The idea of Leon Trotsky in Manhattan is about as unlikely as thinking of the Queen of England in an igloo but it did happen. For anyone who doesn’t know who Leon Trotsky was, he was more or less Lenin’s deputy in Russia at one stage and Stalin was so worried about Trotsky’s potential threat to his ascendancy after Lenin’s death that he had him assasinated even though he was living in Mexico at the time and showed no signs of returning to his homeland. The ‘more or less’ refers to the ever shifting alliances, factions and ideological positions of the leading Russian revolutionaries in the post revolution period.
The intense rivalries and ideological differences that were part of the Russian Revolution in 1917 continued unabated for many years after it took place, until Stalin imposed an iron grip on power. However before the revolution ever took place, Trotsky fetched up in New York City having been first deported from his homeland for revolutionary activity and then deported from Spain and France for anti-war activity as the first World War was raging at the time. He arrived in Manhattan January 1917.
He took an $18 a month apartment in the Bronx with his wife and 2 sons at 1522 Vyse Ave near 172nd St. He chose the Bronx because he wanted to live in a “workers district” and his children were enchanted by the electric lights, gas stove, bathtub, telephone and garage chute in the apartment. The video attached gets where Trotsky lived wrong but does get right where he worked while in NYC. Which was in the East Village at his friend Nicolai Bukarin’s Russian newspaper called Novy Mir.
For the short time he was in NYC Trotsky lectured and met up with Russian exiles and American Eugene Debbs who had been a socialist candidate for president. Trotsky’s visit was brief only because a month after he landed the long awaited and long planned for 1917 revolutionary uprising took place in Russia at Petrograd so he was very anxious to leave and join in. So he got the first tickets home that he could.
However NYC had worked it’s charm on him He wrote “My only consolation was the thought that I might return. Even now I have not given up that hope”. It was not to be. He was assassinated in Mexico on Stalin’s orders in 1940. But he played a leading and distinguished role in the first period of revolutionary government in Russia. And of all those burning with revolutionary zeal who have at some time visited NYC he would take a distinguished place even though, by some people’s standards they were a disreputable bunch.
When you read the histories of the period, it can be mind numbingly difficult working out the twists and turns of what was happening in Russia. But it humanizes the man to find out his children were awed and delighted by a gas stove, even though we don’t know if Trotsky himself did or did not regard them as bourgeoise indulgences.