When we think back to the October Revolution and the rise of Bolshevik power in Russia, three names often come to mind: Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky. All three men played key roles with Lenin being the clear leader. As the Bolsheviks went on to consolidate their power over the new Soviet Union, there was a struggle between Stalin and Trotsky over who would succeed their great mentor. To make a long story short, Stalin won out over his rival Trotsky, but in the process the two men became increasingly estranged and antagonistic. As a result, after Stalin’s rise to power in 1922, the two titans of Bolshevism butted heads until Trotsky was expelled from the party in 1927 and from the Soviet Union in 1929.
Leon Trotsky and his family, therefore, left the homeland for which they had fought for so long and fled to Mexico City. It was there that Trotsky would live out his life surrounded by body guards in the fear that his nemesis in Moscow would use his long arm to bring more harm on the family. His fears were realized on 24 May 1940 when several gunmen broke in the family’s compound, fighting their way past Trotsky’s guards. While Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, escaped the attack unhurt, their young 13-year-old grandson was hit in the foot by a ricochet. After this attempt on Trotsky’s life, security was heightened even further around the family. In fact, for the last three months of his life, Trotsky rarely left the compound. However, all of these precautions were not enough. On 20 August 1940, a Spanish Stalinist, Ramon Mercader, infiltrated the compound and, using a mountain climber’s ice axe, struck Trotsky in the head once before being wrestled to the ground by the revolutionary’s bodyguards. The damage, however, had been done. Trotsky’s wound bled profusely and resulted in his death the following day. Stalin had had his revenge.
Featured Image: “Leon Trotsky.” By Published by Century Co, NY, 1921 – The Russian Bolshevik Revolution (free pdf from Archive.org), Public Domain.
Image 1. “The Trotsky Compound in Mexico City.” By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia – Leon Trotsky House, Mexico City, CC BY-SA 2.0.
On July 25, 1853, a group of California Rangers ran into a group of suspected cattle rustlers and robbers in San Benito County in central California. The leader of this group was in infamous Joaquin Murrieta. Murrieta is an enigmatic figure: born in 1829, either in Chile or in Mexico (pretty amazing a fact like that would be so widely discrepant!). He and his wife, Rosita, made their way to California during the Gold Rush of 1848-49, but Murrieta proved to not be too successful as a miner. Instead, he turned to a life of cattle rustling and robbery founding a band known as the Five Joaquins. The nature of this band depends on who you ask – the many Mexicans resident in California during the short time since annexation by the United States viewed Murrieta as a hero, fighting against unjust treatment by the new American authorities. To the Americans, he was a common thug. On that fateful day in 1853, California lawmen met up with the band in a narrow pass in San Benito and a shoot-out took place. In the end, Murrieta and another of his men lay dead. His legend lives on, however. Murrieta is often seen as one of the inspirations for Jonathan McCulley’s legendary hero of the west, Zorro.
Featured Image. “The Curse of Capistrano – Zorro.” By Comic Book Justice (Part 2), Public Domain.
One hundred-nine years ago today, a girl was born to a father of German (or perhaps Jewish) descent and a mother of Native American and Spanish heritage on the outskirts of Mexico City. This girl was to become a gifted artist whose short life was marked by tragedy and pain whose work was to become celebrated by Mexican indigenous peoples and feminists alike. This girl was the famous Frida Kahlo.
As an eighteen year girl, Frida Kahlo was severely injured in a bus accident that caused her lifelong pain and clearly influenced her art. About four years later, the second (self-described) accident of Kahlo’s life occurred – her marriage to the renowned Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. The couple’s relationship was tempestuous at best and Kahlo openly engaged in sexual affairs with other men and women. Rivera tolerated her affairs with women, but chaffed at her infidelity with other men.
Many of Kahlo’s paintings were self-portraits that represented her physical and psychological pain. She routinely insisted that she never painted dreams, but rather, her reality. The challenges of her life can be summed up well by her quote about why she painted so many self-portraits. Kahlo said, “”I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
It’s Cinco de Mayo – Happy May 5th. On this date, 154 years ago, in 1862 a Mexican Army defeated an invading French force at the Battle of Puebla. That’s right – French, not Spanish. But what were the French doing in Mexico? Well, Mexico was under its FIFTH government since it won its war of independence from Spain in 1821. In 1862, like its neighbor to the North, Mexico was in the midst of a civil war. As a result, President Benito Juarez was forced to suspend debt payments owed to the European powers – particularly Great Britain, France, and Spain, who formed an alliance to get their money back.
More so than his allies, the French Emperor, Napoleon III, saw political opportunity to this default and was bent on installing a puppet Mexican state under the Austrian Archduke Maximilian. To this end, French forces landed at the Mexican port of Veracruz in December 1861 and worked their way inland. On that fateful day, Mexican forces pulled off a surprise victory over one of the most accomplished military forces in the world. Unfortunately, this battle was not to prove decisive for the Mexican forces. The French would recover and successfully establish the Empire of Mexico under Maximilian’s rule in 1863. This short-lived imperial venture, however, ended in 1867.