Trotsky on the D Train

His exile in New York, 1927

A poor, sick, tired old Jew in steel-rimmed spectacles, pressed between clerks and secretaries, rattling and swaying beneath the streets of that city which must have been, to him of all people, Golgotha.

Hanging listless and dreaming from his strap as the train carried him homeward to the incomprehensible Bronx, no fire left in his prophet eyes, Who could mistake this weary old man for Leon Trotsky, the fist of Bolshevism, visionary, architect of the terrible Red Army?

His fellow passengers, his immediate neighbors in the car, try nervously to give him a little room. He jerks fitfully in his half-sleep like an epileptic and they are afraid he is preparing to have a seizure. How could they know that this nonentity is dreaming of a young, wild-eyed and eloquent revolutionary, hearing above the wrack of wheels and rail his own younger-voice in St. Peter’s Square, in Siberia, before the Petrograd Soviet, the voice that mesmerized, that mobilized, not by force of mere argument but by the strength of his own unmistakable conviction and passionate intensity.

How could they know that at intervals the reality of his situation and the bitter irony of his world-shattering vision impinge on his harmless old man’s dream with a force that jolts him awake? In those moments he curses himself in a language they do not understand; curses himself for a young fool and a foolish old man.

“How strange,” he mumbles,”How strange for me to have become an old man. It is definitely not right that I have grown this old when I could have died so many times on the barricades, or in prison, or so many times in the Ukraine. So many died, but not me. How could that be? No, it is absolutely a mistake that I have lived so long.”

Pictures drift across his mind: Lenin, that cold, reptile genius; gone now, Nicholas, bumbling, inept shopkeeper of a czar, gone too, Plekanov, Usipov, all gone. The final picture is Stalin, the usurper, the opportunist.

“But perhaps after all more suited than I for what must be done,… a strong, heartless man.”

Involuntarily he glances around the car, looking for the assassin who must even now be waiting his opportunity.