Alfred Rosmer 1948

A Fictionized Version Of Trotsky’s Murder

Source: Fourth International, Vol.10 No.3, March 1949, pp.91-94.
First published: in Quatrième Internationale
Translated: by RDV.
Transcribed & marked up: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is already plain that the assassination of Trotsky cannot avoid becoming a cause celebré. Too many journalists in search of sensational articles will find copy for new revelations in the circumstances and character of the crime. They will forge testaments, describe the “fortress,” distort the accurate data they obtain – often with the help of the Russian propaganda machine which is so interested in covering up the tracks and so partial to everything which helps camouflage the Stalinist crime. We have already seen some of these forgeries; we shall see many others.

The most recent of these sensational revelations is of a different order. It is the outcome of an unexpected collaboration between General Sanchez Salazar, head of the Secret Service of the Mexican police at the time of the assassination, and one of the leaders of a Spanish socialist party (the POUM), Julian Gorkin. The book [1] is presented as “a work which throws new light on this event.” Gorkin himself writes: “I have tried to unearth the truth ... I have assembled the most complete documentation ... The principal items are in my possession.” And he adds: “Obtaining and protecting this material almost cost me my life.”

Now a careful reading of the book shows that for the most part it consists of the account of the police officer who conducted the investigation and of important documents which are, however, all known, having been published years ago in the Mexican and American press, in Trotskyist publications and in various works of American writers. If Gorkin really believes that he was risking his life by collecting and publishing these documents at this date, then he is the victim of a self-made and illusory danger. If there was anyone who exposed himself not once but many times to attacks and GPU intrigue in Mexico, it was Victor Serge who, through his correspondence with the New York New Leader, for which he received no personal gain, unmasked their maneuvers and thereby succeeded in thwarting them.

Gorkin limits himself to an examination of the files of the police inquiry and investigation. A socialist militant like he should know what this kind of information is worth. It can be utilized to find important leads, but proper use of such material can only be made, assuming one is interested in the truth, provided the facts are verified and checked wherever possible. However, Gorkin is content in his review to summarize the information and the interpretations of his police officer – who, as we shall see, was not at all disinterested in the affair – while he neglects all verification even where it is essential to discovering the truth.

After the first attempt on Trotsky’s life, he does not visit Trotsky – a strange admission from one who professes so much concern with the matter. The reasons he gives for absenting himself are hardly valid; they suggest other motives. There were numerous Spanish refugees who visited Trotsky, among them members of the POUM (Gorkin’s party) and socialists of various tendencies. Their visits were sometimes the occasion for heated but always cordial discussion from which everyone profited.

Better yet, while residing only a few hundred yards from Trotsky’s house, he does not take the trouble to even examine the house whose precise description is not unimportant. Was this because he was thinking of sketching a scene in the approved style of the cheap novel, e.g., “high and forbidding walls,” “machine-gun turrets,” “impregnable fortress,” etc. This “fortress” – which is erected in the beginning of the narrative in order to create the atmosphere of the detective story – was separated from the adjoining property by an ordinary wall, and over the whole length of another one of its sides there is a high bank which slopes into the garden and the buildings.

The allegation that I [Rosmer] “personally took responsibility” for Jacson is not more truthful. I did not know him. I had never seen him during his long residence in Paris. I met him for the first time in Mexico. I am not in the habit of getting involved lightly and, if by chance I was tempted to take responsibility for him, the impression he made upon me would have quickly caused me to change my mind.

What is most important in the narrative of the police officer is what we learn about him and the methods he employed in undertaking and carrying on his investigation.

Planet Without a Visa

Let us recall the conditions under which Trotsky was to take up residence in Mexico. After having exiled him, Stalin hounded Trotsky from country to country and found accomplices for this task in the democratic governments of Europe. The German Social Democrats and the British Labourites, incapable of rising above considerations of petty revenge, refused the visa which would have made it possible for Trotsky to live in a country where he could carry on his work and where his friends could look after his safety. Roosevelt imitated them, even in the period when the Stalin-Hitler pact provoked almost universal disgust. The Norwegians, who were a happy exception, hastened to deport the undesirable exile as soon as Stalin made his wishes known. This was in the period of the “Moscow Trials.” And as if to make everyone forget, about the socialism they were so prone to espouse, they exaggerated their servility by surrounding the deportation with hateful police measures.

Removed from the cesspools of European politics, one man showed nobility of character and generosity: Lazaro Cardenas, president of the Republic of Mexico. Not only did he welcome Trotsky but he was always scornful and distrustful of the inventions of GPU agents. He never for a single day wavered in his public sympathy for the exile. Unfortunately he could not count on the loyalty of his collaborators, especially those in high places. With a few exceptions, they all betrayed him. That was the period of the Popular Front.

The Stalinists were infiltrating everywhere. Lombardo Toledano, as the leader of the trade union federation, abused the patronage bestowed on him by Cardenas by placing the trade union movement at the disposal of Stalinist policy. Toladano was successively for the “war against fascism,” then against the war when Molotov was toasting Hitler’s victories, and once again in favor of the war when Hitler turned against his partner – the perfect lackey.

The GPU also had at its disposal the daily paper of the CGT (Mexican trade union federation), the press of the Communist Party; even the daily paper of the party in power, Cardenas’ party, lent itself to the spreading of lies and slander. In accordance with the zigzags of Stalinist policy, Trotsky was described as the agent of Wall Street or of Hitler or of the Mikado. The supreme infamy – and the most sinister – was the allegation that Trotsky was plotting with the Sinarquistas (Mexican fascists) against Cardenas.

What could Trotsky do to protect himself against this unceasing avalanche of monstrous accusations? The Stalinists pretended to have evidence. Let them produce it! In his letters which non-Stalinist publications once in a while consented to publish, Trotsky demanded the formation of a commission to which he, the Stalinists and the government would send representatives for a public hearing. Naturally the liars, driven into a corner, beat a quick retreat and for a time were reduced to silence. But then they started up again.

The International Commission, presided over by John Dewey, came to Mexico for the purpose of an exhaustive investigation. It held public sessions and came to the conclusion that the accusations against Trotsky were baseless. This made no difference to the GPU agents who persisted in their diabolical cabal.

Not a solitary meeting organized by the Communist Party or one of its front organizations took place without one of them shouting as soon as the opportunity arose: “Death to Trotsky!” Sincere types of Mexican workers, poisoned by this propaganda, echoed the Stalinists. To indicate how far this incitement had gone, it is enough to refer to the convention of the teachers union, held in early 1940 which concluded by “repeated shouts of ‘Death to Trotsky!’” This had become the required slogan to be used everywhere.

“A Put-Up Job”

Thus the operatives of the GPU, who wero known to be numerous, moved about at will without ever being molested by General Salazar – who as Chief of the Secret Police was especially designated by Cardenas to supervise Trotsky’s safety – from 1936 [2] to May 1940, the date of the first attempted assassination. If ever a crime was labeled, it was this one. But not for General Salazar. No sooner arrived at the “fortress,” his mind was made up: it was a sham attack, a put-up job. The walls are riddled with bullets: put-up job. Trotsky and Natalia are calm: put-up job. The secretaries are calm: put-up job. Finally after questioning the two cooks there is no room for doubt. Here we must quote a brief passage to demonstrate the grotesque tone of this account. Salazar questions Trotsky:

“Do you suspect anyone or any group of being the instigator of this attack?” I asked.

“Certainly!” he answered in a tone indicating the deepest conviction. “Come ...”

Then he put his right hand on my shoulder and led me slowly towards the rabbit hutches. One of his favorite hobbies was feeding the rabbits himself. He stopped, looked around to make sure that we were alone and, then placing his right hand near his mouth as though he wanted to convey the utmost secrecy, he said in a low voice with deep conviction:

“... The instigator of the attack is Joseph Stalin, acting through the intermediary of his GPU.”

I must say that I was completely thrown off by this answer ... My first suspicion was confirmed. Again I said to myself: “This is a put-up job. There is not the slightest doubt of it.”

And since there no longer is any doubt, Salazar begins by arresting two of the secretaries. This is no innocent mistake as the stupidity of the narrative might suggest. It is very serious. The version of a staged attack is precisely the one immediately publicized by Popular, Lombardo Toledano’s daily paper, the same version which the GPU agents, anxious to cover up their crime and their failure, were eager to circulate. Trotsky has definitely overstepped his bounds, they insist. Two of his secretaries have been arrested, but they are only accomplices. The principal instigator must be brought to book, indict him for plotting against the Mexican government for the benefit of Yankee trusts. In any case he must be deported.

Salazar’s attitude is also shared by his aides, the underlings who continued the investigation. One of them asks: “Do you suspect anyone?” and then betrays the greatest surprise on receiving the answer: “Certainly, the GPU.” “Then you really believe it,” he then remarks in a tone of utter naiveté.

The danger was grave; only an audacious move could ward it off. Trotsky then decided to draft a lengthy declaration exposing the functioning of the GPU throughout the world, demonstrating with poignant examples – the assassination of two of his secretaries, of Ignaz Reiss [3] – how murder is the logical outcome of its activities. A copy of the letter, addressed to the police and the judiciary, is also forwarded to President Cardenas. Immediately everything changes. Ranking officials in the judiciary and police departments or in the embassy may deceive and betray Cardenas, and they do so often, but not in so important a mstter. They cannot forget that Trotsky is on the alert.

Our policeman now manages without delay to get onto the right track which he says was “revealed” to him by chance. Trotsky will not permit him to slip away. By repeated interventions, Trotsky will help him stay on the right road. He had already designated by name the principal instigator of the attack.

We have much better evidence of the attack, its preparation and its organization than the revelations of a cop. We have the confession of the culprit himself – the painter, David Alfaro Siquieros. Not the kind of confession concocted by Vyshinsky and the Moscow Trials but a written, freely-given confession. Siquieros went so far as to even boast of having organized and led the attack.

The Calumny Against Harte

There is an important but not decisive point which has not been cleared up and probably never will be. Why did Robert Sheldon Harte, one of Trotsky’s secretaries, who was on guard duty the night of the attack, open the gate and let the Siquieros gang enter the house?

The authors have not the slightest doubt on this score: he was a GPU agent. But their arguments are not at all convincing. They consist of impressions of policemen stationed at the house on guard duty who permitted theselves to be disarmed so easily; statements allegedly made by the secretary’s father to which he immediately gave the lie; finally the report of a person who allegedly saw Sheldon Harte in a strange house where he was supposed to have spent several days after the attack before being murdered.

“An innocent Sheldon is a necessity for Trotskyism,” so reads the heading of the thirteenth chapter of the book. What utter nonsense! Revolutionary movements of all times and all countries have never been able to prevent stoolpigeons from infiltrating into the ranks and even. into the leadership. The question involved here is one of fact. Everyone who knew Sheldon is unanimous in rejecting the idea that he was associated with the GPU while in New York or that he was bought off during his stay in Coyoacan. They are convinced that he was duped by some trick which caused his dereliction. He was new to Coyoacan. He was very young, in age, in personality, in political experience; he had lived the easy life of a young bourgeois. Certainly it was no accident that the scoundrels of the Siquieros gang chose him as an unwitting accomplice in the perpetration of their attack.

Perhaps it was a mistake to have believed him capable of fulfilling the arduous duties required of the secretaries. But then it is only too easy to criticize the American Trotskyists on whose shoulders alone rested the onerous task of recruiting secretaries, of supervising them and assuring their maintenance. There were not a few non-Stalinist revolutionists in Mexico. They knew to what lengths the GPU, would go, since many of them had been victimized by it in Spain. They did little to counteract the unrelenting offensive, the permanent incitement to murder directed against Trotsky. Undoubtedly they felt they had enough to do to protect themselves or they thought that Trotsky’s predicament did not concern them. I neither pass judgment nor take issue. I simply state that in view of these facts it would be more appropriate to be more modest in passing judgment.

* * *

As for the second attack, the one perpetrated by the murderer Jacson three months later, Gorkin has borrowed his material for the most part from Albert Goldman’s pamphlet The Assassination of Trotsky. A good source. Goldman was both a Trotskyist and a lawyer. He knew the people involved. He had followed the case from beginning to end. This pamphlet was published in New York in 1940 and is available to the public at 15 cents a copy. Whatever is essential in Gorkin’s new rehash can be found in the pamphlet but without Gorkin’s distortions and inaccuracies, especially in connection with the way Jacson gained access to the house. Without giving them due weight, he also utilizes the revelations – real, this time – made by a leader of the American Communist Party who from the beginning was the tool of the GPU agents dispatched to New York to prepare the assassination.

Budenz’ Testimony

Abandoning Catholicism for the labor movement, then for communism, Louis F. Budenz was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1939 to 1945 and then from 1935 to October 1945 he was editor and editor-in-chief of its newspaper, the Daily Worker. The tasks with which he was entrusted showed that he enjoyed the full confidence of the party leaders. After ten years of Stalinist activity, Budenz arrived at the conclusion that Stalinism was decidedly not in keeping with the faith of his youth and he decided to return to the bosom of the Catholic Church. He then wrote a book to relate his experiences which was published in New York in early 1947 entitled This Is My Story.

* * *

Beginning with December 1936, Budenz was assigned as liaison with GPU personnel and there is in his book a precise and detailed report of the behavior of these agents, the kind of information they wanted in preparing their moves and particularly anything that would be useful in the assassination of Trotsky four years later.

The unfortunate dupe chosen to facilitate Jacson’s establishment in Mexico was a young Trotskyist whose sister was at one time Trotsky’s secretary. [4] She was traveling to Europe. They arranged to have a traveling companion go along with her and to introduce her to Jacson in Paris. A friendship began which took an entire year to mature in Paris. Then they left for America.

The diabolical ruse of Stalin was not being hurried; it took its time.

Budenz, better informed than anyone on all this although he claims now to have been unaware of the operation he was connected with until after the blow was struck, is today a professor of political economy at Fordham University. Early last September he testified under oath in court to everything he had written in his book.

* * *

It may be said that all the information contained in Gorkin’s book was known for many years, and in superior form. But in France, where it is almost unknown, such information is better than none at all even if it appears in the unsavory form of a detective story. That is not my opinion. The police official could have told his story. Its real worth would have been obvious immediately. But it is intolerable for a militant socialist – and whatever he now says he was once a Trotskyist – to present such a book as the fruit of long research, worse yet to claim that in so doing he is serving the truth. For, while the story is basically true it is presented in distorted form and immersed in a malodorous sauce. Melodrama is substituted for tragedy, thereby giving the Stalinist fellow travelers reason to exclaim: “very interesting, captivating but not convincing.” And the miserable barkers of Action [a Stalinist sheet] would have been all the more embarrassed in peddling their lies if the confessions of their comrade Siquieros had simply been shaken under their noses.


1. Published first in serial form in the Mexican periodical Revista de America with the title Asi Mataron a Trotsky (How They Murdered Trotsky), by General Leandro A. Sanchez Salazar and Julian Gorkin, in the summer of 1948.

2. The date here should be 1937, since Trotsky arrived in Mexico in January 1937. – Ed.

3. A GPU agent who broke with Stalinism and joined the Fourth International.

4. Rosmer is in error here. The person referred to above was never a secretary although, like many others, she performed a few chores around the house during her visit to Mexico. – Ed.


Last updatd on: 4 March 2009