Remembering the arrival of Leon Trotsky to Mexico as a refugee

On January 9, 1937, Leon Trotsky, a Russian politician, and revolutionary, arrives in Mexico as a refugee, after initiating a struggle against Stalin's regime.

Remembering the arrival of Leon Trotsky to Mexico as a refugee
"Arrival of Leon Trotsky and Natalia Sedova to Mexico", January 9, 1937. Photographic Fund Enrique Díaz, AGN.

After the death of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the bureaucratic State established by Iósif Stalin as one of the wings within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union carried out persecution against Leon Trotsky, who went from being one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and a member of the Bolshevik political group to be one of the main opponents of the State before Stalin's rise to power in the Central Committee of the Party.

With no place in the new Stalinist structure, Leon Trotsky was banned and sent to Central Asia of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In January 1929 Trotsky was deported together with his wife, the Russian revolutionary Natalia Sedova, and one of his sons, being forced to take a train in Kazakhstan to Odessa where they were embarked on the steamship Kalinin to Constantinople to erase one of the main heroes of the October Revolution. During their voyage through Siberia, there were adverse weather conditions that reached twenty-one degrees below zero.

From that moment on every Trotskyist was persecuted by the Kremlin, while the Red Army apparatus created by Leon Trotsky passed into the hands of the Stalinists, leaving no possibility to act against Stalin's plan that led him to undermine the power within the Political Bureau and to be the leading figure of the Soviet Union.

During his years in exile Trotsky maintained a conspicuous criticism against Stalin's regime that embraced violence to end the opposition that remained in the USSR, thousands were accused of being counterrevolutionaries and executing terrorist and insurrectionary actions. Thus from Constantinople, dozens of articles written by Trotsky exposed the crimes of the Stalinist henchmen, while calling to continue with the process of the permanent and expansionist Soviet Revolution of the masses.

The Russian revolutionary Lev Davidovich Bronstein.
Lev Davidovich Bronstein, known as Leon Trotsky, found in Mexico a hospitable and supportive nation that watched over his human dignity until his fateful assassination in the face of the political persecution he experienced. Photo: AGN

By March 1929 Leon Trotsky was once again the target of the political police of the former Soviet Union GPU (for its acronym in Russian), being forced to leave the USSR embassy in Constantinople with no guarantee of a new country where he could reside, fortunately, Turkey guaranteed him a long stay.

During that year he requested asylum in Germany, which was denied, setting a precedent for other European nations to deny the democratic right of asylum to Leon Trotsky and all his family who suffered directly the political persecution of Stalin, as was the case of his daughter Zinaida Volkova who in January 1933 her mental health was severely diminished when she was separated from her son and husband, a scenario that led her to suicide.

From 1933 to 1935 he was able to remain in France until he was forced to leave that country, for which he requested permission to reside in Norway, where he remained until 1936 because of the presence of Stalinist groups and the great purge that was exhibited in Moscow through the trials carried out by the Kremlin to former members of the Communist Party and opponents of Stalin represented a danger to remain close to the USSR.

This escalating wave of violence endangered the lives of Leon Trotski and Natalia Sedova who wished to leave Norway as soon as possible, where the authorities had placed the Bolshevik under house arrest; however, at that time he did not have a visa to reside in another country.

The Mexican State, upon receiving Leon Trotski and Natalia Sedova's request for asylum, ratified its political tradition dating back to the 19th century of guaranteeing the international right of asylum to all non-nationals in case of political persecution as a consequence of situations arising in the country of their nationality.

Leon Trotsky with Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Leon Trotsky with Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Photo: AGN

This action by the State was approved by President Lázaro Cárdenas who allowed him to enter Mexico as a political refugee as a humanitarian measure, guaranteeing justice and the natural right to personal integrity of Leon Trotsky and Natalia Sedova, a measure that was supported by General Francisco J. Múgica, then-Secretary of Communication and Public Works. Likewise, Mexican artists, among them Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, joined the voices that defended the asylum granted to one of the heroes of the October Revolution, who died in Mexico City on August 21, 1940, as a result of a wound inflicted on him with an ice ax by Stalinist supporter Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río.

The assassination of Leon Trotsky made the front page of the newspaper El Nacional during the last days of August 1940. The case was followed in detail, photo-reportages were published about the late Soviet revolutionary, of the detainees, and of the caravan that visited him in the Golden Chapel of the Modern Pantheon before being cremated. Visit the Archivo General de la Nación, where you can consult the Lázaro Cárdenas del Río documentary collection and learn in detail about the case of asylum granted to Trotsky.