Leon Trotsky

‘Why I Consented to Appear
Before the Dies Committee’

(11/17 December 1939)

First Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 95, 30 December 1939, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2018. Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike).

It is absolutely false that I am now answering questions put to me by Mr. Matthews, Chief Investigator of the so-called Dies Committee. I have neither the slightest knowledge of Mr. Matthews’ whereabouts nor the slightest connection with him. I accepted and I am ready to accept again the invitation of the Committee of the House of Representatives to appear as a witness before it in order to give the American public correct information about questions which are probably more familiar to me than any other person. But I never accepted and I don’t accept any invitation to discuss these questions with Mr. Dies or Mr. Matthews behind closed doors.

Coyoacan, D.F.
December 17, 1939

L. Trotsky

* * *

This statement was prepared by the author as a press release upon his arrival in the United States. Dies and his committee decided, however, to withdraw the invitation. They demonstrated clearly by this that in their own opinion the appearance of Comrade Trotsky before the Committee would provide no help to its reactionary aims, but would hinder them. More perspicacious people had no doubt about it from the beginning. We print Comrade Trotsky’s statement because, quite apart from the panicky retreat of the Dies Committee, it shows how reactionary institutions can be utilized for revolutionary purposes. – Editorial Board

* * *

Why did I agree to appear before the Dies Committee? Naturally not in order to facilitate the realization of Mr. Dies’ political aims, particularly the passing of federal laws against one or another extremist “party.” Being an irreconcilable opponent not only of fascism but also of the present-day Comintern, I am at the same time decidedly against the suppression of either of them.

The outlawing of fascist groups would inevitably have a fictitious character: as reactionary organizations they can easily change color and adapt themselves to any kind of organizational form since the influential sections of the ruling class and of the governmental apparatus sympathize considerably with them and these sympathies inevitably increase during times of political crisis.

As for the Comintern, suppression could only help this completely degenerated and compromised organization. The difficulty in the Comintern’s situation is a result of the irreconcilable contradiction between the international workers’ movement and the interests of the Kremlin ruling clique. After all its zig-zags and deceptions, the Comintern has obviously entered its period of decomposition. The suppression of the Communist Party would immediately re-establish its reputation in the eyes of the workers as a persecuted fighter against the ruling classes.

All Suppression Used Against Working Class

However, the question is not exhausted by this consideration. Under the conditions of the bourgeois regime, all suppression of political rights and freedom, no matter whom they are directed against in the beginning, in the end inevitably bear down upon the working class, particularly its most advanced elements. That is a law of history. The workers must learn how to distinguish between their friends and their enemies according to their own judgment and not according to the hints of the police.

It is not difficult to predict an ad hominem objection: “But just that Soviet government in which you yourself took part proscribed all political parties except the Bolsheviks?” Entirely correct; and to this day I am ready to bear responsibility for its actions. But one cannot identify the laws of civil war with the laws of peaceful periods; the laws of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the laws of bourgeois democracy.

If one considered Abraham Lincoln’s policy exclusively from the point of view of civil liberties, then the great president would not appear very favorably. In justification of course he could say that he was compelled to apply civil war measures in order to cleanse the democracy of slavery. Civil war is a state of tense social crisis. One or another dictatorship, inevitably growing out of the conditions of civil war, appears fundamentally as an exception to the rule, a temporary regime.

It is true that the dictatorship in the Soviet Union did not die out, but on the contrary took on monstrous totalitarian forms. This is explained by the fact that out of the revolution arose a new privileged caste which is incapable of maintaining its regime except through measures of a hidden civil war. It was precisely over this question that I broke with the Kremlin ruling clique. I was defeated because the working class, as a result of internal and external conditions, showed itself to be too weak to liquidate its own bureaucracy. I have, however, no doubt that the working class will liquidate it.

But whatever the situation in the USSR may be, the working class in the capitalist countries, threatened with their own enslavement must stand in defense of freedom for all political tendencies including their own irreconcilable enemies. That is why I do not feel the slightest sympathy for the aims of the Dies Committee.

I don’t have to explain that I did not come here in order to defend “American activities” against “un-American activities.” I am rather badly prepared for that task. Even worse, all my attempts to understand just what Americanism consists of that it must be defended, have led to nothing up to this day. America’s great contribution to the treasures of humanity can be described in one word: technique. This Americanism is evident and generally accepted.

But the question still remains, however, how to apply American technique in the interests of humanity. We hear from Harold Ickes, Homer Cummings, Lewis Douglas, and other outstanding representatives of the present regime that economic monopolies contradict the ideas of democracy. However, nowhere in the world has the rule of monopolies attained such power as in the United States. Where are we to look for Americanism: in abstract ideas or in the reality that contradicts them? Further, is chronic unemployment an American or an un-American phenomenon?

Those circumscribing laws which Mr. Dies defends have a long history in the European countries where they began the transitional period from democratic to totalitarian regimes during the last twenty years. The representatives of the Youth Congress openly accused the Dies Committee of scorning “Americanism.” It would take me, a foreigner, at least a year to study this complicated problem; but I don’t know whether such a prolonged sojourn in the United States is compatible with the principles of “Americanism.”

Stalinists Are Reaping What They Sowed

It is necessary to recognize, of course, that the Comintern itself to a great extent prepared this persecution against it. For several years it systematically demanded that its political enemies of the left be repressed by the democratic governments. This shameful behaviour gave us the possibility to predict a long time ago that in the end the Comintern itself would be caught in the trap it was preparing for others. And so it happened. Browder didn’t weary of demanding police measures against the so-called “Trotskyites.” In the end the police proceeded impolitely against Browder himself.

We are not revengeful in this respect. His utilization of a false passport does not fill us with pious horror. I happened to use a false passport myself in the struggle against Czarism and reaction of all kinds. The misfortune does not consist in the fact that Browder succeeded once or twice in deceiving the fascist or other police, but in the fact that Browder is systematically deceiving the American workers. The struggle against this deception is an elementary political task. A Congressional Committee is just as suitable for this fight as the workers’ press and the national legislative bodies.

No Support to Ousting of Stalinists

I give no support, however, to those leaders of unions and “labor parties” who, inspired by their patriotic sentiments, are excluding Communists from their organizations. I consider this policy as harmful as repressive laws against the Communist party. A union can carry out its task only insofar as it is constructed on the principles of workers’ democracy. It is easy to drive out the Stalinists by bureaucratic measures. It is more difficult to liberate the workers from confidence in them. But only this second road can cure the workers’ movement and lead it to a higher stage.

The Comintern has lied, deceived, and committed treason to such an extent that the open truth is the sharpest weapon against it. It is just this task which I have taken upon myself – to tell the truth about the activities of the Kremlin and the Comintern. I do not promise any sensational revelations. But they are not necessary. What new revelations could surpass the proceedings of the Moscow trials, the liquidation of the Old Bolshevik Guard, the liquidation of the Red Generals, the sudden alliance with Hitler, and the scandalous zig-zags of the Comintern under the whip of the Kremlin? But I can help to assemble all the different parts of this picture into one whole and to disclose its internal meaning.

When the workers understand the reactionary historical role of Stalinism, they will themselves turn away from it with aversion. In order to help the workers in this I agreed to appear before the Dies Committee.

Dec. 11, 1939
Coyoacan, D.F.

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 18 July 2016