Leon Trotsky (/ˈtrɒtski/;[a] born Lev Davidovich Bronstein;[b] 7
November [O.S. 26 October] 1879 – 21 August 1940) was a
Russian revolutionary, theorist, and Soviet politician. Ideologically
a Marxist and a Leninist, he later developed his own version of
Marxist thought, Trotskyism.
Initially supporting the
Menshevik Internationalists faction within
the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, he joined the Bolsheviks
("majority") just before the 1917 October Revolution, immediately
becoming a leader within the Communist Party. He would go on to become
one of the seven members of the first Politburo, founded in 1917 to
During the early days of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist
Republic (RSFSR) and the Soviet Union, he served first as People's
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander
of the Red Army, with the title of People's Commissar of Military and
Naval Affairs. He became a major figure in the
Bolshevik victory in
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War (1918–22).
After leading a failed struggle of the
Left Opposition against the
policies and rise of
Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and against the
increasing role of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky was
removed as Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs (January 1925),
removed from the
Politburo (October 1926), removed from the Central
Committee (October 1927), expelled from the Communist Party (November
1927), exiled to Alma–Ata (January 1928), and exiled from the Soviet
Union (February 1929). As the head of the Fourth International,
Trotsky continued from exile to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy in
the Soviet Union.
Trotsky was assassinated by Ramón Mercader, a Spanish-born NKVD
agent. On 20 August 1940, Mercader attacked Trotsky with an ice axe
and Trotsky died the next day in a hospital. Mercader acted upon
instruction from Stalin and was nearly beaten to death by Trotsky's
bodyguards, with Mercader spending 20 years in a Mexican prison for
murdering Trotsky. Stalin presented Mercader with an
Order of Lenin
Order of Lenin in
Trotsky's ideas formed the basis of Trotskyism, a major school of
Marxist thought that opposes the theories of Stalinism. He was written
out of the history books under Stalin, and was one of the few Soviet
political figures who was not rehabilitated by the government under
Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s.
1 Childhood and family (1879-1895)
2 Early political activities and life (1896–1917)
2.1 Revolutionary activity and imprisonment (1896–1898)
2.2 First marriage and Siberian exile (1899–1902)
2.3 First emigration and second marriage (1902–1903)
2.4 Split with Lenin (1903–1904)
2.5 1905 revolution and trial (1905–1906)
2.6 Second emigration (1907–1914)
2.7 World War I (1914–1917)
Russian Revolution and aftermath
3.1 Commissar for Foreign Affairs and
3.2 Head of the
Red Army (spring 1918)
3.3 Civil War (1918–1920)
3.4 Trade union debate (1920–1921)
3.5 Trotsky's contribution to the Russian Revolution
3.6 Lenin's illness (1922–1923)
3.7 Left opposition (1923–1924)
3.8 After Lenin's death (1924)
3.9 A year in the wilderness (1925)
United Opposition (1926–1927)
3.11 Defeat and exile (1927–1928)
3.12 Fate of Left Oppositionists after Trotsky's exile (1929–1941)
4 Exile (1929–1940)
Moscow show trials
4.2 Fourth International
4.3 Dies Committee
4.4 Final months
6 Contributions to theory
6.1 Permanent Revolution
6.2 The United Front
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Childhood and family (1879-1895)
8-year-old Lev Bronstein, 1888
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein on 7 November 1879, the
fifth child of a Ukrainian Jewish family of wealthy farmers in
Yanovka or Yanivka, in the
Kherson governorate of the Russian Empire
(now Bereslavka, in Ukraine), a small village 24 kilometres
(15 mi) from the nearest post office.
His parents were David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922) and his
wife Anna Lvovna (née Zhivotovskaya) (1850–1910). Trotsky's father
was born in Poltava, and later moved to Bereslavka as it had a large
Jewish community. but reportedly not religious.
The language spoken at home was a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian
(known as Surzhyk). Trotsky's younger sister, Olga, who also grew
up to be a
Bolshevik and a Soviet politician, married the prominent
Bolshevik Lev Kamenev.
Many anti-Communists, anti-semites, and anti-Trotskyists have noted
Trotsky's original surname, stressing the political and historical
significance of the surname Bronstein. Some authors, notably
Robert Service, have also claimed that Trotsky's childhood first name
Yiddish "Leiba". The American
Trotskyist David North said that
this was an assumption from Trotsky's Jewish origins but that,
contrary to Service's claims, there is no documentary evidence to
support him using a
Yiddish name, when that language was not spoken by
his family. Both North and
Walter Laqueur in their books say that
Trotsky's childhood name was Lyova, a standard Russian diminutive of
the name "Lev."
When Trotsky was eight, his father sent him to
Odessa to be
educated. He was enrolled in a German-language school, which became
Russified during his years in
Odessa as a result of the Imperial
government's policy of Russification.
Isaac Deutscher notes in his biography of Trotsky,
Odessa was then
a bustling cosmopolitan port city, very unlike the typical Russian
city of the time. This environment contributed to the development of
the young man's international outlook.
Although Trotsky spoke French, English and German to a good standard,
he said in his autobiography My Life that he was never perfectly
fluent in any language but Russian and Ukrainian, while Raymond
Molinier wrote that Trotsky spoke French fluently.
Early political activities and life (1896–1917)
Revolutionary activity and imprisonment (1896–1898)
Lev Davidovich Bronstein, 1897
Trotsky became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896 after
moving to the harbor town of Nikolayev (now Mykolaiv) on the Ukrainian
coast of the Black Sea. At first a narodnik (revolutionary
populist), he initially opposed
Marxism but was won over to Marxism
later that year by his future first wife, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya.
Instead of pursuing a mathematics degree, Trotsky helped organize the
South Russian Workers' Union in Nikolayev in early 1897. Using the
name 'Lvov,' he wrote and printed leaflets and proclamations,
distributed revolutionary pamphlets, and popularized socialist ideas
among industrial workers and revolutionary students.
In January 1898, more than 200 members of the union, including
Trotsky, were arrested. He was held for the next two years in prison
awaiting trial, first in Nikolayev, then Kherson, then Odessa, and
finally in Moscow. In the
Moscow prison he came into contact with
other revolutionaries and heard about Lenin and read Lenin's book, The
Capitalism in Russia. Two months into his
imprisonment, on 1–3 March 1898, the first Congress of the newly
Russian Social Democratic Labor Party
Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was held.
From then on Trotsky identified as a member of the party.
First marriage and Siberian exile (1899–1902)
Main article: First exile of Trotsky
While in the prison in Moscow, in the summer of 1899, Trotsky married
Aleksandra Sokolovskaya (1872–1938), a fellow Marxist. The wedding
ceremony was performed by a Jewish chaplain.
In 1900, he was sentenced to four years in exile in Siberia. Because
of their marriage, Trotsky and his wife were allowed to be exiled to
the same location in Siberia. They were exiled to
Ust-Kut and the
Verkholensk in the
Baikal Lake region of Siberia. They had two
daughters, Zinaida (1901 – 5 January 1933) and Nina (1902 – 9 June
1928), both born in Siberia.
In Siberia, Trotsky studied philosophy. He became aware of the
differences within the party, which had been decimated by arrests in
1898 and 1899. Some social democrats known as "economists" argued that
the party should focus on helping industrial workers improve their lot
in life and were not so worried about changing the government.
They believed that societal reforms would grow out of the worker's
struggle for higher pay and better working conditions. Others argued
that overthrowing the monarchy was more important and that a
well-organized and disciplined revolutionary party was essential. The
latter position was expressed by the London-based newspaper Iskra, or
in English, The Spark, which was founded in 1900. Trotsky quickly
sided with the
Iskra position and began writing for the paper.
In the summer of 1902, at the urging of his wife, Trotsky escaped from
Siberia hidden in a load of hay on a wagon. Aleksandra later
Siberia with their daughters.
Leon and Alexandra soon separated and divorced, but maintained a
friendly relationship. Their children were later raised by Trotsky's
parents in Ukraine. Both daughters married and
Zinaida had children, but the daughters died before their parents.
Nina Nevelson died from tuberculosis, cared for in her last months by
her older sister.
Zinaida Volkova died after following her father into
exile in Berlin. She had taken her son by her second marriage, and
left her daughter in Russia. Suffering also from tuberculosis, then a
fatal disease, and depression, Volkova committed suicide. Their mother
Aleksandra disappeared in 1935 during the Great Purges in the Soviet
Union under Stalin, and was murdered by Stalinist forces three years
First emigration and second marriage (1902–1903)
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Until this point in his life, Trotsky had used his birth name—Lev or
Leon Bronstein. He changed his surname to "Trotsky"—the name he
would use for the rest of his life. It is said he adopted the name of
a jailer of the
Odessa prison in which he had earlier been held.
This became his primary revolutionary pseudonym. After his escape from
Siberia, Trotsky moved to London, joining Georgi Plekhanov, Vladimir
Julius Martov and other editors of Iskra. Under the pen name
Pero ("feather" or "pen" in Russian), Trotsky soon became one of the
paper's leading writers.
Unknown to Trotsky, the six editors of
Iskra were evenly split between
the "old guard" led by Plekhanov and the "new guard" led by Lenin and
Martov. Plekhanov's supporters were older (in their 40s and 50s), and
had spent the previous 20 years together in exile in Europe. Members
of the new guard were in their early 30s and had only recently
emigrated from Russia. Lenin, who was trying to establish a permanent
majority against Plekhanov within Iskra, expected Trotsky, then 23, to
side with the new guard.
In March 1903 Lenin wrote:
I suggest to all the members of the editorial board that they co-opt
'Pero' as a member of the board on the same basis as other members.
[...] We very much need a seventh member, both as a convenience in
voting (six being an even number), and as an addition to our forces.
'Pero' has been contributing to every issue for several months now; he
works in general most energetically for the Iskra; he gives lectures
(in which he has been very successful). In the section of articles and
notes on the events of the day, he will not only be very useful, but
absolutely necessary. Unquestionably a man of rare abilities, he has
conviction and energy, and he will go much farther.
Because of Plekhanov's opposition, Trotsky did not become a full
member of the board. But, from then on he participated in its meetings
in an advisory capacity, which earned him Plekhanov's enmity.
In late 1902, Trotsky met Natalia Ivanovna Sedova, who soon became his
companion. They married in 1903 and she was with him until his death.
They had two children together,
Lev Sedov (24 February 1906 – 16
February 1938) and
Sergei Sedov (21 March 1908 – 29 October 1937),
both of whom would predecease their parents. Regarding his sons'
surnames, Trotsky later explained that after the 1917 revolution:
In order not to oblige my sons to change their name, I, for
"citizenship" requirements, took on the name of my wife.
Trotsky never used the name "Sedov" either privately or publicly.
Natalia Sedova sometimes signed her name "Sedova-Trotskaya".
Split with Lenin (1903–1904)
In the meantime, after a period of secret police repression and
internal confusion that followed the first party Congress in 1898,
Iskra succeeded in convening the party's 2nd congress in London in
August 1903. Trotsky and other
Iskra editors attended. The first
congress went as planned, with
Iskra supporters handily defeating the
few "economist" delegates. Then the congress discussed the position of
the Jewish Bund, which had co-founded the
RSDLP in 1898 but wanted to
remain autonomous within the party.
Shortly thereafter, the pro-
Iskra delegates split into two factions.
Lenin and his supporters, the Bolsheviks, argued for a smaller but
highly organized party, while Martov and his supporters, the
Mensheviks, argued for a larger and less disciplined party.
In a surprise development, Trotsky and most of the
supported Martov and the Mensheviks, while Plekhanov supported Lenin
and the Bolsheviks. During 1903 and 1904, many members changed sides
in the factions. Plekhanov soon parted ways with the Bolsheviks.
Trotsky left the
Mensheviks in September 1904 over their insistence on
an alliance with Russian liberals and their opposition to a
reconciliation with Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
From 1904 until 1917, Trotsky described himself as a "non-factional
social democrat". He worked between 1904 and 1917 trying to reconcile
different groups within the party, which resulted in many clashes with
Lenin and other prominent party members. Trotsky later maintained that
he had been wrong in opposing Lenin on the issue of the party. During
these years, Trotsky began developing his theory of permanent
revolution, and developed a close working relationship with Alexander
Parvus in 1904–07.
During their split, Lenin referred to Trotsky as a "Judas", a
"scoundrel" and a "swine".
1905 revolution and trial (1905–1906)
The unrest and agitation against the Russian government came to a head
Saint Petersburg on 3 January 1905 (Julian Calendar), when a strike
broke out at the
Putilov Works in the city. This single strike grew
into a general strike and by 7 January 1905, there were 140,000
strikers in Saint Petersburg.
On Sunday, 9 January 1905, Father
Georgi Gapon led a peaceful
procession of citizens through the streets to the
Winter Palace to
beseech the Tsar for food and relief from the oppressive government.
The Palace Guard fired on the peaceful demonstration, resulting in the
deaths of some 1,000 demonstrators. Sunday, 9 January 1905, became
known as Bloody Sunday.
Following the events of Bloody Sunday, Trotsky secretly returned to
Russia in February 1905, by way of Kiev. At first he wrote
leaflets for an underground printing press in Kiev, but soon moved to
the capital, Saint Petersburg. There he worked with both Bolsheviks,
such as Central Committee member Leonid Krasin, and the local
Menshevik committee, which he pushed in a more radical direction. The
latter, however, were betrayed by a secret police agent in May, and
Trotsky had to flee to rural Finland. There he worked on fleshing out
his theory of permanent revolution.
On 19 September 1905, the typesetters at the Sytin Print Works in
Moscow went out on strike for shorter hours and higher pay. By the
evening of 24 September, the workers at 50 other printing shops in
Moscow were also on strike. On 2 October 1905, the typesetters in
printing shops in
Saint Petersburg decided to strike in support of the
Moscow strikers. On 7 October 1905, the railway workers of the
Moscow–Kazan Railway went out on strike. Amid the resulting
confusion, Trotsky returned from
Saint Petersburg on 15
October 1905. On that day, Trotsky spoke before the Saint Petersburg
Soviet Council of Workers Deputies, which was meeting at the
Technological Institute in the city. Also attending were some 200,000
people crowded outside to hear the speeches—about 50% of all workers
in Saint Petersburg.
After his return, Trotsky and
Parvus took over the newspaper Russian
Gazette, increasing its circulation to 500,000. Trotsky also
co-founded, together with
Julius Martov and other
Mensheviks, Nachalo ("The Beginning"), which also proved to be a very
successful newspaper in the revolutionary atmosphere of Saint
Petersburg in 1905.
Alexander Parvus (left) and
Leo Deutsch (right) in prison
Just before Trotsky's return, the
Mensheviks had independently come up
with the same idea that Trotsky had: an elected non-party
revolutionary organization representing the capital's workers, the
first Soviet ("Council") of Workers. By the time of Trotsky's arrival,
Saint Petersburg Soviet was already functioning headed by
Khrustalyev-Nosar (Georgy Nosar, alias Pyotr Khrustalyov).
Khrustalyev-Nosar had been a compromise figure when elected as the
head of the
Saint Petersburg Soviet. Khrustalev-Nosar was a lawyer
that stood above the political factions contained in the Soviet.
However, since his election, he proved to be very popular with the
workers in spite of the Bolsheviks' original opposition to him.
Khrustalev-Nosar became famous in his position as spokesman for the
Saint Petersburg Soviet. Indeed, to the outside world,
Khrustalev-Nosar was the embodiment of the Saint Petersburg
Soviet. Trotsky joined the Soviet under the name "Yanovsky" (after
the village he was born in, Yanovka) and was elected vice-chairman. He
did much of the actual work at the Soviet and, after
Khrustalev-Nosar's arrest on 26 November 1905, was elected its
chairman. On 2 December, the Soviet issued a proclamation which
included the following statement about the Tsarist government and its
The autocracy never enjoyed the confidence of the people and was never
granted any authority by the people. We have therefore decided not to
allow the repayment of such loans as have been made by the Tsarist
government when openly engaged in a war with the entire people.
The following day, the Soviet was surrounded by troops loyal to the
government and the deputies were arrested. Trotsky and other
Soviet leaders were tried in 1906 on charges of supporting an armed
rebellion. On 4 October 1906 he was convicted and sentenced to
internal exile to Siberia.
Second emigration (1907–1914)
While en route to exile in Obdorsk, Siberia, in January 1907, Trotsky
escaped at Berezov and once again made his way to London. He
attended the 5th Congress of the RSDLP. In October, he moved to
Vienna, Austria-Hungary. For the next seven years, he often took part
in the activities of the
Austrian Social Democratic Party
Austrian Social Democratic Party and,
occasionally, of the German Social Democratic Party.
In Vienna, Trotsky became close to Adolph Joffe, his friend for the
next 20 years, who introduced him to psychoanalysis.
In October 1908 he was asked to join the editorial staff of Pravda
("Truth"), a bi-weekly, Russian-language social democratic paper for
Russian workers, which he co-edited with Joffe,
Matvey Skobelev and
Victor Kopp. It was smuggled into Russia. The paper appeared very
irregularly; only five issues were published in its first year.
Avoiding factional politics, the paper proved popular with Russian
industrial workers. Both the
Bolsheviks and the
multiple times after the failure of the 1905–1907 revolution. Money
was very scarce for publication of Pravda. Trotsky approached the
Russian Central Committee to seek financial backing for the newspaper
The Central Committee in 1910 was controlled by a majority of
Bolsheviks. Lenin agreed to the financing of Pravda, but required a
Bolshevik be appointed as co-editor of the paper. When various
Menshevik factions tried to re-unite at the January 1910
RSDLP Central Committee meeting in
Paris over Lenin's objections,
Pravda was made a party-financed 'central organ'. Lev
Kamenev, Trotsky's brother-in-law, was added to the editorial board
from the Bolsheviks, but the unification attempts failed in August
1910. Kamenev resigned from the board amid mutual recriminations.
Trotsky continued publishing
Pravda for another two years until it
finally folded in April 1912.
Bolsheviks started a new workers-oriented newspaper in Saint
Petersburg on 22 April 1912, and also called it Pravda. Trotsky was so
upset by what he saw as a usurpation of his newspaper's name that in
April 1913 he wrote a letter to Nikolay Chkheidze, a
bitterly denouncing Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Though he quickly got
over the disagreement, the letter was intercepted by the Russian
police, and a copy was put into their archives. Shortly after Lenin's
death in 1924, the letter was found and publicized by Trotsky's
opponents within the Communist Party to portray him as Lenin's enemy.
The 1910s was a period of heightened tension within the RSDLP, leading
to numerous frictions between Trotsky, the
Bolsheviks and the
Mensheviks. The most serious disagreement that Trotsky and the
Mensheviks had with Lenin at the time was over the issue of
"expropriations", i.e., armed robbery of banks and other companies
Bolshevik groups to procure money for the Party. These actions had
been banned by the 5th Congress, but were continued by the
In January 1912, the majority of the
Bolshevik faction, led by Lenin,
as well as a few defecting Mensheviks, held a conference in
decided to break away from the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party,
and formed a new party, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
(Bolsheviks). In response, Trotsky organized a "unification"
conference of social democratic factions in
Vienna in August 1912
(a.k.a. "The August Bloc") and tried to re-unite the
Mensheviks into one party. The attempt was generally
In Vienna, Trotsky continuously published articles in radical Russian
and Ukrainian newspapers, such as Kievskaya Mysl, under a variety of
pseudonyms, often using "Antid Oto". In September
1912, Kievskaya Mysl sent him to the Balkans as its war correspondent,
where he covered the two
Balkan Wars for the next year and became a
close friend of Christian Rakovsky. The latter was
later a leading Soviet politician and Trotsky's ally in the Soviet
Communist Party. On 3 August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, in
Austria-Hungary fought against the Russian Empire, Trotsky was
forced to flee
Vienna for neutral
Switzerland to avoid arrest as a
Russian émigré.
World War I (1914–1917)
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Leon Trotsky with his daughter Nina in 1915
The outbreak of World War I caused a sudden realignment within the
RSDLP and other European social democratic parties over the issues of
war, revolution, pacifism and internationalism. Within the RSDLP,
Lenin, Trotsky and Martov advocated various internationalist anti-war
positions, while Plekhanov and other social democrats (both Bolsheviks
and Mensheviks) supported the Russian government to some extent. In
Switzerland, Trotsky briefly worked within the Swiss Socialist Party,
prompting it to adopt an internationalist resolution. He wrote a book
opposing the war, The War and the International, and the pro-war
position taken by the European social democratic parties, primarily
the German party. As a war correspondent for the Kievskaya Mysl,
Trotsky moved to France on 19 November 1914. In January 1915 in Paris,
he began editing (at first with Martov, who soon resigned as the paper
moved to the left) Nashe Slovo ("Our Word"), an internationalist
socialist newspaper. He adopted the slogan of "peace without
indemnities or annexations, peace without conquerors or conquered."
Lenin advocated Russia's defeat in the war and demanded a complete
break with the Second International.
Trotsky attended the
Zimmerwald Conference of anti-war socialists in
September 1915 and advocated a middle course between those who, like
Martov, would stay within the
Second International at any cost and
those who, like Lenin, would break with the
Second International and
form a Third International. The conference adopted the middle line
proposed by Trotsky. At first opposed, in the end Lenin voted for
Trotsky's resolution to avoid a split among anti-war socialists.
On 31 March 1916, Trotsky was deported from France to Spain for his
anti-war activities. Spanish authorities did not want him and deported
him to the United States on 25 December 1916. He arrived in New York
City on 13 January 1917. He stayed for nearly three months at 1522
Vyse Avenue in The Bronx. In New York he wrote articles for the local
Russian language socialist newspaper, Novy Mir, and the
Yiddish-language daily, Der Forverts (The Jewish Daily Forward), in
translation. He also made speeches to Russian émigrés. He was
officially earning some $15 a week.
Trotsky was living in New York City when the
February Revolution of
1917 overthrew Tsar Nicholas II. He left New York on 27 March 1917,
but his ship, the SS Kristianiafjord, was intercepted by British naval
officials in Canada at Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was detained for a
Amherst Internment Camp
Amherst Internment Camp in Nova Scotia. While imprisoned in
the camp, Trotsky established an increasing friendship with the
workers and sailors amongst his fellow inmates, describing his month
at the camp as "one continual mass meeting".
Trotsky's speeches and agitation incurred the wrath of German officer
inmates who complained to the British camp commander, Colonel Morris,
about Trotsky's "anti-patriotic" attitude. Morris then forbade
Trotsky to make any more public speeches, leading to 530 prisoners
protesting and signing a petition against Morris' order. Back in
Russia, after initial hesitation and facing pressure from the workers'
and peasants' soviets, the Russian foreign minister
Pavel Milyukov was
compelled to demand the release of Trotsky as a Russian citizen, and
the British government freed him on 29 April 1917.
Russia on 17 May 1917. After his return, Trotsky
substantially agreed with the
Bolshevik position, but did not join
them right away. Russian social democrats were split into at least six
groups, and the
Bolsheviks were waiting for the next party Congress to
determine which factions to merge with. Trotsky temporarily joined the
Mezhraiontsy, a regional social democratic organization in Saint
Petersburg, and became one of its leaders. At the First Congress of
Soviets in June, he was elected a member of the first All-Russian
Central Executive Committee ("VTsIK") from the Mezhraiontsy
After an unsuccessful pro-
Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd, Trotsky was
arrested on 7 August 1917. He was released 40 days later in the
aftermath of the failed counter-revolutionary uprising by Lavr
Kornilov. After the
Bolsheviks gained a majority in the Petrograd
Soviet, Trotsky was elected chairman on 25 September [O.S. 8
October] 1917. He sided with Lenin against Grigory Zinoviev
Lev Kamenev when the
Bolshevik Central Committee discussed staging
an armed uprising, and he led the efforts to overthrow the Provisional
Government headed by Aleksandr Kerensky.
Leon Trotsky in 1918.
The following summary of Trotsky's role in 1917 was written by Stalin
in Pravda, 10 November 1918. Although this passage
was quoted in Stalin's book The
October Revolution (1934), it was
expunged from Stalin's Works (1949).
All practical work in connection with the organization of the uprising
was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the
President of the
Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty
that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade
Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the
Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military
Revolutionary Committee was organized.
After the success of the uprising on 7–8 November 1917, Trotsky led
the efforts to repel a counter-attack by
Cossacks under General Pyotr
Krasnov and other troops still loyal to the overthrown Provisional
Government at Gatchina. Allied with Lenin, he defeated attempts by
Bolshevik Central Committee members (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov,
etc.) to share power with other socialist parties. By the end of 1917,
Trotsky was unquestionably the second man in the
Bolshevik Party after
Lenin. He overshadowed the ambitious Zinoviev, who had been Lenin's
top lieutenant over the previous decade, but whose star appeared to be
fading. This reversal of position contributed to continuing
competition and enmity between the two men, which lasted until 1926
and did much to destroy them both.
Russian Revolution and aftermath
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and
Bolsheviks came to power, Trotsky became the People's
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and published the secret treaties
previously signed by the
Triple Entente that detailed plans for
post-war reallocation of colonies and redrawing state borders.
White Army propaganda poster depicting Trotsky as
Satan wearing a
Pentagram, and portraying the Bolsheviks' Chinese supporters as mass
murderers. The caption reads, "Peace and Liberty in Sovdepiya".
Trotsky led the Soviet delegation during the peace negotiations in
Brest-Litovsk from 22 December 1917 to 10 February 1918. At that time
the Soviet government was split on the issue. Left Communists, led by
Nikolai Bukharin, continued to believe that there could be no peace
between a Soviet republic and a capitalist country and that only a
revolutionary war leading to a pan-European Soviet republic would
bring a durable peace.
They cited the successes of the newly formed (15 January 1918)
Red Army against Polish forces of Gen. Józef
Dowbor-Muśnicki in Belarus, White forces in the Don region, and newly
independent Ukrainian forces as proof that the
Red Army could repel
German forces, especially if propaganda and asymmetrical warfare were
They were willing to hold talks with the Germans as a means of
exposing German imperial ambitions (territorial gains, reparations,
etc.) in the hope of accelerating the hoped−for Soviet revolution in
the West, but they were dead set against signing any peace treaty. In
case of a German ultimatum, they advocated proclaiming a revolutionary
war against Germany in order to inspire Russian and European workers
to fight for socialism. This opinion was shared by Left Socialist
Revolutionaries, who were then the Bolsheviks' junior partners in a
coalition government.
Lenin, who had earlier hoped for a speedy Soviet revolution in Germany
and other parts of Europe, quickly decided that the imperial
government of Germany was still firmly in control and that, without a
strong Russian military, an armed conflict with Germany would lead to
a collapse of the Soviet government in Russia. He agreed with the Left
Communists that ultimately a pan-European Soviet revolution would
solve all problems, but until then the
Bolsheviks had to stay in
power. Lenin did not mind prolonging the negotiating process for
maximum propaganda effect, but, from January 1918 on, advocated
signing a separate peace treaty if faced with a German ultimatum.
Trotsky's position was between these two
Bolshevik factions. Like
Lenin, he admitted that the old Russian military, inherited from the
monarchy and the Provisional Government and in advanced stages of
decomposition, was unable to fight:
That we could no longer fight was perfectly clear to me and that the
newly formed Red Guard and
Red Army detachments were too small and
poorly trained to resist the Germans.
But he agreed with the Left Communists that a separate peace treaty
with an imperialist power would be a terrible morale and material blow
to the Soviet government, negate all its military and political
successes of 1917 and 1918, resurrect the notion that the Bolsheviks
secretly allied with the German government, and cause an upsurge of
internal resistance. He argued that any German ultimatum should be
refused, and that this might well lead to an uprising in Germany, or
at least inspire German soldiers to disobey their officers since any
German offensive would be a naked grab for territories. He wrote in
We began peace negotiations in the hope of arousing the workmen's
party of Germany and
Austria-Hungary as well as of the Entente
countries. For this reason we were obliged to delay the negotiations
as long as possible to give the European workman time to understand
the main fact of the Soviet revolution itself and particularly its
peace policy. But there was the other question: Can the Germans still
fight? Are they in a position to begin an attack on the revolution
that will explain the cessation of the war? How can we find out the
state of mind of the German soldiers, how to fathom it?
Soviet delegation with Trotsky greeted by German officers at
Brest-Litovsk, 8 January 1918
Throughout January and February 1918, Lenin's position was supported
by 7 members of the
Bolshevik Central Committee and Bukharin's by 4.
Trotsky had 4 votes (his own, Felix Dzerzhinsky's, Nikolai
Krestinsky's and Adolph Joffe's) and, since he held the balance of
power, he was able to pursue his policy in Brest-Litovsk. When he
could no longer delay the negotiations, he withdrew from the talks on
10 February 1918, refusing to sign on Germany's harsh terms.[citation
After a brief hiatus, the
Central Powers notified the Soviet
government that they would no longer observe the truce after 17
February. At this point Lenin again argued that the Soviet government
had done all it could to explain its position to Western workers and
that it was time to accept the terms. Trotsky refused to support Lenin
since he was waiting to see whether German workers would rebel and
whether German soldiers would refuse to follow orders.[citation
Germany resumed military operations on 18 February. Within a day, it
became clear that the German army was capable of conducting offensive
operations and that
Red Army detachments, which were relatively small,
poorly organized and poorly led, were no match for it. In the evening
of 18 February 1918, Trotsky and his supporters in the committee
abstained and Lenin's proposal was accepted 7–4. The Soviet
government sent a radiogram to the German side accepting the final
Brest-Litovsk peace terms.
Germany did not respond for three days, and continued its offensive
encountering little resistance. The response arrived on 21 February,
but the proposed terms were so harsh that even Lenin briefly thought
that the Soviet government had no choice but to fight. But in the end,
the committee again voted 7–4 on 23 February 1918; the Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March and ratified on 15 March 1918.
Since Trotsky was so closely associated with the policy previously
followed by the Soviet delegation at Brest-Litovsk, he resigned from
his position as Commissar for Foreign Affairs in order to remove a
potential obstacle to the new policy.
Head of the
Red Army (spring 1918)
Vladimir Lenin and
Klim Voroshilov among soldiers in
Petrograd in 1921.
The failure of the recently formed
Red Army to resist the German
offensive in February 1918 revealed its weaknesses: insufficient
numbers, lack of knowledgeable officers, and near absence of
coordination and subordination. Celebrated and feared Baltic Fleet
sailors, one of the bastions of the new regime led by Pavel Dybenko,
fled from the German army at Narva. The notion that the Soviet state
could have an effective voluntary or militia type military was
seriously undermined.
Trotsky was one of the first
Bolshevik leaders to recognize the
problem, and he pushed for the formation of a military council of
former Russian generals that would function as an advisory body. Lenin
Bolshevik Central Committee agreed on 4 March to create the
Supreme Military Council, headed by former chief of the imperial
General Staff Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich.
Bolshevik leadership of the Red Army, including People's
Commissar (defense minister)
Nikolai Podvoisky and commander-in-chief
Nikolai Krylenko, protested vigorously and eventually resigned. They
believed that the
Red Army should consist only of dedicated
revolutionaries, rely on propaganda and force, and have elected
officers. They viewed former imperial officers and generals as
potential traitors who should be kept out of the new military, much
less put in charge of it. Their views continued to be popular with
Bolsheviks throughout most of the
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War and their
supporters, including Podvoisky, who became one of Trotsky's deputies,
were a constant thorn in Trotsky's side. The discontent with Trotsky's
policies of strict discipline, conscription and reliance on carefully
supervised non-Communist military experts eventually led to the
Military Opposition (Russian: Военная оппозиция),
which was active within the Communist Party in late 1918–1919.
On 13 March 1918, Trotsky's resignation as Commissar for Foreign
Affairs was officially accepted, and he was appointed People's
Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs – in place of Podvoisky – and
chairman of the Supreme Military Council. The post of
commander-in-chief was abolished, and Trotsky gained full control of
the Red Army, responsible only to the Communist Party leadership,
whose Left Socialist Revolutionary allies had left the government over
With the help of his deputy Ephraim Sklyansky, Trotsky spent the rest
of the Civil War transforming the
Red Army from a ragtag network of
small and fiercely independent detachments into a large and
disciplined military machine, through forced conscription,
party-controlled blocking squads, compulsory obedience and officers
chosen by the leadership instead of the rank and file. He defended
these positions throughout his life.
Civil War (1918–1920)
Main article: Russian Civil War
The military situation soon tested Trotsky's managerial and
organization-building skills. In May–June 1918, the Czechoslovak
Legions en route from European
Vladivostok rose against the
Soviet government. This left the
Bolsheviks with the loss of most of
the country's territory, an increasingly well-organized resistance by
Russian anti-Communist forces (usually referred to as the White Army
after their best-known component) and widespread defection by the
military experts whom Trotsky relied on.
Trotsky and the government responded with a full-fledged mobilization,
which increased the size of the
Red Army from fewer than 300,000 in
May 1918 to one million in October, and an introduction of political
commissars into the army. The latter had the task of ensuring the
loyalty of military experts (mostly former officers in the imperial
army) and co-signing their orders. Trotsky regarded the organization
Red Army as built on the ideas of the October Revolution. As he
later wrote in his autobiography:
An army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led
to death unless the army command has the death-penalty in its arsenal.
So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their
technical achievements—the animals that we call men—will build
armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the
soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable
one in the rear. And yet armies are not built on fear. The Tsar's army
fell to pieces not because of any lack of reprisals. In his attempt to
save it by restoring the death-penalty, Kerensky only finished it.
Upon the ashes of the great war, the
Bolsheviks created a new army.
These facts demand no explanation for any one who has even the
slightest knowledge of the language of history. The strongest cement
in the new army was the ideas of the October revolution, and the train
supplied the front with this cement.
In response to Fanya Kaplan's failed assassination of Lenin on 30
August 1918, and to the successful assassination of the Petrograd
Moisei Uritsky on 17 August 1918, the Bolsheviks
Felix Dzerzhinsky to commence a Red Terror, announced in
the 1 September 1918 issue of the Krasnaya Gazeta (Red Gazette).
Red Terror Trotsky wrote:
The bourgeoisie today is a falling class... We are forced to tear it
off, to chop it away. The
Red Terror is a weapon utilized against a
class, doomed to destruction, which does not wish to perish. If the
White Terror can only retard the historical rise of the proletariat,
Red Terror hastens the destruction of the bourgeoisie.
In dealing with deserters, Trotsky often appealed to them politically,
arousing them with the ideas of the Revolution.
In the provinces of Kaluga, Voronezh, and Ryazan, tens of thousands of
young peasants had failed to answer the first recruiting summons by
the Soviets ... The war commissariat of Ryazan succeeded in gathering
in some fifteen thousand of such deserters. While passing through
Ryazan, I decided to take a look at them. Some of our men tried to
dissuade me. "Something might happen," they warned me. But everything
went off beautifully. The men were called out of their barracks.
"Comrade-deserters – come to the meeting. Comrade Trotsky has come
to speak to you." They ran out excited, boisterous, as curious as
schoolboys. I had imagined them much worse, and they had imagined me
as more terrible. In a few minutes, I was surrounded by a huge crowd
of unbridled, utterly undisciplined, but not at all hostile men. The
"comrade-deserters" were looking at me with such curiosity that it
seemed as if their eyes would pop out of their heads. I climbed on a
table there in the yard, and spoke to them for about an hour and a
half. It was a most responsive audience. I tried to raise them in
their own eyes; concluding, I asked them to lift their hands in token
of their loyalty to the revolution. The new ideas infected them before
my very eyes. They were genuinely enthusiastic; they followed me to
the automobile, devoured me with their eyes, not fearfully, as before,
but rapturously, and shouted at the tops of their voices. They would
hardly let me go. I learned afterward, with some pride, that one of
the best ways to educate them was to remind them: "What did you
promise Comrade Trotsky?" Later on, regiments of Ryazan "deserters"
fought well at the fronts.
Given the lack of manpower and the 16 opposing foreign armies, Trotsky
also insisted on the use of former Tsarist officers as military
specialists within the Red Army, in combination with Bolshevik
political commissars to ensure the revolutionary nature of the Red
Army. Lenin commented on this:
When Comrade Trotsky informed me recently that the number of officers
of the old army employed by our War Department runs into several tens
of thousands, I perceived concretely where the secret of using our
enemy lay, how to compel those who had opposed communism to build it,
how to build communism with the bricks which the capitalists had
chosen to hurl against us! We have no other bricks! And so, we must
compel the bourgeois experts, under the leadership of the proletariat,
to build up our edifice with these bricks. This is what is difficult;
but this is the pledge of victory.
In September 1918, the
Bolshevik government, facing continuous
military difficulties, declared what amounted to martial law and
reorganized the Red Army. The Supreme Military Council was abolished
and the position of commander-in-chief was restored, filled by the
commander of the Latvian Riflemen,
Ioakim Vatsetis (a.k.a. Jukums
Vācietis), who had formerly led the Eastern Front against the
Czechoslovak Legions. Vatsetis took charge of day-to-day operations of
the army while Trotsky became chairman of the newly formed
Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic and retained overall
control of the military. Trotsky and Vatsetis had clashed earlier in
1918, while Vatsetis and Trotsky's adviser
Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich were
also on unfriendly terms. Nevertheless, Trotsky eventually established
a working relationship with the often prickly Vatsetis.
The reorganization caused yet another conflict between Trotsky and
Stalin in late September. Trotsky appointed former imperial general
Pavel Pavlovich Sytin to command the Southern Front, but in early
October 1918 Stalin refused to accept him and so he was recalled[by
whom?] from the front. Lenin and
Yakov Sverdlov tried to make Trotsky
and Stalin reconcile, but their meeting proved unsuccessful.
Trotsky with troops at the Polish front, 1919.
Throughout late 1918 and early 1919, there were a number of attacks on
Trotsky's leadership of the Red Army, including veiled accusations in
newspaper articles inspired by Stalin and a direct attack by the
Military Opposition at the VIIIth Party Congress in March 1919. On the
surface, he weathered them successfully and was elected one of only
five full members of the first
Politburo after the Congress. But he
It is no wonder that my military work created so many enemies for me.
I did not look to the side, I elbowed away those who interfered with
military success, or in the haste of the work trod on the toes of the
unheeding and was too busy even to apologize. Some people remember
such things. The dissatisfied and those whose feelings had been hurt
found their way to Stalin or Zinoviev, for these two also nourished
Mikhail Kalinin and
Leon Trotsky greets
Red Army troops.
Red Army offensive.
In mid-1919 the dissatisfied had an opportunity to mount a serious
challenge to Trotsky's leadership: the
Red Army grew from 800,000 to
3,000,000, and fought simultaneously on sixteen fronts. The Red
Army had defeated the White Army's spring offensive in the east and
was about to cross the
Ural Mountains and enter
Siberia in pursuit of
Admiral Alexander Kolchak's forces. But in the south, General Anton
Denikin's White Russian forces advanced, and the situation
deteriorated rapidly. On 6 June,
Red Army commander-in-chief, Jukums
Vācietis, ordered the Eastern Front to stop the offensive so that he
could use its forces in the south. But the leadership of the Eastern
Front, including its commander
Sergey Kamenev (a former colonel of the
Imperial army), and Eastern Front Revolutionary Military Council
members Ivar Smilga,
Mikhail Lashevich and Sergey Gusev vigorously
protested and wanted to keep the emphasis on the Eastern Front. They
insisted that it was vital to capture
Siberia before the onset of
winter and that once Kolchak's forces were broken, many more divisions
would be freed up for the Southern Front. Trotsky, who had earlier had
conflicts with the leadership of the Eastern Front, including a
temporary removal of Kamenev in May 1919, supported
At the 3–4 July Central Committee meeting, after a heated exchange
the majority supported Kamenev and Smilga against Vācietis and
Trotsky. Trotsky's plan was rejected and he was much criticized for
various alleged shortcomings in his leadership style, much of it of a
personal nature. Stalin used this opportunity to pressure Lenin to
dismiss Trotsky from his post. But when Trotsky offered his
resignation on 5 July, the
Politburo and the
Orgburo of the Central
Committee unanimously rejected it.
A Polish poster depicts Trotsky on a pile of skulls and holding a
bloody knife, during the
Polish-Soviet War of 1920
However, some significant changes to the leadership of the Red Army
were made. Trotsky was temporarily sent to the Southern Front, while
the work in
Moscow was informally coordinated by Smilga. Most members
Revolutionary Military Council who were not involved in its
day-to-day operations were relieved of their duties on 8 July, and new
members, including Smilga, were added. The same day, while Trotsky was
in the south, Vācietis was suddenly arrested by the
suspicion of involvement in an anti-Soviet plot, and replaced by
Sergey Kamenev. After a few weeks in the south, Trotsky returned to
Moscow and resumed control of the Red Army. A year later, Smilga and
Tukhachevsky were defeated during the Battle of Warsaw, but Trotsky
refused this opportunity to pay Smilga back, which earned him Smilga's
friendship and later support during the intra-Party battles of the
By October 1919, the government was in the worst crisis of the Civil
War: Denikin's troops approached Tula and
Moscow from the south, and
General Nikolay Yudenich's troops approached
Petrograd from the west.
Lenin decided that since it was more important to defend Moscow,
Petrograd would have to be abandoned. Trotsky argued that
Petrograd needed to be defended, at least in part to prevent Estonia
Finland from intervening. In a rare reversal, Trotsky was
supported by Stalin and Zinoviev, and prevailed against Lenin in the
Central Committee. He immediately went to Petrograd, whose leadership
headed by Zinoviev he found demoralized, and organized its defense,
sometimes personally stopping fleeing soldiers. By 22 October, the Red
Army was on the offensive and in early November, Yudenich's troops
were driven back to Estonia, where they were disarmed and interned.
Trotsky was awarded the
Order of the Red Banner
Order of the Red Banner for his actions in
Béla Kun, Jacques Sadoul , Leon Trotsky,
Mikhail Frunze and Sergey
With the defeat of Denikin and Yudenich in late 1919, the Soviet
government's emphasis shifted to the economy. Trotsky spent the winter
of 1919–20 in the Urals region trying to restart its economy. Based
on his experiences, he proposed abandoning the policies of War
Communism, which included confiscating grain from peasants, and
partially restoring the grain market. Still committed to War
Communism, Lenin rejected his proposal. He put Trotsky in charge of
the country's railroads (while retaining overall control of the Red
Army), which he directed should be militarized in the spirit of War
Communism. It was not until early 1921, due to economic collapse and
social uprisings, that Lenin and the rest of the
Communism in favor of the New Economic Policy.[citation
In early 1920, Soviet–Polish tensions eventually led to the
Polish–Soviet War. In the run-up and during the war, Trotsky
argued that the
Red Army was exhausted and the Soviet government
should sign a peace treaty with Poland as soon as possible. He did not
believe that the
Red Army would find much support in Poland proper.
Lenin later wrote that he and other
Bolshevik leaders believed the Red
Army's successes in the
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War and against the Poles meant
"The defensive period of the war with worldwide imperialism was over,
and we could, and had the obligation to, exploit the military
situation to launch an offensive war."
Red Army was defeated by Poland and the offensive was turned back
during the Battle of Warsaw in August 1920, in part because of
Stalin's failure to obey Trotsky's orders in the run-up to the
decisive engagements. Back in Moscow, Trotsky again argued for a peace
treaty and this time prevailed.
Trade union debate (1920–1921)
In late 1920, after the
Bolsheviks won the Civil War and before the
Eighth and Ninth Congress of Soviets, the Communist Party had a heated
and increasingly acrimonious debate over the role of trade unions in
the Soviet Union. The discussion split the party into many "platforms"
(factions), including Lenin's, Trotsky's and Bukharin's; Bukharin
eventually merged his with Trotsky's. Smaller, more radical factions
Workers' Opposition (headed by Alexander Shlyapnikov) and the
Group of Democratic Centralism were particularly active.[citation
Trotsky's position formed while he led a special commission on the
Soviet transportation system, Tsektran. He was appointed there to
rebuild the rail system ruined by the Civil War. Being the Commissar
of War and a revolutionary military leader, he saw a need to create a
militarized "production atmosphere" by incorporating trade unions
directly into the State apparatus. His unyielding stance was that in a
worker's state the workers should have nothing to fear from the state,
and the State should fully control the unions. In the Ninth Party
Congress he argued for "such a regime under which each worker feels
himself to be a soldier of labor who cannot freely dispose of himself;
if he is ordered transferred, he must execute that order; if he does
not do so, he will be a deserter who should be punished. Who will
execute this? The trade union. It will create a new regime. That is
the militarization of the working class." Lenin
sharply criticised Trotsky and accused him of "bureaucratically
nagging the trade unions" and of staging "factional attacks". His view
did not focus on State control as much as the concern that a new
relationship was needed between the State and the rank-and-file
workers. He said, "Introduction of genuine labor discipline is
conceived only if the whole mass of participants in productions take a
conscious part in the fulfillment of these tasks. This cannot be
achieved by bureaucratic methods and orders from above." This was a
debate that Lenin thought the party could not afford. His frustration
with Trotsky was used by Stalin and Zinoviev with their support for
Lenin's position, to improve their standing within the Bolshevik
leadership at Trotsky's expense.
Disagreements threatened to get out of hand, and many Bolsheviks,
including Lenin, feared that the party would splinter. The Central
Committee was split almost evenly between Lenin's and Trotsky's
supporters, with all three Secretaries of the Central Committee
Yevgeny Preobrazhensky and Leonid Serebryakov) supporting
Red Army troops attack Kronstadt sailors in March 1921.
At a meeting of his faction at the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921,
Lenin's faction won a decisive victory, and a number of Trotsky's
supporters (including all three secretaries of the Central Committee)
lost their leadership positions. Krestinsky was replaced as a member
Politburo by Zinoviev, who had supported Lenin. Krestinsky's
place in the secretariat was taken by Vyacheslav Molotov. The congress
also adopted a secret resolution on "Party unity", which banned
factions within the Party except during pre-Congress discussions. The
resolution was later published and used by Stalin against Trotsky and
other opponents. At the end of the Tenth Congress, after peace
negotiations had failed, Trotsky gave the order for the suppression of
the Kronstadt rebellion, the last major revolt against Bolshevik
Years later, anarchist
Emma Goldman and others criticized Trotsky's
actions as Commissar for War for his role in the suppression of the
rebellion, and argued that he ordered unjustified incarcerations and
executions of political opponents such as anarchists, although Trotsky
did not participate in the actual suppression. Some
Trotskyists, most notably Abbie Bakan, have argued that the claim that
the Kronstadt rebels were "counterrevolutionary" has been supported by
evidence of White Army and French government support for the Kronstadt
sailors' March rebellion. Other historians, most notably Paul
Avrich, claimed the evidence did not point towards this conclusion,
and saw the Kronstadt Rebellion as spontaneous.
Trotsky's contribution to the Russian Revolution
Leon Trotsky, the People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs
USSR, as the Guard of the October revolution
Vladimir Cherniaev, a leading Russian historian, sums up Trotsky's
main contributions to the Russian Revolution:
Trotsky bears a great deal of responsibility both for the victory of
Red Army in the civil war, and for the establishment of a
one-party authoritarian state with its apparatus for ruthlessly
suppressing dissent... He was an ideologist and practitioner of the
Red Terror. He despised 'bourgeois democracy'; he believed that
spinelessness and soft-heartedness would destroy the revolution, and
that the suppression of the propertied classes and political opponents
would clear the historical arena for socialism. He was the initiator
of concentration camps, compulsory 'labour camps,' and the
militarization of labour, and the state takeover of trade unions.
Trotsky was implicated in many practices which would become standard
in the Stalin era, including summary executions.
Historian Geoffrey Swain argues that:
Bolsheviks triumphed in the Civil War because of Trotsky's ability
to work with military specialists, because of the style of work he
introduced where widescale consultation was followed through by swift
and determined action.
Lenin said in 1921 that Trotsky was "in love with organization," but
in working politics, "he has not got a clue." Swain explains the
paradox by arguing that Trotsky was not good at teamwork; he was a
loner who had mostly worked as a journalist, not as a professional
revolutionary like the others.
Lenin's illness (1922–1923)
In late 1921, Lenin's health deteriorated, he was absent from Moscow
for longer periods of time. He had three strokes between 25 May 1922
and 9 March 1923, which caused paralysis, loss of speech and finally
death on 21 January 1924. With Lenin increasingly sidelined throughout
1922, Stalin was elevated to the newly created position of the Central
Committee general secretary.[c] Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev[d] became
part of the troika (triumvirate) formed by Stalin to ensure that
Trotsky, publicly the number-two man in the country and Lenin's heir
presumptive, would not succeed Lenin.
The rest of the recently expanded
Politburo (Rykov, Mikhail Tomsky,
Bukharin) was at first uncommitted, but eventually joined the troika.
Stalin's power of patronage[e] in his capacity as general secretary
clearly played a role, but Trotsky and his supporters later concluded
that a more fundamental reason was the process of slow
bureaucratization of the Soviet regime once the extreme conditions of
the Civil War were over. Much of the
Bolshevik elite wanted
'normalcy,' while Trotsky was personally and politically personified
as representing a turbulent revolutionary period that they would much
rather leave behind.
Although the exact sequence of events is unclear, evidence suggests
that at first the troika nominated Trotsky to head second-rate
government departments (e.g., Gokhran, the State Depository for
Valuables.)) In mid-July 1922, Kamenev wrote a letter to the
recovering Lenin to the effect that "(the Central Committee) is
throwing or is ready to throw a good cannon overboard". Lenin was
shocked and responded:
Throwing Trotsky overboard – surely you are hinting at that, it is
impossible to interpret it otherwise – is the height of stupidity.
If you do not consider me already hopelessly foolish, how can you
think of that????
From then until his final stroke, Lenin spent much of his time trying
to devise a way to prevent a split within the Communist Party
leadership, which was reflected in Lenin's Testament. As part of this
effort, on 11 September 1922 Lenin proposed that Trotsky become his
deputy at the
Council of People's Commissars
Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom). The
Politburo approved the proposal, but Trotsky "categorically
In late 1922, Trotsky secured an alliance with Lenin against Stalin
and the emerging Soviet bureaucracy. Stalin had recently
engineered the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR), further centralizing state control. The alliance proved
effective on the issue of foreign trade[f] but was hindered by Lenin's
In January 1923, Lenin amended his Testament to suggest that Stalin
should be removed as the party's general secretary, while also mildly
criticizing Trotsky and other
Bolshevik leaders. The relationship
between Stalin and Lenin had broken down completely by this time, as
was demonstrated during an event where Stalin crudely insulted Lenin's
wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. In March 1923, days before his third stroke,
Lenin asked Trotsky to denounce Stalin and his so-called
"Great-Russian nationalistic campaign" at the XIIth Party Congress.
At the XIIth Party Congress in April 1923, however, just after Lenin's
final stroke, Trotsky did not raise the issue. Instead, he made a
speech about intra-party democracy while avoiding any direct
confrontation of the troika.[g] Stalin had prepared for the congress
by replacing many local party delegates with those loyal to him,
mostly at the expense of Zinoviev and Kamenev's backers. The
delegates, most of whom were unaware of the divisions within the
Politburo, gave Trotsky a standing ovation. This upset the troika,
already infuriated by Karl Radek's article, "
Leon Trotsky –
Organizer of Victory"[h] published in
Pravda on 14 March 1923. Stalin
delivered the key reports on organizational structure and questions of
nationality; while Zinoviev delivered the Central Committee political
report, traditionally Lenin's prerogative. Among the resolutions
adopted by the XIIth Congress were those calling for greater democracy
within the Party, but these were vague and remained unimplemented.
In mid-1923 the troika had Trotsky's friend and supporter Christian
Rakovsky removed from his post as head of the Ukrainian government
(USSR Radnarkom) and sent to London as ambassador. When regional
Ukraine protested against Rakovsky's reassignment, they too
were reassigned to various posts all over the Soviet Union.[citation
Left opposition (1923–1924)
Trotsky in a 1922 cubist portrait by Yury Annenkov, a version of this
appeared on one of the earliest covers of Time magazine.
Starting in mid-1923, the Soviet economy ran into significant
difficulties, which led to numerous strikes countrywide. Two secret
groups within the Communist Party, "Workers' Truth" and "Workers'
Group", were uncovered and suppressed by the Soviet secret police. On
8 October 1923 Trotsky sent a letter to the Central Committee and the
Central Control Commission, attributing these difficulties to lack of
intra-Party democracy. Trotsky wrote:
In the fiercest moment of War Communism, the system of appointment
within the party did not have one tenth of the extent that it has now.
Appointment of the secretaries of provincial committees is now the
rule. That creates for the secretary a position essentially
independent of the local organization. [...] The bureaucratization of
the party apparatus has developed to unheard-of proportions by means
of the method of secretarial selection. [...] There has been created a
very broad stratum of party workers, entering into the apparatus of
the government of the party, who completely renounce their own party
opinion, at least the open expression of it, as though assuming that
the secretarial hierarchy is the apparatus which creates party opinion
and party decisions. Beneath this stratum, abstaining from their own
opinions, there lies the broad mass of the party, before whom every
decision stands in the form of a summons or a command.
Other senior communists who had similar concerns sent The Declaration
of 46 to the Central Committee on 15 October in which they wrote:
[...] we observe an ever progressing, barely disguised division of the
party into a secretarial hierarchy and into "laymen", into
professional party functionaries, chosen from above, and the other
party masses, who take no part in social life. [...] free discussion
within the party has virtually disappeared, party public opinion has
been stifled. [...] it is the secretarial hierarchy, the party
hierarchy which to an ever greater degree chooses the delegates to the
conferences and congresses, which to an ever greater degree are
becoming the executive conferences of this hierarchy.
Although the text of these letters remained secret at the time, they
had a significant effect on the Party leadership and prompted a
partial retreat by the troika and its supporters on the issue of
intra-Party democracy, notably in Zinoviev's
Pravda article published
on 7 November. Throughout November, the troika tried to come up with a
compromise to placate, or at least temporarily neutralize, Trotsky and
his supporters. (Their task was made easier by the fact that Trotsky
was sick in November and December.) The first draft of the resolution
was rejected by Trotsky, which led to the formation of a special group
consisting of Stalin, Trotsky and Kamenev, which was charged with
drafting a mutually acceptable compromise. On 5 December, the
Politburo and the Central Control Commission unanimously adopted the
group's final draft as its resolution. On 8 December, Trotsky
published an open letter, in which he expounded on the recently
adopted resolution's ideas. The troika used his letter as an excuse to
launch a campaign against Trotsky, accusing him of factionalism,
setting "the youth against the fundamental generation of old
revolutionary Bolsheviks" and other sins.
Trotsky defended his position in a series of seven letters which were
collected as The New Course in January 1924. The illusion of a
Bolshevik leadership" was thus shattered and a lively
intra-Party discussion ensued, both in local Party organizations and
in the pages of Pravda. The discussion lasted most of December and
January until the XIIIth Party Conference of 16–18 January 1924.
Those who opposed the Central Committee's position in the debate were
thereafter referred to as members of the Left Opposition.
Since the troika controlled the Party apparatus through Stalin's
Pravda through its editor Bukharin, it was able to
direct the discussion and the process of delegate selection. Although
Trotsky's position prevailed within the
Red Army and Moscow
universities and received about half the votes in the
organization, it was defeated elsewhere, and the Conference was packed
with pro-troika delegates. In the end, only three delegates voted for
Trotsky's position, and the Conference denounced "Trotskyism"[i] as a
"petty bourgeois deviation". After the Conference, a number of
Trotsky's supporters, especially in the Red Army's Political
Directorate, were removed from leading positions or reassigned.
Nonetheless, Trotsky kept all of his posts, and the troika was careful
to emphasize that the debate was limited to Trotsky's "mistakes" and
that removing Trotsky from the leadership was out of the question. In
reality, Trotsky had already been cut off from the decision-making
Immediately after the Conference, Trotsky left for a Caucasian resort
to recover from his prolonged illness. On his way, he learned about
Lenin's death on 21 January 1924. He was about to return when a follow
up telegram from Stalin arrived, giving an incorrect date of the
scheduled funeral, which would have made it impossible for Trotsky to
return in time. Many commentators speculated after the fact that
Trotsky's absence from
Moscow in the days following Lenin's death
contributed to his eventual loss to Stalin, although Trotsky generally
discounted the significance of his absence.
After Lenin's death (1924)
There was little overt political disagreement within the Soviet
leadership throughout most of 1924. On the surface, Trotsky remained
the most prominent and popular
Bolshevik leader, although his
"mistakes" were often alluded to by troika partisans. Behind the
scenes, he was completely cut off from the decision-making process.
Politburo meetings were pure formalities since all key decisions were
made ahead of time by the troika and its supporters. Trotsky's control
over the military was undermined by reassigning his deputy, Ephraim
Sklyansky, and appointing Mikhail Frunze, who was being groomed to
take Trotsky's place.
At the thirteenth Party Congress in May, Trotsky delivered a
None of us desires or is able to dispute the will of the Party.
Clearly, the Party is always right... We can only be right with and by
the Party, for history has provided no other way of being in the
right. The English have a saying, "My country, right or wrong",
whether it is in the right or in the wrong, it is my country. We have
much better historical justification in saying whether it is right or
wrong in certain individual concrete cases, it is my party... And if
the Party adopts a decision which one or other of us thinks unjust, he
will say, just or unjust, it is my party, and I shall support the
consequences of the decision to the end.
In the meantime, the Left Opposition, which had coagulated somewhat
unexpectedly in late 1923 and lacked a definite platform aside from
general dissatisfaction with the intra-Party "regime", began to
crystallize. It lost some less dedicated members to the harassment by
the troika, but it also began formulating a program.
Left Opposition and its theoretician Yevgeni
Preobrazhensky came out against further development of capitalist
elements in the Soviet economy and in favor of faster
industrialization. That put them at odds with Bukharin and Rykov, the
"Right" group within the Party, who supported the troika at the time.
On the question of world revolution, Trotsky and
Karl Radek saw a
period of stability in Europe while Stalin and Zinoviev confidently
predicted an "acceleration" of revolution in Western Europe in 1924.
On the theoretical plane, Trotsky remained committed to the Bolshevik
idea that the
Soviet Union could not create a true socialist society
in the absence of the world revolution, while Stalin gradually came up
with a policy of building '
Socialism in One Country'. These
ideological divisions provided much of the intellectual basis for the
political divide between Trotsky and the
Left Opposition on the one
hand and Stalin and his allies on the other.
At the thirteenth Congress Kamenev and Zinoviev helped Stalin defuse
Lenin's Testament, which belatedly came to the surface. But just after
the congress, the troika, always an alliance of convenience, showed
signs of weakness. Stalin began making poorly veiled accusations about
Zinoviev and Kamenev. Yet in October 1924, Trotsky published Lessons
of October, an extensive summary of the events of the 1917
Andrei Bubnov, Kliment Voroshilov, Leon Trotsky,
Mikhail Kalinin and
Mikhail Frunze attend The
October Revolution parade on The Red Square
07 Nov 1924
In it, he described Zinoviev's and Kamenev's opposition to the
Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, something that the two would have
preferred be left unmentioned. This started a new round of intra-party
struggle, which became known as the Literary Discussion, with Zinoviev
and Kamenev again allied with Stalin against Trotsky. Their criticism
of Trotsky was concentrated in three areas:
Trotsky's disagreements and conflicts with Lenin and the Bolsheviks
prior to 1917.
Trotsky's alleged distortion of the events of 1917 in order to
emphasize his role and diminish the roles played by other Bolsheviks.
Trotsky's harsh treatment of his subordinates and other alleged
mistakes during the Russian Civil War.
Trotsky was again sick and unable to respond while his opponents
mobilized all of their resources to denounce him. They succeeded in
damaging his military reputation so much that he was forced to resign
as People's Commissar of Army and Fleet Affairs and Chairman of the
Revolutionary Military Council on 6 January 1925. Zinoviev demanded
Trotsky's expulsion from the Communist Party, but Stalin refused to go
along and played the role of a moderate. Trotsky kept his Politburo
seat, but was effectively put on probation.
A year in the wilderness (1925)
1925 was a difficult year for Trotsky. After the bruising Literary
Discussion and losing his
Red Army posts, he was effectively
unemployed throughout the winter and spring. In May 1925, he was given
three posts: chairman of the Concessions Committee, head of the
electro-technical board, and chairman of the scientific-technical
board of industry. Trotsky wrote in My Life that he "was taking a
rest from politics" and "naturally plunged into the new line of work
up to my ears".
Some contemporary accounts paint a picture of a remote and distracted
man. Later in the year, Trotsky resigned his two technical
positions (maintaining Stalin-instigated interference and sabotage)
and concentrated on his work in the Concessions Committee.[citation
Leon Trotsky and
Leonid Serebryakov attend the
Congress of Soviets of
Soviet Union May 1925
In one of the few political developments that affected Trotsky in
1925, the circumstances surrounding the controversy around Lenin's
Testament were described by American Marxist
Max Eastman in his book
Since Lenin Died (1925). The Soviet leadership denounced Eastman's
account and used party discipline to force Trotsky to write an article
denying Eastman's version of the events.
In the meantime, the troika finally broke up. Bukharin and Rykov sided
with Stalin while Krupskaya and Soviet Commissar of Finance Grigory
Sokolnikov aligned with Zinoviev and Kamenev. The struggle became open
at the September 1925 meeting of the Central Committee and came to a
head at the XIVth Party Congress in December 1925. With only the
Leningrad Party organization behind them, Zinoviev and Kamenev, dubbed
The New Opposition, were thoroughly defeated while Trotsky refused to
get involved in the fight and did not speak at the Congress.
United Opposition (1926–1927)
Leon Trotsky addresses the meeting in
House of the Unions
House of the Unions Mar 1926
In early 1926, Zinoviev, Kamenev and their supporters in the "New
Opposition" gravitated closer to Trotsky's supporters, and the two
groups soon formed an alliance, which also incorporated some smaller
opposition groups within the Communist Party. The alliance became
known as the United Opposition.
United Opposition was repeatedly threatened with sanctions by the
Stalinist leadership of the Communist Party, and Trotsky had to agree
to tactical retreats, mostly to preserve his alliance with Zinoviev
and Kamenev. The opposition remained united against Stalin throughout
1926 and 1927, especially on the issue of the Chinese Revolution. The
methods used by the Stalinists against the Opposition became more and
more extreme. At the XVth Party Conference in October 1926, Trotsky
could barely speak because of interruptions and catcalls, and at the
end of the Conference he lost his
Politburo seat. In 1927, Stalin
started using the GPU (Soviet secret police) to infiltrate and
discredit the opposition. Rank-and-file oppositionists were
increasingly harassed, sometimes expelled from the Party and even
Soviet policy toward the Chinese Revolution became the ideological
line of demarcation between Stalin and the United Opposition. The
Chinese Revolution began on 10 October 1911, resulting in the
abdication of the Chinese Emperor, Puyi, on 12 February 1912. Sun
Yat-sen established the Republic of China.
In reality, however, the Republic controlled very little of the
country. Much of China was divided between various regional warlords.
The Republican government established a new "nationalist people's army
and a national people's party" — the Kuomintang. In 1920, the
Kuomintang opened relations with Soviet Russia. With Soviet help, the
Republic of China built up the nationalist people's army. With the
development of the nationalist army, a
Northern Expedition was planned
to smash the power of the warlords of the northern part of the
Northern Expedition became a point of contention over
foreign policy by Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin tried to persuade the
small Chinese Communist Party to merge with the
Nationalists to bring about a bourgeois revolution before attempting
to bring about a Soviet-style working class revolution.
Trotsky wanted the Communist Party to complete an orthodox proletarian
revolution and have clear class independence from the KMT. Stalin
funded the KMT during the expedition. Stalin countered Trotskyist
criticism by making a secret speech in which he said that Chiang's
Kuomintang were the only ones capable of defeating the
Chiang Kai-shek had funding from the rich
merchants, and that his forces were to be utilized until squeezed for
all usefulness like a lemon before being discarded. However, Chiang
quickly reversed the tables in the
Shanghai massacre of 12 April 1927
by massacring the Communist Party in Shanghai midway through the
Trotsky and Stalin bearing the coffin of
Felix Dzerzhinsky on 30 July
While the catastrophic events in China completely vindicated Trotsky's
criticism of Stalin's approach towards the Chinese Revolution, this
paled in significance compared to the demoralization that the Soviet
masses felt at such a big setback for socialist
revolution in China, with this demoralization aiding Stalin and his
allies in the Communist Party and the Soviet state. Attacks against
United Opposition quickly increased in volatility and ferocity
Defeat and exile (1927–1928)
In October 1927, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Central
Committee. When the
United Opposition tried to organize independent
demonstrations commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik
seizure of power in November 1927, the demonstrators were dispersed by
force and Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Communist Party
on 12 November. Their leading supporters, from Kamenev down, were
expelled in December 1927 by the XVth Party Congress, which paved the
way for mass expulsions of rank-and-file oppositionists as well as
internal exile of opposition leaders in early 1928.
When the XVth Party Congress made
United Opposition views incompatible
with membership in the Communist Party, Zinoviev, Kamenev and their
supporters capitulated and renounced their alliance with the Left
Opposition. Trotsky and most of his followers, on the other hand,
refused to surrender and stayed the course. Trotsky was exiled to Alma
Ata, Kazakhstan on 31 January 1928. He was expelled from the Soviet
Turkey in February 1929, accompanied by his wife Natalia
Sedova and their eldest son, Lev.
Fate of Left Oppositionists after Trotsky's exile (1929–1941)
The publication of Trotsky's autobiography My Life as reported in the
Soviet Union in August 1929, with the editors of Projector titled the
publication: "On the service of bourgeoisie"
After Trotsky's expulsion from the Soviet Union, Trotskyists within
Soviet Union began to waver. Between 1929 and 1932, most leading
members of the
Left Opposition surrendered to Stalin, "admitted their
mistakes" and were reinstated in the Communist Party. One initial
exception to this was Christian Rakovsky, who inspired Trotsky between
1929 and 1934 with his refusal to capitulate as state suppression of
any remaining opposition to Stalin increased by the year. In late
1932, Rakovsky had failed with an attempt to flee the Soviet Union,
and was exiled to Yakutia in March 1933. Answering Trotsky's request,
the French mathematician and
Trotskyist Jean Van Heijenoort, together
with his fellow activist Pierre Frank, unsuccessfully called on the
influential Soviet author
Maxim Gorky to intervene in favor of
Christian Rakovsky, and boarded the ship he was traveling on near
Constantinople. According to Heijenoort, they only managed to
meet Gorky's son, Maxim Peshkov, who reportedly told them that his
father was indisposed, but promised to pass on their request.
Rakovsky was the last prominent
Trotskyist to capitulate to Stalin in
April 1934, when Rakovsky formally "admitted his mistakes" (his letter
to Pravda, titled There Should Be No Mercy, depicted Trotsky and his
supporters as "agents of the German Gestapo"). Rakovsky was
appointed to high office in the Commissariat for Health and allowed to
return to Moscow, also serving as Soviet ambassador to Japan in
1935. However, Rakovsky was cited in allegations involving the
killing of Sergey Kirov, and was arrested and imprisoned in late 1937,
during the Great Purge.
Almost all Trotskyists who were still within the Soviet Union's
borders were executed in the Great Purges of 1936–1938, although
Rakovsky survived until the
Medvedev Forest massacre of September
1941, where he was shot dead along with 156 other prisoners on
Stalin's orders, less than three months into the Nazi invasion of the
Soviet Union. Also among the Medvedev Forest victims was Trotsky's
sister/Kamenev's first wife, Olga Kameneva.
Trotsky's house, the Yanaros mansion on the island of
Turkey as it appears today. Trotsky lived at the house from April 1929
until July 1933.
In February 1929, Trotsky was deported from the
Soviet Union to his
new exile in Turkey. During his first two months in Turkey, Trotsky
lived with his wife and eldest son at the
Soviet Union Consulate in
Constantinople and then at a nearby hotel in the city. In April 1929,
Trotsky, his wife and son were moved to the island of
Prinkipo) by the Turkish authorities. On Prinkipo, they were moved
into a house called the Yanaros mansion, where Trotsky and his wife
lived until July 1933. During his exile in Turkey, Trotsky was
under the surveillance of the Turkish police forces of Mustafa Kemal
Pasha. Trotsky was also at risk from the many former White Army
officers who lived on Prinkipo, officers who had opposed the October
Revolution and who had been defeated by Trotsky and the
Red Army in
the Russian Civil War. However, Trotsky's European supporters
volunteered to serve as bodyguards and assured his safety.
In July 1933, Trotsky was offered asylum in France by Prime Minister
Édouard Daladier. Trotsky accepted the offer, but he was forbidden to
Paris and soon found himself under the surveillance of the
French police. From July 1933 to February 1934, Trotsky and his wife
lived in Royan. The philosopher and activist
Simone Weil also arranged
for Trotsky and his bodyguards to stay for a few days at her parents'
6 February 1934 crisis
6 February 1934 crisis in France, the French minister of
internal affairs, Albert Sarraut, signed a decree to deport Trotsky
from France. However, no foreign government was found willing to
accept Trotsky within its borders. Accordingly, the French authorities
instructed Trotsky to move to a residence in the tiny village of
Barbizon under the strict surveillance of the French police, where
Trotsky found his contact with the outside world to be even worse than
during his exile in Turkey.
In May 1935, soon after the French government had agreed the
Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union
government, Trotsky was officially told that he was no longer welcome
in France. After weighing his options, Trotsky applied to move to
Norway. After obtaining permission from then Justice Minister Trygve
Lie to enter the country, Trotsky and his wife became a guest of
Konrad Knudsen at Norderhov, near Hønefoss, and spent over a year
living at Knudsen's house from 18 June 1935 to 2 September 1936,
although Trotsky was hospitalized for a few weeks at the nearby Oslo
Community Hospital from 19 September 1935.
Following French media complaints about Trotsky's role in encouraging
the mass strikes in France in May and June 1936 with his articles, the
Johan Nygaardsvold-led Norwegian government began to exhibit disquiet
about Trotsky's actions. In the summer of 1936, Trotsky's asylum was
increasingly made a political issue by the fascist Nasjonal Samling,
led by Vidkun Quisling, along with an increase in pressure
from the Joseph Stalin-led Soviet government on the Norwegian
authorities. On 5 August 1936, Knudsen's house was burgled by fascists
Nasjonal Samling while Trotsky and his wife were out on a
seashore trip with Knudsen and his wife. The fascist burglars targeted
Trotsky's works and archives for vandalism. The raid was largely
thwarted by Knudsen's daughter, Hjørdis, although the burglars did
take a few papers from the nearest table as they left. Although
the fascist perpetrators were caught and put on trial, the "evidence"
obtained in the burglary was used by the government to make claims
On 14 August 1936, the Soviet Press Agency TASS announced the
discovery of a "Trotskyist–Zinovievist" plot and the imminent start
of the Trial of the Sixteen accused. Trotsky demanded a complete and
open enquiry into Moscow's accusations. The accused were sentenced to
Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, and executed on 25
August 1936. On 26 August 1936, eight policemen arrived at Knudsen's
house demanding that Trotsky sign new conditions for residing in
Norway. These conditions included agreeing to write no more about
current political matters, to give no interviews, and to have all his
correspondence (incoming and outgoing) inspected by the police.
Trotsky categorically refused the conditions, and Trotsky was then
told that he and his wife would soon be moved to another
residence. The following day saw Trotsky interrogated by the
police about his political activities, with the police officially
citing Trotsky as a "witness" to the fascist raid of 5 August
Trotsky's house in
Mexico City from April 1939 until his assassination
in August 1940.
On 2 September 1936, four weeks after the fascist break-in at
Trygve Lie ordered that Trotsky and his wife be
transferred to a farm in Hurum, where they were under house
arrest. The treatment of Trotsky and his wife at
harsh, as they were forced to stay indoors for 22 hours per day under
the constant guard of thirteen policemen, with only 1 hour permitted
twice a day for a walk on the farm. Trotsky was prevented
from posting any letters and prevented from arguing back against his
critics in Norway and beyond. Only Trotsky's lawyers and the Norwegian
Labour Party Parliamentary leader, Olav Scheflo, were permitted to
visit. From October 1936, even the outdoor walks were
prohibited for Trotsky and his wife. Trotsky did eventually
manage to smuggle out one letter on 18 December 1936, titled The
Moscow "Confessions". On 19 December 1936, Trotsky and his wife
were deported from Norway after being put on the Norwegian oil tanker
Ruth, under guard by Jonas Lie. When later living in Mexico, Trotsky
was utterly scathing about the treatment he received during his 108
days at Hurum, and accused the Norwegian government of trying to
prevent him from publicly voicing his strong opposition to the Trial
of the Sixteen and other show trials, saying:
When I look back today on this period of internment, I must say that
never, anywhere, in the course of my entire life — and I have lived
through many things — was I persecuted with as much miserable
cynicism as I was by the Norwegian "Socialist" government. For four
months, these ministers, dripping with democratic hypocrisy, gripped
me in a stranglehold to prevent me from protesting the greatest crime
history may ever know.
The Ruth oil tanker on which Trotsky and his wife were put arrived in
Mexico on 9 January 1937. On Trotsky's arrival, the Mexican
president, Lázaro Cárdenas, welcomed Trotsky to
Mexico and arranged
for his special train The Hidalgo to bring Trotsky to
Mexico City from
the port of Tampico.
From January 1937 to April 1939, Trotsky and his wife lived in the
Coyoacán area of
Mexico City at La Casa Azul (The Blue House), the
home of the painter
Diego Rivera and Rivera's wife and fellow painter,
Frida Kahlo, with whom Trotsky had an affair. His final move
was a few blocks away to a residence on Avenida Viena in April 1939,
following a break with Rivera.
He wrote prolifically in exile, penning several key works, including
History of the Russian Revolution (1930) and The Revolution
Betrayed (1936), a critique of the
Soviet Union under Stalinism.
Trotsky argued that the Soviet state had become a "degenerated
workers' state" controlled by an undemocratic bureaucracy, which would
eventually either be overthrown via a political revolution
establishing a workers' democracy, or degenerate into a capitalist
While in Mexico, Trotsky also worked closely with James P. Cannon,
Joseph Hansen, and
Farrell Dobbs of the Socialist Workers Party of the
United States, and other supporters.
Cannon, a long-time leading member of the American communist movement,
had supported Trotsky in the struggle against
Stalinism since he had
first read Trotsky's criticisms of the
Soviet Union in 1928. Trotsky's
critique of the Stalinist regime, though banned, was distributed to
leaders of the Comintern. Among his other supporters was Chen Duxiu,
founder of the Chinese Communist Party.
Moscow show trials
James Cannon and Felix Morrow, with a bust of Trotsky.
In August 1936, the first
Moscow show trial of the so-called
"Trotskyite–Zinovievite Terrorist Center" was staged in front of an
international audience. During the trial, Zinoviev, Kamenev and 14
other accused, most of them prominent Old Bolsheviks, confessed to
having plotted with Trotsky to kill Stalin and other members of the
Soviet leadership. The court found everybody guilty and sentenced the
defendants to death, Trotsky in absentia. The second show trial, of
Karl Radek, Grigori Sokolnikov,
Yuri Pyatakov and 14 others, took
place in January 1937, during which more alleged conspiracies and
crimes were linked to Trotsky. In April 1937, an independent
"Commission of Inquiry" into the charges made against Trotsky and
others at the "
Moscow Trials" was held in Coyoacán, with John Dewey
as chairman. The findings were published in the book Not
Moscow trials are perpetuated under the banner of socialism. We
will not concede this banner to the masters of falsehood! If our
generation happens to be too weak to establish
Socialism over the
earth, we will hand the spotless banner down to our children. The
struggle which is in the offing transcends by far the importance of
individuals, factions and parties. It is the struggle for the future
of all mankind. It will be severe, it will be lengthy. Whoever seeks
physical comfort and spiritual calm let him step aside. In time of
reaction it is more convenient to lean on the bureaucracy than on the
truth. But all those for whom the word 'Socialism' is not a hollow
sound but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats
nor persecutions nor violations can stop us! Be it even over our
bleaching bones the future will triumph! We will blaze the trail for
it. It will conquer! Under all the severe blows of fate, I shall be
happy as in the best days of my youth; because, my friends, the
highest human happiness is not the exploitation of the present but the
preparation of the future."
— Leon Trotsky, 'I Stake My Life', opening address to the Dewey
Commission, 9 February 1937
Main article: Fourth International
For fear of splitting the Communist movement, Trotsky initially
opposed the idea of establishing parallel Communist parties or a
parallel international Communist organization that would compete with
the Third International. In mid-1933, after the Nazi takeover in
Germany and the Comintern's response to it, he changed his mind. He
An organization which was not roused by the thunder of fascism and
which submits docilely to such outrageous acts of the bureaucracy
demonstrates thereby that it is dead and that nothing can ever revive
it... In all our subsequent work it is necessary to take as our point
of departure the historical collapse of the official Communist
In 1938, Trotsky and his supporters founded the Fourth International,
which was intended to be a revolutionary and internationalist
alternative to the Stalinist Comintern.
Towards the end of 1939, Trotsky agreed to go to the United States to
appear as a witness before the Dies Committee of the House of
Representatives, a forerunner of the House Committee on Un-American
Activities. Representative Martin Dies, chairman of the committee,
demanded the suppression of the American Communist Party. Trotsky
intended to use the forum to expose the NKVD's activities against him
and his followers.
He made it clear that he also intended to argue against the
suppression of the American Communist Party, and to use the committee
as a platform for a call to transform World War II into a world
revolution. Many of his supporters argued against his appearance. When
the committee learned the nature of the testimony Trotsky intended to
present, it refused to hear him, and he was denied a visa to enter the
United States. On hearing about it, the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union immediately accused Trotsky of being in the pay of the oil
magnates and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Trotsky with American comrades, including
Harry DeBoer (left) in
Mexico, shortly before his assassination, 1940
After quarreling with Diego Rivera, Trotsky moved to his final
residence on Avenida Viena in April 1939.
On 27 February 1940, Trotsky wrote a document known as "Trotsky's
Testament", in which he expressed his final thoughts and feelings for
posterity. He was suffering from high blood pressure, and feared that
he would suffer a cerebral haemorrhage. After forcefully denying
Stalin's accusations that he had betrayed the working class, he
thanked his friends and above all his wife, Natalia Sedova, for their
In addition to the happiness of being a fighter for the cause of
socialism, fate gave me the happiness of being her husband. During the
almost forty years of our life together she remained an inexhaustible
source of love, magnanimity, and tenderness. She underwent great
sufferings, especially in the last period of our lives. But I find
some comfort in the fact that she also knew days of happiness.
For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a
revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of
Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to
avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would
remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist,
a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable
atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less
ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my
Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened
it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see
the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue
sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let
the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and
violence, and enjoy it to the full.
27 February 1940
The Study where
Leon Trotsky was assassinated with an ice axe on 20
After an ineffectual attempt to have Trotsky murdered, in March 1939,
Stalin assigned the overall organisation of implementing the task to
Pavel Sudoplatov who in turn co-opted Nahum Eitingon.
According to Sudoplatov's
Special Tasks, the
NKVD proceeded to set up
NKVD agent networks to carry out the murder, one of which relied
on Ramón Mercader. According to Sudoplatov, all of the three networks
were designed to operate entirely autonomously from the NKVD's
hitherto established spy networks in the U.S. and Mexico.
On 24 May 1940, Trotsky survived a raid on his villa by armed
assassins led by the
NKVD agent Iosif Grigulevich and Mexican painter
David Alfaro Siqueiros. Trotsky's 14-year-old grandson, Vsevolod
Platonovich "Esteban" Volkov (born 7 March 1926), was shot in the
foot, and a young assistant and bodyguard of Trotsky, Robert Sheldon
Harte, was abducted and later murdered, but other guards defeated the
attack. Following the failed assassination attempt, Trotsky wrote
an article titled "Stalin Seeks My Death" on 8 June 1940, where
Trotsky states that another assassination attempt is certain.
On 20 August 1940, in his study, Trotsky was attacked by Ramón
Mercader who used an ice axe as a weapon. The blow to his head
was bungled and failed to kill Trotsky instantly, as Mercader had
intended. Witnesses stated that Trotsky spat on Mercader and began
struggling fiercely with him, which resulted in Mercader's hand being
broken. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's bodyguards burst into the
room and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky stopped them, laboriously
stating that the assassin should be made to answer questions.
Trotsky was taken to a hospital, operated on, and survived for more
than a day, dying at the age of 60 on 21 August 1940 as a result of
loss of blood and shock.
Mercader later testified at his trial:
I laid my raincoat on the table in such a way as to be able to remove
the ice axe which was in the pocket. I decided not to miss the
wonderful opportunity that presented itself. The moment Trotsky began
reading the article, he gave me my chance; I took out the ice axe from
the raincoat, gripped it in my hand and, with my eyes closed, dealt
him a terrible blow on the head.
According to James P. Cannon, the secretary of the Socialist Workers
Party (USA), Trotsky's last words were "I will not survive this
attack. Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted
Leon Trotsky's grave in Coyoacán, where his ashes are buried
Trotsky's house in
Coyoacán was preserved in much the same condition
as it was on the day of the assassination and is now a museum run by a
board which includes his grandson Esteban Volkov. The current director
of the museum is Carlos Ramírez Sandoval. Trotsky's grave is located
on its grounds. A new foundation (International Friends of the Leon
Trotsky Museum) has been organized to raise funds to further improve
Trotsky was never formally rehabilitated during the rule of the Soviet
government, despite the Glasnost-era rehabilitation of most other Old
Bolsheviks killed during the Great Purges. His son, Sergei Sedov,
killed in 1937, was rehabilitated in 1988, as was Nikolai Bukharin.
Beginning in 1989, Trotsky's books, forbidden until 1987, were
published in the Soviet Union.
Trotsky was rehabilitated on 16 June 2001 by a decision of the General
Prosecutor's Office (Certificates of Rehabilitation № 13/2182-90,
№ 13-2200-99 in Archives Research Center "Memorial").
His grandson, Esteban Volkov, who lives in Mexico, is an active
promoter of his grandfather. His great-granddaughter,
Nora Volkow (one of Volkov's daughters), is currently
head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Verónica Volkow,
another daughter, is a poet and teacher of history of art in Mexico's
Contributions to theory
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Main article: Trotskyism
Diego Rivera mural depicts Trotsky with Marx and Engels as a true
champion of the workers' struggle.
Trotsky considered himself a "Bolshevik-Leninist", arguing for the
establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate
of orthodox Marxism.
His politics differed in many respects from those of Stalin or Mao
Zedong, most importantly in his rejection of the theory of Socialism
in One Country and his declaring the need for an international
"permanent revolution". Numerous Fourth Internationalist groups around
the world continue to describe themselves as
Trotskyist and see
themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have different
interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this. Supporters
Fourth International echo Trotsky's opposition to Stalinist
totalitarianism, advocating political revolution, arguing that
socialism cannot sustain itself without democracy.
Main article: Permanent revolution
Permanent Revolution is the theory that the bourgeois democratic tasks
in countries with delayed bourgeois democratic development can only be
accomplished through the establishment of a workers' state, and that
the creation of a workers' state would inevitably involve inroads
against capitalist property. Thus, the accomplishment of bourgeois
democratic tasks passes over into proletarian tasks. Although most
closely associated with Leon Trotsky, the call for Permanent
Revolution is first found in the writings of
Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engels in March 1850, in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution, in
their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League:
It is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until
all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their
ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and
until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently
far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of
the world – that competition between the proletarians of these
countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are
concentrated in the hands of the workers. ... Their battle-cry must
be: "The Permanent Revolution".
Trotsky's conception of Permanent Revolution is based on his
understanding, drawing on the work of the founder of Russian Marxism
Georgy Plekhanov, that in 'backward' countries the tasks of the
Bourgeois Democratic Revolution could not be achieved by the
bourgeoisie itself. This conception was first developed by Trotsky in
Alexander Parvus in late 1904–1905. The relevant
articles were later collected in Trotsky's books 1905 and in Permanent
Revolution, which also contains his essay "Results and Prospects".
According to Trotskyists, the
October Revolution (which Trotsky
directed) was the first example of a successful Permanent Revolution.
The proletarian, socialist
October Revolution took place precisely
because the bourgeoisie, which took power in February, had not been
able to solve any of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.
It had not given the land to the peasants (which the
Bolsheviks did on
25 October), nor given freedom to the oppressed minority nations, nor
Russia from foreign domination by ending the war which, at
that point, was fought mainly to please the English and French
creditors. Trotskyists today argue that the state of
the Third World shows that capitalism offers no way forward for
underdeveloped countries, thus again proving the central tenet of the
The United Front
Main article: United Front
Trotsky was a central figure in the
Comintern during its first four
congresses. During this time he helped to generalise the strategy and
tactics of the
Bolsheviks to newly formed Communist parties across
Europe and further afield. From 1921 onwards the united front, a
method of uniting revolutionaries and reformists in common struggle
while winning some of the workers to revolution, was the central
tactic put forward by the
Comintern after the defeat of the German
After he was exiled and politically marginalised by Stalinism, Trotsky
continued to argue for a united front against fascism in Germany and
Spain. According to Joseph Choonara of the British Socialist Workers
Party in International Socialism, his articles on the united front
represent an important part of his political legacy.
Soviet Union portal
Ash heap of history
Group of Democratic Centralism
List of books by Leon Trotsky
Trotskyist organizations by country
Variations on the Death of Trotsky
^ Russian: Лев Дави́дович Тро́цкий,
IPA: [ˈlʲɛf ˈtrotskʲɪj] ( listen); Ukrainian:
Лев Дави́дович Тро́цький; also transliterated
Lyev, Trotski, Trotskij, Trockij and Trotzky.
^ Russian and Ukrainian: Лев (Лейба) Дави́дович
Yakov Sverdlov was the Central Committee's senior secretary
responsible for personnel affairs from 1917 and until his death in
March 1919. He was replaced by Elena Stasova, and in November 1919 by
Nikolai Krestinsky. After Krestinsky's ouster in March 1921,
Vyacheslav Molotov became the senior secretary, but he lacked
Krestinsky's authority, since he was not a full
Stalin took over the position as senior secretary, which was
formalized at the XIth Party Congress in April 1922, with Molotov
becoming second secretary.
^ It is not clear why Kamenev, a mild-mannered man with few leadership
ambitions and who was the brother-in-law of Trotsky, sided with
Zinoviev and Stalin against Trotsky in 1922. Trotsky later speculated
that it may have been due to Kamenev's love of comfort, which Trotsky
found "repelled me." He expressed his feelings to Kamenev in late 1920
or early 1921:
Our relations with Kamenev, which were very good in the first period
after the insurrection, began to become more distant from that day.
^ The Central Committee's Secretariat became increasingly important
during the Civil War and especially in its aftermath, as the Party
switched from elected officials to appointed ones. The change was
prompted by the need to allocate manpower quickly during the Civil War
as well as by the transformation of the party from a small group of
revolutionaries into the country's ruling party, with a corresponding
increase in membership. New members included career seekers and former
members of banned socialist parties, who were viewed with apprehension
by Old Bolsheviks. To prevent a possible degeneration of the party,
various membership requirements were instituted for party officials,
and the ultimate power of appointment of local officials was reserved
for the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This put enormous power
in the general secretary's hands.
^ Lenin's letter to Stalin dictated on 15 December 1922: "I am sure
Trotsky will uphold my views as well as I." Faced with a united
opposition by Lenin and Trotsky, the Central Committee reversed its
previous decision and adopted the Lenin-Trotsky proposal.
^ Trotsky explained in Chapter 12 of his unfinished book Stalin that
he refused to deliver the report because "it seemed to me equivalent
to announcing my candidacy for the role of Lenin's successor at a time
when Lenin was fighting a grave illness".
^ Radek wrote:
The need of the hour was for a man who would incarnate the call to
struggle, a man who, subordinating himself completely to the
requirements of the struggle, would become the ringing summons to
arms, the will which exacts from all unconditional submission to a
great, sacrificial necessity. Only a man with Trotsky's capacity for
work, only a man so unsparing of himself as Trotsky, only a man who
knew how to speak to the soldiers as Trotsky did—only such a man
could have become the standard bearer of the armed toilers. He was all
things rolled into one.
^ The term "Trotskyism" was first coined by the Russian liberal
politician Pavel Milyukov, the first foreign minister in the
Provisional Government who, in April 1917, was forced to demand that
the British government release Trotsky.
^ Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin. A New Biography, translated and edited by
Harold Shukman (New York: The Free Press, 1994), pg. 185.
^ Swain, Geoffrey (2006). "Trotsky and the Russian Civil War".
Reinterpreting Revolutionary Russia. Palgrave Macmillan, London:
^ The murder weapon was a cut-down ice axe, not an ice pick. Many
history and reference books have confused the two. See Robert
Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford University Press,
1991; ISBN 0-19-507132-8, pg. 418 for a detailed account
^ "Всеукраїнський перепис населення 2001
- English version - Results - General results of the census - National
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^ North, David (2010). In Defense of Leon Trotsky, Mehring Books, p.
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Leon Trotsky (2010);
ISBN 978-1-893638-05-1, pp. 144-46.
^ a b Walter Laqueur, Stalin: The
Glasnost Revelations, pp. 59-60
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^ Albert S. Lindemann (4 December 2000). Esau's Tears: Modern
Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews. Cambridge University Press.
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^ Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879–1921, p. 55.
^ Thatcher, Ian D. Trotsky. Routledge, 2005.
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Wayback Machine., The Columbia Encyclopedia
^ Quoted in chapter XII of 'My Life', Marxist Internet Archive
^ Trotsky's 'Thermidor and anti-Semitism' (1937)
^ Trotsky, Leon. My life: an attempt at an autobiography. Courier
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(Pathfinder Press: New York, 1969) pp. 27–122.
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^ Quoted in Chapter XIV of My Life
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Thatcher, Ian D. (2003) Trotsky. ISBN 0-415-23251-1
Wade, Rex A. (Editor) (2004). Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches.
Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415307482. CS1 maint: Extra text:
authors list (link) - Total pages: 275
Wistrich, Robert S. (1982). Trotsky: Fate of a Revolutionary. New
York: Stein & Day. ISBN 0-8128-2774-0.
The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History, Volume 39,
Academic International Press
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 Leon Trotsky—The Transitional Program—1938
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(Minister of Foreign Affairs)
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Awards and achievements
Cover of Time Magazine
18 May 1925
Thomas A. Edison
Newton D. Baker
Cover of Time Magazine
21 Nov 1927
Frank Orren Lowden
William S. Knudsen
Cover of Time Magazine
25 Jan 1937
Thomas E. Dewey
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the Soviet Union
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