Entertainment | Books | May 2007
|Stalin’s Assassination of Leon Trotsky|
Leon Trotsky, with Lenin, was one of main leaders of the Bolshevik Party, which led the Russian Revolution in 1917. After the death of Lenin and the coup organized by Joseph Stalin to take over the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, Trotsky became Stalin’s main critic and opponent. Today, when most people talk about the problems of Communism, the Soviet Union or Communist countries, they’re usually referring to the effects of Stalinism. As a strong defender of the traditions and ideals of Marxism, Trotsky became the most hated enemy of the Stalinists.
|The writings of Leon Trotsky were first introduced to a British audience in booklets published by the British Socialist Party. Trotsky advocated the pursuit of socialism via revolutionary methods and refuted the notion of reformist parliamentary socialism.|
This copy of 'War or Revolution' was published by the Socialist Labour Press in Glasgow and is a good example of the way in which Glasgow-based socialists disseminated and published socialist literature by international revolutionary figures during the Red Clydeside period.
In the late afternoon of August 20, 1940, Leon Trotsky was killed by the blow of a mountaineer’s ice-climbing pick axe at his home in Coyoacan, Mexico, where he had been living in exile.
The assassin, Ramon Mercader, was an agent of the Soviet secret police, then called the GPU and later known as the KGB. His mission had been personally ordered by Joseph Stalin, who hoped to wipe out any possibility that a Communist Opposition movement would challenge his bureaucratic leadership of the Soviet Union and the Communist International.
Leon Trotsky represented the “memory” of the revolutionary past of the Russian Bolshevik Party and worked tirelessly for the overthrow of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. He headed an international movement, which two years earlier formalized itself as a worldwide organization – the Fourth International.
Under Stalin’s guidance and due to his policies, the Communist Parties of Spain, France, China and Germany had been led to near destruction, and the potential workers’ revolutions in those countries had been defeated.
Stalin’s policies led to the ascension of Hitler, who turned on him and prepared to invade the Soviet Union. Stalin rushed to adopt a new policy known as the “Popular Front,” where the Communist Parties subordinated themselves to “democratic” capitalism in a weak fight against fascism, opting for a strategy of appeasement. Trotsky pointed out the tragic flaws of the policy and called for a united workers’ front to defeat fascism before the movement gained power. Instead, the “popular front” policy tied the hands of the European working class and led dramatically to the Second World War.
How the Assassination was Organized
Given Trotsky’s effective opposition, his assassination was imperative for the Stalinists. Every member of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party during the Russian Revolution, that had not died of natural causes, had been marginalized, murdered or disappeared at the hands of Stalin. Trotsky was forced into exile, while the Soviet government pressured dozens of countries to refuse Trotsky’s request for political asylum.
When Trotsky finally received political asylum in Mexico in 1937, his execution had already been ordered in Moscow. At the time, Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas was being accused of being a puppet of Russian communism for nationalizing the oil industry. Cardenas granted asylum to Trotsky to prove his independence from Stalin.
In September 1938, representatives of the Stalin-controlled Comintern (leadership body of the Communist International) arrived in Mexico. The leader of the Mexican Communist Party (MCP), Hernan Laborde, was told to organize the assassination of Trotsky.
According to Valentin Campa, he and other leaders of the MCP refused to carry out the order. However, worried by threats from the Comintern, Laborde and Campa went to New York to meet with the head of the U.S. Communist Party, Earl Browder. Browder was responsible for overseeing the U.S., Mexican and Caribbean sections of the Comintern.
The Direct Intervention of the COMINTERN
Browder met in Moscow and in New York with the special agents in charge of the job. Even before Laborde and Campa met with Browder, agents were sent to Mexico to carry out the assassination.
The Argentinean Vittorio Codovilla was put in charge of the task. Codovilla had been the head of the special GPU divisions during the Spanish Civil War. There he organized the assassination of left wing anarchists, Trotskyists and members of the POUM who opposed Stalin’s policy of capitulating to the Spanish bourgeoisie.
Codovilla began to purge the ranks of the Mexican Communist Party to wipe out opposition to the plot. Laborde and Campa were summarily expelled from the MCP. Years later, after the death of Stalin, they and others were readmitted under orders from Moscow during the so-called de-Stalinization process initiated by Kruschev. This resulted in total silence about their involvement in the plan to murder Trotsky until Campa published Mi Testimonio in 1978.
The Assassination Attempt of May 24, 1940
One of the men Codovilla put in charge of the Mexican Communist Party was painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. The famous Mexican muralist was given charge of a team to assassinate Trotsky. Siqueiros organized the first attempt to assassinate Trotsky on May 24, 1940, heading a group of 25 – 30 men wearing police and military uniforms in an attack on Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan.
They broke in and shot 300 bullets into Trotsky’s bedroom. Trotsky and his wife Natasha took cover under the bed. Their young grandson, whose father had been killed shortly before by GPU agents in Paris, was wounded in the attack.
Siqueiros and 8 other militants of the MCP were arrested after the attack. Siqueiros admitted during the trial that they were connected with the MCP and GPU, and with pressure from the Soviet Union and GPU, they received light sentences.
The Mexican president, Avila Camacho, under pressure from the Soviet Embassy, pardoned Siqueiros under the condition that he leave Mexico for a period of time. He accepted and went to Chile where he lived under the protection of the prestigious Communist poet, Pablo Neruda.
Enter Ramon Mercader
When the Siqueiros-led attempt failed, the GPU decided to return to a method they had used in the past – infiltration. GPU agent Ramon Mercader had cultivated a friendship with Sylvia Ageloff, one of Trotsky’s secretaries, but didn’t use his relationship with her to get into Trotsky’s house until Siqueiros’ assassination attempt failed.
On August 20, 1940 he executed the carefully worked out plan. By that time, Mercader had become close to the household. He entered under the pretense of getting Trotsky’s opinion on an article he was writing. While Trotsky was looking away, Mercader removed the ice ax from his coat and “dealt him a tremendous blow on the head. Trotsky cried out and threw himself upon me….” Despite the ax passing an inch into his brain, Trotsky struggled with and restrained Mercader until others arrived.
Mercader was arrested and jailed by the Mexican police. Twenty years later his sentence was commuted and he traveled to Russia where he received the Order of Lenin in a secret ceremony. Soon after the Cuban Revolution, Mercader moved to and lived incognito in that country until his death in 1978.
The Consequences of Trotsky’s Assassination
Trotsky’s death had serious results for the Fourth International and the worldwide workers’ movement. Trotsky’s death was one of the main reasons why Trotskyists were not able to take advantage of the crisis in the post-war period to grow quickly both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Trotsky’s death also determined, to a great degree, the fracture of the movement into different factions that, while recognizing their common roots, have developed into different, sometimes opposing tendencies.
However, Trotsky’s last words before dying show how much he believed in the working class and in the activists who fought against capitalism and imperialism, as well as Social Democratic and Stalinist deformation within the workers movement. Just before expiring, Trotsky told his secretary Joseph Hansen, “Tell my friends that I am certain of the final victory of the Fourth International... Onward!”
To read more about Leon Trotsky and his writings check out: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/index.htm