Leon Trotsky

Report to the Commission of Inquiry
into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky
in the Moscow Trials

Your sub-commission, which was empowered to go to Mexico and take Leon Trotsky’s testimony on the charges made against him in the Moscow trials, has completed its task and now submits its report.

1. Function – Your sub-commission was in Mexico neither as prosecutor nor as judge. We did not regard Mr. Trotsky as defendant or accused. Nor did he so regard himself. Indeed, so to regard him was impossible, since in the Moscow trials he was never indicted – only convicted. Therefore we were in Mexico solely as an investigating body, to take Mr. Trotsky’s testimony on the accusations made against him in the confessions of the Moscow defendants; to accept such documents as he had to submit in his own defense; and to report to the full Commission on the basis of this evidence our decision whether or not Mr. Trotsky has a case warranting further investigation.

2. Scope – The scope and content of our inquiry was necessarily determined by the proceedings in the Moscow trials. According to the prosecutor, Mr. Vyshinsky, the testimony was of two kinds:

“First there is the historical connection which confirms the theses of the indictment on the basis of the Trotskyites’ past activity. We have also in mind the testimony of the accused which in itself represents enormous importance as proof.” Equally important with the testimony of the defendants are Mr. Vyshinsky’s final pleas, in which he went beyond the accusations to rewrite the history of the Russian Revolution and Mr. Trotsky’s part in it. He also edited to suit his purposes Mr. Trotsky’s writings both before and since the Revolution. Impartiality in this case does not of course require the abandonment by the Commission of its knowledge of the simple facts of history.

Accordingly, our inquiry fell into three categories:

  1. The biography of Mr. Trotsky, with special reference to his relations with the defendants in the Moscow trials;
  2. Factual material relating to the decisive accusations against him;
  3. His theoretical and historical writings as they bear upon the credibility of the accusations, the testimony, the confessions, and the summations in the two Moscow trials.

3. The Hearings – Your sub-commission held thirteen hearings, from April 10 to April 17, 1937 – twelve of three hours each and a final one of five hours. In order not to embarrass the Mexican Government by requesting the added police protection which public hearings in Mexico City would have required, we held the sessions in the large hall of Diego Rivera’s house at Coyoacan, where Mr. Trotsky lives. This arrangement limited the audience to about fifty persons, almost half of whom were correspondents representing the Mexican and the foreign press.

4. The Evidence – In addition to Mr. Trotsky’s oral testimony, the evidence introduced consisted of such material as the following:

  1. Documents purporting to refute the testimony given in the Moscow trials concerning his alleged conspiratorial contacts with the defendants. This material includes affidavits of witnesses concerning Mr. Trotsky’s activities, his movements, and his visitors at the periods when he was alleged to have had personal contact with Holtzman, Berman-Yurin, David, Romm, and Pyatakov. It includes letters written to him at Prinkipo by friends in Berlin, advising him against engaging Olberg as a secretary. It includes a photostat of the passport of his son, Leon Sedov, purporting to show that Sedov could not have been in Copenhagen at the time when Holtzman was supposed to have been conducted by him to Mr. Trotsky; and that Sedov (lid go to Paris to meet his parents immediately after their sojourn in Copenhagen. It also includes the telegram sent by Natalia Sedov-Trotsky to the French Foreign Minister, M. Herriot, requesting that her son be granted a visa, and the telegram of the French Foreign Office to its Berlin representative, authorizing it. It includes a statement by the head of the airport at Oslo that no foreign airplane landed there during December, 1935, the month of Pyatakov’s alleged flight.
  2. Citations from Mr. Trotsky’s writings bearing upon his attitude, past and present, towards the defendants in the Moscow trials; also on Such subjects as individual terror, fascism, the proletarian revolution, the Soviet Union, the Soviet bureaucracy, and the Communist International. Citations of letters and articles revealing the nature of his relations with Lenin both before and after the October Revolution. Also passages from the works of Lenin, Stalin, Radek and others concerning Leon Trotsky’s rôle in the Revolution, the Civil War, and the various party struggles during the period which followed.
  3. Letters and other writings showing the methods and the nature of Mr. Trotsky’s communications with his sympathizers in the Soviet Union since his exile.

Such, in brief, is the nature of the documentary evidence submitted to us. Mr. Trotsky also placed at our disposal his archives in Mexico, and offered to reveal to the Commission, whenever it shall so request, the location of his European archives and to give it access to them. Naturally, during our brief stay in Mexico we had time to examine very little of this material. We have therefore authorized one of our members, Otto Ruehle, who resides in Mexico City, to continue this work and to supply to the Commission certified copies or translations of such documents as exist there and as in his judgment or that of any other commissioner are pertinent to our further inquiry. Your European sub-commissions will have the task of examining Mr. Trotsky’s European archives. Altogether Mr. Trotsky’s archives consist of many thousand documents.

5. Mr. Trotsky as Witness – It is an established rule even in legally constituted courts that the bearing of the witness may be taken into account in weighing the value of his testimony. We are guided by the same principle in reporting our impression of Mr. Trotsky’s attitude and bearing. Throughout the hearings he seemed eager to cooperate with the Commission in its efforts to ascertain the truth about all phases of his life and his political and literary activity. He answered readily and with every appearance of helpfulness and candor all questions put to him by the counsel for the sub-commission and by its members.

6. The Case of Mr. Beals – Your sub-commission reports with regret the resignation, before the hearings were concluded, of one of its members, Mr. Carleton Beals. Toward the close of the hearing on the afternoon of April 16, Mr. Beals put to Mr. Trotsky a provocative question based on alleged information which the sub-commission could not check and place on the record. After the hearing our counsel, Mr. John Finerty, advised the sub-commission that questions based on private information were highly improper, would be sufficient cause for mistrial in any ordinary court, and that he could not continue as counsel if they were to be permitted in future. Mr. Beals then angrily declared that either he or Mr. Finerty must leave the sub-commission. Still, he promised to attend a conference that evening to discuss the matter. But although we waited for him until midnight he did not come. The next morning, before the opening of the session, Mrs. Beals brought us his resignation, in which he charged that the Commission was not conducting a serious inquiry. He also made the astonishing statement that the sessions had been completed, although the cross-examination by the commissioners was only half finished and he had himself stated that he had “hundreds more questions” to ask. In view of the fact that Mr. Beals later gave to the press a series of statements which were widely published and in which he impugned the integrity of the other commissioners and made false accusations against us, we think it necessary to put before you the following facts:

  1. From the first Mr. Beals held himself almost completely aloof from the sub-commission. Shortly after the hearings opened he moved from his hotel, and evaded our request for his new address. He was constantly with people who were known to be against the purposes of the Commission, and at no time gave his full attention to its work, as did the rest of us. We made every effort to secure his full cooperation. Obviously, we failed.
  2. At no time before his resignation did Mr. Beals intimate to the others members of the sub-commission that he was dissatisfied with the attitude of any one of us or with the conduct of the hearings. As a member of the sub-commission he was under obligation to express frankly and honestly in private conference any dissatisfaction he may have felt, instead of springing it in public without warning. In this obligation he failed.
  3. At no time, either during the hearings or in our private conferences, did any commissioner ever object to any question put to the witness by Mr. Beals. Even the improper question which precipitated Mr. Beals’s resignation still remains in the record.

Much as we regret the resignation of Mr. Heals, it does not disturb us. The Commission is investigating a great historic controversy. Powerful interests are engaged in attempting to disrupt it and sabotage its work. More efforts of this kind may be expected.

7. Recommendations – Your sub-commission submits the verbatim report of its proceedings, together with the documents submitted in evidence. This record convinces us that Mr. Trotsky has established a case amply warranting further investigation. Therefore, we recommend that the work of this Commission proceed to its conclusion.

JOHN DEWEY, Chairman




JOHN F. FINERTY, Counsel, Concurring

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Last updated on: 3.4.2007