MURDER OF LEON TROTSKY IN MEXICO
—Leaves Many Unanswered Questions
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
On August 20, 1940, Leon Trotsky, Marxist philosopher and a major figure in the Russian Revolution, was working quietly in his study in his home on Avenida Vienna in the Coyoacan section of Mexico City, when Ramon Mercator, an undercover agent of the NKVD, ancestor of the infamous KGB, drove an ice axe through his skull and into his brain. Trotsky remained conscious, insisting that his attacker be kept alive and interrogated. He survived, following emergency surgery, for a full day before succumbing to his wound.
Mercator had been planning his attack for some time, having befriended Sylvia Ageloff, a close associate of Trotsky, while studying at France’s Sorbonne in 1938. Using aliases, Mercator followed Ageloff to New York, then to Mexico, where he inserted himself into Trotsky’s social circle.
An ardent Communist and son of a Cuban revolutionary who fought for the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War, Mercator was recruited by NKVD agent Nahum Eitingon when Trotsky’s anti-Stalinist diatribes became more than the Soviet dictator could endure. Stalin wanted to send the world a message that no critic was beyond the reach of his secret police.
Trotsky first became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896, later becoming a Marxist. His revolutionary activities earned him several periods of imprisonment and exile. Early on, he argued for the overthrow of the Romanov Dynasty, rather than merely focusing upon improving the conditions of the working class. His relationship with Vladimir Lenin was often a stormy one, as he fluctuated between the Bolshevik insistence upon a small, highly disciplined party and the Menshevik argument for a larger, less organized party. Trotsky later joined with the Bolsheviks.
Winston Churchill once defined Soviet foreign policy as, “A puzzle, inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” The same can be said of any attempt to unravel the mare’s nest of factions and conspiracies within the Communist Party in the years leading up to the Russian Revolution and the downfall of the Romanovs. The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks underwent numerous schisms following the failed 1905 revolution. When World War I broke out, most argued for Russian neutrality, with Lenin even calling for a Russian defeat. Resentment against Czar Nicolas and the Romanov Dynasty grew in intensity as Russia was bled white by huge casualties on the Eastern Front. When the 1917 revolution broke out, Trotsky returned to Russia from his refuge in New York City.
Following the downfall of the autocracy, Russia’s brief flirtation with democracy ended with the overthrow of the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky, who, bribed by offers of vital economic aid from the western allies, remained committed to the war against Germany. The German High Command, exacting a commitment from Lenin that he would pull Russia out of the war, smuggled him into the country clandestinely in a railroad car. By this time, the Russian people, sickened by the war, were ready to support any faction willing to end it. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ceded 25% of European Russia to Germany, and, more importantly, freed up thousands of German troops to mass on the Western Front.
Trotsky transformed the Red Army into a force of three million and led it to victory during the Russian Civil War, defeating the White armies still loyal to the deposed Czar. Several western nations, including the US, supported the Whites.
Trotsky was Lenin’s second in command, and designated successor. However, Joseph Stalin manipulated himself into the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party and filled positions in the party with people loyal to himself. Trotsky was out of circulation because of illness when Lenin was felled by a stroke. Joseph Stalin jumped at the opportunity to seize power for himself.
Trotsky intensified his criticism of Stalin’s increasingly dictatorial reign, insisting that the revolution was being betrayed. Trotsky was removed from all official roles and expelled from the Communist Party. Finally, in 1929, he was deported. Trotsky first found refuge in Turkey, then France, Norway and finally Mexico, where he lived in the home of the artist Diego Rivera, until he had an affair with Rivera’s wife. Trotsky continued to speak out, finally forming the Fourth International, a parallel Communist Party opposing the growing power of Stalin. He expected to be assassinated.
Mercator was later found guilty of murder by a Mexican court and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released in 1960, moving first to Cuba, where he was warmly welcomed by Fidel Castro, then to the USSR, where he was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.
History is rife with questions. What if Trotsky had succeeded Lenin? Would he have avoided the draconian measures of Stalin? Would the mass murders of the Kulaks and the Great Purge have occurred? Would there have been a Gulag Archipelago, a Cold War, a Cuban Missile Crisis, a Vietnam War?
Trotsky’s writings profess the highest of ideals, but questions remain. He, too, might have been unable to resist the temptation to absolute power. Assassinations leave many of history’s questions unanswered.