Max Shachtman

The Murder of Leon Trotsky

(September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 24, 23 September 1940, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This it the second and concluding article in a series of two by Max Shachtman, American editor of Leon Trotsky’s selected works, who went to Mexico on the news of Trotsky’s death as a representative of the Workers Party to pay the Party’s respects to the martyred revolutionist. While there, he interviewed Sylvia Ageloff, and was present at several of the interrogations of Frank Jackson, confessed slayer. LABOR ACTION will continue, in each of its issues, to make known the latest facts of the trial.

Did Jacques Mornard, alias Frank Jackson, murder Leon Trotsky on his own hook, as a purely personal act, as he affirms, or was he acting as an agent under instructions of the GPU, which he denies.

Last week, we showed that Jackson’s explanation of his crime as a personal act, could only be considered false and preposterous. We showed that since he was not a suspect but a self-confessed assassin, caught red-handed in the criminal act, he could not have any reason for giving the authorities a lying and contradictory account of his life, of his comings and goings, save that of covering up somebody else – either his accomplices or his masters in the crime.

This week, we shall indicate why an intelligent person, examining the singular kind of lies Jackson tells, the particular text of his falsehoods, must come to the only possible conclusion:

Because of some still undisclosed hold that it has upon him, Jackson is covering up the real author of the assassination, the Stalinist GPU.

Of a Kind With the Moscow “Confessions”

FIRST: The letter written by Jackson to be found on his person in the event that he was apprehended after the premeditated crime had been committed. Goldman, Trotsky’s attorney, is perfectly right in saying that the GPU made its greatest blunder in dictating this letter. The blunder is simply this: To read the letter, calculated to throw the reader off the tracks of the GPU, is enough to show unmistakably who are its real authors. An analysis of the letter has already been made in the columns of Labor Action. It is enough here to recall to the reader its principal characteristics.

It is written in the distinctive police-style of the “confessions” dictated to the defendants in the Moscow Trials. It harps again on the old discredited theme of Trotsky’s “plans” to send envoys to the Soviet Union for the purpose of committing acts of sabotage and assassination. It reiterates the repugnantly familiar business about the signator’s “disillusionment” with Trotsky. Put it alongside the Moscow confessions and the similarity, in some places the identity of whole passages is startling. In point of fact, of course, there is nothing startling about it. The GPU does not have many variations in the style in which it is accustomed to write.

The Belgian Consul Disputes Jackson’s Claims

SECOND: Jackson, in his relations with Sylvia and with other members of the Fourth International on both continents, and in his statements to the Mexican authorities, gave himself a very elaborate and detailed identity. If nobody took the trouble to look more closely into his story – and before the assassination there seemed to be no particular reason why anyone should do so, especially in view of the fact that he laid claim to no more responsible relationship towards the movement than that of a casual sympathizer – it sounded fairly plausible. His conduct ordinarily coincided with the life-story he gave.

But – Walther Loridan, secretary and interim charge d’affaires of the Bejgian legation in Mexico City, and his colleague, M. Vgrthaliti, sent a memorandum to the Chief of Police of Mexico City on September 3, 1940, based on an extensive interview with Jackson, in which he demonstrates that Jackson’s claims, in so far as they relate to connections with Belgium, are utterly false.

Jackson claimed to have been born in Teheran, capital of Iran (Persia), while his father was Belgian minister to that country. Loridan showed that Belgian records revealed no such person on the diplomatic or consular lists in any country whatsoever, and that Belgium’s minister to Persia from 1904 to 1908 was M. Marc t’Serstevens, replaced in 1908 by M. Havenith.

Jackson claimed that his brother was “secretary of the consulate” in Belgium’s foreign representations.

Not a Belgian, No Knowledge of Belgium

Jackson claimed to have studied in the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Brussels. Loridan, who studied in the same institution, asked Jackson to give the names of any of the professors. Jackson was unable to mention a single one!

Jackson claimed to have started and concluded the courses of the Military School in the little Flemish town of Dixmude. But there is no military school there! Furthermore, although the discipline is extremely strict in Belgian (as in all other) military schools, Jackson claims to have obtained permission to follow the courses at the University of Brussels – 150 kilometers from Dixmude.

Jackson claimed to have studied in the Brussels Jesuit college of “St. Ignatius Loyola.” But there is no such college in Belgium, and his indication of its alleged address was denied by Loridan.

Jackson claimed that his mother lived for some time at No. 1 of the “Chaussée de Havre” (there is no such place in Brussels, although there is a “Chaussée de Wavre”); at that number on the Chaussée de Wavre there is a big department store known to all the inhabitants of Brussels!

Loridan pointed out, finally, that Jackson did not know a single word of Flemish, although he claims to have studied in the Flemish town of Dixmude, where, apt linguist that he is, he could not help picking up a bit, at least, of the Flemish language.

“There is enough,” concludes Loridan about his interview, “to demonstrate that he is not a Belgian and that he has no knowledge whatever of Belgium.”

What possible purpose could Jackson have had, then, in creating such a completely false identity for himself? And to do it from the very beginnings of his connections with the Trotskyist movement? Can there be any reasonable answer save the one that he was covering up his real identity as an agent of the GPU?

His Passport Cut Out of GPU Cloth

THIRD: Jackson claims that he obtained his passport and the money for his trip to Mexico from a member of the Bureau of the Fourth International. He does not know his name or pseudonym; he does not even know his nationality. In the first place, the Fourth International is notoriously poor, as Jackson himself acknowledges in the letter which the police found on his person. In the second place, he, who claims to have been passionately devoted to the cause of the Fourth International, never thought of returning the sum of money he got from the Bureau member when he finally succeeded in getting several thousand dollars for the same trip – from Europe to America – from his “mother.” In the third place, the passport was Canadian, made out in the name of Frank Jackson.

Whoever is even slightly acquainted with the meager financial and technical resources of the Fourth International understands how impossible it would be for it to provide anyone with a false passport. But, apart from private and lucrative forged-passport rings, there is one which is notoriously active in this field, namely, the GPU! It is no secret that the GPU has at its disposal any number of passports from any number of countries, and that it has the technical equipment to “fix them up” for purposes such as Jackson’s or ones similar to it.

And finally, there is reason to believe that the Canadian “original” of Frank Jackson was not a stranger either to the Stalinist movement itself or to Stalinist enterprises. It would not be surprising to learn, for example, that the aforementioned “original” is no longer living and that he turned over his genuine passport (later adapted to Jackson’s use) to the Stalinist commissars in charge of his activities in the country where he died, not so long ago. Even more than the letter found on his person, Jackson’s passport – we freely predict – will prove clearly his connections with the GPU.

Why Did He Burn His Papers?

FOURTH: Jackson claims to have been engaged in a job which – from the standpoint of his crime – was more or less innocent. That is, as employee or assistant of a secret purchasing agent for the Allied governments in the United States and Mexico, he was working at a job which, under the given conditions, could scarcely be thought of as being related to an attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky.

But – he does not have a single document to prove that he was engaged in this work. He does not mention the name of his alleged employer or his whereabouts, although as a “revolutionist” he could hardly have any special interest in covering him up. The place which he gave originally as his business address in Mexico City has been proved to be fraudulent. And most decisive of all, Jackson took special care to burn every one of his papers just before he went out to Coyoacan to murder Trotsky, that is, all the papers that might have proved his point if he really had been working for an Allied purchasing agent and not as agent of the GPU. Why did he burn his papers? To protect a patriotic Allied business man, or the GPU? It is not hard to choose the true answer.

His Address – The Address of the Siqueiros Conspiracy

FIFTH and most significant: On the evening of August 30, in the hospital room of Sylvia Ageloff, there occurred the second, and this time a most dramatic and sensational, confrontation with Jackson, in the presence of Judge Carranca Trujillo and other Mexican authorities. The judge first verified the fact, stated by Sylvia and admitted by Jackson, that in New York he had given her his Mexican business address as the Ermita Building in the Tacubaya section of Mexico City. Suddenly the judge turned to Jackson and asked: “Did you. know that this was the address of the Siqueiros conspiracy?”

David Alfaro Siqueiros, prominent Mexican Stalinist, is the main and self-acknowledged leader of the machine-gun assault, upon Trotsky’s house on last May 24, which ended with the tragic kidnapping and murder of one of Trotsky’s guards, Sheldon Harte. From his hiding place somewhere in Mexico, he, or someone else in his name, sent a communication to the Chief of Police find to the Mexican press after Trotsky was assassinated, in which he again boasted of the fact that he had led the May 24 attack. The Ermita Building was the organizing center of the Siqueiros raid!

To the judge’s question, Jackson made only a stupid, or rather a mocking reply. He did not know Siqueiros; had no connection with the May 24 affair, and the fact that he had given Sylvia the address of the Ermita Building – of all the buildings in Mexico City, a city he was visiting for the first time in his life – was “pure chance”! “I gave her the first address that came to my mind,” said Jackson coolly. And that address, the “first to come to my mind” and given by “pure chance”, just “happened” to he the same as that used by the GPU in organizing the first attempt on Trotsky’s life!

His Reason for Covering Up the GPU

Did Jackson expect his fantastic reply to be taken seriously? Of course not! Nobody did – least of all the judge – nor did or could he imagine that anybody would. Then why this impudent and transparent falsehood? The answer is simple: Jackson does not care whether his story is believed or not. He knows perfectly well, as we pointed out last week, that regardless of what kind of story he tells, whether obviously false or even if completely true, his personal fate is sealed. Regardless of what kind of story he tells, the judicial verdict will hardly change by a hair’s breadth. All he does care about is not to make any statement or admission which would directly implicate his real masters, the GPU.

And why does he so unwaveringly cover up the GPU? In the first place, so far as he himself is concerned, he has little to gain by inculpating the Stalinist murder syndicate. In the second place, it is pretty clear that the GPU has some formidable hold upon him, at least as strong as its hold on the pathetically wretched defendants in the Moscow Trials, at least strong enough to impose silence upon him.

What is this power that the Moscow assassins have over him? One can only conjecture, for the present. Is it simply that he is a poisoned fanatic? Or do they hold in their hands some dire menace to someone he really loves, someone, say, like his mother for whom he has expressed to his intimates, in the past year or more, a positively impassioned affection, an attachment very much like a fixation? We repeal, one can only conjecture.

Stalin Must Be Brought to Account

However that may be, the real murderers cannot be concealed, no matter how stolid and nimble Jackson may continue to be. The GPU murdered Leon Trotsky as surely as if its hands and not Jackson’s wielded the brutal mattock. That is to say, Stalin murdered Leon Trotsky as surely as if his hand had struck the blow.

Stalin – that means steel, that means today the poison-tipped steel of the brute-killer.

Joseph Stalin, skulking, perfidious, cowardly assassin, striking down an adversary who was his opposite in every respect – in honor, in nobility, in integrity, in culture, in selfless devotion to the cause – and striking him down characteristically from behind, it is from this hideous and most sinister of all figures that the working class will yet demand an accounting when it brings him to his last judgment.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 6.10.2012