I can sum up Joseph Stalin (above) in a single sentence. He rose to leadership in the International Communist Party as a bank robber, financing Lenin's political activities. His intended Pièce de résistance sent twenty bomb throwing Communists into a crowded Yerevan Square in the center of the Ukrainian capital of Tilfis, in broad daylight, to hijack a cash shipment. The resulting carnage killed forty people and wounded another fifty. The condemnation over the blood bath was unanimous, even from within the communist ranks. Worse, it netted just 340,000 rubles, but most of it was new 500 ruble notes, which could not be spent. An embarrassed Lenin distanced himself from Stalin, and the Czars secret police banished Stalin to Siberia, where he was cut off from advancement in Party politics.
The young Stalin (above) had been born Georgian, and spoke Russian with an accent, marking him as a “country bumpkin” to the party intellectuals, like Trotsky and Lenin. He had two webbed toes on his left foot. He was raised by an alcoholic father who regularly beat his mother. At seven he caught smallpox, which left his face scared. Shortly thereafter, he was struck by a carriage which broke his left arm. It was set badly, and healed permanently shorter than the right. Everything set him off as an outsider. He fell in with street gangs, until his desperate mother secured him a scholarship to a Georgian Orthodox seminary. But his father refused to pay a tuition hike, and abandoned his wife and son. But Stalin perserveared, and rose to replace Lennin himself in the later 1920's. But he never forgot how Trotsky had belittle him.
In the winter of 1938, Stalin personally ordered that Trotsky “...should be eliminated within a year.” The assignment, given the code name “Pato”, in English, “Duck”, eventually fell to NKVD agent Leonid Eitingon, (above), who was living in Spain with his Cuban mistress, Caridad Mercader. Eitingon's budget for the murder of this one man was $300,000. First, Leonid needed a trusted agent in Mexico, where Trotsky now lived. He recruited a Mexican veteran of the Spanish Civil War, painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. Leonid then moved to New York City with Caridad, They were followed soon afterward by her adult son Ramon.
Ramnon Mercader had also fought in Spain on the Republican side, trained as a spy in Russia and already had two NKVD developed identities. One was a stolen Canadian passport in the name of Frank Jackson, who had died in Spain. This easily pierced identity was used to make Ramon/Jackson more believable when he claimed to actually be Jacques Mornard, the Communist son of a Belgium diplomat. Ramon had used both identities before, in Paris, to seduce a young American socialist, whose sister was a typist for Trotsky. The seduction had led nowhere operationally, but illustrated Stalin's determination to infiltrate Trotsky's inner circle
After the 1917 revolution, Lenin rewarded Stalin with the job of editor of the party newspaper “Pravda” - Truth. The Georgian used that as a base to win election to the parties' powerful Central Committee. Then, after the Red Army, which Trotsky (above) had founded and led, had defeated the last of the Czarist holdouts in 1919, Lenin saw an opportunity in the power vacuum in Poland. In 1920 he dispatched the Red Army to spread the revolution beyond Russia's borders. Operations aimed at Warsaw were, of course, commanded by Trotsky, while Stalin commanded troops in southern Poland. The Poles managed to defeat the Soviets, in part because Stalin refused to cooperate with Trotsky's forces. At the next party conference, Trotsky criticized Stalin in a public speech.
Once in America, Leonid set up "Amtorg Corporation", a Brooklyn based import-export business, which allowed him to transfer funds to Mexico City for Trotksy's assassination. Shortly after he arrived, Ramon (above) re- reignited his affair with the young American socialist typist. It was a short interlude. Three months after Ramon arrived in New York, in September of 1939, Leonid traveled to Mexico City, to check on Siqueiros' preparations for the assassination. He was followed a month later by Ramon, using his old Frank/Jacques cover.
During 1921 Stalin (above, left) managed to re-ingratiate himself with the boss, always siding with Lenin (above, right) in petty squabbles with Trotsky and other party leaders. In response, in 1922, Lenin named Stalin General Secretary of the party. Shortly thereafter Lenin suffered the first of several strokes, and began to withdraw from leadership. When Lenin finally died in January of 1923, control of the Communist Party and national leadership quickly fell under Stalin's control. .
Siqueiros reported that he already had an agent inside Trotsky's villa (above), and the cook Carman Palma, had supplied him with detailed floor plans, daily schedules and personal habits of the residents – “The Old Man”, his wife Natalia and grandson Seva, a servant girl, Trotsky's three male assistants and his two American bodyguards, as well as the newest bodyguard, Robert Harte. But Harte was also an NKVD operative, code named “Amur”. Leonid was impressed, but did not share with Siqueiros any information about Ramon, nor that the operation was receiving funds and technical support from Adolf Hitler's anticommunist Nazi Germany.
It took three years for Stalin to isolate and then have Trotsky expelled from the Communist Party, and another year to have him exiled from the Soviet Union. Over the next six years Trotsky was forced to move to first Turkey, then to France, and then Norway, always writing criticisms of Stalin, always the inspiration for the hated "fellow travelers". At the same time, in a series of “show trials”, Stalin eliminated all domestic opposition to his rule. Best estimates are that during the decade Stalin ordered the murder or imprisonment in Siberian “Gulags” of over 2 million Russians, and starved to death another 4 million through his collective farm programs. By the time the 57 year old Trotsky arrived in Mexico, in February of 1937, his was the only voice still communist and critical of the paranoid 5 foot, five inch Stalin. But in their article noting his arrival, Time Magazine wrote, “Today Trotsky is in Mexico — the ideal country for an assassination”.
In Mexico Leonid Etington avoided all contact with the Russian embassy. All his communications with Moscow were made through Berlin. Nazi agents kept watch on Trotsky's movements outside the villa, while two agents, Julia Barrados and Anita Lopez, took an apartment three blocks from 19 Avenida Viena, and befriended the police officers guarding the place, often hosting parties for them. On Thursday afternoon, 23 May, 1940, a few hours before the actual assault, they even stopped by to confirm everything was as usual and no alarm had been given inside the villa.
Once in Mexico, Trotsky began writing what was to be his ultimate anti-Stalinist work, a biography of the Georgian himself. Prophetically, Trotsky observed “Stalin...seeks to strike not at the ideas of the opponent, but at his skull.” And in detailing Stalin's command of the Tilfis massacre, Trotsky wrote that ““Others did the fighting; Stalin supervised them from afar”. It was this biography that finally convinced Stalin to murder Trotsky as soon as possible.
At four the next morning, 24 May, Sequeiros, code named “Horse”, and dressed in an over sized coat, and a over sized fake mustache, got the drop on the two police guards. He led the first team into the foray to capture the sleeping guards, gag and tie up all five of them. The second team, lead by Russian, Iosif Grubgykevich, code named “Felipe”, knocked on the inner door. Hart opened the door because he recognized “Felipe's” voice. Hart had been compromised.
Once the guards in the guest house had been pinned down, the operation turned artistic.
It was Spanish painter Antonio Pujol who burst into the study, and fired into Trotsky's bedroom from the left side.
And Mexican painter Luis Arenal who burst into Seva's room and fired into Trotsky's bedroom from the right.
But it was Siqueiros, the most famous painter and biggest ego of the trio, who at the end burst through the french doors and emptied his pistol directly into Trotsky's bed. Then Pujol set off a grenade in the study, intending on destroying Trotsky's biography of Stalin. But it was Arenal who drew the only actual blood, a ricochet from the bedroom wall, which struck 14 year old Seva in the toe.
And then there was the problem of Robert Harte. It appears that he, like many of those who helped the conspirators, had been told the object was only to destroy Trotsky's work, not the man himself. During the escape Harte became “agitated and upset” with his handler “Felipe” because of the murder attempt. The Russian realized he could no longer trust Harte, and so after they arrived at the farm rented by Siqueiros' sister, Grubgykevich shot the American once at the base of the skull and once into the temple, the standard NKVD execution method. The next night his body was dumped into a grave dug along the main road. It seems certain it was the Mexican communists did the heavy work, because Harte was covered in quick lime, under the mistaken belief it would hasten the decay. In fact quick lime preserves flesh. Any trained NKVD agent would know that. Stalin certainly did.