One of the most notorious events in the history of the Lovelab
came about because of a scientific conflict between two of the giants of Bolshevism,
Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. To explain this tragedy, we need to delve
into a bit of history.
At the outset, it is important to know that both Stalin and
Trotsky were well-known ichthyologists and, when not involved with killing
off vast numbers of opponents, both found time to publish a number of works
on the fishes of Russia. Stalin, in particular, published many scientific
papers, particularly after he had liquidated almost all of the reviewers for
Zoologicheskii Zhurnal during the Purge Trials of 1937. Indeed, even today
his Minnows of the Soviet Gulagsis still the standard reference on
Parenthetically, it should be noted that many of the top Bolsheviks
were biologists or at least naturalists. Kamanev finished his Behavior
of SiberianVoles while in jail awaiting execution (it is said that Stalin
postponed the event for several days to allow the disgraced leader to finish
checking the final proofs of the paper) and Zinovievs life-long studies
eventually led to his magnificent The Daphnia of Lake Baikel,unfortunately
also published posthumously. Even Lenin took time away from crushing a revolt
of beet farmers near Pokrovsk, Samara Province, to complete Every Workers
Guide to the Butterflies of Smolensk.
By the late 1920s, Stalin, in a bid for absolute control of
the Soviet Union, had effectively isolated Trotsky and the former War Commissar
had to flee the country. However, it was a rockfish that led to the final
confrontation between the two men. In 1927, Stalin first collected a specimen
of the, as yet undescribed, rockfish during a research cruise to the Mediterranean
Sea, while aboard the research vessel Third Congress of Soviet Youth.
In 1931, while in exile on the Turkish island of Prinkipo, Trotsky
began to conduct a survey of the local fishes. In a letter to Yelena Krylenko-Eastman
(wife of the Trotskyist Max Eastman), he wrote: "I have a big favour
to ask you in the fishing area. Could you possibly buy me some line for underwater
rods used for catching big fish. 200 metres would be good." Apparently,
it was with this line that he collected three specimen of the rockfish.
Curiously, by 1939, while both men had noted the unusual hammer and sickle pattern on the fish's flanks (see illustration), and had mentioned the specimens to colleagues, neither had described the fish in a scientific journal. In that year, Trotsky came to the Mexico City branch of the Lovelab and asked if he could continue his studies at that facility. On 23 May 1939, after intercession from the great artist Diego Rivera, the Lovelab reluctantly accepted him as a visiting scholar. It was soon clear that the primary reason Trotsky came to the Lovelab was to work on his three Mediterranean specimens and to publish a description before Stalin had completed his.
Since his banishment from the Soviet Union in 1929, every move
Trotsky made was tracked by the OGPU and, later, by the NKVD, and quickly
reported to Stalin. Trotskys work at the Lovelab was no exception. Below,
we reprint several lines from a report filed by Naum Isaakovich Eitingon (a
high-ranking agent in Mexico City), of the Secret Political Section of the
NKVD Main State Security Administration. This document arrived, based on the
date stamped on the cover, on Stalins desk on 12 February 1940. [We
would like to thank Colonel Oleg Ioffe for searching through newly-declassified
documents of the OGPU-NKVD and for this translation. Colonel Ioffes
new book, Joseph Stalin, Bolshevik Biologistis now out in paperback.
"Sammy[apparently a code name for a NKVD agent
working for Eitingon] has been to the Old Mans [ NKVDs
name for Trotsky] office and has seen the three specimens, along with several
sheets describing the meristics and morphometrics of each. At the top of one
sheet was written British Journal of Systematics. Sammy
was unable to steal the specimens, as they are constantly under the eye of
the "Old Mans bodyguard, Jean van Heijenoort."
Clearly, Trotsky was close to submitting a paper describing
the species. Although NKVD operatives had attempted to kill Trotsky in the
past, efforts were now redoubled. The murder was ultimately carried out by
Ramon Mercader, previously known as Jacques Mornard and, from a passport fabricated
by the NKVD in Moscow, Frank Jacson.
Though Trotsky was heavily protected by bodyguards, Mercader
penetrated his defenses through a clever ruse. Trotsky was very fond of a
frozen confection called Salamadra Helada (literally Icy Salamander). Salamadra
Helada were frozen bars on a stick made from cactus pulp covered in milk chocolate
and sprinkled with bitter cocoa powder and ground almonds; they were made
by a company of the same name. They were a popular treat throughout Central
America and Trotsky had a case of these bars delivered to his home twice a
week. For several years, a regular employee of Salamadra Helada would drive
up to Trotskys gate in a 1933 Buick and give the product to one of the
waiting bodyguards. In late 1939, the KGB replaced the usual delivery man
with Mercader. He was a man of considerable charm and over time he was accepted
by the bodyguards, and by Trotsky himself, as almost a member of the family.
On a number of occasions, Mercader was invited into the house and on at least
one occasion even taught Trotskys wife, Natalya, how to tango. On 20
August 1940, Mercader was allowed in on another pretense, strode into Trotskys
study and stabbed him with an ice pick. Trotsky died the next day.
The description of the new rockfish species, Sebastes leninii,was published in 1942 by Joseph Stalin in Zoologicheskii Zhurnal, Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 34-36.
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