see socialism but we will not. Now the world situation is even more ripe than at that time. Our politics must flow from the perspective of seizing power. There will be revolutionary situations in the coming period, one after the other. It will be a period rich in revolutionary situations. At first there will be defeats. They an inevitable; but we will learn from them. It is also inevitable that we will have victories. One good victory can change the whole world situation. It is not excluded that you will gain power in the United States in the coming period.”
We talked over this thesis several times during the afternoon. I told Trotsky of my experience in writing a war pamphlet in which it was very easy to point out the horrors and causes of war, but not so easy to tell the workers exactly what steps to take next, and that this difficulty came from the fact that we had not yet settled completely on our politics in relation to pacifist sentiment. I also gave him my reaction to the victories of Hitler as indicating not so much the strength of fascism as the rottenness of democratic imperialism, a rottenness which not even we had measured to the full and which clearly showed that we were much nearer to power than we had thought—that it would take but very little from the working class to smash this whole structure. “Of course,” Trotsky said. “Well, I will have plenty of time to think over the problem tomorrow,” referring to his doctor’s order that he stay in bed all day Sunday to rest. But he became so interested in this thesis that he went into his study and began dictating immediately. I heard his strong vibrant voice dictating to his dictaphone with a frequent “totchka!” until 9:30 that evening and again Monday morning. He had gotten an excellent start on the article, he told me just before dinner, utilizing as his point of departure the “miserable article” of Dwight Macdonald in the Partisan Review which I had underlined for him. He also mentioned some of the pacifist tendencies in the minority group who split from the Fourth International which he intended to use along with the “miserable and contemptible” pacifism of Norman Thomas as illustrations in the article.
The first draft was typed and on his desk at the time he was attacked. Knowing Trotsky’s methods of work, I am sure that he had blocked out most of his main ideas; the illustrations and quotations were in the large still missing, possibly he had not yet arrived at a formulation of his key idea. But attack against pacifism as expressed in his conversation with me is certain to permeate the entire Fourth International in the coming period.
On August 22, funeral services were held for Trotsky in accordance with the Mexican custom. A cortege followed the casket slowly through the streets. An enormous crowd followed from the funeral parlors to the Pantheon, some eight miles. At funeral pace, the procession wound through one of the densely populated working class sections of Mexico. The streets were packed on both sides with the most humble people of this city which Trotsky had learned to love during the last years of his life. As the casket approached, covered with a red flag, they took off their hats and stood silently in tribute until it had passed.
At the Pantheon, three of Trotsky’s friends spoke over the bier. Albert Goldman, who had defended Trotsky at the hearings of the John Dewey Commission, assured the people of Mexico, the only country which would grant him asylum, that his remains would finally rest here. He spoke of the irretrievable loss Trotsky’s death meant to the working class of the world.
Garcia Trevino, former leader of the CTM, one of the founders of El Popular and a well-known socialist, condemned Lombardo Toledano and his Stalinist cohorts as those directly responsible for the intellectual preparation of the murder of Trotsky. He called on the Mexican workers to purge their ranks of these perfidious and venal agents and friends of the GPU.
Grandizo Munis, one of the leaders of the Spanish section of the Fourth International, who fought in Spain and had been imprisoned there by the GPU, outlined the major events in Trotsky’s life, particularly his struggle against the degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the person of Stalin. Grandizo ended his speech with the last words of Trotsky, translated into Spanish: “Estoy seguro de la victorio de la Cuarta Internacional. Adelante!”
From August 22 until August 27 Trotsky’s body was kept at the funeral parlors pending an answer from the US government on the request to take his remains to New York City for a funeral service. A guard of honor, composed of Mexican workers and members of Trotsky’s household stood at attention twenty-four hours a day beside the casket. Then was a constant flow of those who wished to pay their last respects to Trotsky. By August 27 an estimated 300,000 people had passed his casket. They were composed almost entirely of the poorest people, burdened with toil, many of them ragged, barefoot. They filed in silently, heads bowed.
From all over the world telegrams and letters expressing the deepest sorrow were sent to Coyoacan. All the sections of the Fourth International, where it was possible, sent messages of solidarity, vowing to carry on the struggle for the ideas of Trotsky.
President Lazaro Cardenas and Mrs. Cardenas visited Natalia and expressed their indignation at the crime and their deepest sympathy with Natalia. They assured her that they “understood very well where letters such as that found in the assassin’s clothing were manufactured”,and that she was “not to worry about it.”
On August 26 the State Department of the United State, government categorically refused to permit Trotsky’s body to be taken to the United States for a funeral service. The decayed capitalist class, entering the final stage of the epoch of wars and revolutions from which socialism will emerge, does well to stand in holy terror of everything associated with Leon Trotsky!
So died our comrade, friend, teacher. He saw the future as if he were already living in it, and like Marx, Engels and Lenin, directed all his titanic energy into arousing the working class towards taking the necessary road to that future society. Trotsky neither feared death nor believed in a god or an after-life. “All that is fit to live is fit to perish.” He wished to be remembered by nothing but his revolutionary deeds and ideas, and these only so that they could be utilized in the liberating struggle of the working class. He was opposed to the mummifying of Lenin’s body, and expressed the desire to Natalia that when he died his remains should be cremated. Let the fire consume everything that decays! On August 27 this wish of his was carried out. Many of his friends on that day no doubt thought of one of Trotsky’s favorite quotations:
“Not to laugh; not to weep;
Last updated on: 15.2.2006