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Leon Trotsky 19391128 An Invitation from the Dies Committee

Leon Trotsky: An Invitation from the Dies Committee

November 28, 1939

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 12, 1939-1940, New York ²1973, p. 110-112]

Dear Friends:

I found, not without some surprise, I must confess, in your minutes of October 17 a motion by Comrade Kelvin [Burnham] concerning the appearance of "Y" [Trotsky] before the "X" [Dies] Committee.

(1) On the purely formal side of the question: I was invited over the telephone and then by telegram. In order not to place any obstacles in the way of such an excellent opportunity which I found exceptionally favorable from a political point of view, I answered immediately in the affirmative. At the same time I wrote to you asking for your feelings in regard to the matter. Naturally if a formal and authoritative decision had been made [by the SWP leadership] against my appearance, I would have submitted with a public declaration giving the political reasons for the decision. Before telegraphing my answer to the committee, I consulted all the comrades of my household and everyone agreed that we had an exceptional opportunity which must be utilized.

(2) The committee can be considered from two points of view: (a) as a parliamentary investigating committee, (b) as a kind of "tribunal." Will Comrade Kelvin say that we should boycott parliamentarism or that we should boycott the bourgeois courts?

(3) The committee, like the whole parliament, is reactionary and pursues reactionary aims; but insofar as we participate in parliamentary activity we do so with the purpose of combatting these reactionary aims. Why can we not follow the same policy towards one of the organs of parliament? If we had our own representatives they would insist of course upon having a member upon the committee in order to counteract the reactionary maneuvers. Why cannot a witness perform the same work?

(4) We ourselves created a committee of bourgeois liberals in order to investigate the Moscow trials [the Dewey Commission]. Now we have a parliamentary committee which is obliged by its position to investigate many things connected with the Moscow trials. The attorneys for the frame-ups were witnesses before this committee against us. Why can we not appear before the committee with the purpose of establishing the truth? The audience of this committee is thousands of times larger than that of the Dewey Committee.

(5) Or would Comrade Kelvin say that in the first case we were dealing with liberals and in the second with reactionaries? I will not enter into the political evaluation of the members of the two committees, but we know very well that Dewey himself did everything in order to compromise Bolshevism in general on the basis of the work of the Committee [of Inquiry]. We knew this in advance, but we knew also that the advantages we would gain from the investigation would be incomparably more important than the disadvantages of Dewey's political aims.

(6) Such a sharp cleavage between bourgeois liberals and bourgeois reactionaries reminds me a little of the cleavage between good pacts with democracies and bad pacts with fascist countries, but I will not enter here into this larger field. It is enough to add only that we took the responsibility for the composition of the Dewey Committee since we recognized the full authority of their decision, whereas the "X"' Committee is a state institution which we use only as a tribune.

(7) When the "X" Committee began its hearings there were some negligently written articles in the Socialist Appeal, where the depositions of renegades were confounded with appearance before the committee in general. This negligence in analysis can be easily explained by the fact that none of us thought at that time about the possibility of one of us appearing before the committee and proclaiming a Marxist point of view. But to insist upon some false formulations and to sacrifice an extraordinary political possibility would be a crime.

(8) To avoid temptation and escape the risk of sin by abstaining, not appearing, not intervening, is a purely negative, passive, and sterile radicalism. To appear if necessary on foe's territory and to fight him with his own weapons -that is revolutionary radicalism.

(9) I am astonished all the more because of the fact that the author of the motion is Comrade Kelvin who was a protagonist — and with full right — of our action in favor of the War Referendum initiative, a purely parliamentary measure.

(10) Neither can I agree with the position of Comrade Levine that the appearance of "V before the committee should be put on the same plane as "T's" [Trotsky's] writing in the bourgeois press and that in the United States no American comrade should testify voluntarily before the "X"' Committee. "T's" writing in the bourgeois press has indeed an "exceptional" character in view of his past and so on, but appearing before the committee is by no means exceptional. I believe even that Comrade "Y"' should name in his deposition several American comrades as more competent than he himself in this or that question and so give the committee an occasion to call them. It would be an excellent expedient for popularizing some of our comrades before a wide section of the public.

(11) I ask you to consider this last idea as a practical proposition for your decision.

Yours comradely,

Hansen [Trotsky]