20 August 2008
Leon Trotsky's House
Today being the 20th August, a day when Trots go into mourning at the martyrdom of St. Leon The Loser, let's post a few photos and have a laugh at their expense.
Leon Trotsky arrived in Mexico in January 1937 and spent the last year of his life in Coyoacan, Mexico City. The artist Diego Rivera used his influence with the government to arrange for Trotsky to remain in the country. However, the friendship between the two men became somewhat strained when it emerged that Trotsky had introduced Rivera's wife, Frida Kahlo, to the horizontal dialectic...
Before Trotsky had properly settled into his new home, the Communist Party of Mexico decided that instead of giving him a house warming party they would kill him instead. They made various fruitless attempts to do this, the most celebrated being the one led by the artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in May 1940. He and twenty men dressed themselves in police uniforms, and were let into the front door by one of the guards, Robert Sheldon Harte, who was actually a Soviet agent. From the garden they then riddled the house with automatic gunfire. Trotsky and his wife survived by diving under the bed, but the bullet holes can still be seen to this day. Note the one just above the bed.
In June 1940 Harte was found dead and Trotsky had this plaque mounted just inside the main entrance. He never knew that the man he honoured was actually working for the other team.
After the May attack the house was turned into a fortress, but that didn't stop over enthusiastic attempts to kill the occupant, as the bullet riddled front door will testify.
Eventually, a Spanish born Soviet agent named Ramon Mercader del Rio managed to infiltrate the house, and on the 20th August 1940 he smashed an ice-pick into Trotsky's head while he was sitting at this desk. He died the next day. In theory the desk has remained untouched since that event, but note the differences between the 1989 photograph on the left, and the 2007 version on the right.
Trotsky's body was cremated and his ashes placed in this tomb, which is to be found in the garden. The story is told that for many years afterwards, members of the Mexican Communist Party would meet up in a nearby cantina every 20th August. After filling their bladders they would climb over the wall and form a semi-circle around the tomb. The comrades then had a nice long piss...
The house quickly became a Museum, and when I first saw it in 1989 it was still just the original house, with everything kept just as it was when Trotsky died. The visitor knocked on the door and a young woman curator opened it to admit the person. Then she went back to reading her book. The visitor could wander around at will, even to the extent of using Trotsky's lavatory - which still flushed, by the way, as I can testify after having used it. The same clothes still hung in the same closet, just as they had ever since that 20th August.
By the early 1990s a lot of money had been spent on the museum and the above extension was built.
You are wondering what happened to the ice-pick, aren't you? Yes, that's the one, right there in the photo above, complete with dried blood still sticking to it. If you want to see a larger version, please click here. The Spanish text explains that the item was kept in a police museum, but the Mexican Secret Service agent who had handled the murder investigation removed it for fear that someone would try and steal it. Sure enough, someone did steal the copy that he put in its place, so the original was kept at his house until his death. It is now the property of his daughter.
Trotsky's house is located at Viena 45, Colonia del Carmen, Coyoacan, Mexico City. It is closed on Monday, and open the other days from 10.00am to 5.00pm. Visitors are requested not to laugh too loudly.