Esteban Volkov, Leon Trotsky’s grandson, died in Mexico City on June 16 at 97. He survived an armed attack on the Trotsky household in Coyoacán months before Trotsky was assassinated on Aug. 20, 1940. In the years that followed, he pursued a career in chemical engineering, and established the Museo Casa Leon Trotsky in Coyoacán.
The text below is excerpted from a talk Volkov gave to the Autonomous University of Yucatán in Mérida in 2015, to mark the 75th anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination.
The Assassination of Leon Trotsky as I lived it: Memories of the Last Living Witness
Contrary to the image of arrogance and despotism that many like to attribute to him, Leon Trotsky was an affectionate person, of great ease in his dealings with people, with a jovial and optimistic personality. He never abandoned his great sense of humor. He was generous, always ready to share his scarce resources to support political activities or to help comrades in need.
He was dynamic and disciplined, with no tolerance for laziness, indolence, or disorder. “You could be the first victim of this unpardonable carelessness!” he told the young, recently arrived guard [Robert] Sheldon Harte, who, distracted, had left the door to the street open. (Harte opened the door for the May 24, 1940, attack, and was murdered days later in the “Desierto de los Leones” by a brother-in-law of David Siqueiros).*
Trotsky had an uncommonly lucid mind, and radiated certainty and absolute, immovable confidence in the coming of socialism and the future of humanity, a sentiment that he inspired in all those around him. He gained that confidence from his acts and from historical experience.
Stalin, commanding general of the Counterrevolution, was the opposite, never departing from his criminal and crude modus operandi of defaming and murdering revolutionaries. He maintained his illegitimate power through mass extermination, and a reign of falsehood, with its unlimited historical falsification, a falsification that is one of his worst crimes, given that it destroys humanity’s precious memory, and extinguishes the light that guides us to the future.
Seventy-five years have gone by, three quarters of a century, but images of great clarity remain unaltered in my mind. It still seems to have happened yesterday. I was 14 years old on a hot afternoon on August 20, 1940, when I arrived at the end of Calle Viena in Coyoacán, after my customary long walk home.
My peaceful state of mind was suddenly disturbed, replaced by anguish. Something strange was going on at another end of our house. The gate was wide open, several blue-uniformed police were out in front, and on the side a light-colored car was badly parked, an unusual situation for the normally calm afternoons at the house. At the garden entrance, the guard comrade, Harold Robins, was brandishing a Colt .38 in his right hand. “Jacson! Jacson!”* was all he said when I pressed him about what was going on. A few steps ahead to the right, at a bend in the garden path, I saw a man with a bloody face in the custody of two policemen. He was screaming and howling like a caged rat. I didn’t recognize him right then, but later learned that he was the husband of comrade Sylvia Ageloff.
Upon entering the house library a few seconds later, looking through the partially opened door to the dining room, I immediately took in the magnitude of the tragedy. Grandfather was lying on the floor with his head all bloody. Natalia, with the help of several comrades, was putting ice on a bad wound to the head. “Keep the boy away! He must not see this!” he managed to say to the guard comrades around him. Before my arrival, he had also managed to say, “Don’t kill him, he should die in bed of old age!”
He fell on the battlefield of the socialist revolution. He departed from life with the serenity of having accomplished his duty, of having dedicated himself to the task of fulfilling – in his words: “humanity’s most precious desire” – the building of a better world, in which future generations would have abolished evil, oppression and violence, so that they would be able to enjoy life to its fullest. Leon Trotsky had an absolute, immovable faith in this achievement for a future human race.
March 20, 2015 Mérida, Yucatán, México
*David Siqueiros, an artist, Spanish Civil War veteran and devout Stalinist, led that attack on Trotsky’s house. Harte, a young Communist assigned to infiltrate Trotsky’s bodyguard staff, was killed to keep him from talking.
*”Jacson,” with that spelling, was a false name for Ramón Mercader, Trotsky’s assassin.