He was the organizer of the Russian Revolution. He did not want to adapt to the new order Stalin had imposed on the Soviet Union and the Socialist International. He fled abroad to escape the purges of his old revolutionary companion. His executioner arrived in Mexico.
Ramon Mercader del Rio had been charged with killing Leon Trotsky, who had fled to Mexico, where he lived in a villa in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. Mercader, in order to be accepted without suspicion by the Russian politician, had entered upon a relationship with Silvia Ageloff, a follower of the Trotskyism who lived in Paris. On August 20, 1940, he went to the home of the Russian Revolutionist pretending to be a Canadian reporter, asking him to read the article he had written about the political affairs of the exile.
He was received in the office room. Trotsky turned to collect some documents from his desk during the conversation. It was at that moment that Ramon Mercader took a small ice axe from inner pocket in his waterproof jacket and struck violently the head of Trotsky. The ice axe penetrated deeply into the skull and remained hammered into the head. Leon Trotsky, despite the serious injury, reacted vigorously by immobilizing his wounder. Her bodyguard and her family members intervened immediately and they stopped the fake reporter and helped the injured.
The Marxist politician was in serious condition. He was admitted to hospital where he went off the next day, at 18.48 on August 21, 1940.
Leon Trotsky (in Russian Lev Trockij) was born on November 7, 1879. His real name was Lev Davodovic Bronstejn. His family was of Jewish origin and belonged to the bourgeoisie of today’s Bereslavka, Ukraine. Lev’s father, David Bronstejn, had about 300 hectares of good land whose fruits assured a decent life for his family. Lev attended the village school where he learned to read and write Russian.
His uncle, Moisej Spencer, offered to host him in his Odessa home to allow him to attend high schools. In 1888 Lev moved to Odessa where he met a progressive environment. His uncle’s wife was an intellectual who after a few years founded, together with her husband, one of the most important Russian publishing houses. Lev had contact with the intelligentsia who used to visit the house of his uncle.
The young man studied at the local technical school. He graduated in 1897, not without having, during the course of the study, undergone a one-year expulsion from the school to be the promoter of a protest against a professor. It was first approach to social struggle. Lev Bronstejn verified how civil society could be divided into three groups: valorous, traitors, and those with no parting for any, the largest part.
Right after he was graduated he founded an illegal association called “Working Union of Southern Russia” in Odessa. The association published a clandestine newspaper for the most part wrote by Trotsky, and from the same printed and mimeographed to be spread among factory workers. It was the test of the adherence of the young Lev to Marxism. The newspaper and his political activity did not go unnoticed. He was discovered by Czarist police and sentenced to prison. He served his sentence by turning various jails. He was able to marry Aleksandra Sokolavskaya during his stay in a Moscow penitentiary. He was deported to Siberia after years of imprisonment. She reached Siberian town of Verkholensk with her wife. During the four years of confinement, Lev and his wife had two daughters: Zanaida and Nina.
The future Soviet political man, who had adopted the name of Leon Trotsky, decided to escape from Siberian exile and return to Russia, leaving his wife and daughters in the Siberian town. During his years of confinement, he joined the Russian Social Democratic Party of Labor, publishing various articles in the magazine edited by the party with the nickname of Antid Odo (derived from the Italian word “antidoto”). His writings were noted by Lenin, who, aware of his escape, invited him to London. In 1902 he reached the British capital. He was immediately appointed to the committee of Iskra, the Marxist Party of Russian exiles, because his remarkable ability as a journalist and an orator. Trotsky was tasked with making contact with his compatriots refugees in Europe to spread Marxist ideology. In 1903 he had the opportunity to meet Natalia Ivanovna Sedova in Paris, a graduate of art history at the Sorbonne. The love was showing them. After divorcing his first wife, Leon married Natalia. They had two male children: Lev and Sergei.
Disappointments and contrast emerged within the governing committee of the Social Democratic Party. In 1903, during the Party meeting taken place in Brussels, there was a clear division between the Lenin-led Bolsheviks, which advocated a gradual centralization of powers and the Mensheviks, to which Leon Trotsky adhered, who intended to keep the party under the leadership of an executive committee. In short, the first currents were created within the movement, the most maximalist of Lenin, the most pure and left of Trotsky. In the following years, Leon deviated from the Mensheviks, reconnecting him to Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
Vladimir Ilic Uljanov, who later changed his name to Vladimir Lenin, was born in Simbirsk where his father was a math teacher and inspector of elementary schools in the district. Brothers Aleksandr and Anna were arrested in 1887 by Czarist police since the two students in St. Petersburg had organized an attempt on the Czar life. Anna was acquitted because she was not involved in preparing the attempt. She was released with the obligation to reside in Kokuskino. Brother Aleksandr, however, took all the blame to ease the position of his accomplices. He was sentenced to death and hanged on May 5, 1885. After this episode, the Ulyanov family moved to Kazan where Vladimir attended the local university, from which he was expelled for subversive activities. A further moving of the family to the city of Samara allowed Vladimir more frequent attendance of local proletarian and Marxist circles. Lenin was able to enroll as an exterior at the University of St. Petersburg, where he graduated in law with excellent grades. Becoming one of the leading figures in revolutionary circles in the Czarist capital. He was first sent to Switzerland and then to Paris and Berlin to contact with European Marxist organizations. He returned to Russia, he was arrested and sentenced to three years in Siberia. In 1898 he married Nadezda Krupskaja, also she interned in Siberia. The pain was taken away and he moved abroad for several European cities to organize the Social Democratic Party among the Russian exiles.
In 1905 Leon Trotsky returned to St. Petersburg, where the first revolutionary motions were going on with the famous “Sunday of blood“. The imperial guard opened fire on a group of peaceful demonstrators who wanted to present a petition to the constitution of a constituent assembly. The dead were 96 and the wounded more than three hundred. Those innocent deaths determined the final break between the Czar and his people. On June 14, the sailors of the Potiomkin battleship mutinied, being moored in the port of the capital. Leon’s wife was captured by police during an event on May 1, 1905, while Trotsky managed to escape to Finland. In October, returned in St. Petersburg, he was arrested and exiled to life in a location north of the Arctic Circle. In 1907, when he was transferred to Obdorsk, he escaped from the running train. he crossed much of Siberia, reaching the capital. He went in England with his wife. In 1908, he clandestinely returned to Russia. he founded the “Pravda”, which became the official information newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party.
In February 1917, the Czar, urged by the government led by Livov, was forced to resign. The police had deployed with the people, and the army departments that were called to the capital to counter the coup did not reach the same because of the railway strike. The Bolsheviks took control of the command centers. Soviets formed in each city of Russia. They were the true holders of power. The government consulted before any decision the Soviet of Petrograd (the new name of St. Petersburg), which in fact assumed the functions of the Supreme Soviet.
Trotsky, who was exiled to New York at that time, sailed for his Motherland on the Czar’s resignation news. He was stopped and arrested in Halifax by the Canadian authorities who imprisoned him in jail. The intervention of the Russian foreign minister made sure that he was released. Leon Trotsky reached Petrograd on March 27, 1917. He soon had important assignments, due to his organizational skills. He was appointed the secretary of the Soviet of Petrograd where the party’s Bolshevik wing had the best of that Menshevik.
The October Revolution, with which the Kerinskij government resigned, determined the transfer of power directly to the Soviets. Trotsky was the organizer of the overthrow of the government, which was then considered improperly as a “coup d’etat”.
He had organized a military committee by assigning to each member of the same the task to coordinate one of the armed detachments in the capital: army, navy, red guard, police. Kerinskij, when he realized that the capital’s forces were escaping his control, ordered them to reach the western front of the war against the German army. The troops in Petrograd refused to execute the transfer order. The Soviet secretary ordered the soldiers to deliver five thousand rifles to the Red Guard, organized by Trotsky himself. On October 20, the red guards, guided by the secretary, were ready to place themselves in the neuralgic points of the capital. Kerinskij ordered the arrest of all members of the Soviet. Trotsky did not surprise by this action. He ordered the mobilization of the troops while the Aurora cruiser, going up again the River Neva, took position in front of the city being the Winter Palace, the government house, in the line of fire of the cannon on board. The Kerinskij government was removed. Lenin, who returned from England, became head of government.
Meanwhile Russian troops clashed in front with the German army. Trotsky, appointed Minister of War, was tasked to negotiate the armistice with Germany and allowing Russian soldiers to leave the front. Germany did not accepted. It wanted freedom of action on Poland and the Baltic States. Trotsky did not agree. He hoped that Germany’s military commitment to the French front would weaken the German army in the eastern front. That was not so. German troops invaded Poland and part of western Russia. On March 3, 1918, Lenin signed a treaty of peace with Germany on many unfavorable conditions, giving free hand to Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Finland.
Meanwhile, the so-called “White Army” was going to forming. It was led by generals who were proposing to restore the old Czarist regime or at least create small personal potentates. The White Army, which was formed by various armed groups in the regions of Russia and Siberia, was supported financially and with supplies of weapons from the Allies States: France, England and Italy. Trotsky was tasked with facing and defeating the enemies of the revolution. In order to counteract these anti-revolutionary forces, he created the Red Army, of which he was the first commander. He faced the enemy on four fronts with this army of soldiers, soldiers, workers and peasants. On board of his mythical armored train Leon Trotsky reached the places of Russia and Siberia where his soldiers faced adversarial forces. He was tireless and ubiquitous in guiding the Red Army in clashes with reactionaries.
In 1919, the White Army of the southern front, who appeared most insidious for the presence of the valiant Cossack soldiers commanded by General Denichin, managed to reach the gates of Moscow. Denichin, faced and defeated by the Soviet popular army, had to retire to Crimea where he created an independent state. Invoked by Trotsky’s army, betrayed by Polish general Pisudski, who signed a separate peace with Russians, Denichin was forced to repair in France.
The Siberian front had the possibility, given the vastness of the territory, to escape longer Trotsky troops. Three independent entities were formed in Siberia: the Provisional Government of Siberia, Alash’s Autonomy and the Bukhara Emirate. These survived a few years. In 1922 any Siberian rebel forces were eradicated and the territory returned under Soviet control.
The Baltic front showed, in anti-Soviet terms, detachments with Baltic German soldier, who were supported by Britain and Finland. They, after a failed offensive on Petrograd, were defeated and forced to retire.
A small contingent of anti-Revolutionary troops, commanded by General Miller and supported by England, formed a North Front. The “white” soldiers, not well equipped and with few soldiers, were in a short time defeated.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed after the regime was consolidated with the defeat of various reaction factions. Lenin was head of the Union for a few years. He was striken by ictus and had to give up the command. The faction, that was led by Stalin, got the better in the subsequent power struggle. Stalin was joined by Kamenev and Zinovev in a command troika. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Trotsky was marginalized by Stalin, who want the absolute and solitary command of the Soviet Union.
Iosif Vissarionovic Dzugasvili, who later took the name of Iosif Stalin, was born in Georgia in 1878. He was in poverty with childhood and youth, clashing with his father who was a proletarian with little bourgeois aspirations. He studied at the Orthodox Seminary in Tbilisi. He suffered two serious accidents in his youth that semi-paralyzed his left arm and made him almost lame. He was a militant in the Russian Social Democratic Party. He was forced to flee abroad to escape the Czarist police who had put him under control. Returning home, in the Caucasus area, he participated in some robberies to fund the movement. In 1908 he was arrested and exiled to Siberia due to the organization of some strikes. In 1912 he became member of Lenin’s central party committee. Lenin appreciated his revolutionary activity. In 1917 he was in St. Petersburg to take part in the actions that led to the October Revolution.
The ideas of an international socialist who had Leon Trotsky collided with Stalin’s intentions to consolidate his power through the peripheral structures of the party. The “Power to the workers” of Trotsky fought with a more pragmatic view of Stalin, which took account of the working masses of the big Russian cities, a minority of the population, but also the majority of the peasant masses. The peasants want to obtain the property of the land they cultivated and did not consider a good thing the collectivization of the means of production, factories and fields, advocated by the workers. In short, Trotsky was the pure soul of the revolution. He represented the left wing in the Soviets. Stalin want to obtain the peasant delegates in the many Soviets present in the Russian countryside on his side. Stalin took out Kamenev and Zinovev and he was only lead the Soviet Union. He organized a lawsuit against Trotsky to get rid of whom he considered his most dangerous competitor in power management.
In 1927 Trotsky was expelled from the party and exiled to the distant Alma Ata. Fearing for his life, he preferred to leave the Soviet Union and take refuge in Turkey. He went to France and then to Norway from Turkey. While he stayed in France, he was invited to the home of the young Simone Weil, with whom he had a long political debate that ended with screams and mutual accusations. The twenty-year-old Simone managed to stand up to Trotsky. The Russian politician and his wife left the home of Weil’s parents astonished by the young man’s fighting force. He also attempted to reach the United States but the entry visa in that country was denied to him. In 1937 Leon Trotsky and his wife moved to Mexico. He had been invited by the painter Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.
Diego Rivera was a painter and muralist born in Mexico in 1886. He was formed in Spain thanks to a fallowship. He met and attended the most famous artists of the time in Europe. He was a friend of Modigliani, who also made him a portrait, Picasso and Alfonso Reyes. He married a Russian painter, Angelina Beloff, who left after a short period. He had an affectionate friendship with Maria Marevna Vorobev, from whom he had a daughter he did not recognize. Rivera was a communist fervor, he was commissioned by the left-wing administrations of his country to paint numerous murals on the new public buildings in Mexico City. He was also commissioned to paint some murals for the Rockefeller Center in New York. The subject of the murals, where also Lenin’s figure was painted, did not like Rockfeller and they were deleted. After a brief interlude in which he was married to Guadelupe Marin from whom he had two daughters, he joined and then married the young Mexican painter Frida Khalo.
Frida Kahlo born in 1907 in Coyoacan, suburb of the Mexican capital. She was a student in medicine when she joined the group of Cachuchas, which collected sympathizers of Mexican socialism. It was up to this time that his passion for painting began. Suffering of spina bifida she had a terrible accident at the age of 18. The bus on which he traveled collided with a tram. Frida was between life and death for a long time. She had the fractured backbone in three points, broke his femur and ribs. Left leg, right foot and pelvic bone broke in multiple points. She was crossed by a coach rail. She never managed to heal. She spent the rest of her life between bed and orthopedic bust. She spent the long months in which she had to lie in bed making pictures. Mainly his pictures were his self-portraits. She met the already famous Diego Rivera who encouraged her to continue painting. She became one of Mexico’s most famous painters, gathering an international reputation. In 1929 she married Diego Rivera.
Trotsky was a guest at Villa Azzurra, in Coyoacan, owned by Rivera. Then he moved to the house of the wife of the painter, Frida Kahlo, who became a his mistress for a while. During this period, the Russian revolutionary devoted himself to the organization of the “Fourth International“, which, according to the intentions of the founder, was supposed to replace the “Third International” presided over by Stalin. The founding act of the new party took place in Paris in 1938. Trotsky was absent. He had remained in Mexico because he was afraid of his life, having been condemned to death by the Soviet authorities. His son Lev was recently deceased for a suspected poisoning. The other son, Sergey, was shot by the Stalinists in 1937. His daughter Nina died of tuberculosis in 1928, while her daughter Zeneida had committed suicide in 1933.
In 1939 Trotsky and his family moved to a villa not far from Kahlo’s home. The villa was soon transformed into a fortress, guarded day and night by armed guards, for fear of a handshake of its Stalinist enemies.
On the night of May 23, 1940, there was an attempt to kill him. An armed commando with machine guns attacked the house. Hundreds of shots were fired but commando men could not penetrate inside the villa. Trotsky and his wife came out of the attack.
Ramon Mercader of Rio was the son of the Spanish noblewoman of Cuban origin Eustacia Maria Caridad of Rio Hernandez. Eustacia was a strong communist. She moved to Paris where she was hired by Russian secret services. She also had a daughter, Maria Mercader, a movie actress who, when she moved to Rome, met and married Italian actor and director Vittorio De Sica. Ramon was commissioned by the Soviet secret services to kill Trotsky. In order to reach the intent, he was engaged in Paris with Sylvia Ageloff, a trusted secretary of the fourth international leader. He introduced himself with the false identity of Frank Jackson, a Canadian reporter. He pretended to join the party led by Trotsky. After he moved to Mexico where he contacted the Marxist politician, gaining confidence. The afternoon of 20 August 1940 he received an appointment and he was received in the office room of Trotsky. He had a small ice jar in the inner pocket of the raincoat.
After the cruel aggression that resulted in Trotsky’s death, Ramon Mercader, who had been arrested by the bodyguards intervened shortly after the fact, underwent a trial and was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. He was released in 1960. After the liberation he went to Cuba where Fidel Castro had recently taken over. Then he went to the Soviet Union where he was welcomed with all honors. The Coyoacan villa, which houses the politician and his wife’s tombs in the garden, was transformed into a museum dedicated to the figure of Leon Trotsky. Leon Trotsky was finally rehabilitated in the Soviet Union with the advent of Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Giancarlo Mura, Lev Trockij. La rivoluzione fallita, Roma, Aracne, 2000
Pierre Broué, La rivoluzione perduta. Vita di Trockij, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 1991
Lev D. Trotskij, Storia della Rivoluzione russa, 2 vol., Roma, Newton Compton, 1994