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Leon Trotsky 19390322 Letter to the Pan-American Committee

Leon Trotsky: Letter to the Pan-American Committee

March 22, 1939

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 283-290]

Dear Comrades,

I am very embarrassed at being obliged to take your time for a matter which has a semi-personal character. I did everything that I could in order to settle the matter personally with the help of Comrade Curtiss; but I did not succeed. After a series of written and oral declarations about his resignation from the Fourth international, Comrade D. Rivera now makes a definite declaration, in essence, that the reason for his withdrawal from our international organization is my attitude toward him. When he first hinted this I visited him immediately and asked him what it was all about. I gave him all the explanations I could and we separated in the friendliest mood, at least on my part After the incident of Comrade Rivera's letter to Breton, he repeated, in a very vague form, his complaints against my attitude toward him. I proposed that we immediately invite the Pan-American Committee to create a special, discreet, and authoritative commission to which I would present all my correspondence concerning D. Rivera and all the necessary explanations. I was certain that I could prove that in my words and actions concerning Comrade Rivera there was nothing but friendship and care for his work and his personal reputation in our ranks. I believe that Comrades Cannon, Shachtman, and Vincent Dunne could give important testimony on this question. But Comrade Rivera refused to agree to such an investigation and declared to Comrade Curtiss "that there was no need for a commission as there were no accusations" … that he "simply did not feel comfortable" in my presence. Of course, there was nothing I could do to remedy a situation created by imponderable elements. In any case, after his formal declaration that he had nothing with which to reproach me personally, I felt that I could consider the personal side of the matter settled. I saw no reason to disquiet you.

But then, at his next meeting with Comrade Curtiss, Comrade Rivera not only repeated the personal accusations, but gave them the sharpest expression: that I, "while fighting against the methods of Stalinism, was using them" myself; … that [I was] reading his mail, "which was a typical act of the GPU, an act [that], if revealed publicly, would result in the condemnation of LDT by all the workers." Of course, I could not let such accusations pass without rectification. I immediately informed Comrade Curtiss, as your representative, that I would send all the documents to the Pan-American Committee, and if necessary to the International Secretariat.

In the meantime, D. Rivera found it necessary himself to give a written explanation of his resignation. This explanation does not repeat the sharp accusations made in his discussions with Comrade Curtiss, but gives as his reason for so important a step as the abandonment of a revolutionary organization, my allegedly hostile and unjustified accusations against him personally.

D. Rivera takes a passage from a letter which I wrote to Frida Rivera with the purpose of winning her help in making Diego Rivera change his decision. I did not succeed; but how could this letter, which was written after the resignation, explain the resignation itself? You can see from the letter itself that it was far from being hostile or unappreciative of Comrade Rivera. I simply insisted on my opinion that by his character, his occupation, and his life, he was not suited to be a party functionary. But that does not indicate a lack of appreciation. Not every member of the organization, nor even of the staff, is obliged to be a secretary. This post demands very concrete qualities, and in every instance in which Rivera functioned as a secretary it was disadvantageous to the organization and to himself. My opinion may be wrong (I am sure that it is correct); but how can my personal opinion on this specific question be considered a cause for resignation, even if we ignore the chronological fact that the letter was written after the resignation?

The other accusation reads, "I am, therefore, in the opinion of Comrade Trotsky, a liar and an anti-Marxist traitor" (in Rivera's letter of March 19 to the PAC). Here Comrade Rivera quotes not my words, but my "opinions." This deals with the incident in connection with Rivera's letter to Breton. The entire incident is exhaustively presented in the enclosed documents. Rivera is aware of all these documents, yet in spite of this he permits himself to put in ironical quotation marks the words 'by chance."

It is a repetition, in a vaguer form, of his assertion that I used the methods of the GPU. One might imagine that' I found the letters on Diego Rivera's desk or that I searched for them. However, it is sufficient to consider the matter calmly for a moment to realize that I could not suspect, after our very friendly meeting mentioned above, that Rivera would write an extremely hostile letter against me with a series of absolutely unjustified accusations and that a copy of this letter is to be found in my home on the desk of my [closest] collaborator, where he ordinarily leaves the copies of my French letters for my wife. Or will Rivera say that I am suspicious of Van himself and that it was with this view that I looked at the documents in his room? It is so absurd that it does not warrant further analysis. I repeat, the documents are self-explanatory.

But can the way in which the letter came into my hands justify the content of the letter? I doubt it very much. Andre Breton is our mutual friend and he is well aware of my genuine attitude toward Diego Rivera. During his stay here I wrote my article for the Partisan Review and the part concerning Rivera met with a warm appreciation from both of them. In his letter, Rivera found it necessary to show Breton that his attitude toward me had changed radically. That was his right; but in order to explain this change he quoted two "facts" which are the product of his suspicious imagination.

During the writing of Rivera's letter, Van called his attention to the fact that his assertions were not correct. Rivera promised to show the letter to me and to make the necessary explanations. It would have been more correct to have shown me the letter before sending it, but he did not show it to me even after he sent it. Such are the facts.

In writing, I proposed to Rivera to retract his absolutely false assertions in a letter to Breton and I declared that in this case I would consider the matter settled. In the conversation with Van, Rivera immediately agreed and convoked Van for the common work. The following day he refused. After a further insistence, he agreed, convoked Van again, and again refused. Such are the facts. I did not call Rivera a "liar." I proposed only that he either accept my proposal of an authoritative commission which would study all my acts and documents concerning Rivera, or that he retract his false assertions. He refused to accept the commission and he repeated his false assertions.

In order to make these incredible facts a bit more comprehensible, I must quote some examples of what might be considered our "conflicts" with Rivera and explain, at least partially, the accumulation of hostility in his attitude toward me.

After my statement in favor of China against Japan, Eiffel declared that I was directed by my wish to be agreeable to the Mexican government — to prove that in case of a conflict I would be in favor of Mexico. Rivera was very indignant at this miserable man's assertion that my opinions or actions on fundamental questions could be directed by personal considerations. He was even more indignant at the fact that a political adversary tried to compromise my asylum by such false assertions and "revelations." In this article, Rivera hinted that Eiffel was an agent of the GPU or the Gestapo. Rivera's indignation was correct, but his hint was not He did not have the slightest proof. In a mild and friendly way, I gave him to understand it. He became indignant; he repeated he was "sure," that he was "convinced," and so on.

In a campaign against the high cost of living, Galicia called the people to a "general strike," "direct action," and "sabotage." It coincided with the accusations of sabotage In the Moscow trials and so was doubly stupid and criminal. This time, in conversations, Rivera declared that Galicia was an agent of the GPU. In a very friendly form I repeated my warning. On his part, Galicia expressed the opinion that I was against sabotage because I was concerned with the question of asylum. In this stupid and miserable assertion Rivera found new proof that Galicia was an agent of the GP U. I opposed this view.

Meanwhile the published accusation against Eiffel had circulated around the world through Oehler, Vereecken, Sneevliet, and others. Some of the ultraleftists addressed Rudolf Klement, as our international secretary, with a demand for proof or refutation. Vereecken was especially active and tried to mobilize our Belgian section. Comrade Klement addressed a letter to the Mexican section asking for an explanation. He was sure that the assertion had been made by some young, inexperienced, and hot-headed comrade, and proposed to rectify the matter in order to deprive the ultraleftist "roosters" of a supplementary weapon. After reading the letter in my presence, Rivera declared that Klement was an agent of the GPU. It sounds incredible, but it was so. I protested a bit more vigorously this time. However, Rivera energetically repeated his assertion to me, to Van, and, I believe, to other comrades. Klement disappeared. Rivera said, "You see, I was right." When the French comrades recognized the mutilated body, he said that it was all a machination of the GPU, that it was not really Klement's body, etc.

Rivera had never met Rudolf Klement. He knew nothing about him. He had received from him a very warm personal letter of invitation to our International Congress. But it was sufficient for him that Klement asked for an explanation of a false assertion of which he did not even know the author, to proclaim him an agent of the GPU.

I could quote a series of analogous facts concerning Mexicans (O'Gorman, Hidalgo, General Mujica, and others) against whom Rivera launched the severest accusations of a personal kind, but which did not hinder him from completely reversing his attitude toward these persons within the next two weeks.

A tremendous impulsiveness, a lack of self-control, an inflammable imagination, and an extreme capriciousness — such are the features of Rivera's character. I suppose these features are intimately connected with his artistic temperament and possibly form the negative side of his temperament. It is sufficient to discuss with him for an hour in order to observe this shadowy side of his great personality. I have not been and I will not be in the slightest inclined to exaggerate these features or be intolerant of them. Our friends, especially Cannon, Shachtman, and Vincent Dunne, know this very well. On the contrary, in conversations and correspondence with comrades about Rivera, it has always been my purpose to reconcile them to his extreme impulsiveness, his exaggerations, etc., and not to permit them to forget his great qualities because of the negative sides of his temperament. I was always preoccupied by this aim, not only in the personal interest of Rivera, whom I considered as my friend, but in the interests of our party, which was honored by the participation in its ranks of so eminent a personality. At the same time, of course, I could not admit all his fantastic hypotheses, exaggerations, and often venomous assertions against friends, comrades, and third neutral persons. I never considered my disagreements, my criticisms, or my friendly warnings as reasons for hostility, not to speak of a resignation from the Fourth International. Rivera was not obliged to follow my advice or to heed my warnings. But he could not tolerate any disagreements with his opinions and appreciations, which were often very contradictory. He felt even the friendliest criticism (as we see in the case of Rudolf Klement) to be a terrible intrigue, a machination directed against him personally.

So, in this long series of personal disqualifications and ruptures, my turn came. All my efforts to calm Rivera and to win him to a more realistic appreciation of our actual relationship remained unsuccessful. Now, with the same insistence with which he accused Klement of being an agent of the GPU, he repeats that I used the methods of the GPU against him. And so on.

This, I hope, gives you an explanation of the "conflict." And I hope that this gives you an explanation of why I believe that a comrade with such an exceptional mentality cannot be a good "secretary" of a workers' organization.

What is to be done now?

In view of the fact that Diego Rivera rejected the creation of a commission and that he continues to repeat his accusations after he had retracted them, I must insist, dear comrades, that the Pan-American Committee itself or through a special commission investigate the matter in order to establish whether or not Rivera's assertions are true that I committed acts against him which could be considered disloyal and would meet with the disapproval of the workers, as he affirms. Certainly the importance of the matter is clear enough to everyone so that I do not have to insist upon this point.

Fraternally yours,

P. S. — I have not entered at all into the theoretical and political disagreements. Thanks to Comrade Curtiss, I read a program which Rivera elaborated for the CGT, an article written by Rivera for Clave and not published, and finally the program of the Partido Revolucionario Obrero y Campesino. This series of incredible zigzags clearly shows that, pushed by purely personal impulsions in the search for some political magic, Rivera heaps error upon error prejudicial to the workers' movement and to himself. I am sure that your representative has sent you all these documents and thus you can appreciate the recent political activities with facts and documents in hand.