Joseph Hansen

The “Testament” Forged by the GPU

New Evidence of Stalin’s Fear
of Trotskyism

(May 1948)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.9 No.3, May 1948, pp.75-78.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Eight, years after the GPU assassination of Leon Trotsky, Stalin has indicated in characteristic fashion how much he fears today the revolutionary socialist ideas of his victim.

Stalin’s secret police, who plotted and carried out the murder of the great founder of the Soviet Union and head of the world Marxist movement, have planted in the European press a forged document purporting to be Trotsky’s “secret” final “political testament!” It has appeared in the French weekly France-Dimanche, in the Swiss weekly Die Wochenzeitung and has been announced by the Belgian daily La Lanterne for early publication. As yet the GPU has not brought it out in the channels available to the Kremlin in the American press.

Aim of Forgery

The aim of this forgery is to provide a “confession from the grave” of the martyred Bolshevik leader to serve Stalin’s reactionary aims – a “confession” from Trotsky himself of loss of faith in the working class and readiness to facilitate imperialist military intervention in the Soviet Union – a “confession” patterned on the same model as those which the GPU forced its principal victims to recite publicly in the notorious Moscow Frame-up Trials of a decade ago. Under the baton of the GPU, it will be recalled, those former Bolsheviks were compelled to avow loss of faith in the working class and to “confess” readiness to resort to such treasonous means as a pact with Hitler in seeking the overthrow of the Stalin regime.

The usefulness to the Kremlin of such a “confession” from Trotsky’s pen is obvious. The “secret testament” dictated to the stenographers of the GPU is designed to furnish fresh literary material for the hatchet-men of the Kremlin propaganda machine assigned to slander Trotskyism. The old tripe doesn’t go, as many rank and file Stalinists discovered when they were given the unpleasant job of disposing of The Great Conspiracy, the book cut by Sayers and Kahn to the traditional GPU pattern. A new “sensation” is needed. Something “fresh.” Something “from Trotsky’s archives,” considering the embarrassing absence of a single document in Hitler’s archives that could be used to smear the Trotskyist movement. What would meet the needs of the GPU in this respect better than “an incredible combination of circumstances” – to quote the editors of France-Dimanche – which would place in their hands a document of Trotsky’s designed to bolster the lies of the Moscow Frame-up Trials?

By publicizing this forged death-bed “recantation” of everything Trotsky stood for, Moscow hopes to counteract the growing popularity of Trotskyism among advanced workers, particularly in Western Europe, sow demoralization among them and check the movement of these workers toward the parties standing on the program of the Fourth International.

A Sample of New Lies

This latest achievement of the GPU’s forgery department should be appraised as a preliminary effort, a trial sample of Stalinist postwar production in this field. Bigger and more imposing forgeries are now in the blueprint stage, if the precedents laid down by the GPU in previous frame-ups can be taken as any guide. The logic of the lie requires that each model shaped up for the propaganda belt-line exceed everything previously produced. The weak points that exposed and broke down the earlier falsifications must be covered up by more startling lies to distract attention from the growing counterweight of the truth. Moscow has announced the forthcoming publication of seized Nazi documents selected to cast a different light from that of the documents published by Washington on the relations of the Hitler regime with foreign powers, especially the Nazi relations with Moscow. One needn’t be clairvoyant to visualize the temptation to draft the services of the GPU forgery squad in the preparation of such a publication or the eagerness of these specialists to curry favor with Stalin by a new elaborate attempt at patching up the fatal defects in the Moscow Frame-up Trials.

Spoors of the GPU

Consequently, the GPU’s “secret testament” should serve to alert class-conscious workers to new monstrous falsifications and bloody acts in preparation by Stalin’s murder machine against the Trotskyists and other working-class opponents of Stalinism.

The spoor of the GPU in the forgery has been pointed out by George Breitman in The Militant of April 5, 1948. Here I shall mention only two items sufficient to expose the crudity of the forgery and to reveal unmistakably its authorship.

The first item is the editorial note accompanying the concoction. France-Dimanche attempts to create sympathy for “Jacson,” the GPU assassin who drove a pick-axe into Trotsky’s brain. It reports an interview in 1946 with the murderer in which “Jacson” claims Trotsky one day abruptly said, “Here is a false identity card, a passport and money. You will leave for Shanghai. There you will contact our agents and you will then enter Russia to train our squads of saboteurs.”

The assassin “at once took into consideration” the “danger in the event of war between Germany and Russia,” recalled how he had been “astonished by the frequent visits of the German consul to Trotsky” and “therefore refused to go.”

Then, said “Jacson,” “Trotsky, mad with rage, threw himself on me and threatened to have me shot by the guards.”

And so “What could I do? My life hung by a thread ... “ By lucky coincidence he had in the pocket of his coat an alpenstock “which I intended to have repaired.” With this he heroically defended himself.

The facts as established by the Mexican courts were quite different. Shortly after the assassination, “Jacson” was brought back to Trotsky’s home to re-enact the crime. Before a half-hundred or more witnesses, including press photographers, “Jacson” showed the precise spot in the patio where he met Trotsky, proffered the article he had written for Trotsky’s perusal with the aim of being alone with the revolutionary leader. He explained how for greater sureness in committing the premeditated murder he had carried in addition to the pickaxe a revolver and a dagger.

“Jacson’s” Real Evidence

In Trotsky’s study, before the crowd of court officials, police officers and press photographers, “Jacson” then pointed out where Trotsky had been sitting at his desk reading the article, and how he had stood behind his intended victim. “Jacson” then went through the motions of raising the pick-axe behind Trotsky’s back and demonstrated how he had brought the point crashing down into the gray hairs of the seated man.

This re-enactment of the assassination, the accuracy of which was corroborated by all the rest of the voluminous evidence, is not only reported in detail in the official court record; it was given sensational publicity in the press at the time. The editors of France-Dimanche, however, chose to print the latest falsification offered by the Stalinist hero “Jacson.”

Outside of the GPU and its partisans, who is interested in picturing Trotsky’s murderer in a sympathetic light? The editorial note accompanying the “testament” thus constitutes nothing less than the signature of the GPU to the forgery. All that calls for wonder in this is the audacity of the GPU in utilizing the declarations of one of its agents held in a Mexican prison. Perhaps the GPU has reason for confidence that no pressure will be brought to bear on “Jacson” to reveal his identity and his present connections with Stalin’s secret police agents in Mexico. After all, aren’t his services utilized only in Stalin’s war on Trotskyism? On that front the GPU can count on sympathetic understanding from Wall Street and its agencies as well as from those Mexican officials who find that friendliness toward Stalinism pays off.

The second item that exposes the real authorship of the forgery happens to be the central point of the “testament.” As George Breitman points out in The Militant, for these key declarations the GPU lifted certain sentences out of an article written by Trotsky in September 1939, The USSR in War, where Trotsky poses the alternative facing humanity of going forward to socialism or relapsing into barbarism. If the working class should not prove capable of leading humanity forward, then the most frightful barbarism would prove inevitable and we would have to revise our analyses of the class character of the Soviet Union, give up hope of the workers winning a socialist victory, and indeed even declare that Marxism had proved to be Utopian.

The GPU in lifting these sentences recast them so that Trotsky is presented in the “testament” as affirming what he had specifically denied. As Breitman remarks, “The real authors of this ‘testament’ must have guffawed with satisfaction as they composed this section.” Undoubtedly they considered it the strongest part – a master stroke! But all they succeeded in doing was to facilitate exposure of the fraud, for they happened to choose the very paragraphs in this article which Trotsky later selected for further comment and amplification. Thus the sentences picked out by the GPU to form the backbone of the “testament” actually serve to explode the forgery and give occasion, as we shall see, for once again underlining Trotsky’s actual views on the capacities of the working class and the revolutionary perspectives facing us.

Past Crudities

Here an instructive parallel can be drawn with previous frame-ups engineered by the GPU. Invariably the bureaucrats assigned by Stalin to the task of rigging up his frame-ups succeeded in including some glaring crudity, designed as a strong point of the falsification, which turned out to be the very opposite of what the GPU intended.

In the infamous Zinoviev-Kamenev trial of August 1938, for instance, one of the key pieces of “evidence” placed on the stage by the Stalinist prosecutor was the “confession” of one of the defendants that he had met Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov, at the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen in 1932 and that from this rendezvous he had been taken by Sedov to a secret meeting to get orders direct from Trotsky who was then lecturing in the city. The falsity of this declaration was quickly established. Although “Bristol” is a most common hotel name it turned out that the GPU had unluckily selected the name of a hotel in Copenhagen which had burned down in 1917. When Sedov was able to prove in addition that he was nowhere near Denmark at the time, the entire GPU frame-up collapsed. This “strong point” proved to be one of the weakest links of the fabrication.

Again in the trial of Piatakov, Radek and the rest in January 1937, one of the main items in the “evidence” was an airplane trip that Piatakov “confessed” to have made from Berlin to Oslo, Norway, in December 1935 to visit Trotsky for purposes of “plotting” against the Stalin regime. During the trial itself – before the defendants were led out and shot or buried alive in the prisons of the GPU – it was established from the official records of the airport that no foreign airplane whatsoever had landed there during the entire month! This fact alone knocked out the pillars of the entire GPU structure.

The GPU was no more fortunate in its selection of texts for its latest forgery. When Trotsky’s article was written in September 1939, certain members of the faction of James Burnham, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, then in process of splitting from the Socialist Workers Party and developing views in fundamental opposition to those of Trotsky, became piqued at the charge that their innovations represented a deviation from Marxism. By way of retort, some of them asserted that the theoretical possibility of a new exploiting class developed by Trotsky in these paragraphs represented just as much of a deviation from Marxism as any of their speculations.

Trotsky Answered Latest Forgery

Trotsky answered them in his article, Again and Once More Again on the Nature of the USSR, which happens to be included in the same volume, In Defense of Marxism, from which the GPU lifted the key sentences around which to construct the “testament.” Trotsky devoted a whole section of this article to the unexpected reaction of the followers of Burnham-Shachtman-Abern.

“Some comrades evidently were surprised,” he comments, “that I spoke in my article ... of the system of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ as a theoretical possibility. They discovered in this even a complete revision of Marxism. This is an apparent misunderstanding.”

Trotsky then goes on to amplify his precise meaning. He was only posing once more what “Marxists have formulated an incalculable number of times,” that is, “the alternative: either socialism or return to barbarism.” He called attention to the lesson of fascism and once more pointed to the phenomena of barbarism visible under capitalism: “chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.” What would the new theoretically possible barbarism look like? Trotsky answers:

“Fascism on one hand, degeneration of the Soviet state on the other outline the social and political forms of a neo-barbarism. An alternative of this kind – socialism or totalitarian servitude – has not only theoretical interest, but also enormous importance in agitation, because, in its light the necessity for socialist revolution appears most graphically.”

Trotsky then adds that

“If we are to speak of a revision of Marx, it is in reality the revision of those comrades who project a new type of state, ‘non-bourgeois’ and ‘non-worker.’ Because the alternative developed by me leads them to draw their own thoughts up to their logical conclusion, some of these critics, frightened by the conclusions of their own theory, accuse me ... of revising Marxism. I prefer to think that it is simply a friendly jest.”

In 1940 as a generous gesture, Trotsky preferred to consider this particular misinterpretation of his views a “friendly jest.” Today in 1948 the GPU has no “jest” in mind when it lifts Trotsky’s words out of context, fitting them into a forged document and giving them a meaning directly opposite to that which Trotsky later specifically declared was his when he wrote them.

But Trotsky did not stop here in specifying his precise meaning.

“I endeavored to demonstrate in my article The USSR in the War,” he continues, “that the perspective of a non-worker and non-bourgeois society of exploitation, or ‘bureaucratic collectivism,’ is the perspective of complete defeat and the decline of the international proletariat, the perspective of the most profound historical pessimism.”

Is there any ground for such pessimism? asks Trotsky.

He calls attention to the conversation between Hitler and the French Ambassador Coulondre on the eve of the war in which Coulendre gloomily ventured the opinion that the “real victor” in the war “will be Trotsky.”

“I know,” Hitler responded.

Trotsky’s Real Views

Trotsky concludes his amplification of the sentences that were clipped from his article eight years later by the GPU as follows:

“Both of them, Coulondre and Hitler, represent the barbarism which advances over Europe. At the same time neither of them doubts that their barbarism will be conquered by socialist revolution. Such is now the awareness of the ruling classes of all the capitalist countries of the world. Their complete demoralization is one of the most important elements in the relation of class forces. The proletariat has a young and still weak revolutionary leadership. But the leadership of the bourgeoisie rots on its feet. At the very outset of the war which they could not avert, these gentlemen are convinced in advance of the collapse of their regime. This fact alone must be for us the source of invincible revolutionary optimism!”

That was how Trotsky in October 1939, enlarged on the words later selected by the GPU as the central point for their forgery. He revealed in this final stirring paragraph his most intimate views on the grandiose perspective of success facing the world proletariat despite all the blood, filth and lies through which they might have to wade in the days ahead. Nothing occurred in subsequent months to change this fundamental view of his. It was that same invincible revolutionary optimism which brought from his lips the genuine final testament he did utter after he had been struck down and knew that he was dying: “Please say to our friends: I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International. Go forward!

Why is Stalin compelled in 1948 to once more resort to forgeries and character assassination against Trotskyism? Didn’t he achieve one of his long-sought aims in the murder of Leon Trotsky? Hasn’t his regime survived even the first great shocks of World War II? Don’t millions of workers still hold membership cards in the Stalinist parties? Isn’t the Fourth International founded by Trotsky still weak and isolated? Has not the specter of Trotskyism been laid again and again?

What the Kremlin Fears

At first sight it might appear that the fears of the totalitarian despots in the Kremlin are baseless. What do they have to fear with their steel grip over the peoples of the Soviet Union? What -hope is there of unseating the police regime that rules with whip and firing squad?

That imposing front maintained by the Kremlin, however, masks a reality of different character. None know this so well as the rulers sitting on the powder keg of unrest in the Soviet Union. The generation that defeated the armies of German imperialism is back on the home front, burning with resentment at the Stalinist bureaucracy, mulling over their experiences, beginning to push toward fuller assertion of their long-outraged rights. The Kremlin understands only too well that it would take but a spark from the proletariat outside the Soviet Union to set off the explosion that would end their hated regime. That is why eight years after Trotsky’s death they hold everything represented by his name in such mortal fear.

It is a standing political rule pinned on the wall of every Stalinist bureaucrat in the world not to be “outflanked to the left.” Maurice Thorez, one of the top Stalinist chieftains in France, explained this as late as the spring of 1947 when the auto workers went on strike in the Renault plant. The Stalinists had at first opposed this strike, but the fact that Trotskyist workers played a prominent part in its leadership forced the Stalinists to reverse their stand. As a consequence the Ramadier regime ousted the Stalinist ministers from their posts. That the Stalinists considered the threat of Trotskyism more pressing than the threats of Ramadier is an instructive indication of the political weight of Trotskyism. In the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Stalinist party where the decision was made, another CP leader, Andre Marty, pounded the table, according to the May 12, 1947, Time magazine, declaring:

“If we allow this situation to develop, we will have broken our most important tactical rule, which is never to permit our left flank to be turned.”

The Kremlin has followed this tactical rule since the time of the Left Opposition, organized by Trotsky a quarter of a century ago. Stalin’s fear of the Trotskyist program has forced him again and again to make sharp “left” turns. The perspective of rapid industrialization of the USSR and the dynamic program of state planning of the country’s industries, for instance, were first advanced by the Trotskyists and later applied – with intolerable bureaucratic distortions it is true – by the Stalinist regime to avoid being “out-flanked to the left.”

Justified Fears

The “danger from the left” has never been so great as today. The Stalinist betrayals of the revolutionary hopes of the European masses since the end of the war have engendered currents among the proletariat that are clearly moving in the direction of Trotskyism. These currents can become greatly accelerated in the period now before us, especially in Italy and France. At any cost, therefore, the Stalinists must stem this development.

Stalinism, however, cannot speak the truth. It has no weapons at its disposal in this battle but the ones it is accustomed to use: slander, vilification, lies, falsification, and murder. That is why eight years after Trotsky’s death, we once again see the Kremlin set in motion the sinister frame-up machinery of the GPU. Stalin is convinced that unless he galvanizes his repressive apparatus into motion against Trotskyism, the days of his regime are numbered.

But this very, action testifies to the utter impossibility of assassinating the program of revolutionary socialism by assassinating its leading representatives. The latest GPU “testament” is in reality a testimonial from the Kremlin to the viability of the Trotskyist movement and its growing weight in the arena of world politics. Far from succeeding in smearing Trotsky with pessimism and loss of faith in the working class, the Stalinist bureaucracy is only succeeding in disclosing its own profound pessimism and loss of faith in its future as a ruling caste. How firmly grounded Trotsky’s indomitable faith was in the world proletariat, including the workers of the Soviet Union, will become clear even for the blindest to see in the period now opening before us.


Last updated on: 22.2.2006