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International Socialism, Autumn 1960


Martin Grainger

The murder machine


From International Socialism (1st series), No.2, Autumn 1960, pp.33-34.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Mind of an Assassin
Issac Don Levine
Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 21s.

In 1948, in a postscript to Salazar’s book Murder in Mexico Julian Gorkin, a POUM veteran of the Spanish Civil War, publicly identified Ramon Mercader, alias Jacques Mornard, alias Frank Jacson, alias Vanderdreschd, as the man who in August 1940 assassinated Trotsky at Coyoacan. At that time there was much circumstantial but little documentary evidence in support of Gorkin’s contention. The Stalinist apparat had prepared its coup carefully and had masked the tracks of its agents under a thick smoke-screen of organized confusion.

Evidence has slowly accumulated as to the identity of the assassin. The full dossier has now been made public in Levine’s book. No shadow of doubt can now persist on this matter. Fingerprints, family photographs, interviews with Mercader’s ageing father, still alive in Barcelona, and the written deposition of Enrique Castro Delgado, erstwhile Politbureau member of the Spanish Communist Party concerning the revelations made to him in Moscow, in 1943, by Caridad Mercader, Ramon’s disillusioned mother, then breaking with the Stalinist bureaucracy, all these and many other lines of evidence have now converged in the identification of the murderer.

Ramon Mercader is clearly revealed a creature of the OGPU; he was politically nurtured in the murderous atmosphere of 1937 Catalonia, graduated in the ‘special tasks’ school in Djerzhinski Street, Moscow, and was groomed over a whole period for the grizzly task assigned to the murder machine by Stalin himself.

On December 17, 1936, Pravda wrote: ‘The purging of the Trotskyists and the anarcho-syndicalists has begun (in Catalonia); it will be conducted with the same energy with which it was conducted in the USSR’. Levine’s book shows exactly how this threat materialized. More illuminating still are Levine’s exposures of OGPU infiltration into the highest levels of Trotskyist organizations, throughout the world, activities that led to the murder of Leon Sedov, Trotsky’s son, of Ignace Reiss, of Rudolf Klement, of Krivitsky and doubtless of many others who had broken or were breaking with Stalinism. Many of the crimes first exposed in Hugo Dewar’s Assassins at Large can now be seen in very sharp focus.

Levine’s book is a product of the period of intense antagonism between the bureaucratic regimes of East and West. In such a period each ruling group points, with hypocritical relish, at the blood-stained hands of its opponents, in an attempt to cover up the crimes committed against its own peoples. As a by-product of this struggle useful factual information occasionally emerges.

Much of the political material in the book is rather naive and the psychological analyses are very superficial. Trotsky is introduced to the readers as ‘a lone ranger on the multi-factional socialist front’. His assassin was ‘a very sick baby ... his mother unable or perhaps unwilling to breastfeed him ... fourteen wet nurses were tried, but without success ... he was finally kept alive by being given minced horse-meat mixed with cognac’. (To the reviewer, incidentally, the consumption of such a diet, and the survival of the experience, suggests a pretty vigorous constitution!). It is clear however that such methods of analysis can at best provide material of only marginal value in assessing the significance of major political events.

But if these sales-boosting trappings are forgotten the book remains a useful illustration of the methods used by the Russian bureaucracy to protect itself from threats, both real or imaginary. It depicts the instrument of coercion the bureaucracy evolved to protect its interests. The Russian working class will have to contend with this apparatus in its revolutionary struggle for power ... unless of course one accepts either that in Russia the working class is the ruling class (and that this monstrous apparatus is there to serve its interests) ... or that the murder machine could readily be disbanded as the result of a reshuffle in the political personnel at the top.

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