I’ve been intending to post these photos for six months, but there has been so much going on in Oaxaca, I haven’t gotten around to it — until now. This morning’s Guardian article, Trotsky’s murder remembered by grandson, 72 years on, caught my eye and I thought, if not today, when? So, here goes…
When I was in Mexico City in January, I made somewhat of a pilgrimage out to the borough of Coyoacán. Besides a lovely stroll through the Viveros de Coyoacán, being dazzled by the light and color of the Museo Frida Kahlo, and enjoying a delicious comida on the Plaza Hidalgo, I spent an incredibly moving three hours at the Museo Casa de Trotsky, the home, and now museum, of Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova. However, before getting to the photos, a very brief bit of context is necessary.
Hounded all over the world by Joseph Stalin and his agents, in 1937 Trotsky and Natalia Sedova were offered asylum by Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas. Trotsky’s orphaned grandson, Esteban Volkov (Seva), joined them not long after. Seva narrowly escaped being murdered in his bed during the first attempt on Trotsky’s life in the Coyoacán house by Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros. It was during this attack that Trotsky guard, Robert Sheldon Harte was killed.
The house at Avenida Viena 19 was further fortified, but Stalinist agent, Ramón Mercader, under an assumed name was able to infiltrate Trotsky’s inner circle and, on August 20, 1940, under the ruse of asking Trotsky to look at something he had written, attacked him with an ice axe. Trotsky died in hospital a little more than 24 hours later. His ashes and those of Natalia’s reside in the peaceful garden of the Coyoacán house in a monument, designed by Irish-Mexican painter and architect Juan O’Gorman, that proudly flies a red flag and features the overlapping hammer of the worker and the sickle of the peasant. The house and furnishings remain much as they were 72 years ago, bullet holes from the first attack and all.
The humanity expressed in the words below were felt as I wandered through the house and museum and I must admit, tears welled up as I stood before O’Gorman’s monument.
Trotsky’s Testament, dated 27 February 1940
My high (and still rising) blood pressure is deceiving those near me about my actual condition. I am active and able to work but the outcome is evidently near. These lines will be made public after my death.
I have no need to refute here once again the stupid and vile slanders of Stalin and his agents: there is not a single spot on my revolutionary honour. I have never entered, either directly or indirectly, into any behind-the-scenes agreements or even negotiations with the enemies of the working class. Thousands of Stalin’s opponents have fallen victims of similar false accusations. The new revolutionary generations will rehabilitate their political honour and deal with the Kremlin executioners according to their desserts.
I thank warmly the friends who remained loyal to me through the most difficult hours of my life. I do not name anyone in particular because I cannot name them all.
However, I consider myself justified in making an exception in the case of my companion, Natalia Ivanovna Sedova. In addition to the happiness of being a fighter for the cause of socialism, fate gave me the happiness of being her husband. During the almost forty years of our life together she remained an inexhaustible source of love, magnanimity, and tenderness. She underwent great sufferings, especially in the last period of our lives. But I find some comfort in the fact that she also knew days of happiness.
For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist: for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionary, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.
Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.
For archives and bibliographies of Trotsky, the following two sites are about as comprehensive as one will find online:
Even if you are not interested in the politics, and especially if you are considering a visit to the museum, I highly recommend reading Barbara Kingsolver’s historical novel, The Lacuna, part of which takes place in Trotsky’s Mexican household and gives a flavor of life there.
By the way, the museum site (appropriately) houses the Instituto del Derecho de Asilo y las Libertades Públicas (Institute for the Right of Asylum and Public Liberties). I wonder, are they are they working overtime these days?
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