|Born||Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río
7 February 1913
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
|Died||18 October 1978
|Resting place||Kuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow, Russia|
|Other names||Jacques Mornard; Frank Jacson|
|Criminal penalty||20 years imprisonment|
|Parent(s)||Pau Mercader i Marina (father)
Eustaquia María Caridad del Río Hernández (mother)
Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río (7 February 1913 – 18 October 1978), more commonly known as Ramón Mercader, was a Spanish communist and NKVD agent who assassinated the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in August 1940. He served 20 years in Mexican prison for the murder. Joseph Stalin presented him with an Order of Lenin in absentia. Mercader was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union after his release in 1961.
Mercader was born in 1913 in Barcelona to Eustaquia María Caridad del Río Hernández (b. 1892), the daughter of a Cantabrian merchant who had become affluent in Spanish Cuba, and Pau Mercader i Marina (b. 1885), the son of a Catalan textiles industrialist from Badalona. Mercader grew up in France with his mother after their divorce. Caridad was an ardent Communist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and served in the Soviet international underground. As a young man, Ramón embraced Communism, working for leftist organizations in Spain during the mid-1930s. He was briefly imprisoned for his activities, but was released in 1936 when the left-wing coalition Popular Front won in the elections of that year. During the Spanish Civil War, Mercader was recruited by Nahum Eitingon, an officer of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, a preceding agency to the KGB), and trained in Moscow as a Soviet agent.
Mercader's contacts with and befriending of Trotskyists began during the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell's biographer Gordon Bowker relates how English communist David Crook, ostensibly a volunteer for the Republican side, was sent to Albacete where he was taught Spanish and also given a crash course in surveillance techniques by Mercader. Crook then, on orders from the NKVD, used his job as war reporter for the News Chronicle to spy on Orwell and his Independent Labour Party comrades in the POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) militia.
Assassination of Trotsky
In 1938, while he was a student at the Sorbonne, Mercader, with the help of NKVD agent Mark Zborowski, befriended Sylvia Ageloff, a young Jewish American intellectual from Brooklyn and a confidante of Trotsky in Paris, and assumed the identity "Jacques Mornard", supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat.
A year later, Mercader was contacted by a representative of the "Bureau of the Fourth International." Ageloff returned to her native Brooklyn in September that same year, and Mercader joined her, assuming the identity of Canadian "Frank Jacson". He was given a passport which had originally belonged to a Canadian citizen named Tony Babich, a member of the Spanish Republican Army who died fighting during the Spanish Civil War. Babich's photograph was removed and replaced by one of Mercader. Mercader claimed to Ageloff that he purchased forged documents to avoid military service.
In October 1939, Mercader moved to Mexico City and persuaded Ageloff to join him there. Leon Trotsky was living with his family in Coyoacán, then a village on the southern fringes of Mexico City, after being exiled from the Soviet Union, following the power struggle against Stalin's authority that he lost.
Trotsky had already been the object of an armed attack against the house where he was living, mounted by allegedly Soviet-recruited locals, including the ML muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. The attack was organised and prepared by Pavel Sudoplatov, deputy director of the foreign department of the NKVD. In his memoirs, Sudoplatov claimed that, in March 1939, he had been taken by his chief, Lavrenti Beria, to see Stalin in person. Stalin told them that "if Trotsky is finished the threat will be eliminated" and gave the direct order, "Trotsky should be eliminated within a year." After the attack failed to eliminate Trotsky, a second team was sent, headed by Eitingon, formerly the deputy GPU agent in Spain and also allegedly involved in the kidnap, torture and murder of Andreu Nin, with the plan of using a lone assassin. The team included Mercader and his mother, Caridad. Sudoplatov claimed in his autobiography, Special Tasks, that he personally selected Ramón Mercader for the task of carrying out the assassination.
Through his lover Sylvia Ageloff's access to the Coyoacán house, Mercader, as Jacson, began to meet with Trotsky personally, posing as a sympathizer to his ideas, befriending his guards and doing small favors.
On 20 August 1940, Mercader was alone with Trotsky in the exiled Russian's study, under the pretext of showing him a document. Mercader struck from behind and fatally wounded Trotsky on the head with an ice axe while the exiled Russian was looking at the document.
The blow failed to kill Trotsky instantly; he got up and grappled with Mercader. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's guards burst in the room and nearly beat Mercader to death, but Trotsky, heavily wounded but still conscious, ordered them to spare his attacker's life and let him speak.
Caridad and Eitingon were waiting outside the compound in separate cars to provide a getaway; but when Mercader did not return they left and fled the country.
Trotsky was taken to a hospital in the city and operated on but died the next day, as a result of severe brain injuries.
Mercader was turned over by Trotsky's guards to the Mexican authorities, to whom he refused to give his real identity. He would only identify himself as "Jacques Mornard". Mercader claimed to the police he had wanted to marry Ageloff, but Trotsky had forbidden the marriage. He alleged that a violent quarrel with Trotsky had led to him wanting to murder Trotsky. He stated:
...instead of finding myself face to face with a political chief who was directing the struggle for the liberation of the working class, I found myself before a man who desired nothing more than to satisfy his needs and desires of vengeance and of hate and who did not utilize the workers' struggle for anything more than a means of hiding his own paltriness and despicable calculations. ... It was Trotsky who destroyed my nature, my future and all my affections. He converted me into a man without a name, without country, into an instrument of Trotsky. I was in a blind alley... Trotsky crushed me in his hands as if I had been paper.
In 1940, "Jacques Mornard" was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Sixth Criminal Court of Mexico. His true identity as Ramón Mercader was eventually confirmed by the Venona project.
Ageloff was initially arrested by the Mexican police as an accomplice, as she had lived together with Mercader on and off for about two years up to the time of the assassination, but charges were eventually dropped.
Release and honors
After the first few years in prison, Mercader requested to be released on parole, but the request was denied by the Mexican authorities, represented by Dr. Jesús Siordia and the criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón. After almost 20 years in prison, he was released from Mexico City's Palacio de Lecumberri prison on 6 May 1960 and he moved to Havana, Cuba, where Fidel Castro's new revolutionary government welcomed him.
In 1961, Mercader moved to the Soviet Union and was subsequently presented with the country's highest decoration, Hero of the Soviet Union, by the head of the KGB Alexander Shelepin personally. He divided his time between Cuba and the Soviet Union for the rest of his life.
Ramón Mercader died in Havana in 1978 of cancer. He is buried under the name "Ramón Ivanovich Lopez" (Рамон Иванович Лопес) in Moscow's Kuntsevo Cemetery. His last words are said to have been: “I hear it always. I hear the scream. I know he’s waiting for me on the other side.”
Accusations amongst followers
Joseph Hansen, who was, at the time of the assassination, a guard of the Mexican house where Trotsky lived, and subsequently became a leader of the Socialist Workers Party, the main Trotskyist party in the U.S., was accused in the 1970s by the rival Workers' League and its British sister organization, the Workers Revolutionary Party, of being "a double agent of the FBI and the GPU," as well as having assisted Mercader to penetrate Trotsky's inner circle of friends and acquaintances. Hansen, in a lengthy pamphlet he published, denied the charge.
Decorations and awards
In popular culture
- In 1967, West German television presented L. D. Trotzki – Tod im Exil ("L. D. Trotsky - Death in exile"), a play in two parts, directed by August Everding, with Peter Lühr in the role of Trotsky.
- Joseph Losey directed The Assassination of Trotsky, a film released in 1972, featuring Alain Delon as Frank Jacson/Mercader and Richard Burton as Trotsky.
- David Ives' play Variations on the Death of Trotsky is a comedy based on Mercader's assassination of Trotsky.
- A Spanish documentary about Mercader's life called Asaltar los cielos ("Storm the skies") was released in 1996, while a Spanish-language documentary, El Asesinato de Trotsky, was co-produced in 2006 by The History Channel and Anima Films, and directed by Argentinian director Matías Gueilburt.
- The Trotsky assassination is depicted in the film Frida (2002), with Mercader portrayed by Antonio Zava (uncredited) and Trotsky by Geoffrey Rush.
- Trotskyist veteran Lillian Pollak depicted her friendship with Mercader, then known as Frank Jacson, and the assassination of Trotsky in her 2008 novel The Sweetest Dream.
- A 2009 novel by U.S. writer Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna, includes an account of Trotsky's assassination by "Jacson".
- Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes' 2009 novel El hombre que amaba a los perros ("The Man Who Loved Dogs") refers to the lives of both Trotsky and Mercader.
- The 2016 film The Chosen directed by Antonio Chavarrías and filmed in Mexico is an account of Trotsky's murder, featuring Alfonso Herrera as Mercader.
- Other sources date Mercader's birth on 7 February 1914
- Photograph of Mercader's Gravestone
- "The New Trotsky: No Longer a Devil" by Craig R. Whitney, The New York Times, 16 January 1989
- "Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow Had Trotsky Slain", The New York Times, 5 January 1989.
- randomhouse.co.nz-authors Gordon Bowker biography in Random House website
- "The Spanish Civil War and the Popular Front", lecture by Ann Talbot, World Socialist Web Site, August 2007
- "The Guardian's Prism revelations, Orwell and the spooks" by Richard Keeble, University of Lincoln, 13 June 2013
- Sayers, Michael, and Albert E. Kahn. The Great Conspiracy against Russia. Second Printing (Paper Edition). London: Collet's Holdings Ltd., 1946, pp. 334-5.
- Hansen, J. "With Trotsky to the End" in Fourth International, Volume I, October 1940, pp. 115-123.
- Patenaude, Bertrand Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky, Faber & Faber, London UK, 2009, p. 138
- "Pavel Sudoplatov, 89, dies" by Bart Barnes, The Washington Post, 27 September 1996
- "The fight of the Trotsky family - interview with Esteban Volkov" (1988), In Defence Of Marxism website, 21 August 2006
- "Trotsky murder weapon may have been found", CNN, 11 July 2005
- "Trotsky's assassination remembered by his grandson" by Deborah Bonello and Ole Alsaker,The Guardian, 20 August 2012
- "Forty Years Since Leon Trotsky's Assassination" by Lynn Walsh, Militant International Review, summer 1980
- Schwartz, Stephen; Sobell, Morton; Lowenthal, John (2 April 2001). "Three Gentlemen of Venona". The Nation. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
- Don Levine, Isaac (1960), The Mind of an Assassin, D1854 Signet Book, pp. 109-110, 173.
- Ramon Mercader at Find a Grave
- International Committee of the Fourth International (1981): How the GPU Murdered Trotsky, 1981, ISBN 0-86151-019-4
- Healy's Big Lie: The Slander Campaign Against Joseph Hansen & George Novack; Pathfinder Press; ISBN 978-0873486835
- "Documental argentino revive a León Trotsky" ("Argentine documentary revives Leon Trotsky"), El Mercurio, 12 August 2007 (in Spanish)
- "Frida" in IMDBase
- Pollak, Lillian. The Sweetest Dream: Love, Lies, & Assassination; iUniverse; May 2008; ISBN 978-0595490691
- "El hombre que amaba a los perros" ("The Man Who Loved Dogs") in Toda la Literatura review, 2009 (in Spanish)
- Isaac Don, Levine (September 28, 1959). "Secrets of an Assassin". Life: 104–122. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
- Cabrera Infante, Guillermo (1983): Tres tristes tigres, Editorial Seix Barral, ISBN 84-322-3016-2.
- Conquest, Robert (1991): The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-507132-0.
- Andrew, Christopher; Vasili Mitrokhin (1999): The Sword and the Shield, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-00310-5.
- Padura Fuentes, Leonardo (2009): El hombre que amaba a los perros, Tusquets Editores (Narrativa), ISBN 978-84-8383-136-6.
- Jakupi, Gani (2010): Les Amants de Sylvia, Futuropolis, ISBN 978-2-7548-0304-5.
- Wilmers, Mary-Kay (2010): The Eitingons, Verso, ISBN 978-1-84467-642-2.
- Asaltar los Cielos, Spanish documentary about the life of Ramón Mercader, at IMDBase