Joseph Hansen

Trotsky Fought Unceasingly
Against Life-Long Persecution

Stalinist Hounding Was Powerless to Interrupt His Work

(August 1941)

Source: From The Militant, Vol. V No. 33, 16 August 1941, p. 5.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2015 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2016. This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

When Stalin’s assassin drove his pickaxe into the skull of Leon Trotsky, he brought to its culmination a vendetta unparalleled in history for its ferocious hounding of a single individual.

During the first World War, Kerensky threw Trotsky in Kresty prison on the slanderous charge that the Bolsheviks were “German spies.” This imprisonment of Trotsky by the “democratic” Russian bourgeois government climaxed the incarcerations, exiles, expulsions, and internment he had already suffered at the hands of the Czarist, French, and British governments prior to the revolution. But Kerensky merely projected the outlines of the monstrous lies, vilifications, tortures, and killings which Stalin visited upon Trotsky and his followers for more than a decade and a half following upon the recession of the great post-war revolutionary wave.

The roots of Stalin’s vendetta against Trotsky reach back as early as 1918.

After Lenin’s death Stalin sealed an unprincipled alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotsky who remained true to the banner of Lenin. The “Troika” launched a tremendous campaign of slander against Trotsky. Outlived polemics between Trotsky and Lenin were dug up to be grossly distorted. Followers of Trotsky were beaten, barred from the platform, deprived of a livelihood, framed-up. The press was filled with a virulent barrage so intensive and so brazen that it stunned the entire populace.

Trotsky felt this campaign, together with his wife, Natalia, “as keenly as if we hd been suffering from the most malignant disease.” Nevertheless, Trotsky marshalled his forces and proceeded with the task of organizing and steeling the opposition movement to the Stalinist bureaucracy. He understood perfectly that a long fight was ahead. Who could say how deep the reaction would, go or how long it would last?

Persecutions of the Secretariat

Now began that tragic series of deaths of those intimately associated with Trotsky. Glazman, his personal secretary through the years of the revolution, was driven in 1924 to commit suicide. Glazman was the first of the members of Trotsky’s famous secretariat to perish. Poznansky, who had borne great responsibilities during the revolution, and Syermuks, who served with Glazman as stenographer in the military train, were condemned by Stalin to the wilds of Siberia for attempting to follow Trotsky into exile at Alma Ata. Their final fate is unknown.

Trotsky’s secretariat was a special object of Stalin’s vengeance. Erwin Wolfe was murdered by the GPU in Spain! Rudolph Klement was murdered in Paris, and Robert Sheldon Harte in Mexico.

The enforced suicide of A.A. Joffe and the crushing of Christian Rakovsky, Trotsky’s bosom friends and outstanding leaders of the revolution, were typical of Stalin’s bloody reprisals against the Left Opposition. Thousands of other intimates of Lenin and Trotsky perished in the mass purges.

Trotsky’s Family Hounded Too

Trotsky’s immediate family was cut down one by one at the hands of the Kremlin butcher. Shortly after he had been forcibly exiled to Alma Ata, Trotsky was informed of the death of his younger daughter, Nina. At the time of her death on June 9, 1928, she was only 26 years old. She had taken active part in the struggle of the Opposition against Stalin, ardently espousing the cause of “Trotskyism,” and for this she was denied the medical care that might have saved her. The letter she wrote her father just before her death took 73 days to travel from Moscow through the hands of the GPU to Alma Ata.

Nina’s husband, also a supporter of the Opposition, had been arrested shortly before Trotsky’s exile. Nothing more is known of his fate except that eight years later he was still in prison.

Zina, Trotsky’s older daughter, received special permission to visit Trotsky in January 1931 after his forcible deportation to Prinkipo. Her husband and a daughter remained behind in Russia. In 1932 when she went to Germany for medical treatment she and her son Seva were deprived of Soviet citizenship and refused permission to return to the USSR. Her husband and her daughter were seized by the GPU and have not since been heard from. Trotsky’s first wife, Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya, who had been taking care of Zina’s daughter, was condemned to exile where she too disappeared. When Berlin ordered Zina to be deported from Germany, she had no place to go. Despairing of ever again seeing her husband, seared by the calumnies and slanders levelled against her father, on January 5, 1933 she committed suicide.

Leon Sedov, Trotsky’s older son, followed his father into exile at Alma Ata and. then into deportation at Prinkipo. He left a wife and child behind in Moscow. Their fate is unknown.

Sergei, Trotsky’s younger son, stayed behind in Moscow. He did not take part in the Opposition work but remained neutral in polities, devoting himself to his work as an engineer and teacher. He was arrested with his wife .in 1934, and later charged with preparing a “premeditated mass poisoning of workers.” Their fate is not known to this day.

On November 7, 1927, during a demonstration on the streets of Moscow a policeman fired at Trotsky’s automobile. This was precisely the time when Stalin was weighing in his mind extreme measures against Trotsky. Zinoviev and Kamenev warned Trotsky that assassination was not beyond the usurper in the Kremlin.

Stalin more than once declared that the most serious error he ever made was expelling Trotsky from the Soviet Union. But Stalin organized all the resources of the government of the USSR, the most powerful spy system in the world, the GPU, and all the resources and connections of the degenerated Third International to “rectify” this error.

The Death of Leon Sedov

A most bitter personal blow suffered by Trotsky and Natalia was the death of Leon Sedov, their oldest boy. Sedov had been a conscious revolutionary since the days of the revolution – before the age of 12. Too young to serve in the Red Army, he nevertheless advanced his age by a year and joined the Communist Youth. He struck out for himself, in distinction to the majority of the sons of the Soviet officials, choosing to live in a workers’ student dormitory rather than with his parents in the Kremlin. He went with his father in the military train on several occasions, “absorbing its stark impressions, and firmly understanding why this bloody struggle was being waged.” He took an active part in the organization of the Left Opposition. He went with his parents to Alma Ata and then to Prinkipo, in both places playing an invaluable role. In Berlin and later, after the rise of Hitler, in Paris, he edited the Russian Bulletin. He did work of first importance in exposing the Moscow frame-ups and analyzing the Stakhanovist movement. Trotsky considered him co-author of all his works subsequent to 1928. Agents of the GPU dogged his heels, rented apartments next to his, made at least one unsuccessful attempt to kill him. In February of 1938, Sedov was stricken with appendicitis and taken to a hospital. On February 16 he died under mysterious circumstances which French diplomacy, in view of its pact with Stalin, did not care to unveil.

Those sentences in which Trotsky speaks of the influence upon Sedov of the years of Stalin’s persecution reflect too the effect this persecution had upon Trotsky himself:

“This young and profoundly. sensitive and tender being had had far too much to bear. The long years of the campaign of lies against his father and the best of the older comrades, whom Leon from his childhood had become accustomed to revere and love, had already deeply shaken his moral organism ... Material difficulties and privations Leon bore lightly, jokingly, like a true proletarian: but of course they too left their mark. Infinitely more harrowing were the effects of subsequent moral tortures ... no, ‘Stalinism’ was for Leon not an abstract political concept but an endless series of moral blows and spiritual wounds.”

Many times in writing his biography of Stalin, Trotsky found the facts of Stalin’s career so revolting he became nauseated. Dealing with the machinations of the GPU was as repugnant to Trotsky as digging into a clogged sewer. Yet the last three months of his life were spent on nothing but this reeking miasma of the GPU! – exposing its organization, exposing beyond all doubt Stalin’s guilt for the May 24 assault, proving that Stalin would strike again. No. “Stalinism” was not for him an abstract political concept ...

Trotsky’s world outlook – the unified outlook of Marxism – enabled him to view the great march of humanity as a whole, from the first dim gropings in the utilization of tools to that genuine civilization of the future when the earth will be shaped according to the conscious will of man. This outlook, together with the profound understanding which Marxism gave him of contemporary history, enabled Trotsky not only to survive Stalin’s persecution where other heroes of the revolution crumbled but even to convert it into a source of strength. He remarked more than once that the cadres of the Fourth International were being steeled in a harder school than that of any previous revolutionary generation – all the blows of world reaction were concentrated upon the Fourth International. Trotsky himself could not help being affected, particularly after the death of Sedov. Trotsky’s secretaries felt a quality in their teacher they had not been aware of to such a degree before. He was not less energetic, not less compromising, not less keen-minded, not less dynamic or less capable of white heats of indignation, but he seemed to have become more mellowed, as if the tragedy had steeped him with a still deeper consciousness of the individual’s place on the historic scale.

After the death of Sedov, the Stalinist press issued call after call in the most envenomed language upon the Mexican workers and peasants to drive Trotsky “out of Mexico.” The official organ of the Mexican Communist Party a short time before the May 24 assault called for “Death to Trotsky.”

With only limited resources and manpower, Trotsky organized the defense at his command. A guard system was set up, the walls around the house heightened, electric alarms installed.

The Murder of Sheldon Harte

But Stalin resorted to an old stratagem of the Czarist police. A skilled agent of the GPU married one of the followers of Trotsky and utilized her as an entry card to penetrate the household. This agent, who traveled on a forged passport bearing the name “Jacson” which had been taken by the GPU from a dead Loyalist veteran in the Spanish civil war, made acquaintance with the Trotskyist movement in Paris. He probably had a hand in the deaths of Sedov and of Rudolf Klement whose body was found floating in the Seine with head, arms, and legs amputated. In Mexico, “Jacson” approached the house with utmost caution, taking as his first project merely the task of gaining the confidence of Trotsky’s guards.

In the mountains near Mexico City, the GPU rented a cabin and dug in the floor of its kitchen a pit which they lined with lime. This pit was intended for Leon and Natalia Trotsky.

Just before dawn on May 24, 1940, under the leadership of David Alfaro Siqueiros, a gang raided the Coyoacan residence of Trotsky and filled his bedroom with a crossfire of machine gun slugs, One of the gang penetrated the bedroom and fired directly into the beds of the old revolutionary couple. They escaped only by great good fortune and the presence of mind which led them to throw themselves in a corner of the bedroom and to lie perfectly still. Seva, Trotsky’s grandson, received a wound in his foot.

Upon leaving, the gang hurled incendiary bombs and kidnapped the guard on duty, Robert Sheldon Harte. A month later the body of Harte was found in the pit originally intended for Natalia and Leon Trotsky.

Jacson Rectifies Stalin’s “Error”

On August 20, Jacson succeeded in carrying out his assignment. Late in the afternoon he entered the house with a revolver, a dagger, and a pickaxe hidden in his clothing. Which weapon he would use depended upon the circumstances. He brought an article dealing with France. When Trotsky sat down to read this article, Jacson, standing behind him, raised his pickaxe. In the next moment Stalin’s “greatest error” had been “rectified.”

But even in the last few moments of his life, when he collapsed on the floor and knew that he was dying, Trotsky towered like a mountain peak above ordinary men. There was no fear of death. He seized the short time for what political tasks he could accomplish. He pressed goodbye to Natalia. Those moments when the Old Man lay dying were choked with anguish. Why couldn’t it have been us instead of the Old Man? Why couldn’t he have been spared this? Poor Natalia. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she fondled the Old Man’s hand. Despite everything, hope flared up its flames licking at the chill of conviction. Maybe it isn’t fatal after all. Maybe the Old Man will recover. We did not yet know the blow had pierced his skull. Only the Old Man refused to admit the illusions of hope. He was sure that this time they had succeeded. Yet when Trotsky spoke to me, when his hand gripped mine, I received an intense physical impression from him, especially from his eyes, of a profound triumph as if he were already gazing upon the final victory over all that dead past which reaches out to strike down the living.


Last updated on: 22 May 2016