An exiled Leon Trotsky sat at his desk on the evening of August 20, 1940 with long-time friend, Frank Jackson, who was helping edit an article.
Except there was no editing and certainly no Frank Jackson. And death was imminent.
A Russian revolutionary born in the Ukraine, Lev Davidovich Brohnstein was born to a farmer and a middle class mother on November 7, 1879. The first taste of any revolutionary ideas came soon after Leon moved to Nikolayev to finish his education in 1896 where he found a group of Marxists that he was immediately drawn to.
By 1898 at the age of 18, young Leon found himself on the wrong side of law when he was arrested for revolutionary activities after co-founding the South Russian Workers’ Union. Being caught writing and distributing pamphlets about socialist ideals landed him a stint in jail for 2 years plus another 4 years exiled in Siberia. Irrelevant to the story, Trotsky married his first wife while in prison and produced two daughters while in exile with his wife but the three women in his life were left behind when Trotsky left for London with a forged passport.
London was a game changer as it was there that Trotsky not only joined the Russian Social-Democrats but also when he met Vladimir Lenin. That was in 1902. Only one year later it seems that Trotsky had a change of political heart as he sided against Lenin. Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks, the dominant political faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, while Trotsky became a Menshevik, in opposition of Lenin’s restrictions to strictly professional revolutionary admissions to the party.
Another prison sentence was issued for Trotsky in 1906 on charges of armed rebellion along with other Soviet leaders working with Trotsky. He was sent to Siberia for his prison sentence in December of 1905, and never one to sit around and wait, Trotsky escaped in January 1907 where he once again returned to Europe.
The following 10 years were spent in exile as Trotsky moved around to places such as Vienna, Paris, Zurich, and then finally arriving in New York City in 1917 but never letting go of his political views. Only one month after arriving in New York, Trotsky broke his exile and returned to Russia when Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown and the monarchy was abolished. It was in May 1917 that Trotsky finally reached his destination in Russia where he began addressing key issues in the new government which put a nice, big target on his back. Alexander Kerensky, the new prime minister, caught wind of Trotsky’s activities and immediately had him arrested because he was a threat. The time in jail saw another turn in mind as Trotsky switched sides once again, rejoining the Bolsheviks.
Good choice on Trotsky’s part. It was the decision to turn coat that released him from prison and also gave him a good position within the government just in time to see Lenin rise to power. Trotsky’s rise was just as great when he finally became Lenin’s right-hand man, so important even that when Lenin had a cerebral hemorrhage in 1922, it was Trotsky who was the candidate of choice to step in for him. Lenin recovered for a time but somewhere in the background, up and coming reformer Joseph Stalin was making his move in the power game and when Lenin finally died in 1924, Trotsky left Moscow, leaving the city open and vulnerable to Stalin.
Trotsky felt the brunt of Stalin’s rise in power as he was slowly stripped of all his positions and eventually found himself exiled, once again, in 1928. Good news for Leon this time, at least it wasn’t to Siberia, this time it was to Central Asia in the modern day Almaty. Only for a year though, apparently Stalin thought Trotsky was a threat still so he banned him from the Soviet Union as a whole. A nice hiatus to Turkey resulted in Trotsky spending his time writing a biography along with other works, not a bad way to pass your time.
Beinvenue France. After seeking permission to live in France in 1933, Trotsky’s stay would last 3 years before he was forced to seek asylum with President Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico in 1936 when Stalin began finding allies of Trotsky’s who were still in Russia.
Interesting fact: The house that Trotsky lived at in Mexico City was the home of Frida Kahlo and her husband. It is while he was staying with the couple that Trotsky had an affair with the now famous painter.
Even though Leon had moved all the way to Mexico, Stalin still found him as a threat, not unusual for the Dictator, he found threat in most people. That was in part Trotsky’s fault though as he openly criticized Stalin in his writings, especially after 16 of his allies were executed in 1936 allegedly for helping Trotsky commit treason. Trotsky was supposed to be a part of this execution but as he had sought asylum, he was free from Stalin’s grasp. Stalin had his own plans though: assassination.
This is where we return to editing that article with Frank Jackson on August 20, 1940. So, Jackson was a long-time friend of Trotsky’s, or was he? Jackson had been friends with Trotsky for a long period of time but he was never who Trotsky thought he was. His real name was Ramon Mercader and he worked for Stalin.
Unfortunately for Trotsky, Mercader was also a killer and when Leon lifted the article from his desk, Mercader wasted no time as he sneaked up behind the unsuspecting reader and stabbed him in the head with an ice pick.
Alas, the hardened revolutionary refused to die. He stood as people rushed into the room where he was able to utter the name of his killer and say “Don’t kill him. He must talk” before collapsing to the floor. Arriving at the hospital, Trotsky was still alive with an ice pick jabbed into his head and two brain surgeries were completed before the doctors admitted that the brain damage was too severe for Leon to survive.
Twenty-five hours after Mercader turned on Trotsky, he was pronounced dead on August 21, 1940.
Ramon Mercader was arrested for the charges but as he claimed his identity was that of a man named Jacques Mornard, the police released him. It wasn’t until 1953 that Mercader’s true identity was confirmed and he was finally arrested and found guilty of murder with a prison sentence of 20 years. He was however only to serve 7 of those years before he was released in 1960.