Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Letter from David Renton

Dear Keith,

Thank you for your email. In my book, I make no positive statement about Hansen describing him merely as a "comrade and a subordinate" of Trotsky. Of course, however, if it was true that he was guilty of having worked for either the Americans or the Russians, then even this would be far too kind. 

I have read the text from the book which you sent me and I must say that in general I found the writing style unconvincing. A whole number of different allegations are jumbled together, arising from different sources and from testimony made in different places and different times.

Reading it naturally, it appeared to me that the writer thought that by throwing accusation upon accusation, the general effect would be more condemnatory - but this is not how I see things. I prefer it where accusations are specifically made out, and (allegation by allegation) proved or disproved.

When I see accusations all jumbled up together, none was proven but all asserted, my own reaction is to become more skeptical of the author. Further, it appears that the central purpose of the document was to defend the integrity of Gerry Healy's reputation to history - again, that may or may not be a legitimate aim, but it overshadows the text, causing the writer to join together events in a common comprehensive explanation of everything which I personally found deeply implausible.(Life is not united in that simple fashion, the entire world was not set in a common conspiracy either against the revolutionary left in general, or against Healy in particular.

Our enemies have enemies themselves - the ruling class is a band of brothers that war amongst one another). The two central allegations against Hansen in the extract you showed me are (1) that he was personally lax in the arrangements of security for Trotsky's protection, and (2) that he was in the pay of a state power - at different points, it is suggested either the Russians or the Americans. I think a third allegation is implied, that (3) Trotsky’s execution happened because of these state links. (1) I find unconvincing: the main supportive evidence in the text you showed me appears to be a quote from Cannon in which he says that security was in general lax. But in the quote given, Cannon nowhere says that Hansen was personally responsible for the breaches of security; and I can't see any other evidence to back this charge up.2)

Hansen, it seems to be suggested had contacts or was an agent for both the Americans and the Russians.The evidence of the former is a letter from the American Consul in Mexico City to an official in the State Department, dated September 25, 1940. First, I will note that it is not a letter from Hansen himself. (This fact alone is likely to create "transmission errors"). Second, it is not clear from a single line taken out of correspondence, what the meaning was of the approach. It appears to have been spent roughly a month after Trotsky's death. Was Hansen asking for a safe passage (fearing for his own life and knowing that the GPU had struck close to him in the past)? Was Hansen offering to give evidence to the American authorities? Was he trying to find someone - anyone - who would catch Trotsky's killer? What the response of the State Department, did they bury the contact or did they follow it up? If they did agree to open contacts, then how then did Hansen respond? From what you've told me, I don't know.
To the person who wrote the book, it seems self-evident that any connection, however fleeting, with a state authority, should put the person involved beyond the revolutionary pale.

But I've lived in parts of the world where insurrections are of recent memory or are real possibilities for the near future. It is by no means true that in these circumstances there is an iron-hard wall separating revolutionaries from the activities of meddling states. There is some excellent literature on how the Bolsheviks tried to deal with the problem of approaches of assistance made to them by covert agents of Germany towards the end of WWI; and although the common legend of German gold is I believe a complete fabrication, there were other incidents, and not even the Bolsheviks always got it right. I wouldn't condemn Hansen as a spy or as a tool of spies without seeing much more. The same applies to the suggestion in the text that Hansen must have been a spy because - this time, not for the American but for the Russians - because Louis Budenz said that he was a spy.

Again, I would need to know more before being persuaded; when did Budenz say this? Did he have any animus against Hansen? Did he have any reason for knowing this - e.g. because he had been a spy himself? Why, in short, should we believe him? What makes the allegation particularly unlikely is the way the author joins it to the suggestion that Hansen was also in the pay of the Americans; just thinking about things naturally - it seems hard to believe that he was both.3) I also find unconvincing. Let's rehearse the evidence again.

Because Hansen after Trotsky's death had a contact with an American agent, and because Hansen years later was named as a Soviet agent, and because+ Security may have been lax at the time of Trotsky's death (Cannon has said so) ...Therefore, Hansen contributed maliciously to Trotsky's killing. If the state put a person on trial as an accessory to murder and this was the sum total of the evidence, you and I would be protesting loudly about a miscarriage of justice.
But I am happy to continue this correspondence, for the time being, if there is something that proves the point you wish to make, then I will always think differently of Hansen in future.

With kind regards

David Renton
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