L. Trotsky

A Case for a Labor Jury

Against All Types of Gangsterism in the Working Class Movement;
On the Murder of the Italian Stalinist Montanari

(29 August 1933)

Written: August 29, 1935.
First Published: New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 41, 5 October 1935, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2018. Creative Commons (Share & Attribute).

On August 9, according to a news item in l’Humanité, the Italian communist Montanari was murdered in the Metro Belleville. On August 12, l’Humanité printed an altogether monstrous, but, of course, in no way unusual explanation for the murder. The anonymous article appeared under the title, Laval and the Fascists Swell the Provocations. This headline which is part of the official campaign against the Laval ministry and the Fascists was accompanied by a sub-head, Montanari Murdered by a Trotskyist Provocateur. Fundamentally, the juxtaposition of these two headlines is quite characteristic of the article, the author, and the newspaper itself. But the text contains not only vile but innumerable assertions which are downright contradictory. “The murderer is Guido Beiso, the well-known Italian Trotskyist who has been carrying on provocateur activities for a long time among the Italian émigrés.” What is implied by “provocateur activities” in this connection? Has he been making speeches against social-patriotism or is he in the employ of Mussolini? We arh kept uninformed on this score. Further on we are told that Montanari “had become the target for the hatred of the Trotskyist elements who had been expelled from the party, and who subsequently (that is, after their expulsion – L.T.) resorted to open and criminal provocateur activities.”

Jig-Sawing the Facts

The case becomes more and more involved. It seems that not only Guido Beiso, but an entire group of expelled Italian “Trotskyists” was engaged in “open (!) provocation.” In the service of the Fascist police? Again no direct statement. But in order not to leave the reader in doubt as to the meaning of the word “provocation,” the article adds that Beiso has been living “like a lord.” Finally we discover that in Nice Beiso had been “exposed as a provocateur (by whom?) who was bound up (??) with the entire Fascist work of penetrating the anti-Fascist masses.” This confused statement contains already a direct charge of a connection with the Fascists. Let us bear this in mind. From Nice, Beiso arrived in Paris and murdered Montanari. It is well known that the Fascists murder communists and particularly revolutionists. It is quite in the nature of things for a Fascist provocateur to pose as a “socialist” or a “communist” or a “Trotskyist.” But we have been told beforehand that the murderer was a “well known Italian Trotskyist.” Does this mean to say that he turned from a Trotskyist to a Fascist, i.e. changed his revolutionary position? Such cases are not unknown. But l’Humanité does not raise this question. In harmony with the two headlines, it proceeds to develop the dual version: simultaneously both a “Trotskyist” and a Fascist. This amalgam is the pivot point for the entire indictment.

Further down we read not without surprise, “His explanation that he wanted to avenge himself for unjust charges is only a screen intended to hide the truth.” We are not clearly and expressly informed as to what this “truth” is. Instead we shortly and incidentally discover that the murderer felt himself to be maliciously slandered, had protested, and in revenge used the revolver. At any rate that is the murderer’s own version. Let us keep this in mind as well.

The anonymous article proceeds to state further that the Italian C.P. had long since issued a warning to be on guard against the “dubious actions of this individual.” Why dubious? Only dubious? Hadn’t we been just told that Beiso was “exposed” as a Fascist provocateur in Nice? Exposed! The work of a provocateur has never yet been assumed to be dubious. A provocateur is a mercenary scoundrel, nothing more. If one maintains that another’s activities are dubious, then it means that one has only suspicions but no proof. In such cases, genuine revolutionary organizations gather the necessary evidence before proceeding with open indictments. That has been the revolutionary tradition from time immemorial. And yet from the words of l’Humanité itself we have to draw the conclusion that Beiso was not exposed as a provocateur, but only suspected of being one (by whom? for what? when?), and that besides he himself angrily objected to these charges. And on top of this we are also told that “Beiso decided to come to Paris where he did not conceal his murderous intentions.” At this point we become entirely perplexed. Had Beiso really been in the employ of the Fascists, had he “lived like a lord,” had he really been exposed as a provocateur and arrived in Paris in order to perpetrate a Fascist murder how could he have failed to hide his murderous intentions? Here the version provided by l’Humanité contains a fresh and a patent absurdity. The author is unable to present his own version consistently.

As Clear as the Kirov Case

As the anonymous article proceeds it becomes more and more entangled. We read that the “provocateur was never a member of the C.P. (yet we had just been told that he belonged to a group of expelled “Trotskyists” – L.T.), this agent of Fascism among the Italian émigrés naturally found sympathy and shelter among the Trotskyist groups.” ... And in this manner we get a new version: he was not a “well known Italian Trotskyist,” as was originally stated, who became a Fascist provocateur after his expulsion from the party; so! he was a Fascist provocateur, never a member of the party, who “naturally” (of course! of course!) found sympathy among the Trotskyists. And to leave no further doubt as to the source of the information nor as to its purpose the anonymous author appends to this the following “it was almost (!) in the same way that our comrade Kirov was murdered.” Almost! But Kirov was indeed murdered by a party member as was established by the official documents, no one had placed the blame on Fascist provocation.

After several more new zigzags, the article concludes with an utterly amazing political moral: “The French workers made more cautious and wiser by the lessons of Austria and Spain, will not be led into this criminal trap.” A remarkable revelation! The defensive uprising of Austria and Spain which even the social-patriotic and pro-coalition Congress of the Communist International was compelled to recognize as heroic actions on the part of the proletariat – these in the judgment of l’Humanité were in reality the product of the activities of Fascist provocateurs, the very same ones who had killed Kirov in Leningrad and Montanari in Paris. This abysmally profound moral of the Marxists from l’Humanité is obviously especially intended for the workers of Toulon and Brest.

The Diary of a Lunatic

The reader will agree with us if we say that this article resembles a page from the diary of a lunatic. Only, there is method in this madness, and it has not yet said its last word, go let us pursue the further developments of this case. The Italian Bolshevik-Leninists against whom the anonymous author had levelled his anonymous charges, declared on August 14, through comrade Jean Rous, a leading member of the French Socialist party, that “Beiso was never a member of our organization, nor did we have any sort of relations with him, and we never even heard his name before.” Isn’t that clear enough? On August 15, l’Humanité which had flung a political denunciation full of lies, finds itself compelled to state that “We are taking under consideration the declaration of the Italian Trotskyist group.” But l’Humanité would have remained true neither to itself nor to its lord and master had it simply bit its tongue and kept quiet. No. This rag immediately adds that it has in its possession certain letters of the murderer which clearly indicate that Beiso “was imbued with the counter-revolutionary Trotskyist ideology.” On the heels of all they had said previously, this rings a trifle over-strained. “Ideology”! We are well aware what can be done with this subtle substance in the chemical laboratory of Messers Duclos and Co.

After several new and this time entirely amorphous and elusive insinuations, in which impotence is mixed with malice, l’Humanité concludes, “Naturally, the tie up between the murderer and the Trotskyists (who have just categorically denied it – L.T.) does not exclude an understanding between Beiso and the Fascist provocation. It all ties together.” “Naturally”! But why do these bold cowards now say that “it does not exclude”? Is it only a question of something not being excluded? On August 12 they did indeed proclaim that Beiso, this “well known Trotskyist,” had been exposed as a Fascist provocateur, who “lived like a lord,” obviously on Mussolini’s gold. Now it appears only that Ihe large and nice ears of l’Humanité are able to distinguish notes of a Trotskyist ideology (ideology!) in the letters of the murderer, which circumstance “does not exclude” (that is all: does not exclude) the tie up between Beiso and the Fascists. “It all ties together” ... with stitches of white thread.

New Criminals Found

Finally, on August 18, l’Humanité published a proclamation of the Central Committee of the Italian C.P.: Montanari was the victim of a “murder which the agents of the Fascist reaction had prepared for their counter-revolutionary mission in the circles of the Trotskyist and Bordiguist émigré groups.” No more, no less! This information is all the more interesting because in it the Bordiguists appear on the scene for the first time, a group which is neither ideologically nor organizationally connected with the so-called “Trotskyists,” but who – and we have not the slightest doubt about it, – had as little to do with the murder as the Bolshevik-Leninists. The Bordiguists are dragged in so as only to widen the radius of the calumny: the Italian Stalinists have to reap a little additional profit on their own account. But what is most remarkable about the communication of the Italian C.P. is that it does not at all mention in any way Beiso’s connection with the Fascists. No, the matter is much more involved, or, if you will, much simpler: the Trotskyists and the Bordighists are “in general” the agents of Fascist reaction and Beiso prepared himself for his mission in these “circles,” i.e. within both these circles which are fighting one another. Now, at last, we can grasp the meaning of the words, “It was almost in the same way that our comrade Kirov was murdered.” That is to say: it was almost in the same way that scores of people were indicted in the Kirov assassination who were in no way implicated in the murder.

Out of this entire snarl of interlinking calumnies and insinuations that crumble into dust, one thing stands out each time, namely that Guido Beiso came into some sort of a sharp conflict with the organization of the Italian C.P., or some of its members. If one were to leave aside the all-embracing and therefore in no way illuminating “ideology,” then any normal thinking individual would ask the question: What was it that really drove Beiso to commit murder? If we do not proceed from the assumption that he was mentally unbalanced (there is no evidence for this as yet), we can only arrive at the conclusion that he must have been subjected to an extraordinary painful personal experience which he found insufferable, which finally threw him off balance and drove him to a senseless and criminal act. But who drove him through this insufferable experience? Was it the “Trotskyist” organization with whom Beiso had had no relation whatsoever, or the organization in whose name l’Humanité speaks? Thus, and only thus does the question stand. Doesn’t there follow from this the supposition that the Italian Stalinists accuse Beiso whom they despise, of provocation without any real evidence, perhaps without any evidence at all, i.e. utilize those poisonous weapons which serve these people as political arguments for the most part? As is evident from l’Humanité itself, Beiso had himself protested most violently against the accusations, and threatened the authors with death. No provocateur who had undertaken the murder of a revolutionist would act that way; but an unknown and a hotheaded émigré could act in this manner, finding no other means of defense against the slander campaign. By these hypothetical considerations (and it is only a question of hypothesis) we do not mean to cast the slightest shadow on the murdered Montanari. It is entirely possible that he fell an accidental victim, or – if he did participate in hounding the alleged “provocateur” – he did so in good faith because he trusted his party and its thoroughly demoralized leadership. But Montanari’s personality does not solve the question of Beiso’s motives.

Let the Workers Judge!

Scoundrels will say that we advocate or justify murder as a method for solving conflicts within revolutionary circles. But we are not writing for scoundrels. The Montanari-Beiso case is important precisely because a conflict on the political plane has led to a supremely senseless act of murder of one émigré by another. In this there lies an ominously serious warning, and it is necessary to grasp its significance in time!

The matter is now in the hands of the bourgeois law courts. The official investigation is obviously not intended to cast light on the bloody tragedy from the standpoint of revolutionary morals of the proletariat. The prosecution will probably try only to compromise the proletarian émigrés and the revolutionary organizations in particular. But the agents of the Comintern will also try to exploit the trial for every vile purpose, as they are obliged to do. The duty of workers’ organizations, without any regard for political banners lies in one thing: in shedding the greatest light possible on this case, and thereby, insofar as it is possible, to prevent the repetition of gunplay in revolutionary circles.

In our opinion the labor organizations must establish, without any further delay, an authoritative and non-partisan Committee which would go over the entire material, including Beiso’s letters mentioned in l’Humanité, to examine all the witnesses and representatives of the parties and groups who are concerned or interested in the case, so that the political, moral and personal circumstances in the case be clearly established. This is necessary not only in memory of Montanari, not only to reveal Beiso’s real motives but also to purge the atmosphere of all working class organizations of treachery, calumny, hounding and gun play. Naturally the interests of the case would be best served if the representatives of l’Humanité and of the Central Committee of the Italian C.P. were to take part in this Committee. But we may safely predict that they will most certainly refuse: these politicians stand only to lose from an impartial investigation, and much more than would appear on the surface. But the investigation ought not to be wrecked by their refusal to participate. Every honest participant in the labor movement is deeply interested in seeing to it that this abscess is opened which can otherwise develop into gangrene. The tragic case of Montanari-Beiso must be brought before a labor jury.

August 29, 1935

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Last updated on: 6 February 2018