Sunday, June 18, 2023

Trotsky’s grandson Esteban (Seva) Volkov

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Seva with Trotsky and Natalia Sedova in Coyoacán. [Photo: Museo Casa de León Trotsky]

Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban (Seva) Volkov, died on June 16, 2023 at the age of 97.  I am deeply saddened by the death of Esteban.  He was a remarkable person who maintained the legacy of his grandfather his entire life while also creating a successful career in a new country with a new language and raising a family.  His greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacán Mexico and its survival in the teeth of opposition by the local Stalinists and government bureaucrats.

It is difficult to imagine the horrors that the young Seva experienced.  He was barely 14 years old when his grandfather was assassinated. By that time, he had lived through the arrest and subsequent murder at the hands of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, of his father Platon Volkov, a leading member of the Left Opposition.  His mother, Trotsky’s daughter from his first marriage, Zinaida, committed suicide while trying to get medical attention for her depression and tuberculosis in Germany.   Seva was taken in by his uncle, Trotsky’s older son, Leon Sedov.  Sedov was essentially Trotsky’s ambassador to the supporters of the Left Opposition in Europe and was the linchpin for the creation of the Fourth International. Sedov was himself assassinated by Stalinist agents in France in 1938. Seva was reunited with his grandparents in Mexico only after a bitter custody dispute following the assassination of his uncle. For a young child these series of shocks could be nothing less than a holocaust on an individual scale.  It is therefore all the more remarkable that Seva did not grow up to be a bitter and depressed individual whose spirit was broken. Instead, Seva was imbued with the same optimism about the future of humanity that characterized his grandfather.

I was present at a number of conferences in the U.S. where Esteban spoke but I only had one brief personal exchange with him.  That was at a conference on The Legacy of Leon Trotsky and U.S. Trotskyism held at Fordham University in New York in July of 2008. I spoke to him at the very end of that conference and only had time to express my appreciation of the work he had done in keeping the flame of his grandfather’s legacy alive. Even then, at the advanced age of 82, Esteban had the demeanor of a tall and handsome man whose eyes expressed both his resolve and his generosity. He looked far younger than his years. On that occasion my then soon to be partner, Nina, gave Esteban a flower and he graciously kissed her, in the manner of old-world etiquette.

I made trips to Coyoacán on three different occasions.  On one of those trips with my colleague Frank Brenner, we had the good fortune to be escorted by a guide who had extensive knowledge of the background behind the struggle to maintain the museum against continuous attempts by the Stalinists in Mexico to shut it down. 

The last time I saw Esteban was virtually, through a remote video conference at the First International Conference on Trotsky held in Havana, Cuba in May of 2019.  He was interviewed from the Trotsky Museum by Alan Woods, a long-time scholar of Trotskyism, a leader of International Marxist Tendency and one of driving forces behind the new edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.  (See our article on announcement of the publication of the book on Stalin, and our summary of the last day of the Conference on Trotsky in Havana, ).  In addition to the interview with Esteban, the Trotsky Museum was one of key backers of the conference in Havana.


An obituary and two interviews conducted by Alan Benjamin with Esteban Volkov on the subject of Trotsky’s assassination can be found by following this link :

Esteban Volkov was the last living witness to Trotsky’s assassination. His presence will be missed.

Alex Steiner, June 18, 2023

Esteban (Seva) Volkov in 2012


Owen said...

Thanks for your obituary Alex, I especially enjoyed reading of your personal experiences, and those of Nina, meeting and talking to Seva.

You’re right to note that Seva’s later courage and revolutionary optimism was doubly remarkable in light of his experiences in his youth as his family was hounded and terrorised by Stalin and his henchmen. A witness to these political crimes, he was even injured in the foot during one failed assassination attempt as the pistoleros machine gunned the rooms upon leaving Trotsky’s villa.

Seva lived through one of Histories darkest hours - something Victor Serge described as the ‘Midnight in the Century’ in his 1939 novel of the same title - with the near extermination of a whole generation of revolutionaries following the hour of Hitlers Triumph in Germany, and Stalin’s apotheosis.

After this experience, many with less power of conviction and resolve succumbed to cynicism, developing a postmodernist, sceptical view of the ‘grand narratives’ of marxism and modernism, eventually coming to question the entire idea of progress.

He was not one of these lame ducks, by all accounts he was a sharp operator. His loss leaves a great hole in the workers movement, as we have lost his experience and acumen. He will be sadly missed.

Vale Estaban Volkov.

Bob Montgomery said...

I too met Seve Volkov at the Fordham conference in 2008! By sheer happenstance I found myself seated next to him in the cafe for breakfast. Gerry Foley was helping him as a guide and translator. He was in his usual black leather jacket, and desperate for his morning coffee, a bit cranky. The conversation turned perhaps inevitably to the assassination of his grandad.
I asked if he knew whether the GPU were holding the safety of Mercador’s mother over his head as insurance. Seve turned to Gerry Foley and asked, “Who is this idiot?” My knowledge of Spanish was good enough to understand this and to hear Gerry’s answer that “no he’s not an idiot, just ignorant of the facts as are many Trotskyists.” Seve grunted, nodded, looked back at me with softer blue toned eyes and said: “Pass the sugar please.” He was a formidable presence at 82 and like his grandfather he didn’t suffer fools lightly.