The man who Stalin hated so much, that he orchestrated his assassination in Mexico all the way from Russia.
In Mexico, the country where I come from, Leon Trotsky is remembered as the Russian communist who had an affair with Frida Kahlo. Locals and tourists alike visit his home in Mexico City, a couple of blocks away from Frida's famous Casa Azul, to see where the man lived during his exile and gawk at the bullet holes left on walls and doors as a result of an assassination attempt in 1940. Now, whether I personally agree with this political views or not is not the issue here. What I want to talk about is the story of his life, and how he went from being a top Soviet revolutionary to persecuted exile who was brutally murdered in his own home.
Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein), was born in Ukraine in 1879. He was the son of a Jewish farmer, whose son’s education was one of his main priorities. Growing up, Trotsky developed disdain and even hatred of the monarchy and aristocracy, who he saw as exploiting the population and pushing them to starvation, while they lived in the lap of luxury. When he was just a teenager, he got really involved with underground political activities against the system, and for that reason, he was sent to Siberia for several years. That was when he decided to join the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). Somehow, he managed to escape and fled to London. This pattern of getting caught, escaping, and fleeing became a constant throughout his life.
Working with Lenin
When the revolution took place in 1917, and Lenin was able to go back to Russia, Trotsky decided to contact him, even though they had different ideas about how the USSR should work. Trotsky wanted a more moderate government, while Lenin was fully involved with the Bolshevik ideals that sought a more radical government led by workers. Still, despite these differences, they agreed to join forces and work together. During Lenin’s leadership, Trotsky was named War Commissar and created the famous Red Army. He was pretty much the second-most important figure in the Soviet Union, but when Lenin’s health began to decline, Joseph Stalin started plotting against the man who was believed to be his successor: Trotsky.
Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky.
Stalin forces Trotsky into exile
It all started with malicious propaganda against Trotsky, followed by Stalin gradually excluding him from important projects and discussions. Just before Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin was named the general secretary of the new Central Committee. By 1927, Trotsky was kicked out of the party. Then, the following year, he was forced to go on internal exile, he was banned from the country, and finally, in 1932, he and his family all lost Soviet citizenship. During his exile, he went to Turkey, France, and Norway, but he was eventually banned there as well. However, in 1937, the famous painter Diego Rivera told the Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas about him, and he decided to grant him political asylum.
Life in Mexico City
Around that time, Mexico was experiencing an intellectual boom, and the most prominent characters of the time embraced communism. Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo were at Trotsky’s side and even welcomed him at her house in the Coyoacán neighborhood, the iconic Casa Azul. For a while, Trotsky, his wife, and their grandson shared a roof with the painters, and apparently, Frida and Trotsky had an affair. When Diego found out about it, he asked him to leave the house, and Trotsky found a nice one a few blocks away, allegedly so that he could stay near Frida, with whom he continued the relationship.
Persecution and assassination attempts
Trotsky had continued working against Stalin’s regime, and in return, Stalin continued his propaganda war and was determined to kill him. The first assassination attempt took place in May 1940. Stalin's allies in Mexico contacted people who were willing to kill Trotsky. About 20 armed men approached his house, including famous muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, but it was clear that these men didn’t really know what they were doing, and Trotsky heard them before they even entered his house. He and his family were hiding in his bedroom when the group started shooting, but they were so bad, they left before they could even reach the family. However, from this moment on, Trotsky feared for his and his family's life, and took all the safety measures he could think of. Unfortunately, he missed one little detail.
After their shameful failure, Stalin’s team contacted Caridad and Ramón Mercader (a mother and son), two Spanish Stalinists willing to do anything to serve their leader. Ramón became acquainted with Trotsky’s secretary and started a formal relationship that allowed him to enter the politician’s close circle. Then, on August 20th, while he was working at his home studio, Ramón approached him and asked him to take a look at a document. When Trotsky started reading it, Ramón took an ice ax he was hiding and hit him on the head with it from behind. The blow didn't kill him immediately, so Trotsky fought back, giving his security team time to arrive and beat Ramón. Trotsky was then taken to the hospital, where he survived on intensive care. The next day, he died from blood loss and general body shock. Stalin had finally gotten rid of his lifelong enemy.
However, the story doesn’t end there. Stalin wasn’t really content with him dead, he wanted everybody to hate his guts just as he had. He kept his toxic campaign against him to the point that his books were actually published in Russia until 1987, when the Soviet bloc was just about to fall. Unlike many of the characters that suffered Stalin’s purge, Trotsky wasn't officially rehabilitated until 2001. So, as I said before, I don’t really share his political points of view, but I have to give him props for that resiliency and will to continue working for what he strongly believed in until the day he died.
For more articles on Russian history take a look at these: