Sergei Sedov, the son of Leon Trotsky and Natalia Sedova, was born on 21st March, 1908. Sergei and his brother, Lev Sedov, were both educated in Vienna. Natalia later recalled: "The children spoke Russian and German. In the kindergarten and school they spoke German, and for this reason they continued to talk German when they were playing at home. But if their father or I started talking to them, it was enough to make them change instantly to Russian. If we addressed them in German, they were embarrassed, and answered us in Russian. In later years they also acquired the Viennese dialect and spoke it excellently." Alfred Adler commented that Lev and Sergei spoke the language "like two old cab-drivers".
Trotsky and his family returned to Russia in May, 1917. Trotsky disapproved of the support that many leading Mensheviks were now giving to the Provisional Government and the war effort. Trotsky gave Lenin his full support: "I told Lenin that nothing separated me from his April Theses and from the whole course that the party had taken since his arrival." The two agreed, however, that Trotsky would not join the Bolshevik Party at once, but would wait until he could bring as many of the Mezhrayontsky group into the Bolshevik ranks. This included David Riazanov, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Moisei Uritsky, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Alexandra Kollontai. Trotsky officially joined the Bolsheviks in July. The new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, now realized that Trotsky was a major threat to his government and had him arrested. However, he was later released.
The Russian Revolution
Leon Trotsky was the main figure to argue for an insurrection whereas Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov and Victor Nogin led the resistance to the idea. They argued that an early action was likely to result in the Bolsheviks being destroyed as a political force. As Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has explained why Zinoviev felt strongly about the need to wait: "The experience of the summer (the July Days) had brought him to the conclusion that any attempt at an uprising would end as disastrously as the Paris Commune of 1871; revolution was was inevitable, he wrote at the time of the Kornilov crisis, but the party's task for the time being was to restrain the masses from rising to the provocations of the bourgeoisie."
Natalia Sedova later recalled: "During the last days of the preparation for October, we were staying in Taurid Street. Lev Davydovich lived for whole days at the Smolny. I was still working at the union of wood-workers, where the Bolsheviks were in charge, and the atmosphere was tense... The question of the uprising was discussed everywhere - in the streets, at meal-time, at casual meetings on the stairs of the Smolny. We ate little, slept little, and worked almost twenty-four hours a day. Most of the time we were separated from our boys, and during the October days I worried about them. Lev and Sergei were the only Bolsheviks in their school except for a third, a sympathizer, as they called him. Against them these three had a compact group of off-shoots of the ruling democracy - Kadets and Socialist-Revolutionists. And, as usually happens in such cases, criticism was supplemented by practical arguments. On more than one occasion the head master had to extricate my sons from under the piled-up democrats who were pummeling them. The boys, after all, were only following the example of their fathers. The head master was a Kadet, and consequently always punished my sons." Sergei was only nine years old at the time of the revolution. One visitor remarked: "He... is a fine little boy with a broad chest and a straight back. He looks like the heir to the throne in the guise of a peasant."
After the Russian Revolution both of Sergei Sedov's parents served in the new Bolshevik government. Lenin appointed Trotsky as the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Natalia Sedova was also given a post in the government. Trotsky explained in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930): "My wife joined the commissariat of education and was placed in charge of museums and ancient monuments. It was her duty to fight for the monuments of the past against the conditions of civil war. It was a difficult matter. Neither the White nor the Red troops were much inclined to look out for historical estates, provincial Kremlins, or ancient churches. This led to many arguments between the war commissariat and the department of museums. The guardians of the palaces and churches accused the troops of lack of respect for culture; the military commissaries accused the guardians of preferring dead objects to living people. Formally, it looked as if I were engaged in an endless departmental quarrel with my wife. Many jokes were made about us on this score."
Critical of Parents
Sergei was highly critical of his parents. Robert Service, the author of Trotsky (2009) has argued: "Only one of Trotsky's offspring, his younger son Sergei, failed to show him filial piety... Brought up on ideas of socialist equality, he took them seriously. He spurned all privileges. He refused to jump the queue for the doctor; he turned down the opportunity to wear smart clothes. When the Moscow Soviet sent a shiny new jacket for him, he announced that he would continue to wear his old one which was patched at the elbows. He rebuked Trotsky and Natalya for their bourgeois lifestyle and despised their cultural tastes.... At the age of sixteen he upped and left home: he had had enough." Leon Trotsky wrote: "We have made no protest, but it's too early - he is too young."
Sergei was fascinated with gymnastics and signed up with a circus. After two years doing this he fell in love with Olga Greber, a librarian. They set up home together in Moscow and trained as an engineer. Over the next few years he published articles on thermodynamics and diesel engines. He was eventually appointed as professor at the Moscow Institute of Technology. In 1929 Leon Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union but Sergei decided not to join the rest of the family in France because he wanted to continue his career as a teacher.
On 1st December, 1934, Sergy Kirov was shot dead by Leonid Nikolayev. He was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Genrikh Yagoda he signed a statement saying that Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev had been the leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov. Soon afterwards Trotsky was implicated in the plot. Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent based in the Soviet Union, was willing to accept this story. "The details of Kirov's assassination at first pointed to a personal motive, which may indeed have existed, but investigation showed that, as commonly happens in such cases, the assassin Nikolaiev had been made the instrument of forces whose aims were treasonable and political. A widespread plot against the Kremlin was discovered, whose ramifications included not merely former oppositionists but agents of the Nazi Gestapo. As the investigation continued, the Kremlin's conviction deepened that Trotsky and his friends abroad had built up an anti-Stalinist organisation in close collaboration with their associates in Russia, who formed a nucleus or centre around which gradually rallied divers elements of discontent and disloyalty. The actual conspirators were comparatively few in number, but as the plot thickened they did not hesitate to seek the aid of foreign enemies in order to compensate for the lack of popular support at home."
Arrest of Sergei Sedov
Joseph Stalin was furious with the Trotsky family and ordered the arrest of Sergei Sedov. Natalia Sedova issued an open letter, published in Trotsky's Bulletin of the Opposition, in which she declared her son's innocence and appealed to George Bernard Shaw, Romain Rolland, Andre Gide and other European intellectuals sympathetic to the USSR to press Moscow for a commission of inquiry into the repressions following the Kirov murder. Trotsky recorded that: "Natalia is haunted by the thought of what a heavy heart Seryozha must have in prison (if he is in prison). Perhaps he may think that we have somehow forgotten about him, left him to his fate." Natalia remarked to her husband: "They will not deport him under any circumstances; they will torture him in order to get something out of him, and after that they will destroy him."
Sergei Sedov was held in a Moscow prison for several months before being deported to Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia. In January 1937, the Soviet press reported that he had been arrested and charged with attempting, on the instructions of his father, a mass poisoning of workers. It is believed he was executed later that year.
(1) Robert Service, Trotsky (2009)
While continuing to enjoy meeting Vienna's political and cultural luminaries at the Café Central, he took his sons to the nearby park to play football and handball; and all the family liked to visit the Skobelevs, the Joffes and their young children. Leva at the age of three developed a special fondness for the Joffes' little daughter Nadya. Trotsky decorated the family fir tree at Christmas, but he and Natalya felt distaste for "the orgy of present-giving". Atheism was a staple of conversations at home. It was only when they went to the local Christian school that the boys discovered who the Virgin Mary was. Their domestic upbringing could lead to embarrassment outside the apartment. Sergei once blurted out: "There's no God and no Santa Claus!" Lev and Sergei grew up with firm opinions, but their father and mother did not equip them with skills in avoiding giving offence. Otherwise the boys took to Vienna like ducks to water - rather too much for Trotsky's liking. He wanted them to go on speaking Russian. He also hoped to inculcate a standard German in them but, going to a local school, they naturally picked up the Viennese dialect.
(2) Natalia Sedova, quoted in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930) on events in 1917.
During the last days of the preparation for October, we were staying in Taurid Street. Lev Davydovich lived for whole days at the Smolny. I was still working at the union of wood-workers, where the Bolsheviks were in charge, and the atmosphere was tense. All the working hours were spent in talking about the uprising. The chairman of the union upheld "the point of view of Lenin-Trotsky" (as it was called then), and we carried on our agitation together. The question of the uprising was discussed everywhere - in the streets, at meal-time, at casual meetings on the stairs of the Smolny. We ate little, slept little, and worked almost twenty-four hours a day. Most of the time we were separated from our boys, and during the October days I worried about them. Lev and Sergei were the only "Bolsheviks" in their school except for a third, a "sympathizer", as they called him. Against them these three had a compact group of off-shoots of the ruling democracy - Kadets and Socialist-Revolutionists. And, as usually happens in such cases, criticism was supplemented by practical arguments. On more than one occasion the head master had to extricate my sons from under the piled-up "democrats" who were pummelling them. The boys, after all, were only following the example of their fathers. The head master was a Kadet, and consequently always punished my sons with "Take your hats and go home." After the revolution it was quite impossible for the boys to remain in that school, and so they went to a "people's school" instead. Everything was much simpler and cruder there, but one could breathe more freely.
(3) Robert Service, Trotsky (2009)
Trotsky kept his close relatives away from prying eyes. This was conventional party practice: only Lenin had a wife who gained political prominence. Nevertheless Natalya, like other spouses of the Soviet communist elite, accepted an official post. Being noted for her interest in Russian culture, she was at first given responsibility for the conservation of artefacts of historical importance - this involved her in planning the nationalization of the landed estates surrounding Moscow. Then, using the surname Trotsky, she took over the Committee of Assistance for Wounded and Sick Red Army Soldiers in 1919. She and Trotsky resisted the temptation to exploit their elevated position to excess. Other couples behaved with less restraint. The Radeks were among the worst, grabbing a grand-ducal set of rooms for themselves in the Kremlin; they revelled in the opportunities for luxury. Natalya thought that the apartment would be better turned into a Romanov museum. Relations between the Radeks and the Trotskys were strained for a while Natalya was determined to preserve some modesty in her family's lifestyle. When she came across a pleasant tablecloth, she cut it up and sewed shirts for the boys. Lenin noticed and endorsed her determination to avoid waste
She never joined Trotsky on his train, but her official duties often meant that Leva and Sergei had to look after themselves. The Trotsky boys made friends with others of their age among the communist elite. The family had moved into the Kremlin on leaving Petrograd. After the attempt on Lenin's life in August 1918 those who had apartments elsewhere in the capital moved into the precinct for safety, and the Kremlin became an exclusive social and political fortress.
(4) Bertrand M. Patenaude, Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009)
By mutual decision of the parents and their son, Seryozha, as they called him, did not accompany the family into exile in 1929. Having rejected the life of politics to which his father and older brother, Lyova, devoted themselves absolutely, the athletic Seryozha joined a travelling circus for two years before pursuing a career in science and technology, becoming an instructor at a higher technical school in Moscow before the age of thirty. His parents believed that bringing Seryozha with them into exile would tear him from his roots and ruin his life.
In Moscow, Seryozha - who like his brother used his mother's family name, Sedov - took precautions not to call attention to his family background. His letters were addressed to his mother only and were devoted exclusively to family news and mundane matters. The hope was that he and his family would be left in peace, and in fact this is the way things worked out for the first few years. But everything changed for Seryozha, as it did for countless other Soviet citizens, after the murder of Leningrad Party chief Sergei Kirov, a rising political star, on 1 December 1934. Kirov's murder, which Stalin may have orchestrated and certainly exploited politically, set off a wave of arrests that launched the Great Terror of the next several years.
(5) Robert Service, Trotsky (2009)
Only one of Trotsky's offspring, his younger son Sergei, failed to show him filial piety. Sergei understood better than Max Eastman how well the Kremlin elite were looking after themselves materially. Brought up on ideas of socialist equality, he took them seriously. He spurned all privileges. He refused to jump the queue for the doctor; he turned down the opportunity to wear smart clothes. When the Moscow Soviet sent a shiny new jacket for him, he announced that he would continue to wear his old one which was patched at the elbows. He rebuked Trotsky and Natalya for their "bourgeois" lifestyle and despised their cultural tastes. On one occasion he told them off for listening to a radio broadcast of Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. Sergei thought the Russian musical classics decadent and unacceptable. At the age of sixteen he upped and left home: he had had enough.
His parents told people that Sergei was rejecting the life of the Soviet nomenklatura and had an aversion to politics. Trotsky, Natalya and their elder son Leva were revolutionary militants whereas Sergei was searching for something different in life. After a while he returned to the family once a week, and Trotsky and Natalya welcomed his visits. (They tried to give him the money for transport across the city but Sergei stuck out for his independence.) "We have made no protest," Trotsky said, "but it's too early - he is too young." Then Sergei did something quite extraordinary. After becoming fascinated with gymnastics, he signed up with a circus. He wandered around until he met and fell in love with Olga Greber, a librarian, who insisted that he complete his schooling. Sergei resumed intermittent contact with his parents as he settled down with Olga in Moscow and trained as an engineer. His gentleness made him everyone's friend and favourite and he persuaded his parents that his chosen path in life was the right one for him.
Trotsky may have seen something of himself in Sergei. He too had renounced the worldly ambition marked out for him by a domineering father. Like David Bronstein, Trotsky had the sense to let his son find his own career. Natalya cherished her relationship with Sergei: she later confessed to having had a slight preference for him over Leva. Yet she never came properly to terms with his dislike of revolutionary commitment. Characteristically she opted for a social and political explanation. In her opinion Sergei had been negatively affected by the public atmosphere during the NEP when revolutionary zeal was dissipating. Trotsky and Natalya were children of their times - and, she thought, things changed for the worse in the 1920s. What neither she nor her husband yet believed was that the Bolshevik party elite had undergone an irreversible degeneration. They assumed that that the code of comradely commitment remained in force. Trotsky had not yet got the measure of his enemies. He thought them wrong-headed, stupid or simply inferior to himself. But he gave them the benefit of the doubt for their revolutionary honour. He refrained from castigating even Stalin as a moral degenerate until after he was sent into exile in 1928.
(6) Robert Service, Trotsky (2009)
Sergei Sedov was arrested; he was sent from Moscow to Siberia on 3 August 1935. By then he had fallen out of love with his wife Olga and, despite continuing to live with her, formed a relationship with Genrietta Rubinshtein who ignored the pleadings of her parents and voluntarily followed him to Krasnoyarsk. He shouted to her from his cell in the transit prison that she should go back to Moscow for her own sake. Soon he was released and allowed to work legally in the city where his technical expertise gained him employment in the goldmine industry." Genrietta, who gave birth to their daughter Yulia in the Soviet capital in 1936, was arrested a year later. Yulia was brought up by her Rubinshtein grandparents and never saw her father.
The Trotskys were distraught about Sergei. They perceived that Stalin was seeking barbaric revenge on Trotsky by persecuting his innocent relatives. The thought occurred to Trotsky that the Bolsheviks in July 1918 had not stopped at executing Nicholas II but had slaughtered every Romanov they could get their hands on. Trotsky had not been privy to the decision on the death penalty. Indeed he had wanted to put the former emperor on public trial and use the proceedings to expose the iniquities of the Imperial order. Yet he stood by what had been ordered by Lenin and Sverdlov in his absence, and he recorded this in his diary on 9 April 1935. The entry for the following day included the comment: "No news of Serezha, and perhaps there won't be for a long time." It is hard to believe that Trotsky in some mental recess was not making a connection between the two situations. He understood that a precedent had been set in the Civil War for relatives of "enemies of the people" to be exterminated. Trotsky's dignified tone faded at that point and he added superciliously that Sergei could have coped better if he had developed an active interest in politics.