Reflection on the Legacy of Leon Trotsky

by Esteban Volkov


Seva Volkov

On August 20th, 68 years will have passed since that hot summer afternoon. As I concluded my long walk from school to our home at number 19 Viena Street, in Coyoacán, I got my last glimpse of my grandfather Lev Davidovich, better known as Leon Trotsky.

It still seems as if it were yesterday when I looked through the half open door to the library and saw my grandfather fatally wounded, lying on the floor, his forehead bloodied, and by his side his inseparable companion Natalia, applying ice to his wound, trying to stem the bleeding.

And also there beside him, as best I recall, were the U.S. comrades Charley Cornell and Joe Hansen.

When Trotsky heard me approach from the next room he struggled to say, “keep Seva out, he shouldn’t see this.”

A short while earlier, as he heard Stalin’s assassin crying out from the office as he was being struck by one of the guards, Harold Robbins, he said: “Don’t kill him, he must talk.”

Later at the hospital, during his last lucid moments before being taken into the operating room, he offered his last words to Joe Hansen: “I am confident in the victory of the Fourth International. Go forward!”

Stalin, the Kremlin’s bloody tyrant, supreme leader of the counterrevolution, had finally managed to murder one of the greatest revolutionaries that humanity has produced. The man who alongside Lenin played a decisive role in the preparation, execution and triumph of the first successful socialist revolution on earth.

The assassination of Trotsky was the culmination of Stalin’s campaign to exterminate Lenin’s comrades in struggle, and the vast majority of the generation of those who made possible the victory of the October Revolution.

Those were the methods Stalin the usurper used to defend his illegitimate, bureaucratic regime. Just three months earlier, in the early morning of May 24, we had suffered the first, failed attempt on the life of León Trotsky in the Coyoacán house.

That time the painter Alfaro Siquieros commanded a group of 20 Stalinist fanatics as they took control of the house, unleashing a wave of gunfire that kept the guards pinned down in their rooms.

From three sides they attacked Trotsky and Natalia’s bedroom with Thompson machineguns. Thanks to her sharp reflexes, Natalia quickly pushed the Old Man off the bed and shielded him in a dark corner of the bedroom.

Those reflexes saved both of their lives that day.

At the time I slept in the adjacent bedroom, and during the attack a bullet grazed the big toe of my left foot.

The attackers launched incendiary grenades into my bedroom in an effort to set aflame the room where Trotsky’s extensive archives were kept, this effort that was Stalin’s calling card as only he would be so interested in erasing those files.

It is hard to describe just how happy and euphoric the Old Man felt upon surviving the first assassination attack. The family’s mood darkened only when we learned that the man on guard at the time of the attack, Sheldon Hart, was missing.

But Lev Davidovitch knew that the truce would be short lived and that his days were numbered. As he awoke each morning he would say: “Natasha, they have given us another day to live.”

His only doubt was how Stalin would launch his next attack. His focus was so clear in that regard that when the fatal attack occurred that August 20, and as Natalia ran to his aid, he stood in the doorway covered in blood with his spectacles shattered, and pointed to the assassin now in the grip of Harold Robbins. He shouted only one word “Jacson!,” as if to say “There stands what we had been expecting!”

While I must have been around Trotsky from the time I was born in Moscow, my first memories of the Old Man date back to his days in exile on the Island of Prinkipo, in Turkey, after Stalin expelled him from the Soviet Union along with his second wife Natalia and his eldest son Leon Sedov. We lived there along with some comrades who worked as guards and secretaries.

I was five when in early 1931 I arrived there along with my mother Zinaida (the oldest daughter from Trotsky’s first marriage, to Aleksandra Sokolovskaya). I remained there for two years.

The Old Man was very active and dynamic. Except for mealtime and the fishing trips at dawn, there was little time for socializing. But from those brief moments in which I interacted with him I recall him as an affectionate and jovial man. He worked almost all the time in his office. his two greatest works, My Life and the History of the Russian Revolution were written in this period.

The next time I met my grandfather was in August 1939, one year before his assassination, when at 13 I arrived in Mexico from Paris accompanied by the Rosmers, a couple of friends who were very dear to my grandparents.

I have very sharp, vivid memories of Lev Davidovich during this last chapter, this last year of his life.

Words fail me when I try to conjure up his image as a living being, to describe the revolutionary in his full dimension, to convey his brilliance.

Leon Trotsky was an individual of exceptional intelligence and who was totally and absolutely committed to the fight for socialism.

His entire personality was molded by that struggle. He was generous, armed with a strong sense of solidarity, and he would very patiently explain and politically educate the comrades with a keen sense of humor, maintaining a jovial and warm environment.

An untiring worker, he was unwilling to squander a single minute of his life, and radiated vitality and optimism. He greatly admired human endeavor with no concession to privilege or discrimination. The word fear was simply not part of his vocabulary.

What most impressed me was his absolute certainty, his unshakable confidence in the role of socialism in the future of humanity.

A certainty he had acquired in his experience as a key actor and a privileged observer of such an amazing event in human history as the Bolshevik Revolution.

In its first years the revolution strove to lay the bases for building an authentic socialism; an effort that due to historical circumstances prevailing at that time degenerated under the blows of a counterrevolution. Nevertheless, it showed for the time that socialist revolution is a tangible and achievable goal.

Those of us who do not believe in everlasting life can believe in the immortality of ideas. Leon Trotsky had an active and prolific mind in the realm of analysis, theses, and political concepts that he transcribed, leaving to us a vast and inexhaustible arsenal of Marxist theory that was the fruit of his more than 40 years of revolutionary struggle. In that sense I dare to say that Leon Trotsky remains alive with us here today. His immense Marxist legacy allows us to analyze and comprehend developments from the historical past and the present, as well as to plan for the future in the face of the increasingly voracious and brutal capitalist regimen.

When speaking of the socialist revolution it is worth recalling Leon Trotsky’s words: “Never was there a greater task on the face of the earth. The Party demanded everything of us, totally and completely, and in exchange it provided us with the immense satisfaction of knowing that one is participating in the construction of a better future and carrying on one’s shoulders a particle of the greatest goal of human kind that our lives would not been in vain.”

And again let us recall Leon Trotsky’s last words to comrade Joe Hansen:

“I am confident in the victory of the Fourth International. Go forward!”

His confidence has yet to be borne out. That is the duty and the continuing task for the comrades whose struggle is inspired by the example and the ideas of the great revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Thank you.