Leon Trotsky – Stalin’s Nemesis

Day 106 of Colourisation Project – August 21

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day, 21 August 1940, Leon Trotsky, a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army was assassinated by Soviet agent, Ramón Mercader in Mexico.

Photographer Unknown - Leon Trotsky circa 1935 - Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Photographer Unknown – Leon Trotsky circa 1935 – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein in Yanovka (now Ukraine) in 1879. The name ‘Leon Trotsky’ was a pseudonym he came up with when making an escape from Siberia in 1902 with forged documents.  ‘Trotsky’ had been the name of the head jailor of the Odessa prison. The name stuck and he used it for the rest of his life.

A committed Marxist who served time in prison for his cause and who was repeatedly sent into exile years at a time,  Trotsky’s story is as much a tragic story about the decimation of a family by a repressive autocratic regime as it is the story of Russia’s revolutionary history. Just as the Romanov family was wiped out in the revolution of 1917, so too was Trotsky’s family during Stalin’s Great Purges of 1936 – 1940. Trotsky’s first wife, his sister, his brother, one son, two son-in-laws and three nephews were all arrested and later shot; another son was assassinated. His two daughters were harried to their deaths; his associates, his secretaries and others disappeared without trace.

He would  have suffered immeasurably in private but publicly he maintained a stoic persona and commitment to the cause.

As a young man, his revolutionary activity spurred a series of forced exiles. In 1898 as one of the founders of the South Russian Workers’ Union he was arrested for his political activities and exiled to Siberia. Here at the age of 19 he met and married Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya, also a Marxist revolutionary.

Two years later he made his escape from Siberia, leaving behind his young wife and two daughters under the age of two. Not much is known about Sokolovskaya’s life post 1902. Her daughters were mostly raised by David and Anna Bronshtein, Trotsky’s wealthy parents, in Yanovka, Ukraine. It is known however that she perished in Joseph Stalin’s Great Purges no earlier than 1938.

Trotsky’s eldest daughters Zinaida Volkova, a Marxist married twice, and had a daughter by her first husband and a son by her second. Both husbands were also killed during the Great Purges. In 1931 Volkova was allowed to leave Russia for exile in Berlin.  Taking only her  son with her, she left her daughter in the care of her first husband. Suffering from tuberculosis and depression she committed suicide in Berlin in 1933 at the age of 32.

Trotsky’s second daughter Nina Nevelson (1902 – 1928), died from tuberculosis after being cared for in her last months by her older sister, Zinaida who also contracted the disease.

After Zinaida’s death her 7 years old son, Vsevolod Volkov went to live with his  grandfather Trotsky in Turkey. His half-uncle, Lev Sedov (Trotsky’s son by his second wife) then took on caring for him in Germany, Austria and finally Paris. After Sedov was assassinated in 1938, his partner, Jeanne Martin wanted to keep the now 12-year-old Vesevolod. Trotsky sued for custody and won the case, but Martin took Vsevolod into hiding.

Eventually, Trotsky’s friends found Vsevolod and sent him to Mexico, where Trotsky had gone into exile. After Trotsky was assassinated in 1940, Vsevolod now 14 remained in Mexico, living with family friends.

Adopting the first name of Esteban, (the Spanish equivalent of his name) he went on to become an engineer. Volkov eventually married and had four daughters of his own. Currently he is custodian of the Trotsky Museum in Mexico City.

One of his daughters, (great-granddaughter of Trotsky) Nora Volkow, a physician, lives in the United States, where she is the director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland near Washington, DC.

Back to 1902……after escaping from Siberia, Trotsky made his way to London, where he collaborated with Vladimir Lenin on the Russian Social-Democrats’ revolutionary newspaper, Iskra. Here he met his second wife, Natalia Ivanovna Sedova whom he married in 1903 after divorcing his first wife. Sedova, the daughter of a wealthy merchant was also an active revolutionary.

Together they had two sons, Lev Sedov (1906 – 1938) and Sergei Sedov (1908 – 1937), both of whom would predecease their parents. Both sons died at the hands of Stalin’s agents, whilst Trotsky was in exile in Mexico. Lev Sedov had been an active and leading member of the Bolshevik-Leninist movement and Sergei Sedov, who was not politically active worked as an engineer and a professor at the Moscow Institute of Technology. Nevertheless as Trotsky’s son he too perished in the Great Purges.

In 2003 at the age of 77, Vsevolod Volkov, still living in Mexico, was quoted in the Guardian as saying with a grim smile, “I am the only person in my family to reach my age.”

—————————–

As a young man of twenty-six, Trotsky presided over the revolution of 1905, and twelve years later he organized and led the victorious October revolution of 1917 alongside Vladimir Ilich Lenin.  At age 38 as Commissar of War in the new Soviet government he built the Red Army and helped defeat forces opposed to Bolshevik control. Trotsky wrote a three-volume history of these events that hold a permanent place now in Russian literature. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, a power struggle developed between Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Trotsky lost but vigorously continued to oppose Stalin’s dictatorship until he was duly removed from all positions of power.

In January 1928, Trotsky was exiled to the very remote part of Kazakhstan before being banished from the entire Soviet Union. Over the next seven years, Trotsky lived in Turkey, France, and Norway until finally settling down in Mexico in 1936.

Trotsky from afar continued as leader of an anti-Stalinist opposition. Whilst advocating the defense of the Soviet Union, he rejected Stalin’s tyrannical regime. This led him to the an early and inglorious death in 1940 at the hands of an ice pick wielding Stalinist agent, Ramón Mercader who struck Trotsky in the head while he sat at his desk, reading an article about which Mercader pretended to want his opinion.

Trotsky was 60 years of age.

Trotsky’s grave is located in the grounds of his home, now a museum in Coyoacán, His Mexican home was preserved in much the same condition as it was on the day of the assassination.  Trotsky’s wife, Natalia Sedova lived in the house until 1960 when she moved to Paris, France, where she died in 1962 at the age of 80.

For decades Leon Trotsky’s name had been discredited in the Soviet Union, the result of Stalin’s lingering hatred and totalitarian control. Long after Stalin had died in 1953, Trotsky’s books, were still forbidden. It was not until 1989 that they were finally published in the Soviet Union. Sixty years after his death, he was finally acknowledged as a heavy weight intellect of the Communist Revolution and his reputation restored. In 2001, 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet government, Trotsky’s reputation was officially ‘rehabilitated’ by the Russian government.

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“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.”  – Leon Trotsky

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2 Responses to Leon Trotsky – Stalin’s Nemesis

  1. What an amazing life – so much death and hardship, only to say he would do it all again! I was vaguely aware of Trotsky as one of the ‘good guys’ but had no idea about his personal circumstances. Interesting account – thanks.

    Like

    • Loredana Isabella Crupi says:

      Thanks Chez,

      I guess compared to Stalin everyone looked like a ‘good guy.’ Trotsky wasn’t a saint either but in today’s piece I wanted to focus on the personal cost of one man’s loyalty to an ideology! Yes, he certainly paid highly for his ‘ism’ 🙂

      Like

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