Joseph Hansen

Why Dewey Commission Probed Moscow Trials

(27 July 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 30, 27 July 1946, p. 7.
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(Ninth in a series on the Moscow Trials and their significance)

One of Stalin’s principal aims in the Moscow frame-up trials was to throw political mud on Leon Trotsky and his son Sedov while organizing their murder. Stalin had at his disposal the resources of a totalitarian state – unlimited funds, and a secret police (the GPU, now the NKVD). On top of this, Stalin had the services of the various sections of the Third International.

In face of the flood of filth poured on Trotsky in the Moscow trials, Trotsky’s position might have appeared completely hopeless. But Trotsky was a fighter. He had gone through a hard school. In his past were exiles and prison under the Czar, persecution and expulsion from France for advocating socialism in the First World War, condemnation in absentia by the Kaiser’s government for the same reason, expulsion from monarchist Spain, imprisonment by the British in a Canadian concentration camp, imprisonment by the Kerensky government on the frame-up charge hurled at Lenin and the other Bolshevik leaders, of being an agent of the Kaiser. Trotsky had learned from personal experience that in the long run, truth breaks through the worst lies.

Armed only with his pen and the support of a small devoted group of disciples, he fought back with all his energy against the powerful Stalinist slander and murder machine.

One of Trotsky’s loyal followers, Walter Held, had predicted after the first Moscow trial that the Kremlin would exert “pressure” against the Norwegian government and “menace” it by linking “plotters” against the Soviet Union with Trotsky in Norway. The Norwegian government, representing the shipowners, was sensitive to such pressure, from one of the big customers for maritime products.
 Quick Pressure

This pressure quickly became evident. A group of Norwegian fascists raided Trotsky’s homo. In the subsequent trial, the Norwegian authorities began to hound Trotsky instead of the fascists. At the same time, the Norwegian Stalinists denounced Trotsky, as a “fascist.”

Placed under house arrest, Trotsky observed: “Stalin and Mr. Quisling ... collaborated to have me interned.”

Censoring all out-going and in-coming mail, the Norwegian government effectively silenced Trotsky, for something like four months. The authorities did not specifically tell Trotsky he could not defend himself. They simply confiscated the manuscripts he wrote. In The Crimes of Stalin Trotsky observed:

“If I at least had known that all literary work was forbidden, including the legitimate work of defending myself, I would have temporarily laid down my arms and read Hegel – he was there on the shelf.”

But the Norwegian government was not that frank. Its excuse for interning Trotsky was his article on French politics published in New York by The Nation! This article – claimed the fellow-officials of Tyrgve Lie, now head of the United Nations – proved that Trotsky had broken his pledge not to intervene in Norwegian politics.

Meanwhile the Kremlin insisted on Trotsky’s expulsion from Norway. Obviously Stalin wanted the Norwegian government to deport Trotsky to the USSR where he could be easily shot. Trotsky demanded that the Kremlin institute extradition proceedings. This is the normal procedure between nations. The Kremlin, however, did not dare demand extradition.

All such cases are heard before a court where the accused person has a right to defend himself and where the accuser must present evidence. Not having a shred of evidence. Stalin feared lest extradition hearings only further expose his frame-up.

Trotsky and his wife Natalia were finally granted asylum by Mexico. They arrived at Tampico Jan. 9, 1937.

The entire world was anxious to hear Trotsky’s explanation of the frame-up of Lenin’s former comrades. Yet the Kremlin mud-slinging machine had done its utmost to silence Trotsky and deny a hearing to Trotsky who with his son Sedov, was in reality the principal defendant at the Moscow trials.

Dewey Commission

The Kremlin, however, was not all-powerful. A group of outstanding liberals set up an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the charges. This Commission was headed by John Dewey, the eminent philosopher and teacher, and one of the veterans of American liberalism. Figures like Carlo Tresca, an outstanding leader of the anarchist movement and one of the men most hated by Mussolini, participated. Otto Ruhle, who stood side by side in the Reichstag with Karl Liebknecht in fighting German imperialism in the First World War, was another member. Ruhle was a refugee in Mexico from the Nazi regime.

In carrying out its investigation the Commission selected as its legal advisor John Finerty, world-famous in the defense of Tom Mooney and of Sacco and Vanzetti.

A sub-commission was sent to Mexico to hear Trotsky’s defense, to question him and to study the evidence at his disposal. This sub-commission invited the Communist Party of Mexico to participate as well as the Mexican trade unions, with the right to ask any questions and to check any assertions. Stalin’s line, however, was to label the Commission as a “whitewash” outfit and refuse to get anywhere near its investigation. Stalin knew only too well what the slightest amount of factual material would do to his frame-ups.

Requests to the Soviet embassy in the United States, to the Friends of the Soviet Union and to the Communist Party, of the USA to participate in the inquiry had already been turned down in accordance with the Kremlin’s line.

The Stalinists however pursued a hands-off policy only in public. Under cover they raised heaven and earth trying to block the work of the Commission. All kinds of pressure was put on the members of the Commission to halt their investigation. But all the threats and cajolery proved useless. The Commission proceeded with its impartial investigation.

(Next week – What the Commission Discovered)



In last week’s installment on the Moscow frame-up trials the following sentence appears: “Trotsky from his Norway exile demanded the prosecutor should cross-examine Pyatakov on his alleged airplane trip.”

This should have read: “Trotsky from his Mexico exile demanded the prosecutor should cross-examine Pyatakov on his alleged airplane trip.”


Last updated on: 18 June 2021