This Day in Jewish History / August 21

In 1940, Soviet politician and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky died after being attacked in Mexico where he was living in exhile, still a committed revolutionary.

On this day in 1940, Leon Trotsky died in Mexico City, a day after being attacked with an ice pick by a local Soviet agent action on orders from Moscow. Born Lev Davidovich Bronstein in a small village in Ukraine in 1879, Trotsky was educated in Odessa and was converted at a young age first to socialism and then to Marxism. Initially identified with the Mensheviks, when the revolution erupted in 1917 he made his way back to Russia from exile and aligned himself with Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In the early years of the Soviet Union, Trotsky held positions of great power – first as foreign minister and then as war minister, where he helped create the Red Army.

But he was bested by Joseph Stalin in the power struggle that developed between them following Lenin’s death in 1924. Stalin first pushed Trotsky out of the party, and then into domestic, and finally foreign, exile. Between 1929 and 1940, Trotsky lived in Turkey, France, Norway and ultimately Mexico. Even in exile he was a committed revolutionary, writing “History of the Russian Revolution” and “A Revolution Betrayed,” and remaining actively opposed to Stalin’s monolithic rule. He also established a Fourth International, meant to be a political alternative to the Soviet Comintern. Trotsky was not an identifying Jew and he opposed Zionism to the end of his life. Nonetheless, he expressed his concerns early on about the Nazis’ intentions to pursue the “physical extermination of the Jews.”