Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Background to a Crime

(January 1960)

From The Newsletter, 30 January 1960.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Since my paragraph of December 19 mentioning that August will see the 20th anniversary of the murder of Trotsky (and recalling how the Daily Worker treated the news of that murder), a friend has told me of a remarkable book recently published in America (and due to come out here soon) which has appeared very timely for this anniversary – and all the more so because the murderer is due for release from his Mexican prison about then.

The book is The Mind of an Assassin, by Isaac Don Levine, whose life of Stalin (1931) was described by Philip Grierson, in his invaluable Books on Soviet Russia, 1917–1942, as ‘the best of the early biographies, despite the hostility of the author, an able American journalist’. Levine has put together the evidence regarding the murderer’s identity and the pre-history of the crime which has been assembled since Gorkin and Salazar brought out their Murder in Mexico ten years ago.

A great deal of information about the prisoner’s personal record has been uncovered. Of considerable political interest are the details of how this man, whose real name is Ramon Mercader, was recruited to the Soviet secret service in his native Spain in 1937, by the political policemen operating there under cover of Soviet aid to the Republican side in the Civil War.

When Trotsky moved from Europe to Mexico in that same year, the Stalinist murder-squad was faced with a new problem in accomplishing its task of destroying him. The young Spaniard Mercader was assigned the responsibility of making his way into the Trotsky household and finding the opportunity to kill his host. He spent two years of methodical work on this, beginning by cultivating the friendship of an American girl supporter of Trotsky’s who was living in Paris!

Characteristically, the passport (in the name of ‘Frank Jacson’) which Mercader used during one stage of his ‘expedition’ had been taken by the Soviet political police in Spain from a Canadian volunteer killed fighting with the International Brigade.

According to the prison criminologist’s report, quoted by Levine, Mercader (who calls himself Jacques Mornard) ‘does not feel any repentance for his crime’ – for which he was secretly awarded by Stalin the order of Hero of the Soviet Union.


Inevitably, in these recent days when Aneurin Bevan’s health has been a centre of attention, people interested in the history of the movement have been looking back over his career and remembering particular moments that seem important to them. If anybody is planning to publish a selection of Bevan’s speeches and articles, I should like to offer a suggestion for it.

Between 1931 and 1934 a lively weekly called the New Clarion appeared, and became a sort of unofficial organ of the Socialist League, the ‘Victory for Socialism’ of those days. The young ex-miner MP contributed an article to the issue of February 11, 1933, which not only struck the right note at the time but has something to tell us today as well.

Bevan discussed the question why young people were so lacking in interest in the Labour movement. His answer was that its activities were focussed on Parliament, and the role of the people in relation to Parliament was merely to put a cross in the right place every four or five years, something which could not inspire the youngsters. Behind the political doldrums of the time lay ‘Mondism’, as the policy of class-collaboration in industry was then called. ‘The essence of the matter lies in the industrial movement ... A virile political party cannot be built up on the basis of a working class in full industrial retreat.’ It was not possible to preach political advance while organizing industrial retreat. ‘A revival of industrial militancy would have an electrifying effect on the political situation.’

How the revived industrial militancy which began in 1933 led by rank-and-file movements, was defeated and brought to naught is a story which also has its relevance to today’s problems. A first glance at this story forms the concluding part of the Socialist Labour League pamphlet Some Past Rank-and-File Movements which I mentioned last week.

Last updated on 15.10.2011