Professor Chase: Trotsky In Mexico Part II-(I)

Dear Readers:

If you are a newcomer to this series, then here again is the proper order in which to read this series of posts:

Intro to my series.
Part I-(A), Part I-(B), Part I-(C), Part I-(D).
Part II-(A), Part II-(B), Part II-(C), Part II-(D), Part II-(E), Part II-(F), Part II-(G), Part II-(H).

And then this current one, Part II-(I), which you are reading right now! All of this material is riffing off my original source, which is this 3-part piece by Professor William Chase, a historian teaching at the University of Pittsburgh.  I am still working my way laboriously through Part II of his work, and discovering some fascinating characters and stories along the way.

Nahum Eitingon killed an American citizen abroad.

Where we left off:   It is two months away from Trotsky’s actual assassination.  The earlier attempt, which included a home invasion and drive-by shooting, took the life of one of Trotsky’s bodyguards, Robert Sheldon Harte.  Subsequent revelations, years after the fact, were to reveal the shocking truth:  Namely that Harte was actually a GPU mole planted inside the Trotsky household.  Just like in some bad Hollywood thriller, with slab-faced Russian goon baddies, the clean-cut American mole Harte was abducted at gunpoint and offed on the orders of his own handler, Nahum Eitingon.  Which was pretty rude, if you ask me.  This was a decision that Eitingon made in the heat of the moment, when Harte suddenly grew a conscience at the last minute, and balked at the idea of killing Trotsky.  Trotsky himself never knew, until the day he died, or even afterwards, that Harte was a mole.  In his mind, Harte was an innocent victim, a martyr, of the Stalin Terror-Squads.  Trotsky even arranged for a memorial plaque to be put up on the exact place on the highway, where Nahum’s Mexican goons left Harte’s body.

For our purposes, the important “take-away” here, as my former boss used to say, is that Harte was an American citizen.  Therefore, the investigation of his violent death in Mexico would have brought the American police and FBI to Trotsky’s door, willy-nilly.

Chase, writing in Russian, describes the feeling of panic which enveloped the Trotsky household and circle of friends:

После этого покушения в убежище Троцкого воцарился страх. Ривера также опасался за свою жизнь. 29 мая 1940 г. он обращается в консульство США за пропуском, который позволил бы ему въехать в Соединенные Штаты. Консульство согласилось ходатайствовать за него перед Вашингтоном, и спустя неделю Управление по вопросам иммиграции и натурализации провело специальное заседание своего Бюро особых расследований в г. Браунсвиль ( штат Техас) по этому поводу. Просьба Риверы была удовлетворена.

“Pan-American Unity” – mural painted by Rivera for San Francisco Exhibition

TRANSLATION:  After this (assassination attempt), fear gripped Trotsky’s (household).  Rivera was also terrified for his life.  On May 29, 1940 he applies for a visa at the American consulate, which would permit him to enter the United States.  The consul agreed to petition on his behalf to Washington, and a week later the Bureau of Special Investigations of the Immigration and Naturalization Services heard the case in a special session, in the city of Brownsville, Texas.  Rivera’s request was granted.

This is all factual, except for Chase’s characterization of “panic” in the Trotsky household, and his assumption that Rivera’s “terror” urged him to flee to the U.S.  (In fact, Rivera wasn’t really fleeing, he had a legitimate reason to be in the U.S., and he eventually returned to Mexico.  Still, I suppose it is fair to conclude that he might have wanted to make himself scarce in Mexico for a few weeks, following such a shocking event as the Siqueiros drive-by shooting.)

As for Trotsky’s “panic”,  I would imagine that most normal people would be scared out of their wits after a violent home invasion; and I am pretty sure that Mrs. Trotsky (Natalia Sedova), was not very happy about this whole situation.  Still, Chase wasn’t there, and he doesn’t know what was going on in Trotsky’s mind.  If we learned anything about Trotsky, we know that he was far from being a “normal” person.  Hardened as he was, having been through revolutions, civil wars, exiles, and all the rest of it, maybe to him this was just another day at the office (?)

In any case, Chase’s main point here being that Diego Rivera has decided to bow out of the anti-Stalin game.  Stalin is a formidable opponent, going up against him is way too dangerous for the sensitive artist.  Fortunately for Rivera, the American government were surprisingly cooperative, and readily granted him a visa.  Rivera’s wiki  records, blandly, that the muralist “returned for the last time” to the U.S. on June 5, 1940, to paint a giant fresco for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.  After that he apparently returned to Mexico, despite whatever tremors of fear in his capacious gut, and he never again returned to the U.S.  His biography records that he died in Mexico City 17 years later (1957), a normal death.  Not assassinated.  By then Stalin was also dead and Soviet life had calmed down somewhat, as well.  Given this, one could dismiss Professor Chase’s sneaky inferences and make a completely alternate case for Rivera’s behavior, many interpretations are possible.

Were it not for those pesky archives. 

[Note that these American government archives are available online to anybody who possesses the bibliographic skills to mine through them.  Which excludes Yours Truly, which is why I have to depend on the kindness of real historians like Professor Chase.]

The Case Against Rivera

Professor Chase states boldly that the only reason Rivera, “a known communist and Trotskyist”, was allowed into the U.S., was (…) not because of his international stature as an artist, or the desperate need of American fans to admire his frescos.  It was because he had already turned:  Like a dirty rat-fink he has been snitching to the American consulate, giving up whatever details he knows about the Mexican Communist Party and trade unions.

Chase Footnote #37:  [translation from Russian]:  At the beginning of January 1940 Rivera communicated the names of 50 probable members of the Mexican Communist Party who occupied high positions in the (Mexican) government.  He also declared that he knew the details of a campaign of murders in Mexico (National Archives. RG84. G.Shaw to Secretary of State. January 5, 1940).  On January 11 1940 Rivera met, in his home, with the American consul, Robert G. McGregor Jr. (same archive, J.Stewart to Secretary of State. January 17, 1940).  Rivera had meetings with American government employees one or two more times after that.  (same archive, J.Stewart to Secretary of State. February 16, 1940). Messersmith’s memo note is dated 26 January 1940.  (F.D.R. Presidential Papers. Secretary’s File. Box 44).  Rivera again met with McGregor on March 2, 1940.  McGregor’s memo note is appended to J. Stewart’s letter to the Secretary of State (National Archives. RG84. J.Stewart to Secretary of State. March 4, 1940).  Although Rivera had given up quite a lot of names to the American government, the State Department considered this information to be dubious (National Archives. RG59. A.Berle to J.Stewart. March 12, 1940).  For more information on Rivera’s role as a U.S. government informant, see also: Chase W., Reed D. El Extrano Caso de Diego Rivera у el Departamento de Estado // El Financiero, 1993, 19 Noviembre. Vol. II. 61..

[Okay, for starters:  Not being very knowledgeable of Mexican politics of that era, I don’t fully understand why members of the Mexican Communist Party had to keep their Party affiliation secret, in order to keep their jobs in the government.  This was a socialist and coalition government, right?  Not like in the U.S., where a card-carrying member of the Communist Party would never be allowed a post in the government, and therefore any Communist in, say, the FDR administration, would be forced to conceal his political affiliation and serve under-cover.  But that’s just a question mark.]

Rivera initially was also (tentatively) scheduled to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Washington DC.  In December 1939 Rivera bragged openly that his testimony would “disclose the activities of Stalinist agents in Mexico and in other Latin American countries.”  In Footnote #35 Professor Chase backs up this assertion, while also quoting Rivera stating that any testimony concerning himself should be strictly separated from testimony concerning Trotsky.  Rivera even remarks disdainfully that “I have nothing in common with that gentleman.”  By this time, Rivera and Trotsky had broken off their friendship (although some people allege, and I think Chase implies, that the break-up was just a fake, for public consumption).

The circus that was HUAC

In the end, though, Senator Dies retracted his invitations to both Rivera and Trotsky.  Again, the implication is that the American government already got what they needed from both men, and didn’t need to hear any public speechifying from either of those rascals.

So, this is where we get to the meat of it.  Up until now, it’s just been inferences, but the good Professor has just proved that, yes, Rivera truly did cross over to the Dark Side, and he became a Confidential Informant to the American government.  But whether he did it out of fear, greed, vanity, or some other motive, is unknown.

So, Rivera became a snitch.  But what about Trotsky?  Did he become a snitch too?  Did he know about Rivera’s snitching?  Professor Chase poses the question, but does not answer it.  He points out that the two men had not spoken in 15 months, but implies this alienation might have been a sham.  Then he mentions the name of a certain individual named Leah Brenner.

Chase Versus Trotsky

Chase Footnote #40:  [translation from Russian]:  In his letter to Salazar, the Chief of Police of the (Mexican) district, dated May 31, 1940, Trotsky writes that he has “nothing in common with the political activities of Diego Rivera.  He and I broke up personal relations 15 months ago,” and since that time, Trotsky asserts, they have not had “neither direct nor indirect contacts”.  (Trotsky Archive. L.Trotsky to L.S.Salazar. May 31, 1940.)   Nonetheless, they did have some friends in common, who were capable of conveying information from one to the other.  It is completely plausible that (one of these) was Leah Brenner, Rivera’s secretary, who fled from Mexico on June 2, 1940, after receiving a threatening letter. (National Archives. RG84. Leah Brenner Protection Case. R.Kenneth Oakley, Reporting Officer. June 2, 1940).

Leah Brenner was born in 1915 in San Antonio, Texas (which made her a U.S. citizen), the daughter of Latvian-Jewish immigrants.  According to the brief biographical sketch I just linked:  “She attended La Universidad de Mexico, receiving a master’s degree in Modern Languages in 1937 and her doctorate in Letters in 1941. Brenner worked as a secretary for Mexican artist Diego Rivera from 1939 to 1945. After leaving Rivera’s employment and returning to the United States, Brenner lived for a time in New York City and eventually settled in San Antonio, where she lived until her death in 2004.”

Leah wrote a biography of her former boss

Given this chronology, Leah Brenner was working for Rivera during this very period when Rivera was snitching to the American government.  Apparently Brenner was a Trotskyist; Professor Chase mentioned her earlier (in Footnote #7), in conjunction with the Blackwell affair, as the Trotsky Archive contains a letter from Brenner, dated November 2, 1938, addressed “to Comrade Olay“, and on the topic of Blackwell.  This earlier citation is important only in that it shows Brenner to be a card-carrying Party member (possibly) of Trotsky’s Fourth International.  Since she actually uses that word “Comrade“.  (I’m not being sarcastic here, this is an actual tell.)

Leah’s official biography does not mention that episode in June of 1940 when she fled from Mexico, after receiving the threatening letter, and was put into protective custody in the U.S.  (Remember that she was an American citizen, and hence deserved official protection.)  After some unspecified period of time, Leah apparently returned to Mexico, and resumed her duties as Diego Rivera’s personal secretary and biographer.

Professor Chase infers that Brenner served as a conduit between Trotsky and Rivera long after Trotsky allegedly “broke ties” with Rivera.  And an even sneakier inference, that Leah was a conduit, for both men, to the American government.  But here, inference is simply inference, as Chase does not provide any documentary proof of this allegation.  Many other interpretations are possible:  Probably Leah did not know that her boss, Rivera, was snitching to the American government.  I mean, this was all a big secret until Professor Chase blew the lid off in 2003, right?  And then Leah died one year later, in 2004.  Coincidence?  You be the judge.

Edward G. Robinson (far left) was no rat-fink!

Also, Leah could have been spying on Rivera, on behalf of Trotsky and/or the American government.  Or she could have been spying against Trotsky for the FBI.  Many theories are possible.  Her primary loyalty seems to have been to the artist (as she was to go on to write his biography), and perhaps she held that relationship in more value than whatever relationship she had with Trotsky.  Perhaps she wasn’t even a fanatical Trotskyist anyhow, more like a dabbler.  My point is that, without Facts, it is all just speculation.  And Professor Chase seems to be stretching it a bit here.  He proved his case against Rivera with facts and numbers.  Against Trotsky himself, he has …. just speculation and inferences.

Which isn’t to say that Trotsky was an innocent lamb who just turned the other cheek to his oppressors.  In the next segment we will see how Trotsky fought back, sometimes quite viciously, against the Mexican Communist Party and the Mexican newspapers.

[to be continued]

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Professor Chase: Trotsky In Mexico Part II-(H)

Dear Readers:

And now back to our regularly scheduled mini-series called

Game of Thrones:  Stalin vs Trotsky

If you are a newcomer to this exciting content, then here again is the proper order in which to read this series of posts:

Intro to my series.
Part I-(A), Part I-(B), Part I-(C), Part I-(D).
Part II-(A), Part II-(B), Part II-(C), Part II-(D), Part II-(E), Part II-(F), Part II-(G).

And then this current one, Part II-(H), which you are reading right now!  Recap:

Where we left off,  Soviet spy Walter Krivitsky had received his “Burn Notice” from the Kremlin in October 1937.  The backdrop to this:  (Stalin + Inner Circle) felt strong enough now to purge the NKVD of those “Old Chekist” cadres whom they found annoying.  These guys had joined up at the height of the Bolshevik uprising/Civil War, were fanatical Communists and USSR patriots, and had by now racked up two decades of experience as secret agents posted abroad.  Most of these men Stalin did not trust farther than he could punt; and, in truth, some of them were, or had been, sympathetic to one or another anti-Stalin faction; even those purgees who weren’t Trotskyists were loyal more to Lenin’s Communist Party as a whole than to Stalin’s personality cult, wonderful as it was.

“Thanksgiving with Stalin”, painting by Norman Rockwell — just kidding!

Knowing that returning to Moscow meant certain death, and possibly even torture, which is probably worse than death, Krivitsky made the fateful decision to bolt.  Initially he fled to France and sought out help from the Trotskyists.  By now Stalin was kicking himself that he had ever allowed Trotsky to go into exile; well, that was a few years back, before Stalin had acquired the almost limitless power which he now enjoyed.

Cells in France, led by Trotsky’s older son, Leon Sedov, had been providing their own brand of asylum to Soviet defectors such as Ignacz Reiss and Krivitsky.  It was sort of like the Trotskyist “Underground Railroad”, only without Harriet Tubman; but it gave some desperate defectors a sense of hope that, maybe just maybe, they had a chance to elude Stalin’s death squads without actually betraying the Communist cause they had embraced so ardently in their youth.

The Tragedy of Jew-on-Jew Violence

But in the end, Stalin’s relentless pursuit of his political opponents cut off every means of escape for these desperados.  Note:  In this section of the story, with the exception of Stalin, virtually everybody on the Soviet side is a Jew, including Polish Communist Mark Zborowski, who was Stalin’s mole within the Trotskyist exile community in France.  Mark pretended to be BFF with Sedov and reported back to Moscow on all Lev’s movements, probably even including bowel movements.  Fellow Jew Krivitsky, who was clever and also a trained spy, began to suspect Zborowski of being un-kosher, especially after Sedov’s mysterious death.  At this point, Stalin had his enemies pinned down on the ropes, and boxed into such a corner, where their only two options left were: Death or Betrayal.

Polish Communist Mark Zborowski

Everybody knows the sequel to the story:  Krivitsky was able to elude Zborowski, but not without selling his soul to the devil.  With Sedov’s death and the effective end of the “Trotskyist Underground Railroad” in France, the only choice left to defectors (who wanted to live) was to flee to the United States.  Krivitsky did so, and ended up singing like a canary in front of the HUAC Committee.  He named names and gave away entire spy networks.  It was only by God’s decree that Moscow’s best spy ring ever, Philby-Burgess-Maclean, was spared the devastation wrought by Stalin’s relentless gaming.  Krivitsky’s fellow defector, Alexander Orlov [remember:  this was the pscyho who ripped off the face of Spanish socialist Andrés Nin while torturing the latter] was actually the guy who ran the Philby ring.  When Orlov received his own Burn Notice and defected to the U.S., he had enough integrity left in him to NOT give up Philby and the others.  He could have buried all those twits with a single word.  The motley crew of Cambridge homosexuals and dedicated Comintern agents, sweated it out for a quite a while, having lost contact with their handler during the years of the Great Purge; and probably fearing the worst.  Fortunately for them, things eventually settled down, Stalin was content that he had nailed everybody he wanted to nail; contact was re-established, with a new handler.  And everything was back to normal:  spying for Mother Russia.

Guy Burgess, Oscar Wilde look-alike and dapper Comintern agent

Now, some defectors have consciences and feel the need to justify themselves, beyond just “I was scared shitless and couldn’t stand the thought of being tortured“.  And some defectors, unlike Orlov, have no self-control, and don’t give a damn whom they ruin, they just want to please their new masters no matter what.  Hence, many of them invent fake ideologies or “fake memories” of the past, in which they claim they “had their doubts” ideologically, from an earlier time, etc. etc.  In Krivitsky’s case, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact came like a godsend, as he was able to build an entire fake ideology around this one tactical news headline, now bloviating to HUAC that “Stalinism” was exactly the same as “Nazism”, just a slightly different cosmetic appliqué .

Meanwhile, in my last post in this series, while telling the story of American Trotskyist Joseph Hansen, I happened to jump the shark, as I revealed the story’s ending a bit too soon:  namely, Trotsky’s gory assassination in Mexico City.  For readers who were shocked at this gross spoiler, I ask that you forget that ending — in the style of the TV series “Lost”, perhaps it was just an “alternative” or “sideways universe” subplot that was thrown out there to confuse you!

Lazarus and Dies

And so, our friend Walter Krivitsky appeared before the HUAC Committee and sang like a nightingale (because people are getting tired of the “canary” meme), with his brand-spanking-new anti-Communist ideology.  And back in his hidey-hole in Mexico City, stubbornly ignorant of the grotesque optics of this spectacle and how it all appeared to American liberal-lefties, Trotsky had decided to follow in Walter’s footsteps and also give speeches to HUAC.  Now, Trotsky had never been a spy, he didn’t know anybody that HUAC didn’t already know, and had nothing to offer HUAC in that regard.  His stated intention was to use HUAC as a “tribune” and, with his golden oratorical tongue, explain to the “American workers” his theory of Stalinism and the “Thermidorian Counter-Revolution” that had taken place in the Soviet Union.  The Political Committee and leadership of the Socialist Workers Party tried to talk Trotsky out of this gross mistake, but when he wouldn’t budge, they decided, with some reluctance to support him.  I mean, of course they had to.  He was the leader of their Party and movement, they had to give him the benefit of the doubt, just like the Bolsheviks had to trust Lenin when he came out with the controversial April Thesis.  Their only other option was to split with their own leader and take on Stalin by themselves; and that was a bridge too far for the likes of Party leader James P. Cannon.

Senator Martin Dies: Lobbied for Oil Company interests in Mexico

We now pick up Professor Chase’s storyline with the reaction of the Mexican proletariat, which was not at all favorable to Trotsky.

At a meeting of the Mexican Communist Party on January 10, 1940, a resolution was adopted condemning the Dies Committee, which the Party rightfully characterized as an agent of American Oil Companies exploiting the Mexican people; and also condemning Trotsky for his plans to appear before the Committee.

From his side, Trotsky denied that his speech would contain anything touching on internal Mexican politics (as per his deal with the Mexican government), nor any comments concerning the Mexican Communist Party, nor indeed Latin American politics in general.  Trotsky denied, specifically, that he had any material in his speech concerning the issue of petroleum or oil companies, about which he said he knew very little.

Diego Rivera and his daughter Guadalupe

The Mexican Communists were not appeased.  At a special session called a couple of months later, in March, they again called upon the Mexican government to kick Trotsky out of the country.  They alleged that Trotsky’s friend, the muralist Diego Rivera, had imparted “confidential” information about their party to the American government.  Which allegations were probably truer than they thought, given what we now know (from Professor Chase’s own research) about Rivera being a paid FBI informant.  Although it is hard to know what exactly “confidential” information Rivera would have had about the Communist Party, given that he was an open Trotskyist.  Recall that Rivera had been expelled from the Mexican Communist Party in 1929. Hence, the only real information he could have imparted to the FBI, likely, was about Trotsky himself, and his movements.  Possibly even bowel movements.

The Tragedy Of Muralist-on-Muralist Violence

Be that as it may, the Mexican Communist Party, in their organized wrath against Rivera, were onto something, whether they knew it or not.  Then they did something ethically wrong:  They passed a resolution approving “punitive measures” against all those who snitch to the Dies Committee, in which they included Trotsky.  This resolution, endorsing a violent solution to the Mexican stand-off, served to “legitimize” the subsequent assassination attempts against Trotsky, his family, and his American bodyguards.  Since the Mexican Communist Party was not in the government and had no access to state organs, they had no right to claim a legitimate use of organized violence except in self-defense.  In this matter, they were just cruising along on Stalin’s coat-tails, effecting to borrow the Great Man’s “legitimacy” and shine in his reflected light.

Against this poisonous backdrop, occurred the first serious attempt, on May 24, 1940.  Rival muralist to Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros along with a gang of around 20 Spanish Civil War veterans and members of the Miners Union, attacked Trotsky’s home.  According to wiki:  “After thoroughly raking the house with machine gun fire and explosives, the attackers withdrew in the belief that nobody could have survived the assault. They were mistaken. Trotsky was unhurt…”

Robert Sheldon Harte, code-name “Amur”

However, somebody else did get hurt.  After the Trotsky household dusted themselves off and pulled themselves together, they found a missing member:  Robert Sheldon Harte, one of Trotsky’s American bodyguards.  Recall that Trotsky did not trust anybody close to his person who was either Mexican, Russian, or Jewish — he only trusted red-blooded Americans.  Such as this 25-year-old enigma with no personal biography (except that he allegedly came from a “wealthy family”) who had just walked in off the street and joined the Socialist Workers Part in February 1939, after one of their big anti-Bund rallies at Madison Square Garden.  (Hint:  the SWP were desperate for new members and did not have a good vetting process.)  During the raid against Trotsky’s house, Siqueiros and his gang grabbed Harte and “abducted” him.  While searching for the abductee, Mexican police discovered Harte’s body alongside the road to Desierto de los Leons.  Harte lay dead, with a bullet in his skull.  The Socialist Workers Party declared Harte to be the very first American Trotskyist “martyr” to Stalin’s Terror.  Others were not so sure, and posited that Harte was a Stalinist mole all along.

Siqueiros self-portrait

Trotsky himself refuted that idea, based on his feelings of loyalty to his staff, not to mention just common sense.  Trotsky in a statement to the Mexican press:  “If Sheldon Harte were an agent of the GPU he could have killed me at night and gotten away without setting in motion 20 people all of whom were subjected to a great risk.”  Trotsky was to get killed just a couple of months later, so could not be aware of events and revelations happening long after his death.  So evidently Harte was indeed a Soviet spy, code-named “Amur”, whose GPU  handler was a clever old Chekist named Nahum Isaakovich Eitingon.

Nahum Eitingon: aka “Stalin’s Punishing Sword”

Eitingon in 1954, while writing his memoirs:  “During the operation it was revealed that Sheldon was a traitor [to the GPU]. Even though he opened the gate to the compound, once in the room there was found neither the archive, nor Trotsky himself. When the participants in the raid opened fire, Sheldon told them that, had he known all this, as an American he never would have agreed to participate in this raid. Such behavior served as the basis for deciding on the spot to liquidate him. He was killed by [the] Mexicans.”

Harte’s body was recovered along the highway

Despite this failed operation, Eitingon was to go on to many great successes as an international spy kingpin.  During the 1930’s he was running a ring of Jewish Communists in the U.S., some of whom went on to help steal the atom bomb for the USSR!  This alone (plus, that his subsequent assassination plan against Trotsky actually worked) should have gained him several medals from Stalin.  Nonetheless, Josif Vissarionovich remained suspicious of … everybody.  In 1951 Eitingon was arrested as part of that zany combination called “The Jewish Doctors Plot”.  And Nahum’s sister Sofia was an actual Jewish doctor!  Like other arrestees, Nahum was locked in a cold dark cell and tortured for days, forced to inform on each other, as per the rules of the genre.  But unlike the others, Nahum was made of stronger stuff, and didn’t break.  After Stalin’s death in March 1953, Lavrentiy Beria closed the case against the “Zionist plotters” and released them all, including Sofia, who had been sent away to the Gulag for a 10-year sentence.

Thirteen year ealier:
As to Trotsky’s common-sense point, why didn’t the American mole Harte just sneak into his bedroom and kill him in the middle of the night?  Like that Mac-Scottish-Person fellow?  Eitingon’s 1954 revelation seems to show that Harte was not completely in the loop, he was led to believe that it was just an innocent home invasion to retrieve Trotsky’s archives, and not a full-out murder.  Which would leave Harte in the role of patsy.

Next:  After this scary assassination attempt, Professor Chase is ready to wrap up his case for the prosecution and jam in the icepick with his boldest claim:  That both Trotsky and Rivera are in such a state of sheer biological terror;  that Rivera decides to buy his way out of this pickle; and that Trotsky maybe possibly perhaps also follows in Rivera’s path by squealing to the FBI…  How much of this is factual, and how much just inference?  We shall try to break this down in the next installment…

[to be continued]

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Dmitry Khvorostovsky – The Death Of An Artist

Dear Readers:

I interrupt this regularly scheduled mini-series on the Trotsky-Stalin feud of the 1930’s to bring a sad breaking-news story.  And I don’t want to make any political hay out of this private sorrow, but I have to point out that Khvorostovsky is living proof that Soviet society was able to settle down, finally, from the convulsions of the past, and all along the way producing many good and talented people, including great artists.  Opera lovers especially will be touched by the death of Russian baritone Dmitry Khvorostovsky.  Dmitry passed away just today (November 22), and his family issued the following statement to the press:

Dmitry as a boy, studying music

“From the Khvorostovsky family, with a heavy heart, we announce the death of Dmitry Khvorostovsky, a beloved opera baritone, a husband, a father, a son, and a friend.  He was 55 years old.  After two and half years battling brain cancer, he died on 22 November at home, surrounded by his family, in London.  Let the warmth of his voice and his spirit be with us always.”

Known as “the Silver Fox” for his mop of prematurely silver hair which he never colored, nor covered with a wig, Khvorostovsky was everything an opera hero (or villain) should be:  Handsome, brave, bold and dashing.  As the baritone, he often played the bad guy and had to try to make himself look stern and evil on the stage.  But even under such conditions it was difficult for  him to hide his most appealing asset:  His insinuous, good-natured smile, sometimes breaking into a big melting grin.  One look at that smile, and you just knew that this was a man with a big heart, an irrepressibly good nature, and a love for life!

The trademark Khvorostovsky grin

Dmitry was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and studied at the School of Arts there.  He made his debut also in Kranoyarsk, at the local Opera House, singing Marullo in Rigoletto.  The Soviet opera world soon realized what a treasure they had, hiding in this backwater.  Khvorostovsky had a unique voice that sometimes sounded like a melodic booming emerging from, God knows where?  That trim, athletic body?  In the late 1980’s Khvorostovky won a series of prizes at both national and international level.  He sang everywhere in the world, at every major opera house, including the Metropolitan Opera, in New York.  He came to specialize in Verdi operas, for which his voice was a perfect match.

In June 2015 Khvorostovsky was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  This is what impelled his move to London, for treatment at the prestigious Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital.  Thanks to the talented doctors there, Dmitry was able to eke out a couple more years of precious life, and even continue to perform a few more times, to the bittersweet delight of opera lovers everywere.

We will miss you, Dmitry!

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Professor Chase: Trotsky In Mexico Part II-(G)

Dear Readers:

Continuing this saga about a fascinating time in both Russian and American history.  Here again is the proper order in which to read this series of posts — and, by the way, the reason I keep listing them out like this (even though it generates an annoying series of pingbacks every time I post a new one), is because I am concerned about new readers who might pop in, feel an interest in the story, but not even know where to start!

Intro to my series.
Part I-(A), Part I-(B), Part I-(C), Part I-(D).
Part II-(A), Part II-(B), Part II-(C), Part II-(D), Part II-(E), Part II-(F)

And then this current one, Part II-(G), which you are reading right now!

Where we left off, Trotsky is facing a mutiny in his own ranks within his American flagship organization, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  It is nearing the end of 1939, and Trotsky has accepted an invitation to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  HUAC is taking hearings on the current issue, which is how to zap the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and declare them agents of a foreign power, namely the Soviet Union!

Krivitsky (left) sings like a canary to HUAC

Professor Chase ascribes sinister motives to Trotsky’s acceptance.  He links Trotsky’s gambit with the chronologically current case of NKVD defector Walter Krivitsky who, after an agonizing biography, finally escaped to the U.S., appeared before HUAC, and started singing like a canary about his experiences as a Soviet master spy.

Krivitsky joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917, while still a teenager.  Like those early Jewish Chekists, he was a True Believer.  He distinguished himself during the Russian Civil War, and went on to rise through the ranks of the NKVD and Military Intelligence in the mid 1920’s.  During the early 1930’s he ran important spies and moles in Western European nations.  His most important Celebrity-Mole recruit was Pierre Cot, a minister in the Socialist Léon Blum  government of France.  Although the NKVD foreign cells were properly compartmentalized, Krivitsky knew enough to almost give away the Soviet Union’s greatest foreign spy ring ever, namely the Kim Philby circle in England.  Later, when he was singing to the FBI (July, 1939) Krivitsky divulged knowing “a Scotsman of a very good family”, he didn’t know the exact name, who was working as a Soviet mole within the British diplomatic corps.  He was talking about Donald Maclean, of course.  Fortunately for Philby-Maclean and the others, MI-5 was too dense to figure it out, even with such a great clue.

Alexander Orlov

During the Spanish Civil War, Krivitsky was dispatched to Spain, along with fellow NKVD agent Alexander Orlov (née Leiba Lazarevich Feldbin) as military-intelligence advisors to the Popular Front government.  Recall that Orlov-Feldbin was the bully who kidnapped POUM leader Andrés Nin Pérez, tortured him for days, and ended up slicing his face off.  His wiki entry quotes historian Donald Rayfield as to the true purpose of men like Krivitsky/Orlov being assigned to Spain, and it wasn’t just, or even mainly, to help heroic anti-Franco guerrillas, nor to inspire Pete Seeger to write great songs:

“Stalin, Yezhov, and Beria distrusted Soviet participants in the Spanish war. Military advisors like Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, journalists like Mikhail Koltsov were open to infection by the heresies, especially Leon Trotsky’s, prevalent among the Republic’s supporters. NKVD agents sent to Spain were therefore keener on abducting and murdering anti-Stalinists among Republican leaders and International Brigade commanders than on fighting Francisco Franco. The defeat of the Republic, in Stalin’s eyes, was caused not by the NKVD’s diversionary efforts but by the treachery of the heretics.”

Whatever the Stalinophiles believe about their leader, all of the historical facts and records support this (Trotskyist) account of the Spanish Civil War.  Namely, that the main task of the entire Soviet apparatus was to remove all remnants of the Trotsky faction, both within the Soviet Union, and everywhere else in the world.  Any concerns about the Spanish proletariat, or even the Loyalist government, took second place to Stalin’s overriding (and possibly even personal) quest.

And among “Stalinophiles”, by the way, sadly, I have to place Professor Chase, since, even within such a great monograph as he wrote, he parrots the simple meme that “the Trotskyists, by not supporting the Popular Front government, objectively aided the fascists.”  More like, Stalin objectively aided the fascists, by encouraging the violent antics of thugs like Orlov and Krivitsky.

Good-Bye Old Boss, Meet The New Boss

Well, all good things come to an end, even great spy careers.  Although Krivitsky was later to claim (for his new masters) that he had some doubts earlier about the validity of Communism, in reality he believed in it, and his life was not so bad until that fateful day when Nikolai Yezhov replaced Genrikh Yagoda as head of the NKVD.  Remember, my friends:  In the end, everything in the workplace comes down to Office Politics.

Readers, please perform this thought experiment:  You are a Soviet spy, a glamorous secret agent, a Chekist, in the mid-1930’s.  You work abroad, you might even be privileged to have your family with you.  Then one day you open your encrypted mail and see your burn notice:  “Return to Moscow for further instructions.”  Your heart sinks.  Rumors have been swirling.  You know that your career, and possibly your life is over.  At this point, you have 3 options:  (1) Return to Russia with your family.  You will be arrested, possibly tortured, and possibly executed, but your family will be okay, your children will be allowed to grow up without you;  (2) Take your family and go on the run.  If you are lucky, you might find asylum with a friendly non-Stalinist socialist government somewhere… (lots of luck with that)…; or (3)  Take your family, defect to an enemy capitalist country, and sing like a canary.

Of these, option (1) is probably the best, and the most honorable one.  But sometimes that mysterious life-force just kicks in, you balk at death, you want to go on living!

Back in Russia, Phase II of the purges was beginning.  It was time to purge the purgers and clean out a few more Old Bolsheviks in the foreign spy corps.

Genrikh Yagoda

As part of the “restructuring” of the Communist Party and State Organs, Nikolai Yezhov had, in 1937, set up a new section of the NKVD euphemistically called the Administration of Special Tasks.  One of the Special Tasks was to liquidate former employees of the NKVD, including Old Boss Genrikh Yagoda.  Yezhov and his cronies were concerned that, once Old Boss Yagoda was arrested and executed, certain NKVD agents stationed abroad might start to feel paranoid, for some ungodly reason, and possibly even defect.  By the way, this is the textbook definition of a self-fulfilling prophesy!

To prevent this horrible thing from happening, Yezhov set up the so-called “Mobile Group” whose aim was to psyche out and assassinate future defectors.  The Mobile Group was headed by a man with the hilariously Jewish name Mikhail Spiegelglass.  In addition, a new law was passed making it possible to punish even the innocent families and relatives of defectors.  This is why options (2) and (3), are dodgy:  If you go on the run after receiving your burn notice, then you are risking the lives of your wife and kids, and anybody else you know back at home.  Yezhov is a vindictive man!

By the summer of 1937, over 40 Soviet spies had been recalled from abroad, and duly executed by Yezhov’s team.  As the lemmings continued to return home, Krivitsky grew more paranoid by the day, and started to feel that his life might possibly be in danger!

Krivitsky is connected to Trotsky via a mutual friend, Ignaz Reiss, also an NKVD spy, who was a Trotskyist faction member but still managed to keep his job in the NKVD right up until 1937, the height of the Moscow Trials.  At which point, he decided to bail.  Hiding out in Paris, Reiss sent a letter to Stalin explaining why he had decided to abandon his post:  “Dear Stalin:  I have been fighting for socialism since my twentieth year. Now on the threshold of my fortieth I do not want to live off the favours of a Yezhov. I have sixteen years of illegal work behind me. That is not little, but I have enough strength left to begin everything all over again to save socialism. … No, I cannot stand it any longer. I take my freedom of action. I return to Lenin, to his doctrine, to his acts.  Sincerely yours, Ignaz.”  Stalin was not impressed, he ordered Yezhov’s Mobile Group to assassinate Reiss and family, to serve as an example for the other wannabe defectors.  Reiss was subsequently gunned down by machine-gun wielding NKVD goons.  Fortunately, his wife and son survived because they didn’t eat the poisoned chocolates that had been left for them in their hotel room.

Yezhov with Stalin

After the death of his childhood friend, Ignaz Reiss, Krivitsky made the fateful decision to take option (3) and defect.  He didn’t bother writing a letter to Stalin.  And he was worried, rightfully, about his child.  Spies should not have families!  On 7 November 1937 Krivitsky met with Trotsky’s elder son, Lev Sedov, in Paris.  Sedov was a bit of a secret agent himself.  He had been running his dad’s European section for years, and had many contacts with Soviet citizens of all stripes, including NKVD agents.  See, Stalin was not completely wrong, when he feared that Trotsky’s network was plotting against him (=Stalin).  One of Trotsky’s main goals in life was to remove Stalin from the leadership of the Communist Party.  And Stalin knew this.  The whole point of the Stalin Purges and the Moscow Trials was to eliminate anybody and everybody who could possibly be connected with Trotsky, whether directly or indirectly.  And if the net swept too widely and innocent people suffered, well, that was the price that Stalin was willing to pay.

Long story short, Krivitsky ended up in the United States writing anti-Communist exposes for the Saturday Evening Post.  It is said that J. Edgar Hoover was furious, when he read in the newspaper that Stalin was cavalierly sending spies the U.S. and parading them past the noses of the FBI.  Krivitsky became everybody’s fave, though, hooking up with the most odious red-baiters in the world, such as Whittaker Chambers and Martin Dies.  And he attained his full glory and apothesis with the Stalin-Hitler Pact, developing his brand new ideology of “dual totalitarianisms” to retroactively justify his treasonous defection.

When publicly blasted by Communist Party leader Earl Browder, Krivitsky responded tit-for-tat, by outing Browder’s sister as an agent of Soviet Military Intelligence.  Krivitsky testified before  HUAC on 11 October 1939, including super-duper secret closed testimony.  As his reward, the former spy received political asylum, was allowed to remain in the U.S. and went on to gain fame as a writer and political philosopher.  Krivitsky, the first major Soviet defector, sang well for his supper and acquired American citizenship as his reward.

What does this have to do with Trotsky?  Well, aside from the fact that Krivitsky was connected to Trotsky by only one degree of separation (Reiss or Sedov, take your pick), the main point here, for our purposes, is that Professor Chase wants to promote this combination:  That Trotsky wishes to follow, two months later, in Krivitsky’s path.  Trotsky will sing for HUAC and hopefully gain his U.S. citizenzhip papers, just like his old friend Walter did!

More Trotskyist Than Trotsky

According to Trotskyist doctrine of that era, plus a code of conduct which Trotsky himself had laid out to his followers:  Communist Parties such as the CPUSA were seen as degenerated entities, pathetic deformed children of the healthy ones that Lenin raised, parties corrupted by the curse of Stalinism, which Trotsky called the “syphilitic infection of the working class movement”  —  yet still technically “cousins” and on the same side of the class line as the “One True Party”.  Therefore it was considered inadmissible to take the side of the class enemy against these entities.  Or to snitch them out to the capitalist police.  Of course, in the real world there are always more than 50 shades of grey, and even the Pirate Code is sometimes more like “guidelines” than a set of rigid rules.

If seen through the religious analogy, it would be like Catholics and Protestants being in somewhat solidarity with each other against Muslims, or at least not ratting each other out to Muslim police.  Although the analogy doesn’t hold, exactly, because Stalinists don’t see Trotskyists in the same way, they see them as the class enemy personified and therefore Stalinist cadre are not only permitted, but encouraged to rat Trotskyists out to the capitalist police, or even kill them on sight, whenever feasible.

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American Joseph Hansen was literally Trotsky’s right-hand man.

In this light, Trotsky’s willingness to appear before HUAC can be seen as a breach of his own rules, the very rules that he himself had devised, and imbibed to his loyal followers.  There are two possible explanations for this:  (1)  Following in Krivitsky’s path, Trotsky was getting ready to cross over to the other side, which is what Professor Chase has been inferring all along; or (2) Trotsky is employing a subtlety of the Dialectic.  He is a Great Leader, just like Lenin, and therefore is permitted to take a sudden and unexpected tack, even against the “infantile Leftism” of his own base.

The mutiny began in the SWP leadership circle, the Political Committee, with soon-to-be renegade James Burnham leading the charge.  Which is highly ironic, since Burnham shortly went on to renounce the very concept of Dialectical Materialism and to make his peace with the American Empire, on the eve of World War II.

Sidebar:  Note that SWP nomenclature is a bit different from the usual Leninist terms, perhaps reflecting the SWP’s old connections to the Second International plus a period of factional activity within the American Socialist Party.  Hence, instead of the “Central Committee”, the SWP had their “National Committee” (which was elected by the entire memberhip).  And instead of the “Politburo”, they had their “Political Committee”, which consisted of an elected (by Central Committee) core of leaders who guided the policy and made organizational decisions in between Party Plenums.

democratic_centralism_in_practice_and_idea_scott_nappalosTo modern people around today, all of this seems like Shadow Theater, having very little meaning in the real world.  But it did not seem so at the time.  The whole purpose and raison d’être of Marxist-Leninist cadre parties, was to keep themselves together and prepare for the next revolutionary opportunity.  They were like an aging actress keeping herself in shape, as best she can, and waiting for her next big role.  Like, if the United States had started to disintegrate during the Great Depression, and the Hoover government had resigned or been chased out by angry mobs, then the communist cadre organizations should be ready to step in, take over governmental functions, and start to build the new socialist society.  That was the plan, at least.

But part of the “keeping self together” issue means remaining ideologically pure.  You can’t just suddenly start making up your own ideology as you go along.  There are rules and traditions!  New events, as they arise, must be met with carefully-worked-out position papers in line with the Party’s core doctrines and values.  What is our position on China?  What is our position on Spain?  What is our position on HUAC?

Hence, although it is easy to mock, this explains the intensity and desperation of debates and frequency of “splitting” on “principled issues”, especially among Trotskyist cadre.  In my previous post I quoted the emotional appeal of those six “rank-and-file” SWP members who went over the heads of their own leadership and wrote to Trotsky directly, begging him not to appear before HUAC.  Like Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot, Trotsky should have taken some well-meaning advice offered to him.  But no…  He read the letter very carefully, but was unwavering in his decision.  Hence, on 5 December 1939 Trotsky’s right-hand man Joseph Hansen duly appeared at the American consulate in Mexico City to ask them, how was it going with Trotsky’s temporary visa, since Trotsky needs to get himself to Austin Texas for his HUAC gig?

From Mormon to Communist Revolutionary

Joseph Leroy Hansen was born in 1910 into a struggling Mormon working-class family in Richfield, Utah.  Hansen was the first member of his family who was able to attend college.  During the Great Depression, he was radicalized and became a communist.  During that era, newbie American communists had to choose between Stalinist and Trotskyist parties, both competing for the same customer base.  Hansen’s biography is silent on the reason why he picked Trotsky over Stalin.  He would have been a prime recruit for either side:  of proletarian stock, who would feel at home organizing communist cells in the Merchant Fleet or Teamsters Union; but also a college-educated intellectual and highly literate; and a strong young buck of athletic and sporty build.  He was perfect, in other words!

In 1937 Hansen and his wife Reba went to Mexico to meet Trotsky, and ended up staying on for three years, with Hansen serving as Trotsky’s personal secretary and bodyguard.  Hansen was just outside the room when Trotsky was attacked by NKVD assassin Ramón Mercader, wielding the famous ice-pick, which he had opportunistically swiped from Trotsky’s kitchen. Along with another bodyguard (Charles Cornell), Hansen, hearing Trotsky’s screams, rushed into the room.  They met a sight of blood and horror.  The mortally wounded Trotsky had somehow pulled himself off the floor and was grappling with his assassin.  Hansen launched himself at Mercader and floored him with several brutal punches to the face.  Hansen and Cornell then proceeded to beat Mercader half to death, but were restrained by Trotsky’s pleas to spare the attacker’s life:  “Please, Comrades… don’t kill him…  We need him alive … we need to make him talk… find out who hired him…. (gasp).”

In the ensuing chaos, Hansen and Cornell somehow delivered Mercador to the Mexican police, thus proving that there are exceptions to the Trotskyite “Don’t snitch” rule.  Mercader should consider himself lucky that he was handed over to the authorities and not left alone for five minutes to Hansen’s tender mercies.

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Hansen mourning at Trotsky’s funeral

Finishing up Hansen’s bio post-Trotsky with a generous quote from his wiki entry, which shows him to have remained on the socialist side of the aisle, despite a touch of oiliness in him that we shall see once we return from this flash-forward:

Hansen returned to the United States and started working as a merchant seaman. At this time, he became editor of the SWP’s newspaper, The Militant for a number of years. From 1940 to 1975, Joe Hansen served on the SWP’s National Committee. In 1950, he ran on the SWP ticket for U.S. Senator from New York.  (….)  Joseph Hansen strongly supported the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and wrote a book about it, Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution. A Marxist Appreciation. He visited Cuba together with Farrell Dobbs in the early 1960s. They were both active in launching of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

Which is très ironic, because Hansen would have been visiting Cuba during the exact same time that Assassin Mercader was living there (early 1960’s).  What if the two men had actually met face to face in Havana?   Perhaps a chance encounter of The Assassin and The Bodyguard who had once tried to beat this honorable NKVD agent into a pulp?  This would be a playwriter’s dream.  The Castro government, like all post-war Communist governments, counts itself on the Stalin line of the Schism and ritualistically rejects Trotskyism as counter-revolutionary; thus Castro took in Trotsky’s assassin with high honors as soon as the latter was parolled from Mexican prison.  But, by the same token, Fidel must have known that Hansen was a Trotskyist, and yet he still allowed him in to Cuba.  More delicious irony!

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NKVD assassin Mercader

Hansen died in 1979, in New York City, ten years away from watching the Soviet Union collapse.  Fate spared him that, at least, one thinks he would have been distressed at the spectacle of the world’s first socialist government dying an ignoble death.  Hansen widow, Reba remained a member of the SWP until she died in 1990, just as Gorbachov-Yeltsin were planting their own ice-pick into the skull of the USSR.

Forty years earlier:
So, it’s December of 1939, and our sporty Joseph Hansen is waiting inside the American Consulate in Mexico City, having raised the awkward question of Trotsky’s visa.  Trotsky needs to get to Austin to perform, like a dancing bear, in front of HUAC!

Professor Chase, because this is the whole mantra of his monograph, believes that Trotsky bucked his own party on this issue out of his desperate unrequited longing for American citizenship.  That was his Holy Grail.  He wanted to follow in Krivitsky’s path and make a spectacular defection.  Of course, Krivitsky wasn’t also running an international party with thousands of followers who hung on his every word…. Minor detail!

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Trotsky’s theory of Lobster Thermidor

And, by the way, Hansen came away empty-handed from his trip to the consulate.  Professor Chase documents that Ambassador James B. Stewart, whom I mentioned in Part II-D of this series, was flummoxed when Hansen came strolling into his office.  Stewart immediately dispatched a telegram to Adolf Berle, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, requesting “instructions”.  Berle telegraphed back that Stewart should “delicately” deny Trotsky’s application for a visa.  The oily-tongued Hansen tried to play the HUAC card, arguing with consulate personnel, that “nobody better than Trotsky” could explain the nature of the Third International to Senator Dies.  This probably goes down in history as the (or a) low moment when Hansen crossed over the class line, in case anybody is keeping score.  But once again, Fate saved everybody from themselves:  Within a few days Senator Martin Dies simply annulled his invitation to Trotsky.  The decision had been made, behind the scenes, by the American government.

Trotsky was no Krivitsky:  Krivitsky had named names and exposed entire spy networks, all over Europe and the United Kingdom.  Trotsky had never been a spy, and had been out of the real game for over a decade.  All that Senator Dies could expect from him was the usual spouting of arcane Marxist doctrine.

[to be continued]

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Professor Chase: Trotsky In Mexico Part II-(F)

Dear Readers:

Welcome to the next installment of (my treatment of)  Professor Chase’s 3-part monograph.  Here is the plan:  Looks to be about 3 more segments of this particular saga (Chase-Part II), after which I may or may not not bother with Chase-Part III, if I reckon that all the major material has been covered adequately.  But please don’t hold me to anything.  It’s not like I didn’t sketch out a treatment in advance, but in the course of writing, the storyline just kept taking several turns.  I do try to plan ahead, but mostly compose as I go.  And, just like the writers of that American TV show “Lost”, sometimes I find myself just making it up as I go along!

2282955-word-lost-on-sea-beach I mean, like, one day the gang are just hanging out on the beach, drinking papaya-coconut Dharma Initiative-beer daiquiries and trying to stay clear of the Smoke Monster, and next thing you know you are transported to some bazaar in Morocco, with some completely new character that you never heard of, but acts like he was there all along!  In the course of writing this, new characters introduce themselves and demand their own personal arc biographical development.  Nonetheless, my series has turned out to be inexplicably popular (relatively speaking), garnering quite a lot of page views.  So, I don’t feel bad about rambling on, although eventually, I know, it must come to an end!

Anyhow, here again is the litany of the order in which to read this series of posts:

Intro to my series.
Part I-(A), Part I-(B), Part I-(C), Part I-(D).

Part II-(A),
Part II-(B),
Part II-(C),
Part II-(D),
Part II-(E),

And then this current one, Part II-(F), which you are reading right now!

Trotsky In A Pickle

Where we left off, Trotsky has found himself in quite a pepinillo en vinagre.  Remember that he is a “man without a country”, he doesn’t possess any real passport, and no government in the world wants to take him in.  His would-be preferred haven, the United States, is off bounds to him, despite numerous attempts on the part of his friends and supporters, to acquire a visa for him.  In this world that we live in, then as now, it is intolerable to try to survive without those all-important papers certifying that you belong somewhere.

16437989Trotsky used to have a country.  He was born (1879) Lev Davydovich Bronstein, a son of wealthy Jewish farmers in the Kherson oblast of the Russian Empire (today part the Ukraine).  So, he had Russian Empire citizenship.  Despite his Jewish ethnicity, Lev never learned to speak Yiddish or Hebrew, so he wouldn’t have made it very far in Palestine, plus Israel had not been invented yet, so Israeli citizenship was not an option for him.  After the Russian Revolution, Lyova’s citizenship changed from Russian Empire to Soviet Union citizenship.  Then, probably the worst thing that ever happened to him, apart from being assassinated, was losing his Soviet citizenship in 1929, when he was exiled to Turkey.  After that he was never able to regain any kind of passport, and just survived, as did Blanche DuBois, on the “kindness of strangers”.

Of all the strangers, Mexico was very kind to Trotsky.  But now (mid-1939) there are signs that he has worn out his welcome.  The Mexican Communist Party (among others) is out for his blood, the Mexican trade unionists, bolstered by returning Spanish Civil War veterans, are marching in the streets, demanding Trotsky’s expulsion from their country.  I think it goes without saying that most of these demonstrations of “spontaneous rage” against Trotsky are orchestrated very tightly by Stalin’s Comintern functionaries.

Trotsky Seeks Vindication At HUAC

This is the segment of Professor Chase’s work which Stalinist sects worldwide seized upon and blared to the world as proof that Trotsky really was a fascist agent all along, just like Comrade Yezhov said he was:  Namely, because Trotsky expressed (as Professor Chase has documented via his work in the archives) a desire to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Known in those days as the Dies Committee, after Senator Martin Dies (Texas),  HUAC has been around as an American institution, baiting and hunting Reds since 1919.  But with different naming conventions — Overman Committee (1919), Fish Committee (1930), my personal favorite McCormack-Dickstein (1934-37),  Dies (1938-44), and then during the Cold War reaching its zenith with the infamous Senator McCarthy. Whose mouth was finally shut when some guy named Mr. Welch asked him the rhetorical question: “Sir, have you no sense of decency?”  The correct answer being: Apparently not.

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Senator Martin Dies

Now, here we get into a complex cluster of inter-related developments involving 3 major countries — the Soviet Union, the United States, and Mexico — all of which events affect each other and lay the path to Trotsky’s assassination.  The 3 main factors being: (1) the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany.  This Pact affected America’s relationship with the Soviet Union; and also deeply affected Trotsky and his supporters; (2) The Dies Committee, and Trotsky’s desire to appear before it, to explain his positions on various matters, and exactly what he thought about Stalinism; and (3) Trotsky’s worsening situation in Mexico, his feud with the Mexican Communist Party and trade unions, including his lawsuits against Mexican newspapers.

Let’s start with Molotov-Ribbentrop.  The Pact between Germany and the USSR was signed  on 23 August 1939.  The American government was shocked and outraged.  They saw that Uncle Joe Stalin had just pulled a clever trick on them.  Russia was supposed to be their battering ram against Germany and Japan, not the other way around!

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James Burnham

As Professor Chase points out, FDR had gone a little easy on Stalin up until now, thinking he might need to work with this rascal in the future.  This was part of FDR’s calculation in not allowing Trotsky to move to the U.S.  But now it looked like Stalin had gone off the reservation and no longer needed to be stroked and appeased like an unpredictable pit-bull.  One unintended consequence:  anti-Communist sentiment soared in the American public; the folks who said Communism was no different from Nazism felt like they had been vindicated.  The Dies Committee felt free to double down on its various witch hunts.  See,  unlike those “traumatized” Spanish Civil War veterans, Martin Dies had a better intuitive understanding who was who.  He knew that Trotskyites were still commies, despite their fancy intellectual flair.  Martin despised Stalinists and Trotskyists alike.  He hated Trotsky and his American followers who, he suspected, were out to nationalize all private property in the U.S. and even put him out of a job, should they ever come to power.  Hence, they must be stopped at all cost!

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I mentioned in a previous segment that Communist Party leader and perennial Presidential candidate  Earl Browder was arrested and sentenced to 4 years in the slammer for “passport fraud”.  Like Al Capone, the Feds were forced to nail him on a lesser charge which, by the way, he brought upon himself by admitting to the allegation in front of HUAC, instead of taking the Fifth like his laywer whispered to him.  True to the Browder family name, Earl marched off to serve his (what turned out to be) just over a year sentence wearing a paper bag over his head, in order to hide from the paparazzi.

Flash forward to 1941:  When the U.S. went to war against Germany and Japan, Earl Browder devolved into a pro-FDR liberal, while at the same time gloating over the internments of the Trotskyist SWP leaders, who were arrested under the witch-hunting Smith Act.

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Smith Act defendants pose under the portrait of their martyred leader, as Marx and Lenin look on from the sides.

Fleeting as Molotov-Ribbentrop was, we can see that this transient geo-political maneuver had a huge effect on both sides of the Stalin/Trotsky Schism.  Both sides lost supporters from the American liberal fringe (who didn’t understand that a non-aggression pact is not exactly the same thing as a strategic alliance), but especially Trotsky.  The Stalinists only lost some intellectual fellow-travellers, but kept their core.  Those guys had harder backbones — after all, yeoman cadres like Paul Robeson had followed Stalin through every previous twist, including the Moscow Trials.  So, for them, watching Molotov shaking hands with a Nazi, was just another day at the office.

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Hitler to Molotov:  “I heard that Shachtman and Burnham just defected from Trotsky – yay!

Trotsky lost way more, not just fellow travellers but also core cadre.  Which may be an indication that his core were squishier than the Stalinists.  Half of Trotsky’s Fourth International simply evaporated overnight, including leadership team members Max Shachtman, whom we have mentioned before, and Shachtman’s sidekick James Burnham, who went on (in a later segment of his life) to edit the right-wing magazine National Review.  Trotsky’s tone in his internal polemics on this issue was markedly different from his public tone, such as this shockingly vituperous statement to the British press, in which Trotsky blasts Molotov, Voroshilov, Stalin, etc., and calls for the German proletariat to ride to the rescue (as if they could).  Internally with his own cadres, Trotsky’s tone was different, for example as he pleads with the defecting Shachtman to understand the concept of subtlety:

You have hundreds and hundreds of new members who have not passed through our common experience. I am fearful that your presentation can lead them into the error of believing that we were unconditionally for the support of the Kremlin, at least on the international field, that we didn’t foresee such a possibility as the Stalin-Hitler collaboration, that we were taken unawares by the events, and that we must fundamentally change our position. That is not true!  (….)  The real danger now is not the “unconditional” defense of that which is worthy of defense, but direct or indirect help to the political current which tries to identify the USSR with the fascist states for the benefit of the democracies, or to the related current which tries to put all tendencies in the same pot in order to compromise Bolshevism or Marxism with Stalinism. We are the only party which really foresaw the events, not in their empirical concreteness, of course, but in their general tendency. Our strength consists in the fact that we do not need to change our orientation as the war begins.

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Irony of ironies:  In a different, in a better, universe, this could have been that moment in history when Stalin and Trotsky agree to bury the hatchet and work together to save the great nation that they both helped to build.  Trotsky admits to his major character flaw:  Pride.  And Stalin admits to his major character flaw:  Prejudice.

Kobe: “Leib Davydovich, I admit I was wrong about a few things.  I was prejudiced against you from the beginning.  I resented the regard that Ilyich showed for you.  Maybe I went too far in torturing and shooting all your friends.  But now, facing this mutual threat together, we could work together for the better good of the Soviet people…”  Leib:  “I am sorry too, Kobe, possibly I was too outspoken, my pride got in the way, and I might have said a few things about you which I now regret….  And frankly, despite my formerly harsh opinion, I admit that Molotov-Ribbentrop was a stroke of genius…”

In the real world, which is a world of sorrows, pain and disappointment, that never happened, Team Trotsky was decimated by Molotov-Ribbentrop, whereas all Stalin lost was some extraneous kreakl baggage.  And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Trotsky risked losing even those few followers that he still had left, not because of Hitler this time, but due to his own stubborness.  Trotsky’s amour-propre urges him to testify before Dies, to tell his side of the story and refute Earl Browder’s crude lies about him.  (By the way, this HUAC testimony never happened.  It was all just pie in the sky.)

Threats Of Another Split

Now we are flashing back to October 1938, one year before Molotov-Ribbentrop.  We meet a man named Joseph (J.B.) Matthews, who is the Chief Investigator for the Dies Committee.  J.B. had been a commie himself just a few years back, heading several Stalinist “mass front” organizations.  Then he became disillusioned with communism and went over to the other side.  [Which makes me wonder if he was a spy all along!]  Matthews sends a telegram to Trotsky, inviting him to appear before the Committee to give his version of “the history of Stalinism”.   Trotsky is intrigued by the idea and cannot resist the opportunity to expound on his favorite topic.  Matthews promises him a temporary visa for both self and wife; and also guarantees of physical safety.

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J.B. Matthews

Trotsky discusses this exciting new development with all his bodyguards and his personal secretaries, including SWP leader Joseph Hansen.  Hansen was to write later that Trotsky’s personal team saw nothing wrong with Trotsky appearing before Dies; in fact, they thought it was a good idea.  They did not see any ethical or principled objections since, to them, Dies was no different than any other committee of any other bourgeois government in the world.  Trotsky believed that he could use the Dies apearance as a platform for promoting his political ideas to a world audience; explaining to the American working class the degeneracy of the Stalinist tendency, etc.  Trotsky subsequently dispatches a telegram to Matthews:  “I accept your invitation, which I see as my political duty.”

Trotsky’s lawyer, Albert Goldman (who later went on to internment under the Smith Act), met with Matthews several times to discuss Trotsky’s possible testimony.  Goldman writes back to Trotsky:  “The Committee wants to tie the [American] Communist Party to the Stalin government, because it wants to launch prosecutions against the Communist Party, under the new law, which requires parties to register as agents of foreign governments.  Our own goal, as I explained to Matthews, is to expose, in fact, the rotten nature of Stalinism and its degenerating influence on the workers movement.  I asked him to issue you the usual 6-month guest visa.”

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Trotsky didn’t want to go to Austin

Trotsky’s testimony was scheduled tentatively to take place in Austin, Texas.  Trotsky was wildly opposed to this, considering Austin to be a grotesque backwater.  For his big prime-time appearance he would settle for nothing less than Washington D.C.  When Matthews wouldn’t agree to this, then Trotsky reconciled himself to the Austin gig.  Professor Chase naturally interprets Trotsky’s ardor to appear before Dies, as still another sinister indication of his lemming-like compulsion to become an FBI informant.  But a better reading of this, is simply to recall Trotsky’s main personality flaw:  His pride.  Trotsky is a proud man who defends himself against every slight and every slander.  I forgot to mention that, during this same period of time, Albert Goldman is suing the New York Daily News on Trotsky’s behalf, because Trotsky feels that they libelled him on the issue of Mexican petroleum.  Trotsky believes that he can sue everybody, still handle Martin Dies, and win, by the force of his personality and famous oratory.

Now, a significant faction of Trotsky’s flagship American party was appalled at the very notion of their Russian leader, not just speaking to, but even acknowledging the existence of, such an odious class enemy as Martin Dies.  Ironically, taking into account that James Burnham is already well on his way out of the Marxist movement altogether, on 17 October 1939, at a session of the Political Committee (their version of the Politburo) Burnham presents a resolution condemning Trotsky’s acceptance of the Dies invitation and calling on the SWP to distance itself from Trotsky on this issue.  The resolution did not pass.

Even more significantly:   The Trotsky archives show six ordinary rank-and-file members of the SWP forming a refusenik sub-faction and writing a lengthy letter to Trotsky, pleading with him not to appear before Dies.  The goal of Dies is to discredit the working-class movement as a whole, they write, to fabricate spy charges against honest trade unionists,, and to assist in the passing of reactionary anti-labor legislation.  The letter eloquently (and correctly) points out that Trotsky’s voluntary testimony, whatever his motive, will be misunderstood by the average American worker, as aiding and abetting the witchhunters and reactionary forces.

It seems that Trotsky read this letter very carefully, and yet still had made up his mind; he would have gone traipsing off to Austin had not Fate intervened and saved him from himself.

[to be continued]

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Professor Chase: Trotsky In Mexico Part II-(E)

Dear Readers:

After that breaking news story about computer viruses, we now resume our regular programming.  Namely, still chugging through Part II of Professor Chase’s 3-part monograph.  Chase writes of a lost world of war, extreme violence and even murder, but one in which computer viruses had not yet been invented, so it wasn’t all bad.

And here again is the litany of the order in which to read my posts which review and discuss Professor Chase’s monograph:

Intro to my series.
Part I-(A), Part I-(B), Part I-(C), Part I-(D).

Part II-(A),
Part II-(B),
Part II-(C),
Part II-(D).

And then this current one, Part II-(E), which you are reading right now!

Pelham:  A Big Get

Recall that Professor Chase has combed the archives for all of Trotsky’s correspondence with Americans, and concerning his attempts to obtain a (temporary) visa to enter the States.  Since  that is the main topic of his monograph – duh!  In the course of this, we meet some very interesting characters, both heroes and villains.  In the former category:  Superintendant of Police of Washington DC,  Pelham D. Glassford, a member of the National Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  Pelham was a true political dissident and an “honest liberal” — such people actually existed back then.  He was a decent man, pro-Labor, pro-Civil Rights, but also an American patriot.  He was part of that American political spectrum ranging from Liberal to Socialist to Communist, among whose fringes both Stalinist and Trotskyist front groups operated, competing for support and influence.  In this capacity, Glassford was a big “get” for Team Trotsky — Earl Browder must have turned green with envy!

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Pelham Glassford

Glassford was born in Las Vegas — you can’t get more red-blooded American than that! — into a career military family.  He fought in WWI and attained the rank of Brigadier General.  After retiring from the Army, he got a job as Chief of Police in Washington DC.  But in 1932 he resigned, as an act of principled opposition to the police’s brutal treatment of the Bonus Army.  That was back in the days when men were men, and held themselves accountable, even at personal sacrifice, even resigning their jobs in protest.  A phenomenon unheard of in modern times, where nobody in power is held accountable for anything they do!

The Bonus Army was a group of war veterans and their families — a mass of up to 43,000 souls, who marched on Washington D.C. demanding a pay-out of their promised “bonus certificates”.  These ceritificates had been issued to the veterans by the government in 1924, with a promise of cash pay-out, along with compound interest, in 1945.  But many of these veterans had been out of work since the start of the Great Depression, and needed the money now.  So they marched on Washington and built a sort of “Maidan” tent camp of the day.  Police Superintendant Glassford, a veteran himself, behaved very humanely towards the campers.  He rode up every day on his motorcycle to visit the camp leaders and helped them organize donations of food and other supplies.  His greatest contribution was the radical notion that conflicts could be resolved without violence.  Unfortunately, instead of doing the right thing and just paying out the bonuses, the federal government remained intransigent on the main issue, insisted that the camp was an eyesore, and eventually wore the marchers down with their intractability.  When enough of the marchers had quit and gone home, the police were ordered to remove the stragglers by force and clean up the camp.  As wiki recounts:

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The Bonus Army builds a squatter’s camp in Washington D.C.

On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans who remained to be removed from government property.  Glassford’s police began to execute the order; they were met with resistance, and during an exchange of shots, two veterans were wounded and later died.

After the shooting, President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army to force the veterans’ out of the Washington area.  General Douglas MacArthur, the Chief of Staff of the Army, took personal command of infantry and cavalry units, which were supported by six tanks.The Army forcibly ejected the Bonus Army members, and wives and children who had accompanied some of them were also force to leave.  The Army then burned the campsites.

The sight of horseback police and army tanks clearing away women and children, and shooting war veterans, made an indelible impression at the time.  Remember that the era of the Great Depression and the Hoover presidency was a time of mass protests and radical ferments in the U.S.  Whatever the benefit of hindsight, it even seemed possible at the time to Leftists that the system would collapse on its own, as Marx had predicted, laying the way for socialist revolution.  The Bonus Army action certainly had a psychological effect on Glassford, who was later to write disparagingly about the American government and its hypocrisy, especially on the issue of democratic values, which he himself believed in.

And even though he had opposed this and sought to avert violence, yet since his police had been responsible for the deaths of two human beings, Glassford felt he had no choice except to resign from his post.  After this, he moved to Arizona, where he engaged in local politics, and also helped to mediate conflicts between farm workers and farm owners.

President Hoover:  Ordered the marchers to be dispersed.

Flash forward to 1942:  Glassford is recalled to active service in WWII, where he is assigned to the Provost Marshal-General’s office, in the fight against Hitler.  Thus, once again proving his patriotic chops, even though he is a lily-livered liberal.

Flash back to 1938:  It has been mentioned that Glassford is a member of the ACLU’s leadership committee.  Professor Chase documents that Glassford met personally with Trotsky in September 1938.  My readers, but especially American ones who, by nature, are geographically challenged, can take a look at the map:  Arizona borders with Mexico, but it is still quite a long distance from Arizona to Mexico City.  One wonders if Pelham drove, or flew.  In either case, this was around the time when Trotsky was juggling two possible gambits in his quest to enter the States on a temporary visa:  Either he needed medical treatment which only the U.S. could provide him; or he needed access to American libraries to write a book on the American Civil War.  Which was one of his planned projects.

[Dear Readers, remember that I cannot find the U.S. government archives where these letters are stored.  Apparently they are all online, and Professor Chase has footnotes for them, but I have no bibliographic skills and don’t know how to access them.  Therefore I am in the silly position of translating such letters back from Russian into English, and we all know that my translation is not going to match the originals exactly.  But please bear with me.]

So, the day after meeting the Great Man, Glassford writes to Trotsky:  “I am sincerely interested in unofficially helping to provide you with the means to use our libraries for your research.  One factor is of particular interest to me:  the possibility to put to the test the freedom and tolerance which the USA asserts so ardently.  Nonetheless there is a serious issue, which you and I discussed yesterday — namely, what kind of police protection are you counting on during your visit to the U.S.?  I would be happy to pose this question directly to Roger Baldwin who is the Director of the ACLU, and also with others who, I am sure, are very interested in this issue.”

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Redbaiter view of the ACLU

Trotsky reassures Glassford that he plans to live in the U.S. “incognito”, that he would come to an agreement with the government to pick his place of secret residence, and that he would sign a pledge not to interfere in American politics. [yalensis:  Same deal that he crafted with the Mexican government.]   As to Pelham’s concerns about Trotsky’s physical safety, Trotsky reassures him that he has his own personal bodyguards.  Glassford subsequently contacts Baldwin, as he had promised, on the issue of a temporary (“3 months or so”) visa.  Baldwin subsequently appeals to both the State Department and the Department of Labor, but all of this effort comes to naught, as the American government responds with still another big NYET.  No doubt the Feds were un-thrilled by the prospect of Trotsky living amongst them in disguise, while surrounded by armed and beefy American bodyguards.

Pollos Hermanos Come Home To Roost

In the next part of the saga, Professor Chase sneakily draws a subliminal connection between Trotsky’s failure to get a visa, and his willingness to appear before the Dies Committee (HUAC), which was investigating Communists in the U.S.  Around this time (1938) the American government was taking a turn to the right and no longer tolerated the heretofore comfortable relationship which had existed between the FDR cabinet and the pro-Soviet Liberal-Left elite.  FDR had won the presidency on a wave of anti-Hooverism and promising massive social reforms.  Liberals and Communists alike felt comfortable living in an FDR America.  But things were starting to change, as the Witch Hunt acquired steam.

And at the same time, paradoxically — or maybe not so paradoxically — the FDR government was more and more anxious to not antagonize the Soviet Union.  War was looming in the Far East, where the U.S. was anxious to protect its colonies and possessions.  The Soviet Union was seen as a possible ally against Japan.  As a geo-political realist, FDR knew that Stalin was calling the shots for the USSR, and there was no need to antagonize him by allowing a, say, Trotsky, into the country.

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President Cárdenas meets with Spanish refugee children

As if Trotsky’s life couldn’t get any worse, the International Brigadistas were returning home from Spain to Mexico.  Recall that Mexico, along with the Soviet Union, had provided the lion’s share of international support to the Popular Front government in Spain.  Mexico actually did a laudatory job in this respect.  Although Mexican society was evenly divided on which team to support in the war,  President Lázaro Cárdenas ardently supported the Republican side and furnished millions of dollars in both humanitarian and military aid to the Loyalists.  When the Loyalists lost the war to Franco, Mexico took in thousands of displaced refugees, including orphaned children.  More to the point, from the point of view of Trotsky’s situation, defeated Brigadistas were returning home to Mexico, and posed an additional threat to the security of himself and his household.

Professor Chase notes that the returning Brigadistas were imbued with the notion — one of the propaganda memes of the Popular Front — that the Trotskyists were responsible for the Loyalist defeat in the war.  Stalinist propaganda maintained, and still maintains to this day, that the Trotskyists, by not supporting the Popular Front government, had “objectively” helped the fascist side win.  This scapegoating allowed the Frontistas to dodge from their own errors, their political disorganization, inter-factional violence, and gross mistakes made on the battlefield.  Fact is, the Franco side (=The Bad Guys) had every advantage, both militarily and politically.  They had a single leader, whom they all trusted.  He could make a hundred mistakes, and still win the war.  The Good Guys, on the other hand — I’m not saying they couldn’t have won — but they had to do everything right and not make a single mistake.  Plus they had no single leader, and they all seemed to hate each other more than they did the other side.  The corollary is that, whereas the Francoites all doted on each other and didn’t kill each other, the Frontistas drew a blood line early on, as shown in the case of Andrés Nin.  It was a one-sided blood-line:  Trotskyites never kill Stalinists, but Stalinists always kill Trotskyites.  For this reason, the grotesque violence and chaos, Trotskyists blame the Stalinists for their common defeat.

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As the blame game continued, it was an easy transition from simple scapegoating, to accusing Blackwell, Trotsky, and the others are being direct agents of Franco.  This notion that Trotsky hated the USSR and helped fascists also folded in nicely with the various charges flung about at the Moscow Trials.  Fact is, if Trotsky had been an actual fascist agent, then he could have called upon that half of Mexican society which supported Franco, to take up his cause.  Instead, he spent the last 2 years of his life pugnaciously polemicizing against the Stalinists and defending his own reputation as a non-fascist agent.  Trotsky’s fighting spirit and chutzpah has never been denied, even by his enemies.

While Chase sees the Brigadista returnees as a physical threat to Trotsky, more likely they just provided a background of vituperous hostility, against which it was possible for the Stalin government to pull off Trotsky’s assassination.  Because, in the end, the actual assassins were not embittered and traumatized veterans per se, but just the usual suspects:  Comintern agents and NKVD trained hitmen.

But the important issue, from Professor Chase’s point of view was this:  What did Trotsky think of his worsening situation?  Poor old Lev Davydovich was finding himself in a real pickle.  Was he driven into a panic, as the Good Professor maintains?

[Next:  Trotsky vs the Mexican Communist Party — to be continued]

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Breaking News – CIA Impersonates Kaspersky

Dear Readers,

Today I take a temporary break from my current [Chase vs Trotsky] series — in order to bring you this BREAKING NEWS report from VZGLIAD, by reporters Marina Baltachova and Mikhail Moshkin.  Baltachova and Moshkin interviewed several cyber-security experts about the recent Wikileaks expose that CIA-produced computer viruses have impersonated the Public Key Certificates of the company owned by Russian computer scientist and cyber-security expert Evgeny (Eugene) Kaspersky. Kaspersky is the founder and CEO of the Kaspersky Lab, a suite of anti-virus softwares.  Kaspersky is a math genius and a successful businessman, with a net worth of around $1 billion.  His anti-virus software has a good reputation as the best in its class.  Kaspersky is a also a militant advocate for an international treaty banning cyber-warfare.  Something which is sorely needed in our world, apparently.

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Eugene Kaspersky

For the past couple of years, as part of their new Cold War against Russia, the American government have blasted Kaspersky with propaganda attacks that could be construed as libelous.  They accuse him of being an agent of the Russian intelligence services, and of using his anti-virus software to hack into other peoples machines.  In other words, accusing him of doing EXACTLY WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN DOING, as the Wikileaks shows.

As a talented youngster growing up in the Soviet Union, Kaspersky attended KGB Technical College, graduating in 1987 with a degree in mathematical engineering and computer science, then serving for the next 4 years in Soviet military intelligence, as a software engineer.  This gave him a good basis for his future endeavors, not to mention a network of connections with many other talented engineers, but also made him vulnerable to American accusations that he continues to function as a Russian secret agent:

In May 2017 (…) US National Security Agency (NSA) director Mike Rogers told a US Senate Intelligence committee that the NSA was reviewing the US government’s use of Kaspersky software for fear it would allow Russian intelligence services to conduct spy operations or launch cyber attacks against American digital infrastructure.   ABC reported that the Department of Homeland Security had issued a secret report in February on possible connections between Kaspersky Lab and Russian intelligence, and that the FBI was currently investigating the matter.  According to Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) director Vincent Stewart, his agency is “tracking Kaspersky and their software.”  (Kaspersky’s wiki page)

Kaspersky denies these charges, and denies having any connections with any governments, let alone doing their bidding.  And, as the recent Wikileaks revelations show, when the DIA claimed to be “tracking” Kaspersky’s software, they were actually impersonating it.

The Hive:  A Virus With An Interface

Two days ago, November 9,  Wikileaks published the source code of a CIA-designed computer program called “Hive“.  The purpose of Hive is to network and control malware-infected computers, enabling the sick computers to communicate with each other while they steal data from honest citizens and companies.  The above link explains how it works.  The Kaspersky connection, according to Wikileaks, is that Hive used Kaspersky Certificates, among other, to impersonate other products.  It doesn’t seem like Hive was directed against Kaspersky, per se, just used him as a convenient scapegoat to conceal their own cyber-crimes, I quote the relevant Wikileaks paragraph:

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“Digital certificates for the authentication of implants are generated by the CIA impersonating existing entities. The three examples included in the source code build a fake certificate for the anti-virus company Kaspersky Laboratory, Moscow pretending to be signed by Thawte Premium Server CA, Cape Town. In this way, if the target organization looks at the network traffic coming out of its network, it is likely to misattribute the CIA exfiltration of data to uninvolved entities whose identities have been impersonated.”

To put in layman’s terms:  A digital certificate, also known as a “Public Key Certificate” is defined as an electronic “passport” owned by a person, a computer, or an organization.  Except that a passport is just something that you show, whereas a digital certificate is more like those credit cards with embedded chips, because it contains a key identifying the card as belonging to you, and only to you.  So, the Kaspersky Lab company has a digital certificate which gets stamped onto all its transactions.  What the Wikileak hack of “Hive” shows is that the CIA virus-networking program was impersonating Kaspersky (and others).  Committing their crimes in the names and persona of somebody else.  Like thief Bob wearing an “Alice” mask while robbing the bank, so the bank will think it was Alice who robbed them, when they check the videotapes.

A very clever scheme it was, and the CIA would have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for those pesky Wikileaks kids and their big goofy Morlock-haired leader.

Russian Reaction To the News

After this breaking news and amazing revelations of CIA duplicity (“Lordy, who would’ve thunk it!”), Kaspersky hastened to reassure his customers that their data was safe, given that the issue was forgery of certificates:  “Our clients, personal keys, and servers are safe, they have not been touched.”  Showing that Kaspersky’s first concern is for his reputation, his customers and his clients, and not so much dancing a jig at the CIA’s expense.

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Klimenko to Putin:  “I’m not really a German, that’s just my name.”

The intrepid VZGLIAD reporters interviewed German (Herman) Klimenko, Advisor to President Putin on issues of internet security, seeking his reaction to this story.  Klimenko confirmed that it was “plausible” the CIA had used this forgery method to conceal the origin of the viruses which they themselves had introduced into networks, in order to steal data.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s reaction was even more blunt:  “Guess who was telling us these fairy tales about Russian hackers?  Those hackers are Russians like I am a ballerina at the Bolshoi Theater.”

How Can We Protect Ourselves From CIA Hackers?

This expose is just the latest in a series of juicy exposes from Wikileaks.  Back in March this freedom-loving organization published a packet labelled “Year Zero” containing almost 9,000 documents and files hacked from the CIA’s computers in Langley, Virginia.  The leaks show the CIA creating, and possibly losing control over, tons of viruses, Trojan horses, parasitic worms, and other disgusting software critters which have  infested the entire internet.  And, as always, the Americans point the finger at Russia, blame Russia and “Russian hackers” for everything that goes wrong, including their own crimes.

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Dmitry Rogozin: Plans to audition at the Bolshoi

According to Dmitry Zavalishin, cyber-security expert and founder of the company DZ Systems, “the issuing of [public key] certificates is centered mainly in the U.S.”  And the market for products ensuring the safety of certificates, is also highly dependent on the economic infrastructure of the U.S.  Yet the recent exposes have shown that it is not safe to rely on the American products or infrastructure.  Zavalishin proposes finding a way to rescue the infrastructure of public key certificates out from under the American government; and make this process genuinely international.

According to Denis Davydov, Director of a Russian organization called “League for a Secure Internet”, the Wikileaks documents, along with Edward Snowden’s revelations, “leave not a shadow of doubt concerning the true aim of the USA — namely, to gain global control over all of cyberspace.”  Davydov notes a hightened interest on the part of the U.S. to squeeze Kaspersky products off the American market, as part of their aggressive attempt to miitarize cyberspace and neutralize defensive countermeasures to their virus attacks.  Davydov partially concurs with Zavalishin’s proposal, but believes it will not be an easy task to create a new international Standards organization that is universally trusted.  And, realistically, aside from Russia or China, none of the countries in the world are capable (or maybe even willing) of protecting themselves from American hacking.  When one is a hostage, sometimes it is easier just to give in to one’s captors.

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