Trotsky assassinated in Mexico - HISTORY
Year
1940

Trotsky assassinated in Mexico

Exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded by an ice-ax-wielding assassin at his compound outside Mexico City. The killer–Ramón Mercader–was a Spanish communist and probable agent of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Trotsky died from his wounds the next day.

Born in the Ukraine of Russian-Jewish parents in 1879, Trotsky embraced Marxism as a teenager and later dropped out of the University of Odessa to help organize the underground South Russian Workers’ Union. In 1898, he was arrested for his revolutionary activities and sent to prison. In 1900, he was exiled to Siberia.

In 1902, he escaped to England using a forged passport under the name of Leon Trotsky (his original name was Lev Davidovich Bronshtein). In London, he collaborated with Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin but later sided with the Menshevik factions that advocated a democratic approach to socialism. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Trotsky returned to Russia and was again exiled to Siberia when the revolution collapsed. In 1907, he again escaped.

During the next decade, he was expelled from a series of countries because of his radicalism, living in Switzerland, Paris, Spain, and New York City before returning to Russia at the outbreak of the revolution in 1917. Trotsky played a leading role in the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power, conquering most of Petrograd before Lenin’s triumphant return in November. Appointed Lenin’s secretary of foreign affairs, he negotiated with the Germans for an end to Russian involvement in World War I. In 1918, he became war commissioner and set about building up the Red Army, which succeeded in defeating anti-communist opposition in the Russian Civil War. In the early 1920s, Trotsky seemed the heir apparent of Lenin, but he lost out in the struggle of succession after Lenin fell ill in 1922.

In 1924, Lenin died, and Joseph Stalin emerged as leader of the USSR. Against Stalin’s stated policies, Trotsky called for a continuing world revolution that would inevitably result in the dismantling of the increasingly bureaucratic Soviet state. He also criticized the new regime for suppressing democracy in the Communist Party and for failing to develop adequate economic planning. In response, Stalin and his supporters launched a propaganda counterattack against Trotsky. In 1925, he was removed from his post in the war commissariat. One year later, he was expelled from the Politburo and in 1927 from the Communist Party. In January 1928, Trotsky was deported by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to Alma-Ata in remote Soviet Central Asia. He lived there in internal exile for a year before being banished from the USSR forever by Stalin.

He was received by the government of Turkey and settled on the island of Prinkipo, where he worked on finishing his autobiography and history of the Russian Revolution. After four years in Turkey, Trotsky lived in France and then Norway and in 1936 was granted asylum in Mexico. Settling with his family in a suburb of Mexico City, he was found guilty of treason in absentia during Stalin’s purges of his political foes. He survived a machine gun attack carried out by Stalinist agents, but on August 20, 1940, fell prey to Ramón Mercader, a Spanish communist who had won the confidence of the Trotsky household. The Soviet government denied responsibility, and Mercader was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Mexican authorities.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Best-selling crime writer Elmore Leonard dies

On this day in 2013, the prolific, best-selling author Elmore Leonard, whose crime novels include “Get Shorty,” “Rum Punch” and “Out of Sight,” dies at age 87 in Bloomfield Village, Michigan. Known for his pitch-perfect dialogue, sparse prose and offbeat characters, Leonard ...read more

Viking 1 launched to Mars

Viking 1, an unmanned U.S. planetary probe, is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission to Mars.On June 19, 1976, the spacecraft entered into orbit around Mars and devoted the next month to imaging the Martian surface with the purpose of finding an appropriate landing ...read more

U.S. Marines deployed to Lebanon

During the Lebanese Civil War, a multinational force including 800 U.S. Marines lands in Beirut to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon. It was the beginning of a problem-plagued mission that would stretch into 17 months and leave 262 U.S. servicemen dead.In 1975, a ...read more

Soviets Invade Czechoslovakia

On the night of August 20, 1968, approximately 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring”–a brief period of liberalization in the communist country. Czechoslovakians protested the invasion with public demonstrations and other ...read more

United States decides to support Diem

President Eisenhower approves a National Security Council paper titled “Review of U.S. Policy in the Far East.” This paper supported Secretary of State Dulles’ view that the United States should support Diem, while encouraging him to broaden his government and establish more ...read more

Military aid to Saigon slashed

In the wake of Nixon’s resignation, Congress reduces military aid to South Vietnam from $1 billion to $700 million. This was one of several actions that signaled the North Vietnamese that the United States was backing away from its commitment to South Vietnam. ...read more

Professional football is born

On this day in 1920, seven men, including legendary all-around athlete and football star Jim Thorpe, meet to organize a professional football league at the Jordan and Hupmobile Auto Showroom in Canton, Ohio. The meeting led to the creation of the American Professional Football ...read more

Benjamin Harrison is born

On this day in 1833, future President Benjamin Harrison is born in North Bend, Ohio.Politics had long been the Harrison family business. At the time of his birth, Harrison’s father was serving Ohio in the United States House of Representatives, while his grandfather, William ...read more

Corps of Discovery suffers its only death

Sergeant Charles Floyd dies three months into the voyage of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, becoming the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die during the journey.Lewis and Clark left St. Louis the previous May, heading up the Missouri River with a party of 35 men, ...read more

Jacqueline Susann born

Bestselling author Jacqueline Susann is born on this day in Philadelphia to a schoolteacher mother and artist father.Susann moved to New York in her 20s to work as a model and actress. She played minor roles in a score of Broadway plays and later tried her luck in Hollywood, with ...read more

Trains collide and explode in India

A collision between two trains in northern India kills 358 people on this day in 1995. It was the worst train accident in the country’s history, eclipsing a deadly 1981 accident. Both of the killer crashes involved cows. Due to the special significance of the cow in the Hindu ...read more

The Menendez brothers murder their parents

Lyle and Erik Menendez shoot their parents, Jose and Kitty, to death in the den of the family’s Beverly Hills, California, home. They then drove up to Mulholland Drive, where they dumped their shotguns before continuing to a local movie theater to buy tickets as an alibi. When ...read more

Soviet Union intervenes in Czechoslovakia

In the face of rising anti-Soviet protests in Czechoslovakia, Soviet troops (backed by troops from other Warsaw Pact nations) intervene to crush the protest and restore order. The brutal Soviet action shocked the West and dealt a devastating blow to U.S.-Soviet relations.The ...read more