Characters of the Mexican Revolution: Leon Trotsky - Mexico, His Refuge and His Grave

18/07/2020

Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known worldwide as Leon Trotsky, died on August 21, 1941, in Mexico City, where he lived as a refugee for the last years of his life, after a long diaspora until the government of Lazaro Cardenas offered him political asylum. His arrival in Mexico caused international controversy among antagonists and admirers. When the news came out, the first to be surprised were the Soviets, led by Joseph Stalin, their fiercest enemy. Who was Trotsky that as soon as his name was mentioned provoked the most inflammatory comments or the noblest displays of support?

Leon Trotsky at his desk. Wikimedia
Leon Trotsky at his desk. Wikimedia

Leon Trotsky was born in Ukraine, Russia, in 1879. From a very young age, he was a Marxist revolutionary affiliated to organizations linked to the workers' struggle, such as the Nicolaiev Workers League, a participant in congresses, and a representative of the workers. Between 1904 and 1905 he developed the theory of permanent revolution. His ideology and political activism led him on more than one occasion to be a prisoner in Siberia. He actively participated in the October Revolution of 1917, as he had already joined the Bolshevik Party, of which he was a member of the Central Committee and president of the Petrograd Soviet. After the victory of the Bolsheviks, he was assigned the post of Commissioner for Foreign Affairs; he also served as War Commissioner, whose duties were to organize and command the Red Army.

In 1919, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Bolshevik Party (which in 1925 became the Bolshevik Communist Party of the Union and in 1952 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) was established as the highest political body, composed of five members: Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Joseph Stalin, and Nicholas Krestnky.

But the problems in that structure came in 1924, after Lenin's death and his controversial Testament, which in the additional notes to the Letter to the 13th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, written on December 22, 1922, pointed out.

Comrade Stalin, who became General Secretary, has concentrated unlimited power in his hands, and I'm not sure he always knows how to use it wisely enough. On the other hand, comrade Trotsky, as his struggle against the Central Committee in the problem of the People's Commissariat for the Roads of Communication has already shown, is not only notable for his eminent abilities. Personally, he is perhaps the most capable man in the present CC, but he is also too presumptuous and too passionate about the purely administrative aspects of the work.

The Soviet leadership was taken over by Joseph Stalin, who immediately made a spectacular purge that resulted in Trotsky's dismissal and expulsion from the leadership of the Party and the Third Communist International (Komintern).

The definitive break between Trotsky-Stalin occurred in 1927; it was not only a personal matter, but a struggle for power, and from then on the harassment against the former did not cease; he raised his voice to oppose Stalin; no one else in the whole immense Soviet territory dared to do so, only Trotsky. His audacity became the cause of the hostile and incessant persecution on any ground he stepped on; everywhere he went there were informants, agents, harassers.

But how did Mexico get involved in this international communist conflict, with the Soviet Union and Mexico being such distant countries? As Marx wrote, "the ghost of communism haunts the world," and as in countless other countries, in Mexico, the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) had been founded in 1919 and immediately joined the Third International, through its General Secretary José Allen. This adherence also meant strict adherence to Russian Bolshevik-Communist policies, which in the future would translate into Stalin's obsession with exterminating all dissidents "enemies of the people".

Expelled from his party and his country, the former Russian leader went into exile in Turkey in 1929; he then went to France and then to Norway, but in Moscow and elsewhere around the world, the thought of Trotsky, Stalin's great antagonist, was still present, and it then became an ideological current as well: Trotskyism.

When he was living in Norway, Soviet pressure was felt against the government of that country, which, in seeking to establish trade agreements in August 1936, made the signing of the agreement conditional on two specific actions against Trotsky and his wife: house arrest and a ban on any kind of communication with the world. They had no choice but to leave.

The Trotskyists from various countries sought asylum for their ideological leader, but the only forceful answer they could find was ''no''! Only one government dared to open the doors to Stalinism's number one enemy, President Lazaro Cardenas. In November 1936, efforts began to seek an entry permit for the former revolutionary, who was 57 years old at the time. The main promoter was the painter Diego Rivera, who received a telegram asking if Mexico would accept Trotsky, and the same artist, together with Octavio Fernández, both members of the Internationalist Communist League - the Mexican Trotskyist group - was commissioned to make the request to the president of the Republic. Fortunately for them, they had the mediation of General Francisco J. Múgica, Secretary of Communications and Public Works, and a man close to the president, so he had the opportunity to make the case for political asylum known to him.

General Cárdenas received the commissioners and the response to their request was immediate: Yes, "Mr. Trotsky can come to Mexico. The government I represent will grant him asylum as a political refugee". When the presidential decision was announced, there were reactions within the presidential cabinet itself, in right-wing organizations, in the PCM, in the unions, in various sectors of society... and in the world. The issue made the front pages of the press announcing that the expelled Stalinist would come to live in Mexico. Some applauded the decision and others repudiated it. But no matter how much the subject was discussed in the newspapers, at political meetings or in public places, the order was given: General Cárdenas gave instructions to the reluctant Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Eduardo Hay, to process the formal request for asylum.

When Cárdenas gave his approval, he made it clear that this was only an act of humanity in the face of the refusal of the European countries which, despite the danger to Trotsky's life, prevented him from living in their territory. And responding to the alarming national and international reactions that warned of the risk, the disorders and the alterations that could arise, the ruler replied that he found no reason to fear, since if the asylee dedicated himself exclusively "to his intellectual work", there would be nothing to worry about. The only thing demanded was that the Mexican Trotskyists should refrain from "organizing demonstrations that could provoke clashes with elements hostile to Mr. Trotsky". The news spread like wildfire. The Mexican president's name rang out all over the world.

And Trotsky received a warning that he was welcome in Mexico, a country he knew little, if anything, about. He took advantage of the long trip aboard a Norwegian ship to read as much as he could about the distant country to which he owed his life. The revolutionary and his wife, Natalia, arrived in Tampico on January 9th, 1937; from there they moved to Mexico City, to be lodged in the house of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, located in Coyoacán.

The "blue house", the home of the two famous Mexican painters, was the place where Trotsky began to get to know Mexico, its food, its history, its customs; there he learned to understand the politics of the country that was receiving him and from there he observed and reflected on what was happening in his new place of residence; he also dedicated his days of exile to writing about his country, its revolution and other themes of a global nature, such as Nazism and Fascism, which had Europe in check.

He lived in Frida and Diego's house for two years, until the break-up between the revolutionary and the artist occurred. Trotsky and his wife moved just a few blocks away, to Vienna Street, in the same neighborhood of Coyoacán. But nothing would save the communist ideologist from the plans the enemies had for him, since, although far from the USSR, the idea of eliminating him was still in force, that is, there was an order from Joseph Stalin himself to assassinate the man he called a traitor. To carry out these plans, the leader of the Soviet government had many people willing to cooperate, and nothing would succeed in saving Lev Davidovich's life, not even the permanent surveillance that existed in that house.

A first attack occurred on May 24, 1940, when under the cover of darkness, a group of men commanded by the painter David Alfaro Siqueiros unloaded their weapons in the house in Vienna. Incredibly, in spite of the hundreds of bullets fired, the Trotsky couple saved their lives. But the house had already been damaged and the peace that the couple had found in that quiet and rural Coyoacán, whose lands were watered by the Churubusco River, which ran exactly beside the shot house.

They failed, but did not give up their plans to execute Moscow's orders. Another strategy was devised. In the house inhabited by the two emigrants, besides the couple, there were guards, workers, visitors, and a secretary, Silvia Ageloff. This was the thinnest thread that the enemies found to carry out Stalin's orders. A young man began to court her; they became sweethearts, he entered the house... he gained her confidence; under the pretext of giving the revolutionary a text to read, he managed to get close to him and, without wasting time, he delivered a terrible blow to his head; the weapon was an ice axe, or pick-axe for mountaineering, which he plunged into his skull.

Thirteen years had passed since the break with Stalin, but finally, he could sing victory; his enemy, his antipode had died. The Catalan communist Ramon Mercader had achieved the longed-for desire to wipe Leon Trotsky off the face of the earth. The wound was serious, but he did not die immediately; he was taken to a hospital and treated, but nothing could be done. Finally, after so much persecution, harassment, and attacks by the Soviet regime, Trotsky died on August 21, 1940, in Mexico City.

He is still in Mexico. The ashes of the revolutionary, writer, and ideologist Leon Trotsky remain in the house in Coyoacán, where he lived his last days and where he was found dead.

By Elsa Aguilar Casas, Source: INEHRM