Trotsky with Natalya and his grandson Seva
Today marks the Seventieth anniversary of the assassination of Leon Trotsky. Rather than indulging in empty tributes to the memory of Trotsky while dishonoring his legacy in practice, as so many do, it is worth reflecting on the reason why Stalin had Trotsky murdered in the first place. In our times of economic devastation when socialist culture has all but been consigned to the dustibin of history by bourgeois commentators, it takes an effort to absorb the significance that Trotsky’s struggle held for millions of people in the 1930s and 1940s despite his near total isolation in Coyoacan during his last years in exile. For many workers and intellectuals, Trotsky represented the alternative to the nightmare of Stalinism, fascism and imperialist war. He symbolized the road that was opened up by the Russian Revolution for a few brief years, and then shut down by the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. While those heady days of revolutionary optimism are long gone, their memory remains to inspire new generations in new revolutionary struggles. And although the working class is now cut off from this historical memory, it can and will be revived to once again inspire millions. Although Stalin succeeded in murdering Trotsky, he failed to eradicate the memory of the Russian Revolution, thanks in large part to the literary and theoretical output of Trotsky and of the Fourth International that he built in his last days.
A remarkable book that was recently published provides a unique portrait of exactly why Stalin ordered Trotsky’s death. It confirms in every detail Trotsky’s own political analysis of the motives and methods behind the GPU assassination squads. Chief among the reasons given was the crisis precipitated by the imminent outbreak of war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
"Sudoplatov was given the order [to arrange for the assassination of Trotsky] in March 1939...
Accompanied this time by the fearsome Beria, Sudolplatov entered the Kremlin building, took the stairs to the second floor and walked down the long wide carpeted corridor. He remembers the occasion in detail, as he does all his meetings with Stalin. ‘I felt I could hear my heart beating when Beria opened the door and we entered a reception room so huge it made the three writing tables seem tiny.’ Stalin got up, shook their hands and motioned them to sit down as he ‘began to pace back and forth in his Georgian boots’.
Then he sat down opposite them and spoke. I doubt that he used the exact clichés that Sudoplatov puts in his mouth but his meaning, as he came to the point, would have been clear: he’d had enough of Trotsky’s vitriol, of his sway – of his existence. He wanted him dead: dead within a year, dead before the war broke out, dead before there could be any question in anyone’s mind of his return to the Soviet Union as the more competent war leader. And dead finally before he could finish writing the biography of Stalin he’d embarked on a few years before."
From “The Eitingons: A Twentieth-Century Story”, by Mary-Kay Wilmers, Verso, 2010, p. 288-289
This account from the leading organizer of Trotsky’s assassination (Sudoplatov) confirms in every detail Trotsky’s own explanation of Stalin’s motivation in one of his last articles, "Stalin seeks my Death."
"After the active and truly murderous participation of the GPU in the Spanish events I received many letters from my friends, chiefly in New York and Paris, concerning agents of the GPU who were being sent into Mexico from France and the United States. The names and photographs of some of these gentlemen were transmitted by me in time to the Mexican police. The outbreak of the war aggravated the situation still further because of my irreconcilable struggle against the foreign and domestic policy of the Kremlin. My declarations and articles in the world press on the dismemberment of Poland, the invasion of Finland, the weakness of the Red Army beheaded by Stalin, etc.-were reproduced in all countries of the world in tens of millions of copies. Dissatisfaction inside the USSR is growing. In the capacity of a former revolutionist Stalin remembers that the Third International was incomparably weaker at the beginning of the last war than the Fourth International is today. The course of the war may provide a mighty impulsion to the development of the Fourth International, also within the USSR itself. That is why Stalin could not have failed to issue orders to his agents-to finish me as quickly as possible."
(For the entire essay, see http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/05/stalin.htm )
Finally we can think of no better tribute to Trotsky than to recall his own spirit of revolutionary optimism, an optimism based not on wishful thinking but on science and the power of the human imagination. This was summed up in Trotsky's last words as he lay dying at the hands of his assassin:
“I am confident in the victory of the Fourth International. Go forward!” ...