We’re back, and it’s time for housekeeping chores, as always. Here is the link to Part A of this series. If you are reading ALL 3 series from the beginning, then link to Part A, and that will contain a link to all the previous entries for Part I and Part II, which were penned some months back. Then read:
Part III-A itself, III-B,
and then this one, which is III-C. Got it?
Before continuing with Part III of Professor Chase monograph “Trotsky In Mexico”, let us recap the major points of the timeline:
- On May 24, 1940 an operational team of NKVD assassins invaded Trotsky’s compound in Mexico City, shot up the place with machine guns, lightly wounded Trotsky’s grandson Seva, abducted and then murdered Trotsky’s bodyguard Robert Sheldon Harte.
- After the failed assassination attempt, the Stalin camp (using their trade union goons, other front groups, and various shills in the Mexican press) attempted to mislead the Mexican police. Lying through their teeth, as criminals do, they pointed the finger at Trotsky himself and claimed he had set off his own false flag. The Mexican police were no dummies and soon sorted it out, though. And the end result was that a certain part of Mexican public opinion started to turn against the Stalinists. Professor Chase, to his credit, documents these moments as well, in addition to just throwing mud at Trotsky.
- Trotsky fought back against his slanderers, as he always did, but this is where he started to cross the grey line, maybe. There was a buzz of communications between the Trotsky camp and American officials in Mexico City. The main go-between was Trotsky’s secretary Joseph Hansen. Trotsky had more male secretaries than Bette Midler, but truly Joseph Hansen was the greatest of them all. Via Hansen, Trotsky delivered materials to the U.S. government intended to help them find and punish the goons who had attacked Trotsky’s family and murdered Harte. The materials were mostly just stuff that Trotsky had been compiling openly for his various libel lawsuits against Mexican trade union leaders and that Communist-leaning part of the Mexican press.
- In addition — and this is the more controversial part, from a Marxist angle, Trotsky went further than just the Mexican materials. Digging into his memory banks and perhaps utilizing some sources he still may have had in Europe, he sought to out various GPU functionaries operating behind diplomatic cover, in Mexico, the United States, and Europe. What Trotsky knew (which was more than likely old info), and was prepared to deliver to the U.S. government, serves to this day as Stalinist justification for his murder, as in: “He knew too much and was going to talk, therefore Stalin had to bump him off.” Which is misleading, given that Stalin had been trying for years to bump him off, long before Trotsky “went too far”, in the view of those pro-Stalinists who, this day, continue to justify his assassination and all the other hijinks of the Stalin camp.
- On August 21, 1940 Trotsky was assassinated in his home, with the NKVD finally finishing the job that Stalin had assigned them to do. Hansen personally grappled with the killer, Ramón Mercader, and got in a few upper hooks, as one cannot expect less from a burly Utah native.
- On September 3, 1940, just a couple of weeks later, Joseph Hansen showed up again at American Consul Robert McGregor’s door, peddling some unpublished works by Trotsky. Trotsky had spent his last few weeks on earth penning these works in a visceral fury. The Old Man had finally gone postal: He was out to destroy any and all Stalinist undercover agents working within the Mexican press and government; as well as NKVD goons operating via the Comintern in places like the U.S. and France. These agents seem to have spent most of their working days plotting against Trotsky rather than the class enemy; hence Trotsky had every right to repay them in kind. (I have already stipulated that I believe this behavior of Trotsky’s, and his attempts to out the Soviet agentura, violated the Pirate Code, but that’s just my opinion.)
Two questions come to mind:
- Why would the American government be remotely interested in these inter-communist polemics? and
- Why did it even matter, now that Trotsky was dead?
Well, the second question is easier to answer. Even with his master dead, Hansen and the rest of the SWP felt an obligation to protect the remains of Trotsky’s family, especially his wife, Natalia Sedova. In reality, Stalin was appeased now, he felt no need to harm Natalia. With Hector dragged behind the chariot, the wrath of Achilles was finally sated; but the Trotskyists didn’t know that. For all they knew, Stalin intended to wipe out the entire nest, like Thane Mac-Scottish-Person aiming for all of Trotsky’s pretty chickens and their dam.
Plus, Hansen and all the other American male secretaries were in a state of rage and grief. They wanted JUSTICE and they wanted it NOW!
As for Question #1, the American government in fact were not at all interested in most of this. Oh, maybe they cared about Stalinist agents swarming about the States with impunity like Boris and Natasha on a road trip — J. Edgar certainly cared — but, realistically, they had bigger fish to fry. They went through the motions of investigating the Harte murder. In reality, there was no mystery there, everybody knew who dunnit: Stalin and the NKVD. But Crime and Punishment are often two separate things!
Professor Chase gives these matters his own insinuous twist, declaring that Trotsky’s handing over these materials to the Americans (after his death?) had a more sinister motive than merely finding justice for Harte’s murder. Namely fitting into the main leitmotif of the Prof’s thesis, Trotsky yearned (after his death?) to show the Americans just how useful he could be as an anti-Communist informant to the FBI. In the hope that they would finally admit him into their Golden Realm, like they did Trotsky’s former associate, Krivitsky.
One of the main players here being Joseph Hansen, this might be a good time to mention Hansen’s later role in the Trotskyist movement. In the years to come Hansen himself, like his master, became the target of unprincipled slanderers. Who accused him of being a Stalinist agent, a GPU thug who had infiltrated the Trotskyist camp. A ridiculous lie, if ever there was one. To be sure, the Trotskyist camp was riddled with spies, both from the Stalin camp and the FBI. But Hansen was not one of them. If he wanted to kill Trotsky, he had a million opportunities. The main source of these slanders was the repugnant “Healyite” faction of the British Trotskyite movement, whose most famous torch-carrier was Shakespearean actress Vanessa Redgrave. The Healyites were displeased with Hansen’s later evolution, and yet they themselves wandered very far from canonical Trotskyism when they gave “critical support” to such entities as the Ayatollah Khomeini!
I mentioned before, that in his later years, Hansen evolved away from Orthodox Trotskyism into a hybrid “heresy” known as “Pabloite revisionism”. A deviation which, in fact, the entire SWP leadership fell into, especially after the Cuban Revolution in the 1960’s. But this was a normal phenomenon, especially given that the Soviet Union had mellowed greatly after Stalin’s death. Rebuilding rapidly after the war and liberalizing its culture and customs, the USSR was no longer such a scary place as it had been in the late 1930’s, although it still didn’t look and feel like a true “workers democracy”, as the canonical Trotskyists had posited.
Something new under the sun
Classical Trotskyist theory, the “Thermidor” theory, had set out to explain and analyze the Soviet Union (as a system of government and society) and Stalinism, as a political trend. The canonical view was that “socialism in one country” meant precisely that; and Stalinists could no more spread proletarian revolution, than Napoleon Bonaparte could don the red cockade and start channeling Louis Antoine de Saint-Just.
But then — Surprise Surprise! At the end of World War II, Stalin-style socialism did in fact spread to several other nations — known as the Communist bloc. This factual historical event threw classical Trotskyism for a loop, since Trotsky’s theory had not predicted such an outcome. When a theory does not predict a certain factual outcome, then either the theory needs to be scrapped, or modified to explain the new realities.
Without Trotsky’s giant brain to guide their thinking, the new generation of Trotskyist theoreticians modified the classical theory and came up with the concept of the “Deformed Workers State”. Which is a workers state just like the Soviet Union, but did not arise through proletarian revolution and then proceed to “degenerate”; was more, like, brought in on the tips of bayonets, in already-degenerated form! Aside from judgy terms like “degenerated” or “deformed”, this is actually a logical theory, and happens many times in history: A conquering army brings their form of government to the conquered people. It happened with Napoleon too, when he brought the French Republic to the nations he conquered, resulting at times in the disarray of decadent monarchies. But why should such a realistic phenomenon be limited to bourgeois military victories? Why shouldn’t it also happen with socialist victories? It totally makes sense that it would. Soviet functionaries helped to set up new economic frameworks and new governments in each of the Bloc nations, in their own image, each with a ruling Party, at the head of each Party a “Dear Leader” mini-me Stalin. (I don’t have time to get into the more complicated scenarios here, like Yugoslavia and Albania…)
Hence, Canonical Trotskyist theory with the Addendum sounded something like: “Stalinism is a perversion and degeneration of the original dictatorship of the proletariat. This perverted version was spread through military conquest to several nations of Eastern Europe. This was a relatively positive phenomenon, to which we give support, but not necessarily uncritical support.”
So far so good. But then the theory needed to be modified still again, with the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. Unlike, say, your Poland and Czechoslovakia, these working-class revolutions were genuine and indigenous; and yet still resulted in governments that counted themselves along the line of succession from [Lenin to Stalin] rather than [Lenin to Trotsky]. This phenomenon again needed to be explained, but was more complicated.
Meanwhile, during the 1960’s, the line between Stalinism and Trotskyism started to get blurred within the Trotskyist movement itself; and the result was the so-called Pabloite Revisionism. Whose apotheosis could be denoted when Joseph Hansen became an ardent fan of Fidel Castro — yeah, that same guy who offered asylum to Trotsky’s assassin! And Hansen visited Communist Cuba and walked down the same streets of Havana as, probably, Ramón Mercader himself — if they had encountered each other, what a play that would be, if any playright were good enough to write it! — and said nice things about Cuba, and was ready to bury the hatchet, if not the ice-pick itself.
But all of this is just a peek into the future, and we need to get back to Joseph Hansen as he was in September of 1940, still in a state of shock and grief over the brutal murder of his Sensei. And would do whatever he could to bring Stalin’s murderous goons to justice. Even if that meant collaborating with the class enemy!
[to be continued]