Review: Stalin’s Nemesis – The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky, by Bertrand M. Patenaude

I bought this book when it first came out and when I began reading it, for some reason it didn’t grab me and I put it aside. Having just read it now, years later, I cannot imagine what the problem was.

This is a brilliantly-written and thoroughly-researched study of the very last years of Trotsky’s life, the years of his exile in Mexico leading up to his murder by a Soviet agent in 1940. Patenaude tells the story well, with few signs of bias. Only once does he judge Trotsky negatively, referring to him as “the man who helped create the first totalitarian state, which even now he championed as the world’s most advanced country”.

Much of the story is quite familiar territory, and yet it was still deeply sad to read of the fates of all those involved in this story — the assassin Ramon Mercader feted in Moscow as a hero, the attempted assassin (the painter David Siqueiros, who led an earlier, botched raid on Trotsky’s compound) going on to a glorious career as an artist, and the betrayal by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, once Trotsky’s closest friends in the country and his protectors, who went on to become Stalinists, members of the Mexican Communist Party.

The Trotsky Patenaude discovers is a difficult man and a terrible politician, but a loving husband and father as well. Highly recommended.