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Esteban Volkov (1926-2023)

Reflections on the life of Leon Trotsky’s recently deceased grandson.

Valerio Arcary
Museo Casa Leon Trotsky

On June 16th, Esteban Volkov passed away in Mexico City at the age of 96. He was one of the last survivors of the tragic odyssey that befell Leon Trotsky and mercilessly affected all of his family members.

The government led by Stalin not only aimed to destroy the institutions of the regime established by the October Revolution and subvert the political tradition of Bolshevik ideas, but it also needed to physically eliminate the leaders who, alongside Lenin, had played a central role in the Soviet Republic. The repressive fury spared no one, not even families. This criminal insanity followed a method. The sinister calculation was that anyone who possessed political capability, moral authority, personal courage, and could potentially challenge Stalin had to die. And their family members, inheritors of the names of the condemned leaders, could not be spared. 

From the Central Committee elected at the VI Congress in 1917, ten out of its 21 members had their deaths caused by Stalinist repression: Zinoviev – Executed in 1936 during the 1st Moscow Trial; Kamenev – Executed in 1936 during the 1st Moscow Trial; Miliutin – Executed in 1937 during the 3rd Moscow Trial; Rikov – Executed in 1937 during the 3rd Moscow Trial; Bubnov – Executed in 1937 on charges of espionage; Bukharin – Executed in 1938 during the 3rd Moscow Trial; Sokolnikov – Arrested in 1939 and murdered under state custody; Krestinski – Executed in 1938 during the 3rd Moscow Trial; Joffé (alternate member) – Committed suicide in 1927 in protest against the bureaucratization of the party. And the most feared of all: Trotsky – Assassinated in Mexico in 1940 by a Stalinist provocateur who had infiltrated his circle.

Born in Yalta, Ukraine, in 1926, under the name Vsevolod Platonovich Volkov, known as Sieva within the family, Esteban transformed the house in the Coyoacán neighborhood where his grandfather was assassinated into the Leon Trotsky Museum and tirelessly contributed to the defense of his memory. 

His own life was an inseparable saga from the Stalinist persecution that relentlessly targeted his family. Esteban was the son of Platon Ivanovich Volkov, a militant of the left opposition, and Zinaida Volkova Bronstein, the daughter of Leon Trotsky’s first marriage with Aleksandra Sokolovskaya during his initial exile/imprisonment in Siberia, known as Zina within the family. Esteban became orphaned at a young age.

In 1928, his father Platon Ivanovich Volkov was arrested, exiled to Siberia, released, and later assassinated in 1936. Zinaida was allowed to leave the Soviet Union with her son, who was only five years old at the time, but she had to leave behind her daughter from her first marriage in order to visit her father on Prinkipo Island (also known as Büyükada) off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey, in 1931. Trotsky, his daughter, and his grandson lost their Soviet citizenship in 1932. Unable to return to Moscow and reunite with her daughter, Zinaida decided to go to Berlin, where her half-brother Leon Sedov lived, and seek treatment for her depression and tuberculosis. In January 1933, in intense agony, she took her own life using a kitchen gas supply.

Sieva was placed under the protection of Leon Sedov, and just weeks before Hitler’s rise to power, they managed to escape in time. Through contacts of Leon Trotsky who had connections with Wilhelm Reich, Sieva was sent to a Montessori school in Vienna. However, as the Nazi threat loomed over Austria, he joined his uncle in Paris. Unfortunately, in 1938, Leon Sedov lost his life after a suspicious appendicitis operation, believed to have been poisoned by Stalinist agents.

The siege against all of Trotsky’s relatives was tightening. His grandmother Aleksandra, a leader of the left opposition in Leningrad, was imprisoned in the forced labor camp of Kolyma and disappeared in 1937, as did Alexandra Volkov, Sieva’s sister.

In 1939, Alfred Rosmer and his wife Marguerite Thevenet accompanied Sieva, who was 13 years old at the time, on the journey to reunite with Trotsky in Mexico. In May 1940, during the machine gun attack led by Siqueiros against Trotsky, he was wounded. Finally, in August 1940, while Sieva was returning from school, his grandfather was assassinated by Ramon Mercader.

For the following eighty years, he dedicated his utmost efforts to defending the honor and memory of Leon Trotsky. Esteban Volkov was never a militant of the Fourth International, but he was the soul of the museum that preserves a legacy of struggle when, in the words of Victor Serge, “It was midnight in the century.” Esteban was a witness and protagonist of this struggle, which remains the highest cause of the time that we have been given to live.

He will be remembered by those who knew him, and by those who will come after us to continue the good fight.

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esteban volkov