by Isaac Don Levine,
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 25s.
it is now only a matter of a few months since a Czechoslovak passport was issued, in the name Vandendresch, to the man who, in August 1940, murdered Leon Trotsky with an ice-pick. The destroyer of one of the greatest brains of this century has now been whisked off to sanctuary in the Soviet bloc. He may now, in a Black Sea home for Pensioned Executioners, be reminiscing with Rakosi; or else be resposing, for safety’s sake, in quicklime, by courtesy of General Serov: in any event, for the rest of his life we are unlikely to hear more of him.
The grounds that the assassin gave for his dreadful act were various and misleading. In a document found on his person at the time of the murder he stated that Trotsky was an agent of the United States government and the Committee of Martin Dies (the forerunner of Joe MacCarthy). By the time of his trial in a Mexican court in 1942, the United States was an ally of Russia, and the American Communists as keen on nosing out “Un-American Activities” as anybody else. Vandendrescht thereupon suddenly remembered that Trotsky was actually an agent of the Nazis, as he had been in the standard Soviet story up till the conclusion of the Stalin-Hitler pact. After his conviction, the assassin spent nearly twenty tolerable years in a Mexican prison, running a radio business and a mistress or two, until his release and departure in an East European direction.
This curious being, who at no time volunteered any information on his identity or motives beyond a pack of obvious falsehoods, was identified as long ago as 1944 by Spanish refugees resident in Mexico. Isaac Don Levine has compiled several independent lines of evidence, from acquaintances, photographs and fingerprints, which establish the old identification beyond the slightest doubt: Ramon Mercader, born in Barcelona in 1914, Communist strike-leader and military volunteer against Franco by the age of 23, and then political commissar and Moscow-trained assassin.
Mr. Levine is successful in his dismantling and exposure of the complex machinery of terror that came into play even before the Moscow trials had passed Trotsky’s death-sentence: the international couriers of murder such as Carlo Contreras, alias Vittorio Vidali, the present CP leader in Trieste; the Mexican dacoit-gang under David Siqueiros; the smuggling of Mercader into Trotsky’s entourage as “Jacques Mornard”, through a carefully arranged affair with the naive Sylvia Ageloff; the NKVD’s infiltration of mock-Trotskyist narks like Zborowski and Soble, whose informing on anti-Stalinist Socialists continued until their arrest for espionage in the United States two or three years ago.
The two hostile power-giants that straddle today’s globe feed on a diet of one another’s excrement; Mr. Levine, the sponsor of Whittaker Chambers, is absorbed in the detailed contemplation of this prize specimen of stink. Soble, Orlov, Sylvia Ageloff, the Dallins, Zborowski and Budenz (parasites, whether as witnesses or agents) on a revolutionary’s doom, help fill out the interminable volumes of Congressional committee hearings on Internal Security and Un-American Activities. The frontiers barred to Trotsky when hounded and alive, now swing open to give unsolicited asylum to his corpse.