A short biography:

Lev Davidovitch Bronstein is born in 1879 in Yanovka, in the Ukraine part of the tsarist Russia, in a rather comfortable Jewish family of farmers. He is sent at 9 to the cosmopolitan city of Odessa to receive education. That’s where he gets introduced to the revolutionary ideas, and starts to organize a workers union. He gets sent to jail in 1898 and then deported to Siberia till he escapes in 1902. That’s when he changes his name to Lev Trotsky. He emigrated to London, where he met Lenin in 1903, with whom he has many discrepancies, and in 1905, he returns to Russia, to support the revolution. After a second exile to Siberia, he escapes again, to live in Vienna. As the first world war breaks out in 1914, he flees Vienna for the neutral Switzerland, and then France. Because of his anti-war activities, he is again deported, in Spain, then in USA. When he learns about the February revolution in Russia, he takes the first boat to come back to his home country, just as Lenin did. He merges with Lenin’s Bolsheviks and plans the successful October revolution.

Once in power, he is the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and leads the Russian delegation at the peace talks of Brest-Litovsk. He is later named Commissar for the War, where he creates and organizes an army of the people: the Red Army. He manages to defend the revolution with the Red Army during the Civil War. From the illness of Lenin, in 1922, till his death, Trotsky, in accordance with his ideals of the revolution and with Lenin, fights the process of bureaucratization of Russia, led by Stalin. But he is progressively set aside by the Communist Party, and can only organize the left opposition to the new Stalin-led government. In 1927, he definitively loses against Stalin, is expelled from the Central Committee, and exiled to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan. In 1929, Stalin deprives him of his citizenship and he has to flee his country once again.

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Situation of the original Bolchevik leaders in the end of the 30s: only 3 are alive: Stalin (reigning tyranically), Trotsky (in exile), and Nikolnikov (in jail)

He first goes to the island of Prinkipo, near Istanbul in Turkey. Then to France, and to Norway.

As the situation of Europe deteriorates, he flees again, to America. As the US president refuses him asylum, Mexican socialists, and among them Diego Rivera, arrange for Trotsky an exile in Mexico.

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The exiles of Trotsky

Trotsky arrives by boat in the port of Tampico the 9th January 1937 with his wife, Natalia Sedova. The president of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas, sent his personal train to transfer him to Mexico city. Trotsky will live two years in the Casa Azul, the house of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. From there, Trotsky organizes his defence against Stalin’s accusation of traitor in the trials of Moscow. He dedicates most of his time to develop his political thinking.

In 1939, after political and personal discrepancies with Diego Rivera (he had an affair with Frida), Trotsky moves out of the Casa Azul, to another residence on Vienna street, the Turati house, still in Coyoacan. As the Stalinist terror is intensifying, decimating his family all over Europe, Trotsky fortifies his residence. But the 24th May 1940, a group of some 20 men, armed with machine guns, manage to enter inside the house. Miraculously, no one dies in the attack. Four months later, the 20th August 1940, Ramon Mercader, a Spanish secret agent of the USSR, gives the final blow: with an ice axe he hits Trotsky in the head, provoking the death of the revolutionary the next day in the hospital.

The house Turati:

The house where Trotsky moves in in 1939 is very close to Diego and Frida’s house. It is situated in Calle Viena, in the same neighbourhood of Coyoacan. The house was built in 1903, by an Italian family who was successful in making lenses and glasses: the Turati. There is still an optician called Turati nowadays in Mexico. This house was quite strong, so it was used during the Mexican revolution, in the 1910s, by the troops of Carranza. When Trotsky moves in, the first change he does is to add a small house for the guards: since he arrived in Mexico, he has 5 guards protecting him. Most of them are American socialists totally devoted to his ideas. Afterwards, he adds turrets to the house, raises the surrounding wall by a couple of metres and condemns the main entrance and several doors and windows.

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Also, Trotsky installs henhouses and hutches for rabbits. He used to feed himself these animals, to keep a contact with the basic farming, and as a recreation from his intellectual activities. He sometimes gets idea during the feeding, and rushes into his office to write them down.

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The first attack:

A group of 16-20 people, armed with machine guns, present themselves to the Turati house on 24th May 1940, at 4am. At their head is the Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, tricked by Stalin fallacies about the alleged Trotsky treason to the communism ideals. They control easily the guards, and enter the house property. They open the fire on the bedrooms of Trotsky and of Sieva Volkov (Trotsky grandchild, as he was an orphan after Stalin’s murders, he went to live at his grandfather’s place in Mexico. He is still alive today!). As they enter his bedroom, Sieva reacts promptly and jumps under the bed. In the other room, Natalia pushes Lev on the floor and protects him with her body. It is a miracle that no one is killed that day. Only does Sieva receive a bullet in the foot. The assailants start a fire in the house, but Natalia manages to stop it rapidly. Today, we still can see many impacts of the bullets in the bedrooms.

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Lev and Natalia’s bed, and on the wall, we still can see the bullet impacts

After this, Trotsky has his guard raised to 10 people. But he knows that he will not survive very long. The guard who opened the door, Robert Sheldon Harte, may have betrayed Trotsky to let the group in. But a few days later, he is found dead, murdered by Stalinist agents. Trotsky never accepted that Robert Sheldon may have betrayed him, so he puts a tablet on the wall to honour the memory of his guard.

The assassination of Trotsky:

The agent sent by Stalin to accomplish this task is Ramón Mercader Del Río. He is a Spanish communist, who had fought during the Civil War along with his mother, Caridad Del Río. During the war, he went to USSR for a few months to be trained as a Soviet agent, and then was sent to Paris. He became officially Jacques Mornard, the son of a Belgian diplomat. In Paris, he managed to make Sylvia Ageloff, the confident of Trotsky in Paris, fall in love desperately with him. When she returned to USA, he followed her. He soon found the occasion so that they both go to live in Mexico, near Trotsky. When Trotsky’s secretary falls sick, Sylvia replaces her for a time. So Jacques stays outside of the house, waiting for her, talking with the guards. He soon becomes friend with the guards, and the family of Trotsky. And he is invited, along with Sylvia, to a dinner at the Trotsky house. Pretexting a book he is writing, he gets an appointment with Trotsky on the 17th August 1940, to review his papers. On the agreed day, and despite the good weather, Jacques comes with a hat and a raincoat. The meeting with Trotsky goes well. Three days later, Jacques comes again to the house, unannounced. As he is known by the guards, he has no problem to arrive till the office. Trotsky is a little irritated by this unexpected visit, but he agrees to read the papers Jacques has brought. Jacques is again wearing a hat, and holding the raincoat on his arm. But this time, the raincoat serves to hide an ice axe, a dagger, and a pistol.

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The office where Mercader attacked Trotsky, while the intellectual was concentrated on reading the papers

As soon as Trotsky is absorbed in the review, Jacques removes the raincoat, and strikes the ice axe on the back of the neck. But Trotsky turns at this moment towards him, and receives the weapon in his forehead. To the surprise of his enemy, he does not fall dead. He shouts, and reacts quickly. He bits the hand of Jacques to prevent him from striking again. The guards rush in and start to beat Jacques. Trotsky has to stop them from killing him, because he wants his assailant to talk. He then is taken to a hospital, in the centre of Mexico. The president Cardenas sends his personal doctor to take care of him. After 24 hours in the hospital, and many operations, Trotsky dies, the 21st August 1940.

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Ramon Mercader, whom Trotsky had saved from being beaten to death, is then brought to the court. He never talks about who sent him. He is condemned to the strongest penalty of Mexico: 20 years in jail. In 1960, he is set free. He goes to USSR through Cuba. In Moscow, he receives the highest distinction of the USSR: Hero of the Soviet Union. He lives till 1978 between USSR and Cuba.

Following the request of Lazaro Cardenas, the ashes of Trotsky remain in Mexico. The famous sculptor Juan O’Gorman built the mausoleum that we can see in the middle of the patio.

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