The Relations of Leon Trotsky and the U.S. State 1939-1940

Vijay Singh

What was the relationship between Trotsky and the House Un-American Activities? Why did he agree to depose before it against the leaders of the CPUSA, Browder and Foster? And what was the basis of the interaction between Trotsky and the United States Consulate in Mexico City? These questions have been asked over seventy years and arise again with the availability of new material from the archives of the United States.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had been founded in 1938 by the United States House of Representatives and was given the task of investigating subversive activities in the country. Although it was supposed to examine groups across the political spectrum it was anticipated from the first that it would target the progressive legislation which had been inaugurated by Franklin D. Roosevelt and also the activities of the CPUSA in supposedly penetrating organisations set up under the New Deal. The first Chairman of HUAC, Martin Dies, was reputed to be close to the white racist Ku Klux Klan.

The activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee were seen by the CPUSA as an integral constituent of an organised offensive against the working class and its communist party.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn writing in 1939, the year that Trotsky was invited to depose before the Dies Committee on the ‘complete record on the history of Stalinism’ gives a vivid picture of the anti-communist campaign in the USA. Earl Browder, General Secretary of the Communist Party, was indicted and later imprisoned on petty passport charges long dropped as untenable by an earlier administration. Extradition proceedings were taking place against Sam Darcy, State Secretary of the Communist Party of Eastern Pennsylvania, again on flimsy charges. Earl Browder was refused permission to speak at scheduled meetings at Harvard and Princeton universities. An organised hooligan attack took place upon the Detroit meeting of William Z. Foster, the National Chairman of the Communist Party. The Communist Party was denied use of the radio. Communist councilmanic candidates were debarred in New York City. And so on.1

It was in this atmosphere that Trotsky sent a reply to the House Un-American Activities Committee by telegram: ‘I accept your invitation as a political duty’.

Why did Trotsky accede to the request of the reactionary Dies Committee? Answering the criticism of one of his then supporters, James Burnham, of the Socialist Workers Party of the USA, he argued that participation in the Dies Committee was an excellent favourable political opportunity. The committee should be regarded as a parliamentary investigation committee and as a kind of ‘tribunal’. Just as the supporters of Trotsky had supported the formation of the Dewey Commission to try to clear the name of their leader who was implicated in the treason trials in Moscow it was valuable to participate in the Dies Committee which had an audience which was thousands of times larger than the earlier commission.2 Thus according to Trotsky the Dies Committee was an appropriate forum for presenting the ‘History of Stalinism’.

Trotsky denied statements in the Mexican press which suggested that he intended to submit information to the Dies Committee on the Latin American communist movement, arguing that he had not a single document on this and would only confine himself to presenting a ‘History of Stalinism’.3 The documents published here do establish that, whether Trotsky possessed such documents as he could present to the Dies Committee or not, he was passing on information to the US state about the Latin American communist parties. In the meeting between Trotsky and Robert G McGregor Jr. of the US Consulate in Mexico which was held on 25 June 1940, US archival documents record (No. 4) that the former Soviet leader indicated that the Comintern had been subsidising the foreign press including the progressive Mexican press. Furthermore, he named particular leaders in Spain and Mexico.

Ultimately Trotsky did not depose before the Dies Committee of the House of Representatives on the question of the history of Stalinism. He argued that as there was no principled basis for him, Trotsky, to support Martin Dies or the petroleum magnates behind him against the Mexican people for reactionary ends, Dies had retracted the invitation to Trotsky.4 In reality the reasons for the withdrawal of the invitation to Trotsky to appear before the Dies Committee were different. As the documents reveal, J. B. Mathews, who was the Chief Investigator of the House Special Committee of Un-American Activities, sought with the State Department to arrange for a visa saying that the testimony of Trotsky would be useful. The State Department, however, was of the view that the testimony of Trotsky was no longer of value and it prevailed upon Mathews to drop the idea. In line with this and with the approval of the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Mexico Consulate was directed to reject the visa application of Trotsky.

On November 25th 1993 Phil Davison wrote an article in the UK newspaper The Independent in which he detailed the new information that the Mexican mural painter Diego Rivera had become an informant of the FBI after the signing of the non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany in 1939.5 The source of this information was Professor William Chase and his assistant, Dana Reed of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who came across this information during their researches on Trotsky. The relevant archives were located in the files of the US State Department where they found several hitherto confidential reports.6 Phil Davison based his article partly on one by a journalist Rossana Fuentes-Berain which was published in a Mexican business newspaper El Financiero.7 The Mexican journalist Fernando Orgambides of El Pais refers to one of the State Department files where the US Consul in Mexico, James Stewart, mentions one of his officials, Robert McGregor, as a confidant of Diego Rivera.8 The very same Robert MacGregor, as the documents reveal (4 and 5), was also the liaison between Leon Trotsky and the US state. Perhaps the most striking information in the article by Phil Davison is the final statement that:

The revelations about Rivera are surprising enough, but Chase and Reed are promising to shatter some much bigger illusions. Reed told the Independent the two academics had also uncovered some very damaging stuff about Trotsky. "We’re still trying to get hold of some FBI stuff on him... in fact, I can tell you we have concrete information that Leon Trotsky, too, was an informant of the US government."9

Surprisingly, given the explosive nature of this statement by Prof. William Chase and Dana Reed, these scholars have been very silent on the issue over the last two decades. They are, nonetheless, currently preparing a book-length manuscript on the assassination of Leon Trotsky.10 No doubt when the book of Prof. William Chase is published further materials will come to light on the role of Trotsky as an U.S. state informant. However, Documents 4 and 5 confirm beyond any doubt that Trotsky had regular meetings in May, June, and July 1940 with Robert MacGregor of the U.S. Consulate in Mexico City. Trotsky in these meetings submitted information about communist activists in Mexico and Spain: ‘He also named names about the Communist Parties of Mexico (Lombardo Toledano, Alejandro, Rafael Gerillo, Victor Manuel) and Spain (Carlos Contreras, Col. Lister)’. Trotsky supplied information to the U.S. Consulate on Mexican publications, political and labour leaders, government officials close to the Communist Party of Mexico.

In the treason trials in the Soviet Union the name of Trotsky was linked with German and Japanese fascism. Nadezhda Krupskaya, the widow of Lenin, suggested in 1936 that Trotsky along with other oppositionists had formed an alliance with the German State Secret Police, the Gestapo.11 Such charges may not now sound so over the top in the light of the evidence that Trotsky was functioning as an informant of the United States.

Vijay Singh


1. The Communist, Vol. XVIII, No. 12, December 1939.

2. ‘Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40’, New York, 1973. pp. 111-2.

3. Ibid. p.130-1.

4. ‘More Slander Around the Dies Committee’ (January 12, 1940), ibid., p. 138.

5. trotsky-and-his-marriage-to-frida-kahlo-are-leftist-legend-but-new- evidence-shows-that-he-betrayed-his-comrades-to-his-enemies-phil- davison-reports-1506467.html


7. Loc.cit.

8. Loc.cit.

9. Phil Davison. op.cit.



The Relations of Leon Trotsky and the U.S. State 1939-1940

Exchange of Cables between J.B. Mathews, Chief Investigator of the House Special Committee of Un-American Activities in Washington, DC and Leon Trotsky in Mexico City, October 12th, 1939.


Mathews to Trotsky.

Washington, DC, October 12th 1939.

Leon Trotsky,
Mexico City, Mexico

Dies Committee of the House of Representatives invites you to appear as witness before it in the city of Austen, Texas, a city designed with a view to your personal convenience. Date of your appearance to be approximately four weeks from now. Dies Committee agrees to arrange for your entry into the United States for the purposes of testify before it. Will also arrange for proper protection. The committee desires to have a complete record on the history of Stalinism and invites you to answer questions which can be submitted to you in advance if you so desire. Your name has been mentioned frequently by such witnesses as Browder and Foster. This committee will accord you opportunity to answer their charges. You will please treat this invitation as not for publicity for the present.

J.B. Mathews,
Chief Investigator,
Special Committee on Un-American Activities.

Official Business.


Trotsky to Mathews

1939 Oct 12 PM 9.50 (rubber stamped)

J.B. Mathews, Chief Investigator,
Special Committee on Un-American Activities

I accept your invitation as a political duty. I will undertake necessary measures in order to overcome practical activities. Please arrange under the same conditions entry for my wife. She is indispensible for the purpose of locating the necessary documents, quotations, dates in my files. Necessary to have your questions as soon as possible in order to select the necessary documents. Also desire exact quotations from depositions of Foster and Browder concerning me personally.

Leon Trotsky

From photocopies in the Herb Rotherstein Collection; second copies in Tim Davenport Collection.

Edited by Tim Davenport. Telegraphese converted to standard English. Published by 1000 Flowers Publishing, Corvallis, OR, 2006. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.

[Fragments of this exchange were published by Trotsky, see ‘The Dies Committee’ (December 7th, 1939): ‘Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40’, New York, 1973, pp. 130-1.]


Leon Trotsky Refused Visa for the United States

On 5 December 1939, Stewart (US Consul-General, Mexico) reported that Joe Hansen, Secretary of Trotsky, had called today and showed a telegram from Mr J B Mathews, Chief Investigator of DIES Committee, inviting Trotsky to appear before the Committee at Austin, Texas between 15-20 December. Trotsky had accepted and desired his wife to accompany him and was arranging with the Mexican officials for a permit to return to Mexico. Stewart had suggested to Hansen that Trotsky should file a visa application.

The very next day, 6 December, Visa Division of the State Department reiterated Trotsky’s “inadmissibility” in US under the Alien and Immigration Act of 1918. However, the Division of American Republics inside the State Department wanted to consult the President before sending a negative reply to Mexico. They were supported by the Division of European Affairs who too wanted to give “careful consideration” before refusing Trotsky. They wanted the Department of Labour to be asked whether the latter would be willing to admit Trotsky in the US under the 9th Provision of Immigration Act, just like the Soviet technicians who too would otherwise be barred. Trouble was that the DIES Committee had not yet formally informed the State Department of its desire to invite Trotsky.

On 8 December 1939, J B Mathews came to the State Department with his plea to let Trotsky come. He said that Trotsky was willing to testify before the Committee and contended that his testimony would be useful and so he should be given a visa. The “official mind” at the State Department was not so sanguine. They argued back that Trotsky’s testimony would not now be of much value and it was difficult to give a visa to such a well- known Communist. They in fact seemed to have prevailed upon Mathews to drop the idea and Mathews agreed to go back to Texas to talk to Senator Dies.

With FDR’s approval, on 8 December 1939, Mexico Consulate was informed to reject Trotsky’s visa application, just like Istanbul had been asked in July 1933. It was offered that no change since then had come in Trotsky’s beliefs, comments and actions to justify a visa.

The same day, Stewart confirmed an informal approach on Trotsky’s behalf for a visa to America. Stewart also shed some light on the sharp division of opinion between Trotsky and Rivera by now. Rivera had been quoted in the Mexican press on 7 December as saying that he would give to the DIES Committee a testimony on the Communist/Stalinist attitudes and activities in Latin American countries. Trotsky, on the other hand, issued a statement on 8 December that he had no documents, no information on Communist activities in Latin American countries to give to the DIES Committee. The Mexican daily Excelsior carried a quote from Rivera in response: “I have nothing to do with that gentleman”.

On 9 December 1939, when Hansen went to Stewart, the Consul- General advised him as directed by Washington. Stewart noted that Joe Hansen did not ask any “point-blank” questions as to whether Trotsky would or would not get a visa and Stewart surmised that perhaps Trotsky did not want a rejection on record.

Two days later, 11 December, Stewart again sent a report regarding the break in relations between Rivera and Trotsky. Hansen – during his visit on the 9th – had clarified that Rivera’s political orientation was no longer compatible with Trotsky’s and Rivera was increasingly involved in Mexican politics and these two points were responsible for their break and Trotsky’s desire to distance himself from Rivera.

Nevertheless, on 4 January 1940, the State Department once again assured an enquiry that Trotsky had not applied for a visa and in case he did he would be refused.

On 28 May 1940, after an attempt on Trotsky’s life which he escaped, a news report carried Rivera’s comments that if he were FDR, he would give shelter to Trotsky and “use him” in combating the Nazi-Stalinist menace.

NARA2 Record Group 59, VISA DIVISION, Individual Case File, 1933­1940, Box 1666, File 811.111, Folder (Trotsky, L)


Leon Trotsky’s Relations with the US Consulate in Mexico

On 25 June 1940, Robert G McGregor Jr. of the US Consulate in Mexico met with Trotsky to talk about the May attack. Trotsky claimed that the 24 May attack had been ordered by the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Konstantin Oumanski/Umansky, who was a GPU agent. Trotsky also asserted that Moscow had a GPU agent in Mexico: an American citizen Harry Bloch. He pointed to Bloch’s article ‘The Phantom Conspiracy’ in the June 1940 issue of The Nation and charged Bloch of working together with the Mexican Communist, Lombardo Toledano.

After Trotsky’s death, his last secretary Joseph Hansen too claimed to the US Consul GP Shaw on 1 September 1940 that Trotsky’s assassination had been engineered from the US and, repeating Trotsky’s charge against Oumanski and Bloch, added that Oumanski was a police officer who Trotsky knew personally when in authority in Russia. Hansen informed Shaw that Trotsky had always felt apprehensive of Oumanski’s presence in Washington. He also gave the name of another GPU agent in Mexico – Frank Jellenek.

Since the attack of 24 May 1940, McGregor Jr. met Trotsky repeatedly in May, June (see above) and then on 13 July 1940. On this latter occasion, Trotsky told McGregor Jr. of one Miss Anita Brenner whom he described as “on the fence between being a Third or a Fourth Internationalist”, charged that his attempted assassination had been carried out by David Alfaro Siqueiros and one Mr. Arenal – both of whom he said were in the US. He pointed to their association with the left press in Mexico like FUTURO, EL POPULAR, LA VOZ DE MEXICO and claimed that these were subsidised by Moscow. He remembered that over 1929-31, the COMINTERN had spent between Five Hundred Thousand and One Million American Dollars on subsidy to the foreign press. He also named names about the Communist Parties of Mexico (Lombardo Toledano, Alejandro, Rafael Gerillo, Victor Manuel) and Spain (Carlos Contreras, Col. Lister). He ended the meeting by telling McGregor Jr. that USA was committing a great mistake by being conciliatory towards Stalin for the aim of crushing Germany.

NARA2 RG 59, 861.00 Trotsky, Leon
T 1250 (1940-44) 35 A2 Cabinet 42/12
Roll 2


Trotsky’s Last Completed Work

After Trotsky’s death, Joseph Hansen handed a 72-page study to Shaw (US Consul) on 4 September 1940 of the activities of the Communist (Stalinist) party in Mexico completed by Trotsky just three days before the fatal attack on him. Sending the study to Washington on 12 September, Shaw held it up as “Trotsky’s last completed work” and summarised it as under:

“The treatment of the subject is largely intellectual and documentary in form but the study itself is interesting as a summary of the efforts made by the present government of the USSR to “annihilate” Trotsky­ism and Trotsky himself. Trotsky affirms that as soon as he obtained asylum in Mexico, the Mexican Communist Party began its persecution programme first by trying to stir up feeling against him among the workers, second, in endeavors to tie him up with the reactionaries (oil companies, Dies committee and others) and third by a campaign which now upon review Trotsky insists was for the purpose of preparing the way for attempts on his life. This third process he proves by citations from the leftist press here: LA VOZ DE MEXICO, FUTURO and EL POPULAR. Trotsky claims that the actual preparation of the first assault upon him date from November- December 1939 – coinciding with the “purge” of the Mexican Communist Party and points to the presence of Carlos Contreras. Trotsky includes bitter criticism of Soviet Union – “perverted socialisation” – “special class of bureaucrats created by Stalin” and concludes – “Present Regime in Russia while verbally actuating as Communists in reality fights for unlimited power and immense economic privileges”.

Two days later, on 14 September 1940, Hansen met Shaw again and exhibited a memo – presented by an unidentified person to Trotsky which gave the names of active members of GPU in Mexico and a letter received by Trotsky from France in 1938 giving information concerning three individuals – one of whom, Roland Abbiate, was known to Trotsky as a GPU killer.

NARA2 T 1250 (1940-44) 35 A2 Cabinet 42/12
Roll 3

Acknowledgements to Rakesh Ankit for Documents 3-5.

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