Trotsky’s Grandson Determined to Clear Name
The grandson of Leon Trotsky, in San Francisco to support efforts to clear Trotsky’s name, was present at a momentous piece of history--the assassination of his grandfather.
Vsevolod (Seva for short) Volkov said that, when 14 years old, he saw the scene on Aug. 29, 1940, in Mexico, through a crack in the dining room floor. That was after an assassin had struck Trotsky with an ice ax, inflicting an inch-deep head wound.
Nearly five decades later, there is revived interest in Trotsky, a key figure in the Russian Revolution, an intellectual giant and a brilliant speaker and writer who was also the leader of the Red Army.
In Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, talk is heard that the Kremlin may “rehabilitate” Trotsky--cleanse his name of the evils charged by Stalin, who forced him into exile in 1929 and then, as historians believe, had him murdered.
The main newspaper of the Soviet Young Communists League has said that Trotsky “was neither a spy nor a murderer” and not guilty of any crimes. Although his political views are still unacceptable, this important newspaper said, they should be published as part of the historical record.
Such comments are viewed as a possible signal that Trotsky’s legal rehabilitation is forthcoming.
Already, such Bolshevik figures as Nikolai Bukharin, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoview have been cleared of Stalinist crimes, although none has been restored to political grace.
On that day in 1940, the young Volkov had just returned from school to the fortress-like Trotsky home outside Mexico City.
“I knew something was wrong, so many policemen, so many people. My grandfather, on the floor, was surrounded by Natalya (his second wife) and by family and comrades. He was still able to talk. He said. ‘Don’t kill Jackson (the assassin). He has to talk,’ and after that he told Natalya to keep me away. Then the ambulance came, he was taken away and the next day he died.”
Volkov, whose Russian first name later was changed by his Mexican foster parents to Esteban (Steven), has matter-of-factly recalled that scene many times in recent months. As the most accessible of Trotsky’s surviving kin, he has become a celebrity.
In Mexico City, where he lives, Volkov is a chemist. Until recently he did not participate in politics. At 62, he is a grandfather himself, lean and rawboned.
He came into prominence on a fabricated story, he said. A Paris magazine reported last November that he had been invited to Moscow for the 70th anniversary celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution .
The story produced calls from correspondents all over the world, Volkov said. “I had to tell them there was no official confirmation . . . that the story was invented.”
But his quiet, uneventful life had been shattered. As his grandfather’s chief defender, he appears at meetings and rallies, focusing on Trotsky but also asking “rehabilitation” for all of Stalin’s victims.
“Now, after so many years of darkness, after so many lies, distortions and falsifications about my grandfather, finally it seems a window is opening,” he said. “We are very expectant.”
He shook his head in dispute with historical accounts that depict Trotsky as harsh and authoritarian.
“He was a very warm and friendly person,” Volkov said. “Of course, in the field of politics, he was very tough, very demanding. He was one of the greatest Marxists, on the same level with Engels and Lenin.”
Volkov first lived with his grandfather in Turkey in 1931. The next year, when he was 6, he was declared a “stateless” person by the Stalin regime. His mother, suffering from tuberculosis and emotional instability, killed herself.
Series of Homes
The young Volkov was packed off to Berlin, then Vienna and finally Paris to live with Trotsky’s son, Lev Sedov. When Sedov mysteriously died after an appendix operation, his young charge went to live with his grandfather in Mexico.
In that year, 1939, the Trotsky residence was attacked by assassins in military uniforms. Volkov, hiding under his bed, suffered a superficial wound. Trotsky and his wife were unharmed.
Afterward, the old Bolshevik joked about getting up each day to find that he was still alive. A year later he was murdered.