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Esteban Volkov speaks in Barcelona
On August 21, 1940 the great revolutionary fighter, theoretician, and martyr, Leon Trotsky, died of the wounds inflicted in a brutal attack by a Stalinist agent. To mark the anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky we are publishing a transcript of a speech given by Esteban Volkov, Trotsky's grandson, to a school in Barcelona at the end of July 2003.
Stalin and the dictatorship maintaining itself in power over the dead bodies of the leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917 strained all their abilities and their somewhat greater resources to the task of annihilating Bolshevism, Trotsky's supporters and family, and ultimately Trotsky himself. Stalin and his cronies have long since gone. Their ideas which condemned one great revolutionary movement after another to defeat are now being dumped in the refuse bin of history. The ideas of Trotsky and of genuine Bolshevism live on. The monstrous attempt of the Stalinists to extinguish the flame of world revolution, by assassinating its greatest defender, failed. Here Esteban Volkov reties the knot of history with a new generation discovering the revolutionary ideas of Trotsky, the vital tools for making a new world.
[The text of the speech has been translated from Spanish]
To begin with I would like to express my thanks to all the comrades and to the Fundación Federico Engels.
It is very important to re-establish the historical truth in the sea of confusion, falsifications and alterations, within the framework of class struggle, carried out by the oppressors and exploiters of the world in an attempt to maintain the status quo.
I am not an expert in religion, but I think they contain a great truth. The existence of hell. The only little mistake is about its location. It is not underground but here on the surface, under the domination of the empire of private production and capital. In this hell lives three-quarters of humanity or maybe more. All the technological and scientific advances made are used to exploit the workers and the natural resources more efficiently.
The big choice is between death by hunger, or death by smart bombs.
One big question comes to our mind.
Was it worth carrying out the great revolution of October 1917? Which ended up destroyed by Stalinism which in turn saw the death of tens of millions, as well as the annihilation of the great majority of revolutionary movements, helping the survival of capitalism in its most destructive and parasitical phase.
The answer is clear, there is no doubt about it. In order to take humanity out of the hell of capitalism and bureaucratic totalitarianism. In order to arrive at a new civilization, where mankind will no longer be used as value and occupy its rightful place. To achieve this no sacrifice will be too high or wasted.
Some sentences that Trotsky made to the American comrades on the occasion of the foundation of the 4th International come to mind:
"There was never a greater task on earth, our party requires from us that we give ourselves fully and as a whole. But in exchange it gives us the highest fulfilment. The consciousness that one participates in the building of a better future. And carries on one's shoulders a particle of the hopes of humankind. And that our life will not have been lived in vain."
The life of the revolutionist Leon Trotsky confirms these words. A life dedicated fully to revolution, and which finally fell in the cause of the revolution.
Trotsky more than anyone else understood the role of bureaucracy as a brake on the revolution. In the last part of his life, which he considered the most important, he set about the task of building a new revolutionary vanguard, as well as continuing the fight against, and to unmask, the bureaucratic regime of Stalin. His struggle made the tyrant in the Kremlin tremble because of his courage. This made the assassination of LD (Trotsky) the main task of Stalin.
Stalin devoted unlimited economic and human resources to kill Trotsky, finally achieving his aim on August 20, 1940.
Stalin and his executers are more and more occupying the place in history to which they belong, the dustbin of history, the galleries of horrors of the Neros and Caligulas.
The one speaking here, Seva Volkov is the last remaining survivor, the last remaining witness of the last chapter of Leon Trotsky's life in Mexico.
I arrived in Mexico in August 1939 with the Rosmers who were close to Trotsky and Natalia, coming from Paris, where I had lived with Leon Sedov's widow. It was a big change.
Life in Paris with Jeanne was quite hard because of the pain of the loss of her companion Leon Sedov. When I was 13, I arrived at the house - Vienna 19 - in Coyoacan, Mexico. I remember it as a small community, a big family. A small vanguard of Socialism, where there was an atmosphere of work, solidarity, human worth…Now I can see that they were the barracks of the political struggle. Natalia and Leon Trotsky were surrounded a group of young comrades from different nations, but mainly from the US, they were volunteers. And they participated in the house activities: guards, secretaries…
In the house there was always a lot of activity. Trotsky was very active and lively. He knew very well that his days were numbered, and he wanted to carry out as much work as possible in the little time left. He never forgot the political education of the comrades. And frequently there were meetings in the afternoon or evening in his office, where there were polemics, etc.
One of the outstanding features of LD (Trotsky) is his marvellous sense of humour, the interest he took in comrades, his human warmth; but at the same he was also very strict with norms and order. On one occasion a young guard, Sheldon Hart, left the door open. Trotsky with a premonitory sense said that this mistake cannot be forgiven and that he might be the first victim.
Another feature that must be brought out about LD, was his great admiration for human labour. He did not admit privileges or distinctions. I remember a problem that happened in the house once with a septic well; Trotsky himself took up a pick and started the work of cleaning the sewage.
I remember a comment he made to André Malraux when he asked him his feelings about death - to upset him. Trotsky, in a calm fashion, said that death is not a problem at all when a man has fulfilled his target in life.
The house had a very lively activity. They had not long moved from Frida's house. The house was half ruined. And there was a lot of refurbishment needed. A Mexican comrade, Mequiades, built the chicken cages and the rabbit hutches. Also Alex Buckman, who was a professional photographer and an expert in electricity, installed the security system. The best photographic archive, and the last ones, were taken by Alex Buckman who died recently.
In the descriptions of the house that have been made elsewhere there have been many mistakes and falsifications. Initially the house was not a fortress at all. We only had walls of a certain height and on the inside some wires were installed, which, if they were broken set the alarm off, but because of the pigeons we had a lot of headaches.
The Stalinist press in Mexico always attacked and slandered Trotsky. Thousands of roubles were brought from Moscow and were distributed in a generous fashion to corrupt journalists.
At the beginning of 1940 we saw an increase in the number of the slanders and attacks. Trotsky's comment was: "seems that these journalists are about to exchange their pens for the machine gun." On May 24 a gang of terrorists headed by the painter Alvaro Siqueiros entered the house. They took control of the house. One group took up a position behind a tree in front of the guard houses. They established such a level of fire that the guards were unable to move. Another group went after LD and Natalia and they fired from three different angles with a Thompson into the darkness. One of the terrorists entered the room where I was sleeping and also fired. It was a real miracle that Trotsky survived. It was partly because of the rapid reaction of Natalia who pushed him under a table and protected him with her own body. Trotsky was sleepy as a result of the sleeping pills he had taken. His first impression was that this was some Mexican religious celebration with fireworks. But the smell of gunpowder and the closeness of the attack convinced him otherwise.
I remember when the attackers left we immediately heard Trotsky's voice, and he managed to fire with the gun against the shadow moving through the canal near the house. Shortly afterwards all the members of the family, all the people in the house met. Trotsky really was euphoric at having escaped this assault with his life. I also remember that shortly afterwards the telephone rang and Trotsky picked it up and started to swear. He obviously thought that these were his attackers trying to get some information. But there was a detail which made the mood more sober and that was the fact that Sheldon had been kidnapped by the attackers.
After the attack modifications were made to the house thanks to the help of the American Trotskyist party: iron doors, new windows, towers for the guards were installed…Trotsky was a little bit sceptical about the usefulness of all this work. He was convinced that the next attack would not be of the same kind. And he was right. No one could have imagined that Jackson, who was the partner of Sylvia Ageloff, without any political interests - a generous businessman, friendly to the guards, etc - that he was a GPU agent. Finally he managed to carry out the wishes of Stalin.
On the 20th of August I was coming back from school, coming through Vienna Street which is a long walk. And when I was three blocks away from the house I noticed that something was happening. I rushed and I was anxious. There were several police officers by the door, which was open. There was a car wrongly parked. I entered and I saw Harold Robbins, one of the guards, who was carrying a gun and was very agitated. I asked him: "What's happening?" And he replied: "Jackson, Jackson…" First I did not understand and I continued walking. I saw a man with two police officers with blood on his face. He was in a very bad state shouting, screaming…
It always reminds me of the behaviour of the great Stalinist "heroes" compared with how the Trotskyists have fought and died under the bullets of the GPU shouting "Long Live Lenin and Trotsky!" and singing the Internationale.
When I entered the house I realised what had really happened. Natalia and the guards were there. And a detail I remember is that Trotsky, even in those moments, did not want his grandson to have to see what had happened, that shows the humanity of the man.
He still had the presence to indicate that Jackson should not be killed. He was more useful alive. The guards did beat Jackson. And Hansen actually broke his hand beating him up, this man was accused by Healy of being an agent.
I want to finish with the last sentences of Trotsky's testament.
"Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full."
One sentence I missed that I think is very relevant. In our party many new comrades will join without the necessary political education and it is the task of the comrades with more experience to train them and educate them. And this is precisely the aim of this school organised here.
The House in Coyoacan - Reflections on Trotsky's last years by Alan Woods. (June 30, 2003)
Alan Woods speaks in the Trotsky Museum (June 24, 2003)