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.



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