THE CASE OF LEON TROTSKY: Proceedings of Preliminary Commission
of Inquiry in Mexico. Secker & Warburg: 12s. 6d.
Review by J. R. CAMPBELL
The Case of Leon Trotsky is the verbatim report of the American
commission which examined that gentleman in his new home in Mexico.
It contains the most consistent answer that Trotsky has yet given to
the charges levelled against him in the Moscow trials. The answer
will not, however, convince anyone except those anti-Soviet people
who want to be convinced.
The bulk of the evidence consisted of a description by Trotsky of
his past political attitude in order to show that the crimes he was
found guilty of were at variance with his whole life history.
Hardly any serious cross-examination was conducted in relation to
this, and yet the Commission had at its disposal a series of
pamphlets dating from 1930 in which Trotsky purports to show: (1)
That the attempt to realise Socialism in the Soviet Union will lead
to a series of great social convulsions; (2) That the policy of
collectivisation of agriculture will ruin the country and will
produce tens of millions of unemployed; (3) That the rapid
industrialisation of the country must be stopped; (4) That it was
impossible to have 100 per cent. collectivisation and therefore they
must not aim at eliminating the rich peasant exploiters but at
limiting them; (5) That Stalin had brought the country face to face
with disastrous civil war. This estimate of the perspectives of the
Five Year Plans was the basis for the Trotskyist policy for a
partial restoration of capitalism. It was the programme around which
his adherents organised in the Soviet Union. But no one asked him
any questions about it at all.
The Commission took whatever was given it in evidence in the most
uncritical way, as we will show with reference to two personalities
in the first Moscow trial, Holtzmann and Olberg.
Holtzmann, it will be remembered, claimed to have gone with
Trotsky’s son Sedov to see Trotsky in Copenhagen. On page 91 Trotsky
is asked if he knew Holtzmann and replies he is not certain, he knew
several Holtzmanns in the Party. No member of the Commission pointed
out to Trotsky that in his speech relayed to New York some months
earlier, he spoke as if he had in mind a definite person who, for
example, remembered the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen from ‘the days
of his emigration.’ But no one had evidently read this statement.
But alas, son Sedov had been saying something else in public about
Holtzmann and after the trial Trotsky hastens to send in a note
which says, ‘To a question regarding Holtzmann I replied that after
my departure from Russia I had neither directly nor indirectly any
communication with him. In fact Holtzmann met my son Sedov in Berlin
in 1932, and communicated to him, as I subsequently learned, some
factual reports about the situation in the U.S.S.R. These facts were
published in the Russian Bulletin of the Opposition in 1932.’
In short, Holtzmann is admitted to have been in touch with Sedov
around the period mentioned by Holtzmann in the Moscow trial.
It will be remembered that Holtzmann declared that he had gone to
Copenhagen on Sedov’s invitation to see Trotsky and did so. Again
there are the denials of Trotsky’s entourage. They admit that scores
of people visited Trotsky at Copenhagen—but no Holtzmann. Whether
Trotsky introduced every one of his visitors to his entourage and
gave their history we do not know, for that relevant question was
But in trying to refute Holtzmann’s testimony with regard to meeting
Sedov in Copenhagen and being conducted by him to Trotsky they
clearly overplay their hand and let a little light in on Mr.
Olberg is the terrorist who in the first trial testified to the
relations of the Trotskyists with the German secret police, alleging
that the latter had assisted him to get to the Soviet Union.
On page 95 Trotsky testifies that the German Trotskyists had
investigated Olberg’s reliability in 1930 and had given an adverse
report. The letter of the German Trotskyist, Pfempert, is read and
accepted as evidence. Of course no one ventures to ask Trotsky to,
produce a copy of his reply to this letter. The impression is left
that the Trotskyists had dropped Olberg.
But on page 146 the following paragraph is quoted from Olberg’s
evidence at the Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial:
‘Before my departure for the Soviet Union, I intended to go to
Copenhagen with Sedov to see Trotsky. Our trip to Copenhagen did not
materialise, but Suzanna, Sedov’s wife, went there. On her return
she brought a letter from Trotsky addressed to Sedov in which
Trotsky agreed to my going to the U.S.S.R. and expressed the hope
that I would succeed in carrying out the mission entrusted to me.
Sedov showed me this letter.’
Trotsky’s comment on this extract from Olberg’s evidence being
‘Can I make a remark? I communicate to the Commission that Olberg
was really in communication with my son at Berlin. He was one of the
defendants who really knew the situation of my son, that he could
not go to Copenhagen and that his wife went to Copenhagen and he
gave this explanation before the court. It is a certain discrepancy
that Mr. Vishinsky did not remark.’
Really one is embarrassed where to begin here. It is clear, however,
that Olberg’s evidence only establishes that his trip with Sedov to
Copenhagen did not materialise and has no bearing on the question as
to whether Sedov went to guide the more important Holtzmann to
Trotsky. But if Olberg’s evidence is of value it is all of equal
value and it establishes: (1) That Trotsky did not break with Olberg
in 1930 as his previous evidence pretended to show; (2) that Sedov
discussed with Olberg the possibility of going to see Trotsky at
Copenhagen; (3) that Trotsky encouraged Olberg’s terrorist mission
to the U.S.S.R.
In his final speech Trotsky tries to put a gloss on this by
“Olberg, unlike Berman-Yurin and David, did really engage in
correspondence with me at one time, made Sedov’s personal
acquaintance in Berlin, met him several times, was acquainted with
Sedov’s friends—in short to a certain degree moved in his circle.
Olberg had the opportunity to learn and, as his testimony shows,
certainly did learn, that the attempts of my son to reach Copenhagen
proved unsuccessful but his wife, having a French passport,
certainly did go there.”
But whoa! Not so quick. The whole thesis of Trotsky is that the
Moscow trials were frame-ups; that the various defendants played
assigned parts with a libretto written by the G.P.U. What then
hasOlberg’s knowledge got to do with it when (according to the
absurd and lying thesis that Trotsky was endeavouring to get the
Commission to accept) he did not speak from knowledge but played a
part assigned to him?
Yes, from any point of view the bringing in of Olberg is unfortunate
THE TRIALS EXPLAINED
There are two political explanations of the trials. The only
credible one, based on evidence, is that the charges are true. The
prisoners were people united by the belief that Socialism could not
be built in the Soviet Union and that any attempt to do so must lead
to social and economic collapse. They saw in the difficulties of
1930-3 the confirmation of their prognosis, and came together to
reverse a policy that they considered to be disastrous, knowing that
their alternative policy meant a partial return to Capitalism. When
Fascism comes they believe that here is further confirmation that
the Soviet Union cannot exist as a single Socialist State and seek
to make a compromise with Fascism. There is, however, wavering in
their ranks when the undoubted successes of Socialist construction
become manifest, and when it becomes clear that their policy has
reduced them to criminal puppets of the Fascists (see Radek’s
evidence). But in the meantime they are discovered and brought to
The absurd and incredible explanation of Trotsky is that the mighty
Soviet Union desired to discredit Leon Trotsky and the Fourth
International, and in order to do this arrested a whole number of
leading personalities who were peacefully going about their work,
accused them of crimes they had never committed, and the aforesaid
leading personalities co-operate in this base design by confessing.
Only inveterate enemies of the Soviet Union will accept this
madhouse ‘explanation,’ and only an irresponsible criminal egoist
covering up his guilt would give it forth to the world.
The true explanation emerges from a study of the Moscow trials,
while even the farce of the Commission of Inquiry is unable to
sustain the farrago of lies shot through with almost maniacal egoism
that constitute ‘the Case of Leon Trotsky.’