Joseph Hansen

How the GPU Tried to Discredit
the Dewey Commission of Inquiry

(3 August 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 31, 3 August 1946, p. 7.
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(Tenth in a series on the Moscow Trials and their significance)

Leon Trotsky’s reply to the charges levelled against him. in the Moscow Trials took place in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. The venerable John Dewey, world-famous philosopher and educator, headed the Preliminary Commission of Inquiry. Seated with him on the Commission were Otto Ruehle, one of Karl Liebknecht’s comrades; Benjamin Stolberg, noted journalist; Suzanne LaFollette, well-known liberal, and Carleton Beals, author and former socialist. A court reporter took down the proceedings word for word. Newspaper reporters crowded the hearings together with representatives of Mexican trade unions.

The advanced workers centered their attention on the hearings. Obviously this was a serious Commission of Inquiry. Here the element of a frame-up was excluded. Everyone was free to say what he wanted; to ask any questions he wished. The Commission had even publicly invited the Stalinists to participate.

Air of Suspense

An element of suspense charged the hearings in the bluewalled house of the Mexican mural painter, Diego Rivera. Although the Stalinists had refused to send an official representative, it was well-known they had put great pressure on the Commission, trying to blow it up. Failing in this, might it not turn but that the Stalinists had succeeded in getting a stooge or two on the Commission? What would happen in that case?

Leon Trotsky had already openly staked his life in a challenge to the Kremlin to institute extradition proceedings. The Kremlin had remained silent, fearing to give Lenin’s comrade-in-arms an opportunity to present his case before a public court.

Now Trotsky placed himself at the disposal of the Commission so that this impartial body could rule on his guilt or innocence. From April 10 to April 17, 1937, he submitted to the most searching questioning and probing by the Commission. The questions fired at him ranged from the most general subjects such as the history of the Bolshevik movement and biographies of the defendants in the Moscow frame-ups, right down to Trotsky’s personal whereabouts on specific dates. By far the greatest number of questions dealt with the accusations levelled in Moscow against Trotsky.

Within a very short time, it became evident that the Stalinists had succeeded in getting an individual to act as a stooge for them on the Commission. Afraid to send an avowed representative, they chose this method of trying to discredit the investigation.

Carleton Beals began to shift his questions away from the Moscow accusations. He insinuated that Leon Trotsky, in the early days of the Communist International, had sent an emissary to help organize the Communist Party of Mexico. The purpose of this insinuation was only too clear. Beals wanted to compromise Trotsky in the eyes of the Mexican government which had granted asylum to the great Bolshevik.

Beals claimed special sources of information which could not be put in the record.

“I can only give the advice to the Commissioner,” said Trotsky, “to say to his informant that he is a liar.” Trotsky told how all the Bolsheviks in those days had considered the October 1917 Revolution as one link in a chain of revolutions that would eventually replace world capitalism with a socialist society free from depressions, war and reaction. He himself, however, could scarcely have sent an emissary to Mexico, since as head of the Red Army, defending the Soviet Union against the Allied powers, “I forgot all about world geography except the geography of the front.”

John F. Finerty, famous in the defense of Sacco-Vanzetti and Tom Mooney, acted as legal counsel for the Commission. He “advised the sub-commission” that questions such as Beals had asked “were highly improper, would be sufficient cause for mistrial in any ordinary court, and that he could not continue as counsel if they were to be permitted in future.”

Answers Beals

According to the report signed by John Dewey and the others, “Mr. Beals then angrily declared that either he or Mr. Finerty must leave the sub-commission.” Then, although he had declared that he still had “hundreds more questions,” Beals resigned. This was the only aspect of the investigation to which the Stalinist press gave full publicity.

The effect of his resignation was only to make the Stalinists appear more cowardly and despicable. Why were the Stalinists so fearful of asking Trotsky questions? Why were they so afraid of an impartial hearing into the charges made by Stalin against Trotsky?

Devastating Reply

Point by point the Commission took up these charges and cross-examined Trotsky. The revolutionary exile submitted document after document covering all his movements on the days in question. Each of these proofs was a devastating refutation of the lies in the frame-up Trials. But the organizer of the Red Army and the co-founder with Lenin of the first workers’ state in history did not content himself with simply clearing his own name. He went much further. He took on the seemingly impossible task of proving that the trials in Moscow were frame-ups. The verbatim record of Trotsky’s depositions, as the brilliant Marxist unravelled the GPU frame-ups, reads better than any detective thriller.

Finally in a summary that is undoubtedly one of the great defense speeches in world history, Trotsky reduced Stalin’s frame-ups to a heap of rubble.

“As we have proved before the Commission,” said Trotsky, “seven trials took place in the USSR, with the Kirov assassination as their starting point: (a) the trial of Nikolayev et al., December 28–29th, 1934; (b) the trial of Zinoviev-Kamenev, January 15–16th, 1935; (c) the trial of Medved et al., January 23rd, 1935; (d) the trial of Kamenev et al., July 1935; (e) the trial of Zinoviev-Kamenev, August 1936; (f) the Novosibirsk trial, November 19–22nd, 1936; (g) the trial of Pyatakov-Radek, January 23–30th, 1937.

“These trials are seven variations played on one and the same theme. Among the different variations there is almost no discernible connection. Each contradicts the others in fundamentals and details. In each trial, different persons organize the assassination of Kirov, by different ineans and for different political objectives. The mere comparison of the official Soviet documents is ample proof that at least six of these seven trials must be frame-ups. In fact, all seven are frame-ups.”

Trotsky explained:

“As far back as 1926, the Stalin clique tried to charge various oppositional groups with ‘anti-Soviet’ propaganda, connections with White Guards, capitalist tendencies, espionage, terrorist aims, and, finally, the preparation of armed insurrection. All these attempts, which are akin to rough drafts, have left their traces in official decrees, in newspaper articles, in documents of the Opposition.

“If we were to arrange chronologically these rough drafts of and experiments in frame-up, we would obtain something in the nature of a geometric progression of false accusations, whose end terms are the indictments in the last trials. Thus we uncover the ‘law of frame-ups’ and the mystery of the alleged Trotskyite conspiracy vanishes into thin air.”

Mystery Vanishes

Trotsky analyzed the “confessions” over which many honest people had puzzled:

“It is the same with the improbable declarations of the defendants, which at first sight contradict all the laws of human psychology. Ritualistic recantations on the part of Oppositionists date back to 1924, and especially the end of 1927. If we collate the texts of these recantations on the basis of the leading Soviet press – often consecutive recantations made by the self-same individuals – we obtain a second geometric progression, the end terms of which are the nightmarish confessions of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Pyatakov, Radek and others at the judicial trials. A political and psychological analysis of this accessible and unimpeachable material wholly and conclusively reveals the inquisitorial mechanics of the recantations.”

Trotsky’s Warnings

Trotsky then pointed to a third type of evidence that alone is enough to expose the Moscow Trials: “To the mathematical series of frame-ups and the mathematical series of recantations, there corresponds a third mathematical series – that of warnings and predictions.” Far from “plotting” in the dark, Trotsky and his closest co-thinkers had “followed attentively the intrigues and provocations of the GPU, and in advance, on the basis of particular facts and symptoms, warned time and again, in letters as well as in the press, against Stalin’s provocative plans and against amalgams in preparation. The very expression, ‘Stalinist amalgam,’ was given currency by us almost eight years before the Kirov assassination and the spectacular trials which followed it.

“The relevant documentary proofs have been placed at the disposal of the Commission of Inquiry. They show with absolute incontestability that what is involved is not an underground Trotskyite conspiracy first unearthed in some startling manner in 1936, but a systematic conspiracy of the GPU against the Opposition, with the aim of imputing to it sabotage, espionage, assassinations and the preparation of insurrections.”


Last updated on: 18 June 2021