This book is dedicated to the memory of George Breitman Published by Reaktion Books Ltd 33Great Sutton Street London ec1v 0dx, uk www.reaktionbooks.co.uk First published 2015 Copyright © Paul Le Blanc2015 All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
Contents Introducing a Life 7 1 The Shock of Exile 31 2 Revolutionary, Past and Present 63 3 The Revolution Betrayed 94 4 Bracing for the Storm 127 5 The Jaws of Death 156 6 Afterlife 176 Chronology 189 References 194 Further Reading 219 Acknowledgements 222 Photo Acknowledgements 224.
Introducing a Life ‘A son of a bitch, but the greatest Jew since Jesus Christ’ is how Trotsky was described by Raymond Robins, a Teddy Roosevelt Progressive and representative of the American Red Cross in Petrograd. It was late 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia inaugurated the birth of modern Communism. Robins was involved in frustrating, fascinating negotiations with Trotsky, who was second only to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin among Russia’s revolutionary Marxist leaders.1 The actual name of the man was Lev Davidovich Bronstein, but most of the world has known him by his revolutionary nom de plume. Twenty-three years later, an agent of the Communist regime that Trotsky had helped to establish would plunge an alpine ice axe into his head. The assassin – after serving a twenty- year prison sentence in Mexico – travelled to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and was awarded the Order of Lenin. Since his martyrdom in 1940, it can be said that Trotsky has experienced an ongoing resurrection, with well over a dozen biographies and continuing publication of his major writings.
1 The Shock of Exile ‘Comrades, look! They’re carrying off Comrade Trotsky!’ As he shouted in defence of his father, young Lyova hammered on the doors of surrounding apartments in the building that contained his own home. It was 17January 1928, and behind the closed doors were prominent members of the Russian Communist Party, who were by no means prepared to respond to these appeals by twenty-one-year-old Lev Sedov. Once second only to Lenin in the Communist pantheon, Trotsky was being carried away by the ominous ‘they’ – the gpu. The father was leader of the Left Opposition, and Lyova an energetic member of its youth wing.
2 Revolutionary, Past and Present The exile in Turkey was incredibly fruitful for ‘the Pen’. The lifelong revolutionary activist was blocked from engaging directly in the swirling upsurges brought on by the global economic crisis of capitalism. Yet the enforced quiescence, and the relative freedom allowed him, enabled Trotsky to connect with innumerable activists, journalists, others – and above all to write. A powerful political intervention was achieved through volumes that came forth in this phase of his exile – as he put the ﬁnishing touches on the incisive polemic Permanent Revolution(begun in Alma-Ata), laboured over the rich memoir My Lifeand fashioned the three- volume classic The History of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky arrived in one of the world’s most ancient and amazing cities, whose succession of names – Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul – reﬂected a layered, wondrous, complex blend of Europe, the Middle East and Asia beﬁtting a metropolis at the crossroads.
4 Bracing for the Storm The left-wing nationalist government of General Lázaro Cárdenas – heir to some of the best qualities of the Mexican Revolution – offered sanctuary to Leon Trotsky in 1937. Key personalities in efforts to open Mexico’s doors to the revolutionary exile included the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. They offered Trotsky and Natalia a large house, the Casa Azul (Blue House), which belonged to Kahlo’s family. ‘It wasn’t a soft life we had in that broken-down villa in Coyoacán, then a backwash village outside Mexico City’, recalled Bernard Wolfe, one of the u.s. Trotskyist secretaries in the household. ‘We lived in a one-story house built around the three sides of a patio, all of the single-ﬁle rooms opening on the internal garden. There was no heating system. When the panes of the French doors got broken they didn’t get ﬁxed. It turns cold nights on the Mexico City plateau, up 7,500feet.’1Compared to the situation in Norway, however, the Trotskys’ new place of refuge must have felt warmer.
5 The Jaws of Death Pavel Sudoplatov and Leonid Eitingon worked with the care and efﬁciency of professionals. Stalin told them: ‘money is no object’.1 Three teams crystallized, each involving veterans from the Spanish Civil War, in some cases personally recruited by Eitingon, who spoke ﬂuent Spanish and had done gpuwork there. One team, operating in California and Mexico, involved Iosif R.