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Comrades: from left to right, MP Antonio Villalobos, Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, Jean van Heijenoort and Colonel José Escudero Andrade in 1937

He was Trotsky’s sidekick and Kahlo’s lover—Jean van Heijenoort is one of the strangest philosophers you’ve never heard of

Until his sticky end in Mexico City, “Comrade Van” lived a chaotic and colourful life—one that contrasts with the orderly logical theories with which his name is still linked

By Ray Monk   January/February 2021

In the summer of 1938 the French surrealist writer André Breton visited Mexico City. During his visit he spent much time with Leon Trotsky, then living in exile and in constant fear of assassination by Stalinists. On his return to Paris, Breton gave a glowing description of Trotsky and his small circle of followers, assistants and protectors, singling out for particular praise a man he called “Comrade Van,” who worked as both Trotsky’s secretary and his bodyguard. “Anyone who has anything to do with him,” Breton said, “is aware of his extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity and the quickness and clarity of his judgment… I hope he will pardon me for speaking about how moving his life is.”…

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