Max Shachtman

The Murder of Leon Trotsky

(September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 23, 16 September 1940, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrade Max Shachtman has just returned from Mexico which he visited in order to pay the respects of the Workers Party to the martyred leader of the October Revolution and the Fourth International. During his stay, he had the opportunity to study, thoroughly and on the scene, the details of the investigation now being conducted of the murder – attending, in the course of it, several of the police and juridical hearings of Frank Jackson and Sylvia Ageloff. Shachtman will, in the series of articles that we begin this week, lay bare the motives of the murder which, it has been established beyond any doubt, was the work of Stalin and his nefarious GPU.

Who murdered Leon Trotsky?

The creature who actually wielded the weapon that delivered the fatal blow is known. Jacques Mornard or Vandendreschd, alias Frank Jackson, has made no attempt whatever to conceal his own guilt. And how could he, when he was caught red-handed in the act, his expiring victim at his feet?

In spite of this, all the circumstances of the assassination give us the right to repeat the question; Who murdered Leon Trotsky?

The answer is written in the three bloody letters which inspire loathing in the heart of every decent person throughout the world: the GPU.

The answer is written in the name which has become a synonym for everything detestable and disastrous in the labor movement: Joseph Stalin, master-assassin of the Kremlin.

A Stilleto Has Replaced the Sickle

Jackson denies vehemently any connection with the GPU and insists that his decision to murder Trotsky was entirely personal – the act of a disillusioned supporter of the Fourth International. The Stalinist press anxiously echoes and re-echoes this explanation, as do all the other attorneys for International Murder, Inc. But as we shall see, Jackson was nothing but an agent of Stalin, launched and directed by him for the sole purpose of destroying Leon Trotsky physically. The Mexican newspaper was right when it printed a cartoon showing Stalin removing the old Soviet insignia of the hammer and sickle and replacing it with an insignia of the blood-dripping mattock crossed with a stilleto.

It is almost possible to exhaust the whole matter merely by asking the question: Who, up to now, has bent every effort to hound Trotsky to his death, and who stood to gain most by it?

The GPU is responsible for the death of both of Trotsky’s daughters, one in Moscow who died uncared for in a hospital and the other who was driven to suicide in Berlin several years ago. The GPU is responsible for the death of Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedoff, who died so “mysteriously” in a Paris hospital. The GPU is responsible for the disappearance – most likely, the death – of Trotsky’s other son, Sergei. The GPU is responsible for the imprisonment, exile and death of Trotsky’s first wife, Alexandra Lvovna, somewhere in the wastes of Siberia. The GPU is responsible for the death of Rudolph Klement, friend and one-time secretary of Trotsky and then secretary of the Bureau of the Fourth International. The GPU is responsible for the death of Erwin Wolf, another of the friends and secretaries of Trotsky.

Stalin and the GPU officially put a price on the head of Leon Trotsky himself in the first of the great Moscow Trials, where he was officially condemned to death by the Kremlin’s puppet court and ordered apprehended – “dead or alive” was implicit in the sentence – by any Soviet citizen.

Trotsky and other members of his household were almost murdered in the dead of night by a raiding crew of machine-gun gangsters on May 24, 1940. This crew, by his own confession, proudly reiterated only a couple of weeks ago in a letter to the Mexican press and the Chief of Police of Mexico City, was organized and led by David Alfara Siqueiros, Mexican painter and notorious Stalinist. And we shall see that Jackson was intimately connected with the Siqueiros conspiracy.

A Thorn in the Side of Stalinist Reaction

Trotsky was the most irksome thorn in the side of the Stalinist bureaucracy. He was its most effective critic. Above all, he incarnated the great Bolshevik Revolution which Stalin and Co. had traduced and betrayed. He was not only the living embodiment of everything the Kremlin gang hated, but alive, he remained a constant threat to the security of the usurpers, a potential rallying point of the revolutionary rebirth of the Soviet people, the only visible revolutionary successor to the shaky regime in power today.

Stalin, vindictive, unscrupulous, power-mad, had to get rid of his arch-enemy, and he did.

It may be asked: Is it not possible that even though the GPU wanted to murder Trotsky, an accident intervened which exculpates them from direct responsibility for the assassination, an accident in the form of a demented or disillusioned individual having nothing in common with the GPU, a murderer on his own hook?

Yes, in general it is possible. But not in this particular case. Jackson was and is an agent of the GPU! An examination of the facts impose this conclusion upon any intelligent and even moderately well-informed person.

Not a Particle of Truth in the “Explanation”

Let us consider briefly the only serious alternative conclusion, namely, that Jackson was actuated by purely personal motives. The assassin declares that Trotsky destroyed his faith, that he became disillusioned after Trotsky’s alleged proposal that he, Jackson, undertake a counter-revolutionary mission to Russia via the Far East, that Trotsky prohibited his marriage to his sweetheart because the latter was not of Trotsky’s political beliefs; and therefore he decided to kill Trotsky.

On the very face of it, this explanation is more than false, it is preposterous.

Each Claim More Preposterous Than the Last

In the first place, Jackson’s “faith” in the revolutionary movement in general and particularly in the Trotsky’s movement, was never very profound, and certainly not so profound and all-pervading that its disturbance would lead him to so violent and dreadful a reaction. At most, he was a dilletante and a novice. His “conversion” to the Trotskyist movement dates back only two years, at the earliest. What he calls his ardent adherence to the Fourth International never reached a degree of warmth sufficient to have him become a member of the organization – either in France, the United States, or Mexico. His mode and conditions of life underwent no noticeable change after his “conversion” and he never made any pretense of being any more than a friend or sympathizer of the International.

In the second place, why in the name of common sense should Trotsky select Jackson (if he can be imagined selecting anyone for such a job!) to go to the Soviet Union for “acts of sabotage” and violence? By his own admission, Jackson was known to Trotsky for a maximum of four months. He was invited to the Trotskyist household as a visitor without the recommendation of anybody, known or unknown by Trotsky. Again by his own admission, Jackson does not speak or read Russian or any other Slavic language, a circumstance which is a pretty dubious qualification for a secret agent in the Soviet Union.

In the third place, assuming that Trotsky would even have the slightest interest in whether or not Jackson was legally married to a member of another faction (and in this case, of a friendly faction, to say nothing of the fact that the woman in question was on “friendly personal terms with the Trotskys and the household”, what conceivable power could he have in “preventing” such a marriage? If Jackson’s love was so consuming that an attempt to prevent its consummation would lead him to murder, what physical or moral or spiritual force could Trotsky or anyone else exert strong enough to stop Jackson from marriage, strong enough to require Trotsky’s physical extermination before the ceremony could be performed? The tragedy alone forbids one to laugh himself hoarse from such a ludicrous story.

His Papers and the Article He Wrote

In the fourth place, Jackson’s story of his revulsion against Trotsky for the way in which the latter allegedly treated the minority faction in the American section of the International, is so thin that it gives way under the pressure of several facts. Trotsky’s “treatment” of the minority occurred before Jackson ever set eyes on his victim. The split in the American Socialist Workers Party, with the expulsion of the minority and the formation of the Workers Party, took place early in April of this year. It is precisely then that Jackson first gained entry into the household in Mexico and met Trotsky. To Trotsky and all of Trotsky’s associates who would lend an ear, Jackson repeatedly and vehemently asserted (both before April and afterward) his support of the position of Trotsky and the American parly majority. Up to the fatal day of the murder, both in the presence of Trotsky and others and in private, Jackson continually argued for the majority position with Sylvia Ageloff, who sided with the minority. He does not claim to have given, nor did he ever give, the slightest indication at any time, either privately or publicly, of any disaffection with Trotsky or the movement. On the contrary, the article he wrote to show Trotsky in his study, and which the latter was reading when Jackson struck his cowardly blow, was a sharp polemic against the minority, calculated to show that the slogan of the “Third Camp” was the same thing as the policy of Popular Frontism!

And in the fifth place, if, as he declares, his private papers would have served to confirm the story he has been telling in general, and particularly his story about the motives for the assassination, why did he burn and destroy these papers just before committing the crime? This question, skillfully put to Jackson by Trotsky’s legal representative, Albert Goldman, during one of the interrogations of the criminal, encountered the stubborn (in reality, the helpless) silence of Jackson. He would not reply; he could not. His papers, falling into the hands of the authorities, might have, and in all probability would have, given more than one clue to Jackson’s real connections, to the real authors of the crime, to the real motives behind it.

But there is one more consideration – and it is overwhelming – to show that Jackson’s crime was not the simple act of an individual, moved by personal feelings. And that is that Jackson’s whole story is a tissue of lies, rent by crude contradictions and preposterous – verificably preposterous – assertions.

Why Is Jackson Lying?

Now why would Jackson lie about himself, about his life, his work, his movements, his connections? One might reply: in order to protect himself. But obviously this will not hold in the present case. A suspect might lie and twist and turn in the hope of diverting suspicion from himself, perhaps inculpating another, and thus obtain his liberty. But this is not the case with Jackson. He does not pretend that he is innocent. He was caught, weapon in hand, in the criminal act. He has voluntarily re-enacted the crime at the

house for the benefit of the authorities. He admits the murder, and explains how he planned and executed it. He does not apologize for the crime or seek for a single minute to mitigate his responsibility. He knows, as does everyone, that come what may, whether he tells the truth or not, he will be convicted and given the twenty-thirty year-sentence required by Mexican law in such cases. He has no illusions on this score, and unless he were stark, staring mad he cannot have. And all observers, including myself, who have seen him, and the medical men who have examined him, testify that he is anything but a madman; rather, he is exceedingly shrewd, astute, intelligent, alert, self-controlled, and even quite at his ease.

Then if he is not (and he cannot possibly be) lying in order to mitigate or cover up his own guilt, he must be lying in order to cover up someone else. That “someone else”’ can be either an accomplice or a principal – his associate or his boss, or both. In this case, it means Sylvia Ageloff or the GPU.

Sylvia Ageloff Is Thoroughly Innocent

As for the possibility that it is Sylvia, that can be dismissed instantly. Nobody in Mexico who is in the remotest degree connected with the case has the opinion that she can conceivably be involved in the murder as an accomplice, or in any other capacity than that of innocent victim of Jackson’s monstrous duplicity. Trotsky’s widow, his attorney, the members of the household, all unite in expressing their conviction of her innocence; they have repeatedly and formally stated this conviction before the Mexican authorities and in the Mexican press. Those of us in this country who have known Sylvia throughout her years in the radical movement, and especially those of us who are acquainted with the more intimate details of the case, are no less firmly convinced of her complete guiltlessness.

But even if these things are not taken into consideration, an examination of the nature and trend of Jackson’s lies shows that they are not aimed at clearing Sylvia Ageloff of responsibility. He does not, of course, accuse her of any responsibility; quite the contrary. But his falsehoods and contradictions do not relate to her. They relate to his principal, to his masters, to those he served as agent, to the GPU. And cunning though he is, the very story he tells, the very lies he tells, are proof positive to any thoughtful person that the master-author of the crime is the monster who sits on the Kremlin throne, Joseph Stalin. The very lies he tells, we repeat, reveal just what he and his masters want covered up: the direct criminal responsibility of the GPU.

In the next article, we will examine Jackson’s story as he told it for the records first of the police, then of the Mexican Attorney General, and finally of the judge conducting the investigation and trial.

Part 2

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 6.10.2012