Nadia, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky arriving in Tampico in 1937
On the morning of January 9, 1937, a Norwegian tanker carrying Leon Trotsky and his wife under guard arrived in Tampico, Mexico. Natalia Trotsky refused to disembark until she was sure she was safe and saw some familiar faces. She had lived for years surrounded by guards and under threat by assassination by Stalin’s agents. She was afraid to leave the boat. Finally a government cutter approached carrying a welcoming party of Mexican authorities, Communist party members, journalists, and Frida Kahlo, who was standing in for the ill husband, Diego Rivera.
Now everyone except maybe youthful products of the American public school system has heard of Leon Trotsky; Russian revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and Soviet politician whose particular strain of Marxist thought is known as Trotskyism
Initially supporting the Menshevik-Internationalists faction within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, he joined the Bolsheviks (“majority”) just before the 1917 October Revolution, immediately becoming a leader within the Communist Party. He would go on to become one of the seven members of the first Politburo, founded in 1917 to manage the Bolshevik revolution.
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein on 7 November 1879, the fifth child of a Ukrainian-Jewish family of wealthy farmers. Trotsky’s younger sister, Olga, who also grew up to be a Bolshevik and a Soviet politician, married the prominent Bolshevik Lev Kamenev.
Certainly Trotsky knew that, as a Jew, he would never be Russia’s leader. He joined with Lenin as the reliable Number #2.
During the early days of the Soviet Union, he served first as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs (he signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany taking Russia out of World War I) and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army, with the title of People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs. He became a major figure in the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War (1918–1922).
It can be argued that he saved Bolshevism.
After leading a failed struggle of the Left Opposition against the policies and rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and against the increasing role of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky was removed as Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs (January 1925), removed from the Politburo (October 1926), removed from the Central Committee (October 1927), expelled from the Communist Party (November 1927), exiled to Siberia. (January 1928), and exiled from the Soviet Union (February 1929).
Stripped of is citizenship as an “undesirable citizen” he was first exiled to Turkey where he was kept on an island which also housed a number of “White” generals. Fearing for his life, Nadia arranged for European supporters to serve as a 24 hour bodyguard.
He was allowed to move to France wit the stipulation that he not live in Paris until a change in French government; the new government decided to isolate him in a small village under virtual house arrest.
He moved to Norway to the home of a supporter until the USSR began to raise diplomatic objection whereupon he was moved to a small farm in the middle of nowhere, under house arrest and forbidden any outside communication.
Trotskyites all over the world were frantic with worry. Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera, a well-known artist and Communist and recent convert to Trotsky’s brand of communism, came to the Trotskys’ rescue, intervening on their behalf with the Mexican government to grant them asylum in Mexico City.
“Satisfied they were in safe hands, Trotsky and Natalia walked down the wooden pier to freedom. He, wearing tweed knickerbockers and a cap, and carrying a briefcase and a cane, walked with his chin held high, his stride that of a proud soldier. She, a little dowdy in a suit and looking worn and worried, watched her feet so as not to trip on the wrought planks of the narrow dock. Just behind them walked Frida, lithe and exotic in her rebozo (shawl) and long skirt.”
A train carried them to the capital where Rivera awaited them. The two great men, lovers of Communism, embraced, then all four drove quickly to Frida’s childhood home in Coyoacan. There the Trotskys would live rent-free, off and on for two years, with their every need and want attended to by Frida, Diego,, Christina Kahlo, friends, and Trotskyite party members who acted as guards, chauffeurs, escorts, and advisers.
Diego had the blue house turned into a fortress. The windows that faced the street were filled in with adobe bricks. Police stood guard during the day, Trotskyites by night. Diego even bought the property next door and connected the two buildings to provide a larger garden and a wing with a studio for Frida, as she would be the Trotskys’ chief hostess.
It didn’t take long for both Frida and Trotsky to start making eyes at each other. Both were notorious for conducting extramarital love affairs. Trotsky and Frida spoke English to one another, which left Natalia guessing what they were saying, as she didn’t speak English (and Diego’s English was deplorable).
The two couples saw a lot of each other. Frida was openly flirtatious with Trotsky, calling him “love” and hoping to make Diego insanely jealous in retaliation for his affair with her sister Cristina.
Trotsky slipped love letters into books he loaned Frida. By late spring of 1937, the two were immersed in a full-fledged love affair. They met secretly at Cristina Kahlo’s house, which Diego probably had bought her. Frida nicknamed Trotsky “Piochitas” (little goatee) for his white beard and called him also “el viejo,” as he was 58 years old while she was only 29.
By late July, though, the affair had fizzled out. Frida had proved to herself that she could still attract men and returned, as usual, to doting on Diego. The end may have come about, though, because Natalia and Diego discovered the affair (which could have been Frida’s intention all along). Over time, Diego and Trotsky had several philosophical disagreements about Communism. Diego ceased to be a Trotskyite. Soon, the couples grew apart, although the Trotskys remained in Mexico, they moved out of the Blue House.
Frida, though, remained friends with Trotsky. She painted a self-portrait for him. The painting shows her standing between two curtains, holding a piece of paper that says in Spanish: ‘To Trotsky with great affection, I dedicate this painting November 7, 1937. Frida Kahlo, in San Angel, Mexico.’
The date was significant because it was both Trotsky’s birthday and the anniversary of the October Revolution, according to the Gregorian calendar.
Less than three years later, Trotsky was dead. On August 20, 1940, he was attacked in his home by aa Spanish born assassin sent by Stalin named Ramon Mercader, who buried the pick of an ice axe into Trotsky’s skull. Trotsky died the next day.
Frida was distraught. Frida had met the assassin once in Paris and had invited him to her house in Coyoacan to dine, which placed her under suspicion. She was picked up by the Mexican police and interrogated for 12 hours, before being released, two days later, without charge.
Mercader spent the next 20 years in a Mexican prison.
Stalin awarded him the Order of Lenin.
During the rehabilitations of Nikita Khrushchev, Trotsky, savior of the Bolshevik revolution was not rehabilitated.