November 7, 1879
Kherson, Russian Empire
Died August 21, 1940
Mexico City, Mexico
Political party RSDLP, SDPS, CPSU
Spouse Aleksandra Sokolovskaya
Profession Statesman, editor
Lev Davidovich Trotsky, also transliterated Leo, Lev, Trotskii, Trotski,
Trotskij, Trockij and Trotzky) (November 7 [O.S. October 26] 1879 –
August 21, 1940), born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, was a Ukrainian-born
Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist. He was an influential
politician in the early days of the Soviet Union, first as People's
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander
of the Red Army and People's Commissar of War. He was also among the
first members of the Politburo.
Following the failed
struggle of the Left Opposition (led by Trotsky) against the policies
and rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and the increasing bureaucratization
of the Soviet Union, Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party and
deported from the Soviet Union in the Great Purge. At the head of the
Fourth International, he continued in exile to oppose the Stalinist
bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and was eventually assassinated in
Mexico by Ramón Mercader, a Soviet agent. Trotsky's ideas
form the basis of Trotskyism, a variation of Communist theory, which
remains a major school of Marxist thought that is opposed to the theories
of Stalinism and Maoism.
Childhood and family
Trotsky was born in Yanovka, Kherson Province, Ukraine on November 7,
1879, in a small village 15 miles from the nearest post office. He was
the fifth child of a wealthy but illiterate Jewish farmer, David Leontyevich
Bronstein (or Bronshtein, 1847–1922) and Anna Bronstein (d. 1910).
Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, named after an uncle who
would, later that month, attempt to blow up the imperial railway carriage.
Although the family was ethnically Jewish, it was not religious, and
the languages spoken at home were Russian and Ukrainian instead of Yiddish.
Bronstein's younger sister, Olga, married Lev Kamenev, a leading Bolshevik.
When Bronstein was
nine, his father sent him to Odessa for education. He was enrolled in
a historically German school, which became increasingly Russified during
his years in Odessa due to the government's policy of Russification.
Although he was a good student, even in his youth Bronstein was rebellious
and he organized a protest against an unpopular teacher in 2nd grade.
However, he didn't take an active part in politics or socialism until
1896, when he moved to Nikolayev (now Mykolaiv) for the final year of
and exile (1896-1902)
Bronstein became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896 after
moving to Nikolayev. At first a narodnik (revolutionary populist), he
was introduced to Marxism later that year and gradually became a Marxist.
(In the beginning, Trotsky was opposed to Marxism. However during his
periods of exile and imprisonment he became a follower of the Marxist
school of thought.) Instead of pursuing a mathematics degree, Bronstein
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,
over 200 members of the Union, including Bronstein, were arrested and
he spent the next two years in prison awaiting trial. Two months after
Bronstein's arrest and imprisonment, the 1st Congress of the newly formed
Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was held and from that
point on, Bronstein considered himself a member of the party. While
in prison, he married a fellow Marxist, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya, and
studied philosophy. In 1900 he was sentenced to four years in exile
in Ust-Kut and Verkholensk (see map) in the Irkutsk region of Siberia,
where his first two daughters, Nina Nevelson and Zinaida Volkova, were
It was in Siberia
that Bronstein became aware of the differences within the party, which
had been decimated by arrests in the last two years of the 19th century.
Some social democrats known as "economists" were arguing that
the party should concentrate on helping industrial workers improve their
lot in life. Others argued that overthrowing the monarchy was more important
and that a well organized and disciplined revolutionary party was essential.
The latter were led by the London-based newspaper Iskra, which was founded
in 1900. Bronstein quickly sided with the Iskra position.
and second marriage (1902-1903)
Bronstein escaped from Siberia in the summer of 1902, having forged
a passport in the name of Leon Trotsky. It is said he adopted the name
of a jailer of the Odessa prison in which he had earlier been held,
and this became his primary revolutionary pseudonym. Once abroad, he
moved to London to join Georgy Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, Julius Martov
and other editors of Iskra. Under the penname Pero ("feather"
or "pen" in Russian) Trotsky soon became one of the paper's
Unbeknownst 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.
Not only were Plekhanov's supporters older (in their 40s and 50s), but
they had also spent the previous 20 years in European exile together.
Members of the new guard were in their early 30s and had only recently
come 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 and wrote in March 1903:
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
Due to Plekhanov's opposition, Trotsky did not become a full member
of the editorial board, but from that point on he participated in its
meetings in an advisory capacity, which earned him Plekhanov's enmity.
In late 1902, Trotsky
met Natalia Sedova, who soon became his companion and, from 1903 until
his death, wife. They had two children together, Leon Sedov (b. 1906)
and Sergei Sedov (b. 1908). As Trotsky later explained, after the
In order not to
oblige my sons to change their name, I, for "citizenship"
requirements, took on the name of my wife.
However, the name change remained a technicality and he never used the
name "Sedov" either privately or publicly. Natalia Sedova
sometimes signed her name "Sedova-Trotskaya". Trotsky and
his first wife, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya, maintained a friendly relationship
until Sokolovskaya disappeared in 1935 during the Great Purges.
Split with Lenin
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, with
Trotsky and other Iskra editors in attendance. At first the Congress
went as planned, with Iskra supporters handily defeating the few "economist"
delegates at the Congress. 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. In the heat of the debate, Trotsky
made a controversial statement to the effect that he and eleven other
non-Bund Jewish delegates who had signed an anti-Bund statement
while working in
the Russian party, regarded and still do regard themselves also as representatives
of the Jewish proletariat.
As Trotsky explained
two months later, his statement was just a tactical maneuver made on
pro-Iskra delegates unexpectedly split in two factions. Lenin and his
supporters (known as "Bolsheviks") argued for a smaller but
highly organized party. Martov and his supporters (known as "Mensheviks")
argued for a larger and less disciplined party. In a surprise development,
Trotsky and most of the Iskra editors supported Martov and the Mensheviks
while Plekhanov supported Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
The two factions
were in a state of flux in 1903-1904 with many members changing sides.
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 that point until 1917 he remained a self-described
"non-factional social democrat".
Trotsky spent much
of his time 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 conceded he had been wrong in
opposing Lenin on the issue of the party. During these years Trotsky
began developing his theory of permanent revolution, which led to a
close working relationship with Alexander Parvus in 1904-1907.
and trial (1905-1906)
After the events of Bloody Sunday (1905), Trotsky secretly
returned to Russia in February 1905. 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 like Central
Committee member Leonid Krasin as well as the local Menshevik committee,
which he pushed in a more radical direction. The latter, however, was
betrayed by a secret police agent in May. Trotsky had to flee to rural
Finland where he worked on fleshing out his theory of permanent revolution
until October, when a nationwide strike made it possible for him to
return to St. Petersburg.
to the capital, Trotsky and Parvus took over the newspaper Russian Gazette
and increased its circulation to 500,000. Trotsky also co-founded Nachalo
("The Beginning") with Parvus and the Mensheviks, which proved
to be very successful.
to Trotsky's return to the capital, 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,
the St. Petersburg Soviet was already functioning with Khrustalyov-Nosar
(Georgy Nosar, alias Pyotr Khrustalyov), a compromise figure, at its
head and proved to be very popular with the workers in spite of the
Bolsheviks' original opposition. 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 November 26, was elected
its Chairman. On December 2, 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 Czarist government when openly
engaged in a war with the entire people.
The following day, December 3, the Soviet was surrounded by troops loyal
to the government and the deputies were arrested.
Trotsky and other
Soviet leaders were put on trial in 1906 on charges of supporting an
armed rebellion. At the trial, Trotsky delivered some of the best speeches
of his life and solidified his reputation as an effective public speaker,
which he confirmed in 1917-1920. He was convicted and sentenced to deportation.
In January 1907, Trotsky escaped en route to deportation to Siberia
and once again made his way to London, where he attended the 5th Congress
of the RSDLP. In October 1907, he moved to Vienna where he frequently
participated in the activities of the Austrian Social Democratic Party
and, occasionally, of the German Social Democratic Party, for the next
It was in Vienna
that Trotsky became close to Adolph Joffe, his friend for the next 20
years, who introduced Trotsky to psychoanalysis. In October 1908
he started a bi-weekly Russian language Social Democratic paper aimed
at Russian workers called Pravda ("The Truth"), which he co-edited
with Joffe, Matvey Skobelev and Victor Kopp and which was smuggled into
Russia. The paper avoided factional politics and proved popular with
Russian industrial workers. When various Bolshevik and Menshevik factions
(both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks split multiple times after the
failure of the 1905-1907 revolution) tried to re-unite at the January
1910 RSDLP Central Committee meeting in Paris over Lenin's objections,
Trotsky's 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 when
Kamenev resigned from the board amid mutual recriminations. Trotsky
continued publishing Pravda for another two years until it finally folded
in April 1912.
When the Bolsheviks
started a new workers-oriented newspaper in St. Petersburg on April
22, 1912, they called it Pravda as well. In what appeared to be a minor
development at the time, in April 1913 Trotsky was so upset by what
he saw as a usurpation of 'his' newspaper's name that he wrote a letter
to Nikolay Chkheidze, a Menshevik leader, bitterly denouncing Lenin
and the Bolsheviks. Trotsky was able to suppress the contents of the
letter in 1921 to avoid embarrassment, but once he started losing power
in the early 1920s, the letter was made public by his opponents within
the Communist Party in 1924 and used to paint him as Lenin's enemy.
This was a period
of heightened tension within the RSDLP and led 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 robberies
of banks and other companies by Bolshevik groups to procure money for
the Party, which had been banned by the 5th Congress, but continued
by the Bolsheviks.
In January 1912,
the majority of the Bolshevik faction led by Lenin and a few Mensheviks
held a conference in Prague and expelled their opponents from the party.
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 party. The attempt was
While in Vienna,
Trotsky continuously published articles in radical Russian and Ukrainian
newspapers like Kievskaya Mysl under a variety of pseudonyms, often
"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,
later a leading Soviet politician and Trotsky's ally in the Soviet Communist
On August 3 1914,
at the outbreak of World War I which pitted Austria-Hungary 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)
The outbreak of WWI 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.
While in Switzerland,
Trotsky briefly worked within the Swiss Socialist Party, prompting it
to adopt an internationalist resolution, and wrote a book against the
war, The War and the International. The thrust of the book was against
the pro-war position taken by the European social democratic parties,
primarily the German party.
with his daughter Nina in France, 1915Trotsky moved to
France on November 19, 1914, as a war correspondent for the Kievskaya
Mysl. In January 1915 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, in Paris. He adopted the slogan
of "peace without indemnities or annexations, peace without conquerors
or conquered", which didn't go quite as far as Lenin, who advocated
Russia's defeat in the war and demanded a complete break with the Second
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 would, like
Lenin, break with the Second International and form a Third International.
The conference adopted the middle line proposed by Trotsky. At first
opposed to it, in the end Lenin voted for Trotsky's resolution to
avoid a split among anti-war socialists.
In September 1916,
Trotsky was deported from France to Spain for his anti-war activities.
Spanish authorities wouldn't let him stay and he was deported to the
United States on December 25, 1916. He arrived in New York City on January
13, 1917. In New York, he wrote articles for the local Russian language
socialist newspaper Novy Mir and the Yiddish language daily Der Forverts
(The Forward) in translation and made speeches to Russian émigrés.
Trotsky was living in New York City when the February Revolution of
1917 overthrew Czar Nicholas II. He left New York on March 27, but his
ship was intercepted by British naval officials in Halifax, Nova Scotia
and he spent a month detained at Amherst, Nova Scotia. After initial
hesitation by the Russian foreign minister Pavel Milyukov, he was forced
to demand that Trotsky be released and the British government freed
Trotsky on April 29. He finally made his way back to Russia on May 4
of that year.
Upon his return,
Trotsky was in substantive agreement with the Bolshevik position, but
he didn't join them right away. At the time, Russian social democrats
were split in at least 6 groups and the Bolsheviks were waiting for
the next party Congress to determine which factions they would merge
with. Trotsky temporarily joined the Mezhraiontsy, a regional social
democratic organization in St. Petersburg, and became one of its leaders.
At the First Congress of Soviets in June, he was elected member of the
first All-Russian Central Executive Committee ("VTsIK") from
the Mezhraiontsy faction.
Trotsky was arrested
on August 7, 1917 (New Style) after an unsuccessful pro-Bolshevik uprising
in Petrograd, but 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 October 8 (New Style). He sided with Lenin against Grigory Zinoviev
and 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.
The following summary
of Trotsky's Role in 1917 was given by Stalin in Pravda, November 6,
1918. (Although this passage was quoted in Stalin's book "The October
Revolution" issued in 1934, it was expunged in Stalin's Works released
work in connection with the organisation 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 organised."
After the success of the uprising on November 7-8 (New Style), Trotsky
led the efforts to repel a counter-attack by Cossaks under General Pyotr
Krasnov and other troops still loyal to the overthrown Provisional Government
at Gatchina. Allied with Lenin, he successfully defeated attempts by
other Bolshevik Central Committee members (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Alexei
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, overshadowing the ambitious Zinoviev, who had been Lenin's top
lieutenant over the previous decade, but whose star appeared to be fading.
This turnaround planted the seeds of the two Bolshevik leaders' mutual
enmity, which lasted until 1926 and, in the end, did much to destroy
After the Russian
Trotsky with troops at the Polish front, 1919
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Brest-Litovsk (1917-1918)
After the 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.
Trotsky was the
head of the Soviet delegation during the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk
between December 22, 1917 and February 10, 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 (January 15, 1918) voluntary Red Army
against Polish forces of Gen. Józef Dowbor-Musnicki in Belarus,
White forces in the Don region, and newly independent Ukrainian forces
as proof that the Red Army could successfully repel German forces, especially
if propaganda and asymmetrical warfare were used. Left Communists didn't
mind holding talks with the Germans as a means of exposing German imperial
ambitions (territorial gains, reparations, etc) in hopes 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. Their opinion
was shared by Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who were then the Bolsheviks'
junior partners in a coalition government.
propaganda poster depicting Trotsky as St. George slaying the reactionary
dragon. The image of St. George and the dragon comes from the Moscow
Coat of Arms.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, absent 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 needed to be able to survive
and stay in power. Lenin didn't mind prolonging the negotiating process
for maximum propaganda effect, but, from January 1918 on, he advocated
signing a separate peace treaty if faced with a German ultimatum.
during this period was in 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.
On the other hand, he agreed with the Left Communists that signing a
separate peace treaty with an imperialist power would be a terrible
moral and material blow to the Soviet government, negating all of its
military and political successes in late 1917-early 1918, resurrecting
the notion that the Bolsheviks were secretly allied with the German
government, and causing an upsurge of internal resistance. In case of
a German ultimatum, Trotsky argued, the best policy was to refuse to
accept it, which had a good chance of being the last drop that would
lead to an uprising within Germany or, at the very least, inspire German
soldiers to refuse to obey their officers since any German offensive
would be a naked grab for territories. As Trotsky wrote in 1925:
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?
White Army propaganda poster. The caption reads, "Peace and Liberty
in Sovdepiya".Throughout January and February of 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
February 10, 1918, refusing to sign on Germany's harsh terms. After
a brief hiatus, the Central Powers notified the Soviet government that
they would no longer observe the truce after February 17. 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 or whether German soldiers would
refuse to follow orders.
The German side
resumed military operations on February 18. 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. At this point, in the evening
of February 18, 1918, Trotsky and his supporters in the Bolshevik Central
Committee abstained. Lenin's proposal was accepted 7-4 and the Soviet
government sent a telegram to the German side accepting the final Brest-Litovsk
The German side
didn't respond for three days, continuing its offensive and encountering
little resistance. When the response did arrive on February 21, the
proposed terms were so harsh that even Lenin briefly thought that the
Soviet government had no other choice but to fight. In the end, however,
the Bolshevik Central Committee once again voted 7-4 on February 23,
1918, which paved the way to the signing of Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
on March 3 and its ratification on March 15, 1918. Since he was so closely
associated with the policy previously followed by the Soviet delegation
at Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky submitted his resignation from his position
as Commissar for Foreign Affairs in order to remove a potential obstacle
to the new policy.
At the head of
the Red Army (Spring 1918)
Trotsky with Lenin and soldiers in Petrograd in 1921The failure of the
recently formed Red Army to resist the German offensive in February
1918 put its weaknesses on display: insufficient numbers, lack of knowledgeable
officers, almost complete absence of coordination and subordination.
Celebrated and feared Baltic Fleet sailors, one of the bastions of the
new regime led by Pavel Dybenko, ignominiously 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 and the Bolshevik Central
Committee agreed to create the Supreme Military Council, with former
chief of the imperial General Staff Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich at its head,
on March 4. However, the entire 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 as well as on 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 many Bolsheviks
throughout most of the 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, which was
active within the Communist Party in late 1918-1919.
On March 13, 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
the commander-in-chief was abolished and from that point on, Trotsky
was in full control of the Red Army, responsible only to the Communist
Party leadership, their Left Socialist Revolutionary allies having left
the government over Brest-Litovsk. With the help of his faithful 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.
Civil War (1918-1920)
Main article: Russian Civil War
Trotsky's managerial skills and his approach to building the Soviet
military were soon put to a test. When the Czechoslovak Legions, then
en route from European Russia to Vladivostok, rose against the Soviet
government in May-June 1918, the Bolsheviks were suddenly faced 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 that Trotsky relied on.
Trotsky and the
Soviet government responded with a full-fledged mobilization, which
increased the size of the Red Army from less than 300,000 in May 1918
to one million in October 1918, and an introduction of political commissars
into the Red Army. The latter were responsible for ensuring the loyalty
of military experts (who were mostly former officers in the imperial
army) and co-signing their orders.
defeats in mid-1918, Trotsky introduced increasingly severe penalties
for desertion, insubordination, and retreat. As he later wrote in his
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 Czar’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.
The train referred to in the quote above was Trotsky's personal armored
train that he used during the Civil War to visit the most critical sections
of the front. While there, he not only planned and supervised military
operations, but also used his considerable oratorical talents to inspire
Red Army soldiers and even deserters, often with considerable success.
Trotsky made at least 36 trips to "hot spots" in 1918-1920
and his train became one of the symbols of the Red Army.
included the death penalty for deserters and traitors, as well as using
former officers' families as hostages against possible defections:[citation
[...]I ordered you
to establish the family status of former officers among command personnel
and to inform each of them by signed receipt that treachery or treason
will cause the arrest of their families and that, therefore, they are
each taking upon themselves responsibility for their families. That
order is still in force. Since then there have been a number of cases
of treason by former officers, yet not in a single case, as far as I
know, has the family of the traitor been arrested, as the registration
of former officers has evidently not been carried out at all. Such a
negligent approach to so important a matter is totally impermissible.[citation
Trotsky also threatened to execute unit commanders and commissars whose
units either deserted or retreated without permission.
(Trotsky later argued that these threats were either taken out of context
or were used to scare his subordinates into action and were not necessarily
meant to be carried out.) Since Red Army commissars were often prominent
Bolsheviks, it sometimes led to clashes between them and Trotsky.[citation
to insist that former officers should be used as military experts within
the Red Army and, in the summer of 1918, was able to convince Lenin
and the Bolshevik leadership not only to continue the policy in the
face of mass defections, but also to give these experts more direct
operational control of the military. In this he differed sharply from
Stalin who was, from May through October 1918, the top commissar in
the South of Russia. Stalin and his future defense minister, Kliment
Voroshilov, went so far as to refuse to accept former general Andrei
Snesarev who had been sent to them by Trotsky. Stalin's stubborn opposition
to Trotsky's military policies foreshadowed a continuing acute conflict
between the two Bolsheviks over the policies and direction of the Soviet
Union, culminating 10 years later in Trotsky's expulsion from the Soviet
Union (and then in his assassination).
In September 1918,
the Soviet 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 the commander-in-chief
was restored, filled by the commander of the Red Latvian Rifleman Ioakim
Vatsetis (aka Jukums Vacietis), who had formerly led the Eastern Front
against the Czechoslovak Legions. Vatsetis was put in charge of day
to day operations of the Red Army while Trotsky was appointed 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.
caused yet another conflict between Trotsky and Stalin in late September
- early October 1918 when the latter refused to accept former imperial
general Pavel Sytin, who had been appointed by Trotsky to command the
Southern Front. As a result, Stalin was recalled from the South Front.
Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov tried to get Trotsky and Stalin to mend fences,
but their meeting was unsuccessful.
Throughout late 1918 and early 1919, Trotsky had to fend off a number
of attacks on his 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 all of them successfully and was elected one of
only five full members of the first Politburo after the Congress. However,
as he later wrote:
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 hurts.
It was not until the summer of 1919 that the dissatisfied had an opportunity
to mount a serious challenge to Trotsky's leadership of the Red Army.
By mid-1919, the
Red Army had successfully defeated the White Army's spring offensive
in the East and was about to cross the Urals mountains and enter Siberia
in pursuit of Admiral Alexander Kolchak's forces. However, at the same
time the situation in the South, where General Anton Denikin's White
Russian forces were advancing, was deteriorating rapidly. On June 6
commander-in-chief Vatsetis ordered the Eastern Front to stop the offensive
so that he could use its forces in the South. The leadership of the
Eastern Front, including its commander Sergei Kamenev (a colonel in
the imperial army, not to be confused with the Politburo member Lev
Kamenev), and Eastern Front Revolutionary Military Council members Ivar
Smilga, Mikhail Lashevich and Sergei Gusev vigorously protested and
wanted to keep 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, it would be possible to free up many more
divisions for the Southern Front. Trotsky, who had had conflicts with
the leadership of the Eastern Front earlier, including a temporary removal
of Kamenev in May 1919, supported Vatsetis.
The conflict came
to a head at the July 3-4 Central Committee meeting. After a heated
exchange the majority supported Kamenev and Smilga against Vatsetis
and Trotsky. Not only was Trotsky's plan rejected, but he was subjected
to a barrage of criticism for various alleged shortcomings in his leadership
style, much of it of a personal nature. Stalin used this opportunity
to try to pressure Lenin to dismiss Trotsky from his post. However,
when, on July 5, Trotsky offered his resignation, the Politburo and
the Orgburo of the Central Committee unanimously rejected it.
number of significant changes to the leadership of the Red Army were
made after July 4. Trotsky was temporarily sent to the Southern Front,
while the work in Moscow was informally coordinated by Smilga. Most
members of the bloated Revolutionary Military Council who were not involved
in its day to day operations, were relieved of their duties on July
8 while new members including Smilga were added. The same day, while
Trotsky was already in the South, Vatsetis was suddenly arrested by
the Cheka on suspicion of involvement in an anti-Soviet plot and replaced
by Sergei Kamenev.
After a few weeks
in the South, Trotsky returned to Moscow and resumed control of the
Red Army. A year later, after Smilga's (and Tukhachevsky's) famous defeat
during the Miracle at the Vistula, Trotsky refused to use this opportunity
to pay Smilga back, which earned him Smilga's friendship and subsequent
support during the intra-Party battles of the 1920s.
In the meantime,
by October 1919 the Soviet government found itself in the worst crisis
of the Civil War, with Denikin's troops approaching Tula and Moscow
from the South and General Nikolay Yudenich's troops approaching Petrograd
from the West. Lenin decided that, since it was more important to defend
Moscow than Petrograd, the latter would have to be abandoned. Trotsky
argued that Petrograd needed to be defended, at least in part to
prevent Estonia and 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 October 22 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 for his actions in Petrograd.
With the defeat of Denikin and Yudenich in late 1919, the Soviet government's
emphasis shifted to economic work and Trotsky spent the winter of 1919-1920
in the Urals region trying to get its economy going again. Based on
his experiences there, he proposed abandoning the policies of War Communism,
which included confiscating grain from peasants, and partially restoring
the grain market. Lenin, however, was still committed to the system
of War Communism at the time and the proposal was rejected. Instead,
Trotsky was put in charge of the country's railroads (while retaining
overall control of the Red Army), which he tried to militarize in the
spirit of War Communism. It wasn't until the spring of 1921 that economic
collapse and uprisings would force Lenin and the rest of the Bolshevik
leadership to abandon War Communism in favor of the New Economic Policy.
In the meantime,
in early 1920 Soviet-Polish tensions escalated to the point where they
eventually led to the Polish-Soviet War. In the run-up to the war and
during the hostilities, Trotsky argued that the Red Army was exhausted
and that the Soviet government should sign a peace treaty with Poland
as soon as possible. He also didn't believe that the Red Army would
find much support in Poland proper. Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders,
however, thought that the Red Army's successes in the Russian Civil
War and against the Poles meant that, as Lenin said later:
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
However, the Red Army offensive was stopped and 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 in favor of signing a peace treaty
and this time was able to prevail.
Trade union debate (1920-1921)
Serrati and Trotsky.In late 1920, after the Bolshevik victory in the
Civil War and in the period leading up to the Eighth and Ninth Congress
of Soviets, the Communist Party found itself engaged in a heated and
increasingly acrimonious discussion over the role of trade unions in
the Soviet state. The discussion split the Party into numerous factions,
with Lenin, Trotsky and Bukharin each having their "platforms"
(factions), Bukharin eventually merging his faction with Trotsky's.
Smaller, more radical factions like the Workers' Opposition (headed
by Alexander Shlyapnikov) and the Group of Democratic Centralism were
in this crucial debate was formed while he was heading a special commission
on the Soviet transportation system, Tsektran. His appointment as head
of this committee was made in order to rebuild a railroad system that
lay in ruins after the Civil War. Being the Commisar of War and a revolutionary
military leader, he felt there was a need to create a militarized "production
atmosphere" by incorporating the trade unions directly into the
State apparatus. His unyielding stance that in a worker's state the
workers should have nothing to fear from the state, and that the State
should have full control over the trade unions lead him to argue in
the Ninth Party Congress 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 critiqued
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 ill afford. His frustration with Trotsky was capitalized
on by Stalin and Zinoviev, who used their support for Lenin's position
to improve their standing within the Bolshevik leadership at Trotsky's
threatening 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 (Krestinky, Yevgeny Preobrazhensky
and Leonid Serebryakov) supporting Trotsky.
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. Zinoviev, who had supported Lenin, became a full member of
the Politburo while Krestinsky lost his Politburo seat. 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
At the end of the
Tenth Party Congress, Trotsky had to rush to Petrograd to organize and
direct the suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion, the last major revolt
against Bolshevik rule. Anarchist Emma Goldman has criticized Trotsky
for his actions as Commissar for War and his role in the suppression
of the Kronstadt Rebellion, and also arguing that he ordered unjustified
incarcerations and executions of political opponents such as anarchists,
which, in Goldman's view, makes Trotsky's allegiance to socialism and
communism highly questionable. Trotsky, however, frequently argued
for revolutionary defensism, which states that revolutionists have a
right to protect a revolution from counterrevolutionary violence. 
Fall from power
In late 1921 Lenin's health deteriorated and his periods of absence
from Moscow became longer and longer, eventually leading to three strokes
between May 26, 1922 and March 10, 1923, which resulted in paralysis,
loss of speech and finally death on January 21, 1924. With Lenin increasingly
sidelined throughout 1922, Stalin (elevated to the newly created position
of the Central Committee General Secretary earlier in the year),
Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev  formed a troika (triumvirate) to ensure
that Trotsky, publicly the number two man in the country at the time
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 in his capacity as General Secretary clearly played
a role, but Trotsky and his supporters later concluded that a deeper,
more fundamental reason was the process of slow bureaucratization of
the Soviet regime once the extreme trials and tribulations of the Civil
War were over: much of the Bolshevik elite wanted 'normalcy' while Trotsky
was, personally and politically, a personification of a more 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) and then, when Trotsky predictably
refused, they tried to use it as an excuse to oust him.
When, 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:
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 that moment 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 September 11, 1922 Lenin proposed that Trotsky become his
deputy at the Sovnarkom. The Politburo approved the proposal, but Trotsky
In the fall of 1922,
Lenin's relationship with Stalin deteriorated over Stalin's heavy-handed
and chauvinistic handling of the issue of merging Soviet republics into
one federal state, the USSR. At that point, according to Trotsky's autobiography,
Lenin offered Trotsky an alliance against Soviet bureaucracy in general
and Stalin in particular. The alliance proved effective on the issue
of foreign trade , but it was complicated by Lenin's progressing
illness. In January 1923 the strained relationship between Lenin and
Stalin completely broke down when Stalin rudely insulted Lenin's wife,
Nadezhda Krupskaya. At that point Lenin amended his Testament suggesting
that Stalin should be replaced as the party's General Secretary, although
the thrust of his argument was somewhat weakened by the fact that he
also mildly criticized other Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky. In
March 1923, days before the third stroke that put an end to his political
career, Lenin prepared a frontal assault on Stalin's "Great-Russian
nationalistic campaign" against the Georgian Communist Party and
asked Trotsky to deliver the blow at the XIIth Party Congress. With
Lenin no longer active, Trotsky did not raise the issue at the Congress.
At the XIIth Party
Congress in April 1923, immediately after Lenin's final stroke, the
key Central Committee reports on organizational and nationalities questions
were delivered by Stalin and not by Trotsky, while Zinoviev delivered
the political report of the Central Committee, traditionally Lenin's
prerogative. Stalin's power of appointment had allowed him to gradually
replace local Party secretaries with loyal functionaries and thus control
most regional delegations at the Congress, which enabled him to pack
the Central Committee with his supporters, mostly at the expense of
Zinoviev and Kamenev's backers.
At the Congress,
Trotsky made a speech about intra-party democracy, among other things,
but avoided a direct confrontation with the troika. The delegates, most
of whom were unaware of the divisions within the Politburo, gave Trotsky
a standing ovation, which couldn't help but upset the troika. The troika
was further infuriated by Karl Radek's article Leon Trotsky —
Organizer of Victory  published in Pravda on March 14, 1923, which
seemed to anoint Trotsky as Lenin's successor.
adopted by the XIIth Congress called, in general terms, for greater
democracy within the Party, but they were vague and remained unimplemented.
In an important test of strength in mid-1923, the troika was able to
neutralize Trotsky's friend and supporter Christian Rakovsky by removing
him from his post as head of the Ukrainian government (Sovnarkom) and
sending him to London as Soviet ambassador. When regional Party secretaries
in Ukraine protested against Rakovsky's reassignment, they too were
reassigned to various posts all over the Soviet Union.
Starting in mid-summer 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. Then, in
September-October 1923, the much anticipated Communist revolution in
Germany ended in defeat.
On October 8, 1923
Trotsky sent a letter to the Central Committee and the Central Control
Commission which attributed 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 lays 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 October 15, 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, the
two documents 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 November
the troika tried to come up with a compromise formula that would placate,
or at least temporarily neutralize, Trotsky and those who supported
him. (Their task was made easier by the fact that Trotsky was sick in
November and December 1923.) 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 December 5, 1923, the Politburo and the Central
Control Commission unanimously adopted the group's final draft as its
On December 8, 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 "monolithic 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 which was held between January
16 and 18, 1924. Those who were opposed to the line of the Central Committee
during the debate were thereafter referred to as members of the Left
Since the troika
controlled the Party apparatus through Stalin's Secretariat as well
as Pravda through its editor Bukharin, it was able to direct the course
of 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 Moscow Party 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" 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, of course, Trotsky had already been cut off from the decision
the end of the Conference, Trotsky left for a Caucasusian resort to
recover from his prolonged illness. He was still en route there when
he received the news of Lenin's death on January 21, 1924. He was about
to come back 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
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 obviously groomed to take Trotsky's place, in
At the XIIIth Party
Congress in May, Trotsky delivered a conciliatory speech:
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.
The attempt at reconciliation, however, didn't stop troika supporters
from taking potshots at him.
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. Economically, the Left Opposition
and its theoretician Yevgeny Preobrazhensky came out against further
development of capitalist elements in the Soviet economy and in favor
of faster industrialization of the economy. That put them on a collision
course with Bukharin and Rykov, the "Right" group within the
Party, who supported 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.
the XIIIth Congress (where Kamenev and Zinoviev helped Stalin defuse
Lenin's Testament, which belatedly came to the surface), the troika,
always an alliance of convenience, started showing signs of cracking
up. Stalin began making poorly veiled accusations in Zinoviev's and
Kamenev's address. However, in October 1924, Trotsky published The Lessons
of October, an extensive summary of the events of the 1917 revolution.
In the article, he described Zinoviev's and Kamenev's opposition to
the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, something that the two would
have preferred left unmentioned. This started a new round of intra-party
struggle, which became known as the Literary Discussion, with Zinoviev
and Kamenev once again allied with Stalin against Trotsky. Their criticism
of Trotsky was concentrated in three areas:
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 January 6, 1925. Zinoviev demanded Trotsky's expulsion
from the Communist Party, but Stalin refused to go along and skillfully
played the role of a moderate. Trotsky kept his Politburo seat, but
was effectively put on probation.
A year in the wilderness
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 his new line of work up to my ears",
but some contemporary accounts paint a picture of a remote and distracted
man. Later in the year, Trotsky resigned his two technical positions
(claiming Stalin-instigated interference and sabotage) and concentrated
on his work in the Concessions Committee.
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
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 didn't
speak at the Congress.
During a lull in the intra-party fighting in the spring of 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.
The 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 were becoming more and more extreme. At the XVth
Party Conference in October 1926 Trotsky could barely speak due to 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
Defeat and exile
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 November
12. 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 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 (now in Kazakhstan) on January 31, 1928. He was expelled
from the Soviet Union in February 1929, accompanied by his wife Natalia
Sedova and his son Leon Sedov.
expulsion from the country, exiled Trotskyists began to waver and, between
1929 and 1934, most of the leading members of the Opposition surrendered
to Stalin, "admitted their mistakes" and were reinstated in
the Communist Party. Christian Rakovsky, who served as an inspiration
for Trotsky between 1929 and 1934 while he was in Siberian exile, was
the last prominent Trotskyist to capitulate. Almost all of them perished
in the Great Purges just a few years later.
Last exile (1929-1940)
Trotsky reading The Militant.Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union
in February 1929. His first station in exile was at Büyükada
off the coast of Istanbul, where he stayed four years. There were many
former White Army officers in Istanbul, which put Trotsky's life in
danger, but a number of Trotsky's European supporters volunteered to
serve as bodyguards and assured his safety.
In 1933 Trotsky
was offered asylum in France by Daladier. He stayed first at Royan,
then at Barbizon. He was not allowed to visit Paris. In 1935 it was
implied to him that he was no longer welcome in France. After weighing
alternatives, he moved to Norway, where he got permission from then
Justice minister Trygve Lie to enter the country, Trotsky was a guest
of Konrad Knudsen near Oslo. After two years, allegedly under influence
from the Soviet Union, he was put under house arrest. After consultations
with Norwegian officials, his transfer to Mexico on a freighter was
arranged. Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas welcomed him
warmly, even arranging a special train to bring him to Mexico City from
the port of Tampico.
In Mexico, he lived
at one point at the home of the painter Diego Rivera, and at another
at that of Rivera's wife & fellow painter, Frida Kahlo. He remained
a prolific writer in exile, penning several key works, including his
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 workers' democracy or degenerate
to the point where the bureaucracy converts itself into a capitalist
Moscow show trials
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, Grigory Sokolnikov, Yuri Pyatakov
and 14 others took place in January 1937, with even more alleged conspiracies
and crimes 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 Coyoacan, with John Dewey
as chairman. The findings were published in the book Not Guilty.
Main article: Fourth International.
James Cannon and Felix Morrow, with a bust of Trotsky.At first Trotsky
was opposed to the idea of establishing parallel Communist Parties or
a parallel international Communist organization that would compete with
the Third International for fear of splitting the Communist movement.
However, Trotsky changed his mind in mid-1933 after the Nazi takeover
in Germany and the Comintern's response to it, when he proclaimed that:
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 International.
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 Un-American Activities Committee. Representative
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
the world war into a world revolution. Many of his supporters argued
against his appearance, but it came to nothing anyway, as, when made
aware of the deposition Trotsky intended to make, the committee refused
to hear him, and he was denied a visa to enter the USA. On hearing about
it, the Stalinists immediately accused Trotsky of being in the pay of
the oil magnates and the FBI.
Study where the attack on Leon Trotsky took place.Trotsky eventually
quarreled with Rivera and in 1939 moved into his own residence in Coyoacán,
a neighborhood in Mexico City. On May 24, 1940, he survived a raid on
his home by Stalinist assassins under the leadership of GPU agent Iosif
Romualdovich Grigulevich, Mexican Stalinist painter David Alfaro Siqueiros,
and Vittorio Vidale. Later, on August 20, 1940, Trotsky was successfully
attacked in his home by a Stalinist agent, Ramón Mercader, who
drove the pick of an ice axe into Trotsky's skull.
The blow was poorly
delivered, however, and failed to kill Trotsky instantly, as Mercader
had intended. Witnesses stated that Trotsky spat on Mercader and began
struggling fiercely with him. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's bodyguards
burst into the room and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky stopped
them, shouting, "Do not kill him! This man has a story to tell."
Trotsky died the next day at a local hospital.
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.[citation
's grave in Coyoacán, where his ashes are buried.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 unsuccessfully before."[citation
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 of intellectuals, including his grandson Esteban Volkov. The
current director of the museum is Dr. Carlos Ramirez Sandoval under
whose supervision the museum has improved considerably after years of
neglect. Trotsky's grave is located on its grounds.
Trotsky was never
formally rehabilitated by the Soviet government, despite the Glasnost-era
rehabilitation of most other Old Bolsheviks killed during the Great
Purges. But under President Gorbachev, Trotsky was called in 1987 "a
hero and martyr", his son Sergej Sedow, killed in 1937, was rehabilitated
in 1988, Bucharin was rehabilitated in 1988 as well. Trotsky's books,
forbidden till 1987, were published since 1989. Nonetheless, Trotsky
was as well featured on a commemorative postage stamp in 1987.
Main article: Trotskyism.
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,
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 of the Fourth International
echo Trotsky's opposition to Stalinist totalitarianism, advocating political
revolution, arguing that socialism cannot sustain itself without democracy.
Main article: 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
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 collaboration with 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".
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)
- Leon Trotski, pseudonym of Leib or Lev Davidovich Bronstein
Russian Jewish Revolutionary leader and Soviet politician, a close friend
of Lenin. Trotsky's theory of 'permanent revolution' became unpopular
after Stalin had gained power in the Soviet Union. Trotsky was assassinated
by one of Stalin's agents. Although Trotsky later condemned the Red
Terror, he was, perhaps, one of its first proponents.
"Things are not going well. The Greek soldiers landed on the shores
of Crimea, according to the reports of Allied diplomats and newspapermen,
were mounted on Crimean donkeys, but the donkeys were not able to arrive
in time at the Perekop Isthmus. Things are not going well. Evidently
even donkeys have begun to shake off the imperialistic harness."
(from Trotsky's speech on April 1919)
Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Leon Trotsky) was born in Yanovka, Ukraine,
as the son of an illiterate Jewish farmer. Trotsky's father, David Bronshtein,
had bought land near the small town of Bobrinets, and eventually he
became a substantial landowner. During the revolution he lost his estate,
but Trotsky set him up as the manager of a flour mill near Moscow. Trotsky's
mother, Anna, came from Odessa, where she had received a modest education.
"We were not deprived, except of life's generosity and tenderness",
Trotsky later said. His mother loved to read to her eight children and
encouraged them to acquire a good education. She died in 1910. Only
Lev, two sisters and a brother survived beyond childhood. After Trotsky
was deported in 1929, his brother Alexander publicly disowned him, but
he was shot in 1938. Liza, Trotsky's elder sister, died in 1924. Trotsky's
younger sister Olga married an influential Bolshevik leader, Lev Kamenev,
but she was shot in 1941. Her two young sons were shot in 1936.
a Jewish primary school, Trotsky studied at a state school in Odessa.
He was a very good student, who especially loved mathematics, but was
expelled for a year when he fell foul of the French teacher. "I
can hardly think of a single teacher whom I might remember with affection",
Trotsky become an
ardent disciple of Karl Marx already in his youth. In 1896 Trotsky joined
the Social Democrats and two years later he was arrested as a Marxist
and exiled to Siberia. Four years later he escaped and reached England
by means of a forged passport that used the name of a jailer in Odessa's
In London Trotsky
met Lenin and other Russian Revolutionary thinkers and collaborated
in publication their journal of Iskra (The Spark). When the party split
in 1903, and Trotsky broke with Lenin, he gained position as a leader
of the Menshevik wing of the Social Democratic party, as opposed to
the Bolshevik one under Lenin, prophesying that Leninist theory would
result in a one-man dictatorship. In the abortive 1905 revolution Trotsky
organized the first revolutionary Soviet council in St. Petersburg and
was appointed president of the Soviet. About this time he propounded
the doctrine of 'permanent revolution,' which implied that revolution
in one country must be followed by revolutions in other countries, eventually
throughout the world. After the uprising ended he was again exiled to
Siberia, and managed once more escape.
before the war the Austro-Hungarian government received a sharp note
from St Petersburg, demanding that a stop be put to the activities of
the Russian political emigrants in Vienna. The Minister of the Interior
received the note and shook with laughter: 'Who do they think is going
to start a revolution in Russia - perhaps that Herr Trotsky from the
Café Central?'" (from Wit as a Weapon by Egon Larsen, 1980)
Trotsky worked then as journalist in Vienna, and become editor of Pravda
(truth). With the outbreak of World War I he moved to Zürich in
1914 and then to Germany, where he was imprisoned for opposing the war.
During World War I Trotsky led the internationalist wing of the Mensheviks.
He denounced Russia's involvement in the war. In 1915 Trotsky moved
to Paris, editing the socialist weekly Nashe Slovo, but he was expelled
from France as a result of his pacifist propaganda. After a short stay
in New York as the editor of Novy Mir, Trotsky returned to Russia in
1917. He joined the Bosheviks in St. Petersburg and established the
magazine Vperied (Forward). Trotsky was arrested for a short time by
Aleksandr Feodorovich Kerenski's provisional government, but after release
he played a major role in the October Revolution.
At the conference
in Brest-Litovsk in 1918 Trotsky was leader of the Russian delegate.
From 1919 to 1927 he was a member of Politburo. Trotsky was made the
Russian Civil War commissar for war (1918-25) and created in this post
the Red army. For two and half years, as he explained in My Life, he
lived in his heavy armored train with two engines, travelling from one
front to another. The Red army grew from 800,000 to 3,000,000, and fought
on sixteen fronts simultaneously. With his speeches Trotsky encouraged
villagers, troops, his illiterate audience who was cut off from the
vital news. "These spring months become the decisive months in
the history of Europe. At the same time this spring will decide definitely
the fate of the bourgeois and rich peasant, anti-Soviet Russia."
In 1921-22 the last
remnants of non-Communist socialist parties, the Mensheviks and Socialist
Revolutionaries, were abolished. In May 1922 Lenin suffered a stroke
which left him partly paralyzed, in early 1923 another took away his
speech and in January 1924 he died. After Lenin's death, among the aspiring
successors, Stalin and Trotsky were the leading figures. In his writings
Trotsky stressed the peculiarities of the Russian economic and social
development. "The insignificance of the Russian cities, which more
than anything else promoted the development of an Asian state, also
made impossible a Reformation - that is, a replacement of the feudal-bureaucratic
orthodoxy by some sort of modernized kind of Christianity adapted to
the demands of a bourgeois society. The struggle against the state church
did not go farther than the creation of peasant sects, the faction of
the Old Believers being the most powerful among them." (from The
History of the Russian Revolution, 1931-33) Russia, lacking the mature
capitalist development, could go straight to a dictatorship of the proletariat,
but Trotsky believed that it was impossible to build socialism in one
country alone. In this he disagreed fatally with Stalin.
of the Communist Party is maintained by recourse to every form of violence."
(from Terrorism and Communism, 1924)
Although Lenin had rejected Stalin as his successor, Stalin strengthened
his position. He inclined towards concentrating on the development of
a Communist order in Russia, while Trotsky was dedicated to the belief
that Russia should catalyze worldwide Communist revolution. Stalin believed
that socialism in one country was possible. A schism broke out in Communist
ranks. Trotsky's Left Opposition tried to mobilize the Moscow proletariat,
but this failed due to the workers' indifference. The failure proved
that he was no longer a charismatic mass leader. Trotsky's influence
began to decline and Stalin removed him from the commissariat for war.
From 1925 to 1926
Trotsky held relatively minor administrative post, before he was ousted
from the party by Stalin. In 1927 Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata, in
Kazakstan, where he devoted himself to writing his memoirs and bitter
pamphlets. The 'combined opposition' of Trotsky, Grigory Zinoview, and
Lev Kamenev was unsuccessful. In 1929 Trotsky was totally expelled from
the Soviet Union. With this stroke Stalin became the sole and undisputable
leader of the Communist Party, and therefore of the Soviet Union.
During the following
years Trotsky lived in Turkey (1929-33), France (1933-35), Norway (1935-36),
and finally found asylum in Mexico, where he was invited by the socialist
artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957). On the death of his elder son Lev Sedov
in 1934, Trotsky wrote: "Yagoda [head of the security organs] caused
the premature death of one of my daughters, and drove the other to suicide.
He arrested my two sons-in-law who simply disappeared without a trace.
The GPU arrested my younger son, Sergei... and he then disappeared."
In Mexico Trotsky continued his attack on Stalin's leadership and the
'degeneration' of the political system in the Soviet Union. Trotsky
regarded the dictatorship he and Lenin had established as justified
because it was exercised in the interest of the proletariat, and so
it was quite different from Stalin's dictatorship, because the latter
acted only in its own interests. In the United States Trotskyism enjoyed
support of influential critics and intellectuals, some of whom were
associated with the literary and political journal the Partisan Review.
and Revolution (1924), a collection of articles, was his most important
contribution to literature criticism. He had sympathy for Russian Futurism
and praises Mayakovsky for placing his art at the service of the Revolution.
According to Trotsky, "art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a
hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes. But at present even the handling
of a hammer is taught with the help of a mirror, a sensitive film which
records all the movement... The deeper literature is, and the more it
is imbued with the desire to shape life, the more significantly and
dynamically will it be able to 'picture life..." Trotsky did not
believe that it is possible to create genuine proletarian art at his
time. In the 1920s the Bolshevik regime exercised a relatively tolerant
cultural policy, and allowed experimentation, if it did nor criticize
the Party or the Revolution. Trotsky did not reject Freud who was blacklisted
in the Soviet Union. He showed some understanding of the Formalist school
in its attempt to seek criteria for classification and valuation, but
emphasized that the verbal art do not end with the word. "Artistic
creation is always a complicated turning inside out of old forms, under
the influence of new stimuli which originate outside art. In this large
sense of the word, art is a handmaiden. It is not a disembodied element
feeding on itself, but a function of social man indissolubly tied to
his life and environment." Later Formalism became - in the hands
of Stalinist censors - a swearword, which ended all kinds of experiments.
In 1938 Trotsky
and his followers founded the Fourth International. During the Great
Purge (1934-38), a wave of terror by which Stalin aimed at eliminating
the opposition, Trotsky was accused of espionage. A supposed family
friend, Jacques van den Dreschd, wounded Trotsky mortally on August
21, 1940 with an ice pick. "The vengeance of history is more terrible
than the vengeance of the most powerful General Secretary." (from