Skip to content

The Leon Trotsky Museum: Preserving a Revolutionary‘s Final Refuge

In the quiet, tree-lined streets of Coyoacán, Mexico City, a thick-walled house stands as a monument to one of the most dramatic lives and deaths of the 20th century. Here, in August 1940, Leon Trotsky, a titan of the Russian Revolution and sworn enemy of Joseph Stalin, was struck down by an assassin‘s ice axe. Today, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky preserves the exiled revolutionary‘s final home and offers a fascinating window into a pivotal chapter of world history.

From Revolutionary to Enemy of the State

To understand the significance of the Trotsky Museum, we must first delve into the extraordinary story of the man himself. Born Lev Bronstein in 1879 to a Ukrainian Jewish family, Trotsky was drawn to Marxism as a young man.[^1] Brilliant and charismatic, he became a key leader of the Bolshevik faction and played a vital role in the October Revolution of 1917 that brought Vladimir Lenin to power.[^2]

As People‘s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later commander of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, Trotsky was second only to Lenin in the early Soviet hierarchy.[^3] But after Lenin‘s death in 1924, Trotsky was outmaneuvered by Joseph Stalin, who consolidated power and sidelined his rival. Trotsky‘s criticism of Stalin‘s growing authoritarianism led to his expulsion from the Communist Party in 1927 and exile from the Soviet Union in 1929.[^4]

For most of the 1930s, Trotsky was a man without a country, living in Turkey, France, and Norway as he continued to denounce Stalin‘s regime. Relying on a global network of supporters, he dodged Soviet agents and right-wing nationalists eager to see him dead.[^5] In 1936, the left-wing government of Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico offered Trotsky asylum, and he settled with his wife Natalia Sedova in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City.[^6]

A Fatal Friendship with Kahlo and Rivera

Initially, Trotsky and Sedova stayed in the nearby home of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, ardent Trotskyists who used their influence to secure his asylum.[^7] The fiery Kahlo and gruff revolutionary had a brief but intense affair, as recounted in Kahlo‘s diary.[^8] "I adore him with all the forces of my being," she wrote in 1937.[^9]

Trotsky soon moved to the fortified house on Viena Street that would become the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky. With its thick walls, steel shutters, and guard towers manned by loyal militants, the home was a testament to the constant danger Trotsky faced.[^10] Those fears proved justified on May 24, 1940, when a group of Stalinist agents led by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros launched a 20-minute machine gun assault on the house.[^11] Trotsky and his wife miraculously survived unscathed as over 200 bullets riddled the building, leaving scars that can still be seen today.[^12]

Tragically, another Soviet agent would succeed where Siqueiros failed. On August 20, 1940, Ramón Mercader, posing as a supporter, infiltrated Trotsky‘s study and buried a mountaineering axe in his skull.[^13] Trotsky died the next day at age 60, and was cremated at the house as supporters gave clenched fist salutes.[^14] Mercader was arrested and served 20 years in a Mexican prison before returning to the Soviet Union as a decorated hero.[^15]

A Museum Frozen in Time

Today, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky appears much as it did at the time of the assassination. Visitors enter through a somber exhibition hall chronicling Trotsky‘s life before emerging into the sun-dappled house and gardens. In the study where Trotsky spent his final months hunched over his writings, his desk, bookshelves and papers are preserved behind glass.[^16]

Other rooms showcase Trotsky‘s spartan lifestyle in exile, with humble furnishings and few personal possessions. On display are some of the revolutionary‘s trademark round glasses, as well as photos of him fishing and tending to his beloved rabbits.^17 In the garden, cacti and succulents planted by Trotsky still thrive around a stele containing his and Sedova‘s ashes.^18

The bullet-pocked walls and watchtowers are stark reminders of the dangers Trotsky faced as the world‘s most wanted man. So too are mementos of his global wanderings, like a trunk plastered with visas and travel permits.^19 Throughout the museum, timelines, maps and explanatory texts in Spanish and English give context to the turbulent times Trotsky lived through.

Perhaps most poignant is the unfinished manuscript on Trotsky‘s desk when he was killed, an analysis of Stalin‘s Russia titled "A Dirty Trick of History".[^20] It‘s a tragic symbol of a brilliant mind extinguished and a life‘s work left incomplete by the violent rivalries of the age.

Trotsky‘s Living Legacy

More than just a time capsule of historical memory, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky strives to carry on its namesake‘s legacy. On the 50th anniversary of Trotsky‘s assassination in 1990, the Instituto del Derecho de Asilo y los Derechos Humanos (Institute for the Right of Asylum and Human Rights) was founded at the house.[^21] Drawing inspiration from Mexico‘s tradition of giving refuge to persecuted dissidents like Trotsky, the institute assists asylum seekers fleeing violence and repression today.[^22]

The museum has also been a site of pilgrimage for leftists and revolutionaries around the world, many of whom leave flowers and notes by the stele in the garden.^23 In 2015, amid high tensions between Russia and the West, even Vladimir Putin paid a controversial visit to the museum during a trip to Mexico.[^24] For some, Trotsky‘s legacy as an uncompromising fighter for social justice still resonates in an age of authoritarian resurgence.

"My grandfather was one of those people who fought for what they believed in," Trotsky‘s grandson Esteban Volkov, who lived in the house as a child, told the BBC.[^25] Volkov has been instrumental in maintaining the museum and has published books drawing on its vast archival collections.[^26]

Today, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky welcomes around 17,000 visitors a year, according to curator Gabriela Pérez Noriega.[^27] The museum stands both as a monument to a pivotal figure of the 20th century and an ongoing resource for research and activism. "The life and work of Leon Trotsky are not a closed chapter in history," Pérez Noriega says.^28

In a shaded corner of Coyoacán, behind thick walls once pocked by Stalinist bullets, that revolutionary spirit lives on. For those seeking to understand an era-defining ideological struggle, or simply to pay tribute to a brilliant and tragically flawed visionary, the Leon Trotsky Museum is an essential destination.

Visiting the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky

The Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky is located at Río Churubusco 410, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico. It‘s open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Adult admission is 40 pesos (about $2 USD).

The closest metro stations are Coyoacán (Line 3) and Eje Central (Line 12), both about a 15-20 minute walk from the museum. Many visitors combine a trip to the Trotsky Museum with the nearby Frida Kahlo Museum, located just a few blocks away.

Guided tours in English and Spanish are available upon request for an additional fee. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits, workshops, and special events throughout the year. Check the official website at for the latest details.

[^1]: Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879–1921. New York: Verso, 2003, p. 28.
[^2]: Ibid, p. 292-325.
[^3]: Service, Robert. Trotsky: A Biography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009, p. 241, 282.
[^4]: Ibid, p. 308, 348-350.
[^5]: Ibid, p. 362-383.
[^6]: Patenaude, Bertrand. Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary. New York: Harper, 2009, p. 103-105.
[^7]: Ibid, p. 90-92.
[^8]: Kahlo, Frida. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. New York: Abrams, 2005, p. 144-145.
[^9]: Ibid, p. 145.
[^10]: Patenaude, p. 145-146.
[^11]: Ibid, p. 179-184.
[^12]: Visit to the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky by the author, January 2020.
[^13]: Levine, Isaac Don. The Mind of an Assassin. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1959, p. 141-148.
[^14]: Patenaude, p. 211-212.
[^15]: Ibid, p. 223-226.
[^16]: Author visit, January 2020.

[^20]: Patenaude, p. 209.
[^21]: "Inauguration of Trotsky Museum on 50th Anniversary of His Murder." Associated Press, August 21, 1990.
[^22]: Author interview with museum staff, January 2020.

[^24]: Krauze, León. "The Surreal Saga of Putin Visiting Trotsky‘s House in Mexico." The Daily Beast, June 22, 2017.
[^25]: "Mexico‘s Trotsky Museum: The Story Behind the Killings." BBC News, February 11, 2014.
[^26]: Volkov, Esteban. Trotsky: A Documentary. Mexico City: Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky, 2019.
[^27]: Author interview with Gabriela Pérez Noriega, January 2020.