Death Of The ‘Good Communist’: 75th Anniversary Of Leon Trotsky’s Assassination

Leon Trotsky was one of the leaders of the Bolsheviks, one of the founders of the Soviet Union, and later cast out after a power struggle in the wake of Vladimir Lenin’s death. The CIA called him the ‘Good Communist’, a reference to how his policies and ideas were easily adapted to American needs. They even published histories designed to glorify Trotsky, and demonize the Soviet Union itself. Even today, capitalist newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal hold up Trotsky as someone to admire. Before his death, there was even a movement to grant him asylum within the United States itself. But before that could happen, a lone man struck him down.

That man was named Jaime Ramon Mercader del Rio Hernandez, known commonly as Ramon Mercader.

Many have claimed that Ramon was an agent for the Soviet Union, working for one or another of the USSR’s intelligence or police agencies. However, in reviewing the case, and history, we find a far more unusual circumstance. Once we take into account the police’s psychological profile of Ramon, which gives us insight into the assassin’s mind and the timeline, a more complex narrative unfolds.

On the surface, we find Ramon was a soldier during the Spanish Civil War. One of the officers over him was a Soviet police officer, who recruited agents for the NKVD from places as diverse as China, Germany, and the United States. He assumed the alias of a dead Canadian, and murdered Trotsky while they were alone on August 20, 1940.

Once we strip the claims down to this basic understanding, and look at the psychological profile, a very different story emerges, a more personal one. Ramon was in the Spanish Civil War, fighting for the Stalinists around Castile. They lost the civil war, enough to cause disparagement among anyone. Many former communists joined the Fascists out of this disillusionment. Many others however turned to Stalin’s main ideological opponent within the Communist sphere of influence, Leon Trotsky.

When Ramon met with allies of Trotsky, he did so as one of hundreds of former soldiers from Spain. He quickly rose in note however due in large part to Ramon’s own work as a struggling writer, similar to Trotsky himself in his youth. He had acquired a false identity, common for any former soldier from Spain trying to flee Franco’s wrath. His fake identity was of a Canadian who had died in Spain during the civil war, so would have been easy for him to secure. There have been some claims that the Soviet Union itself supplied this documentation. However, the truth, if he secured the documents himself or had them provided to him, is not entirely clear.

Ramon met with Trotsky on several occasions, even meeting him alone several times in the days preceding the deadly attack on the Bolshevik. These meetings were held under Ramon expressing a desire to write revolutionary material, and Trotsky was tutoring him. The day when Ramon struck the fatal blow however, it was Trotsky who wanted to show Ramon something he was writing, a meeting which was not planned. They met for almost a half hour when Ramon picked up a mountain climbers ice axe, and struck Trotsky in the head with it.

According to the Mexican psychologists who interviewed Ramon afterwards, Dr Jose Gomez Robela and Alfonso Quiroz Cuaron, Ramon’s motivations were far different than those of a planned assassination. Having spent 936 hours in analysis with Ramon, they managed to piece together a picture of a far more troubled man, one who was attempting to hide a darker past

In the end, they pierced through the false identify he had assumed, the dead Canadian which allowed Ramon to become a writer. Ramon was ambitious and hungry for status, striking at the Communist leader in a moment of rage. Underneath, they discovered that Ramon admired Trotsky, even viewed him in almost a fatherly role. They found a man with extreme mood swings, reclusive and unable to communicate one moment, wild and aggressive the next. And they found deep psychological hatred of his own, real father buried deep within there. Trotsky’s own tutoring, his own taking of Ramon under his wing as one would a son, sealed his own fate.

Deep down, they found someone who had this deep need to prove himself a great man, someone who could change the world. Trotsky had criticized his writing, told Ramon that he would never change the world through the pen, and that the former Spanish Civil War soldier would only ever find his path in blood. And so that is what he set out to do, with his target being one of the most influential Communists in the world, and a focus for his on internal anger to his father, Leon Trotsky himself.

Ramon’s identity was so deeply buried by himself that it took 14 years before Mexican authorities correctly identified the man. Some have claimed, as people claim with other known assassins, that the Soviet Union trained him as an assassin, but the breakdown of his psychological profile shows no sign of such training.

A killer of opportunity, rather than careful preparation one expects of an assassin, fits the profile far better. The weapon was one which was handy, not one chosen. The time alone was not planned. The nearly guards captured him almost immediately. Indeed, it turned out that the man who was claimed to have recruited and trained him was arrested for incompetence in his post. None of these things are what one would expect from a successful assassination.

That might however have been the key to the success of the assassination. Perhaps the Soviet Union was far more clever, far more capable, than anyone had given them credit. Perhaps they could have prepared for such an assassination years ahead of time, with all of the risks associated with it, and carried it off so flawlessly.

Regardless of the cause, the death of Leon Trotsky came at the best possible time for the Soviet Union. They were looking at the real possibility of a German invasion and the negative publicity being generated by Trotsky on the world stage would cost them allies they had counted on for support. Despite his exile, Trotsky still had friends and allies both within the Soviet Union, and elsewhere, after all. Without him, the Soviet Union could control the conversation, something absolutely critical for winning the anticipated war.

Ramon may have been a recruited assassin. He may have been a mere spy. He may have even been nothing more than a lone wolf who struck out of passion or rage. Whatever he was, he changed the course of history.

In the end, Ramon did precisely what he always wanted, and made himself a great man in his own eyes.

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