Leon Trotsky

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Leon Trotsky
Лев Троцкий
Trotsky in 1917
People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs of the Soviet Union[a]
In office
14 March 1918 – 12 January 1925
Premier
Preceded byNikolai Podvoisky
Succeeded byMikhail Frunze
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Russian SFSR
In office
8 November 1917 – 13 March 1918
PremierVladimir Lenin
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byGeorgy Chicherin
Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet
In office
20 September – 26 December 1917
Preceded byNikolay Chkheidze
Succeeded byGrigory Zinoviev
Personal details
Born
Lev Davidovich Bronstein

(1879-11-07)7 November 1879 (N.S.)
Yanovka, Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire
Died21 August 1940(1940-08-21) (aged 60)
Mexico City, Mexico
Manner of deathAssassination by ice axe
Resting placeLeon Trotsky House Museum
Citizenship
  • Russia (until 1932)
  • Stateless (1932–1937)
  • Mexico (from 1937)
Political party
Spouses
  • (m. 1899; div. 1902)
  • (m. 1903)
Children
EducationOdessa University[2] (briefly attended)
SignatureTrotsky's signature
Central institution membership
  • 1917–1927: Full member, 6th14th Politburo of AUCP(b)
  • 1917–1927: Full member, 6th14th Central Committee of AUCP(b)
  • 1919–1920: Full member, 8th Orgburo of RCP(b)
  • 1923–1924: Full member, 12th Orgburo of RCP(b)
  • 1910–1912: Full member, 5th Central Committee of RSDLP

Other offices held

Lev Davidovich Bronstein[b] (7 November [O.S. 26 October] 1879 – 21 August 1940), better known as Leon Trotsky,[c] was a Russian revolutionary, Soviet politician, journalist and political theorist. He was a central figure in the 1905 Revolution,[4] October Revolution, Russian Civil War, and the establishment of the Soviet Union. Alongside Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky was widely considered the most prominent Soviet figure and was de facto second-in-command during the early years of the Russian Soviet Republic. Ideologically a Marxist and a Leninist, his thought and writings inspired a school of Marxism known as Trotskyism.

Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Yanovka in what was then the Russian Empire, Trotsky was initially a narodnik, but embraced Marxism soon after moving to Nikolayev in 1896. In 1898, he was arrested for revolutionary activities and exiled to Siberia, but in 1902 escaped to London, where he met Lenin and wrote for the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party's paper Iskra. Trotsky initially sided with Julius Martov's Mensheviks against Lenin's Bolsheviks during the party's 1903 split, but was non-factional from 1904. During the 1905 Revolution, Trotsky returned to Russia and became chairman of the Saint Petersburg Soviet. He was again exiled to Siberia, but escaped in 1907 and spent time in London, Vienna, Switzerland, Paris, and New York. After the February Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the tsar, Trotsky returned to Russia and joined the Bolsheviks. As chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, he played an important role in the October Revolution that overthrew the Provisional Government.

In Lenin's first government, Trotsky was appointed the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and led the negotiations for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, by which Russia withdrew from World War I. From 1918 to 1925, he served as the People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, founding the Red Army; establishing conscription, training, and discipline; and leading it to victory in the Russian Civil War. In 1922, Trotsky and Lenin formed an alliance against the emerging Soviet bureaucracy;[5] Lenin proposed that Trotsky become his Deputy Chairman and preside over economic management[6] at the Council of People's Commissars, but he declined the post.[7]

During the New Economic Policy, Trotsky led the party's Left Opposition, which advocated a programme of rapid industrialisation, voluntary collectivisation of agriculture, and expansion of workers' democracy. After Lenin's death in 1924, Trotsky was outmaneuvered by Joseph Stalin and his allies and lost his positions: he was expelled from the Politburo in 1926 and from the party in 1927, internally exiled to Alma Ata in 1928, and deported in 1929. He lived in Turkey, France, and Norway before settling in Mexico in 1937.

In exile, Trotsky wrote extensively and polemically against Stalinism, supporting proletarian internationalism against Stalin's theory of "socialism in one country". Trotsky's own theory of "permanent revolution" posited that the revolution could only survive if extended to advanced capitalist countries. In The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Trotsky argued that the Soviet Union had become a "degenerated workers' state" due to its isolation, and called for an end to Stalin's bureaucratic dictatorship. He founded the Fourth International in 1938 as an alternative to the Comintern. In 1936, Trotsky was sentenced to death in absentia at the first of the Moscow show trials, and in 1940, he was assassinated at his home in Mexico City by NKVD agent Ramón Mercader.

Written out of Soviet history books under Stalin, Trotsky was one of the few of his rivals who never received political rehabilitation from later leaders. In the Western world, he emerged as a hero of the anti-Stalinist left for his defense of a more democratic, internationalist form of socialism[8] against Stalinist totalitarianism and intellectual contributions to left-wing movements. Whilst some of his wartime measures have proved controversial and have been criticised along with his ideological defence of the Red Terror. Modern scholarship generally ranks his leadership of the Red Army highly among historical figures and he is credited for his major involvement with the military, economic, cultural[9] and political development of the Soviet Union.

Childhood and family (1879–1895)[edit]

8-year-old Lev Bronstein, 1888

Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein to David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922) and Anna Lvovna (née Zhivotovskaya, 1850–1910) on 7 November 1879, the fifth child of a wealthy Jewish landowner[10] family in Yanovka, Kherson governorate, Russian Empire (now Bereslavka, Ukraine). His father, David Leontyevich, had lived in Poltava, and later moved to Bereslavka, as it had a large Jewish community.[11][12] Trotsky's younger sister, Olga, who also grew up to be a Bolshevik and a Soviet politician, married the prominent Bolshevik Lev Kamenev.[13]

Some authors, notably Robert Service, have claimed that Trotsky's childhood first name was the Yiddish Leiba.[14] The American Trotskyist David North said that this was an assumption based on Trotsky's Jewish birth, but, contrary to Service's claims, there is no documentary evidence to support his using a Yiddish name, when that language was not spoken by his family.[15] Both North and political historian Walter Laqueur wrote that Trotsky's childhood name was Lyova, a standard Russian diminutive of the name Lev.[16] North has compared the speculation on Trotsky's given name to the undue emphasis given to his having a Jewish surname.[15][16] The language spoken at home was not Yiddish [17] but a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian (known as Surzhyk).[18] 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.[19] Raymond Molinier wrote that Trotsky spoke French fluently.[20]

When Trotsky was eight,[21] his father sent him to Odessa to be educated. He was enrolled in a Lutheran German-language school (Realschule zum Heiligen Paulus or school of the Lutheran St. Pauls Cathedral, a school of Black Sea Germans which also admitted students of other faiths and backgrounds,[22]) which became Russified during his years in Odessa as a result of the Imperial government's policy of Russification.[23] Trotsky and his wife Natalia later registered their children as Lutheran, since Austrian law at the time required children to be given religious education "in the faith of their parents".[24] As 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.[25]

Early political activities and life (1896–1917)[edit]

Revolutionary activity and imprisonment (1896–1898)[edit]

Lev Davidovich Bronstein, 1897

Trotsky became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896 after moving to the harbor town of Nikolayev on the Ukrainian coast of the Black Sea.[26] At first a narodnik (revolutionary agrarian socialist populist), he initially opposed Marxism but was won over to Marxism later that year by his future first wife, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya. In 1897, he graduated from his high school with a first class honours.[27] According to his relative, Valery Bronstein, his father had intended for Trotsky to become a mechanical engineer after leaving modern school.[28]

Trotsky briefly attended Odessa University studying engineering and mathematics.[2] He dropped out in early 1897 to help organize the South Russian Workers' Union in Nikolayev. Trotsky's university colleague and a prominent engineer who served as the Technical Director of the Baltic Shipyard had noted that he displayed an exceptional gift for mathematics.[27][29] Using the name "Lvov",[30] he wrote and printed leaflets and proclamations, distributed revolutionary pamphlets, and popularized socialist ideas among industrial workers and revolutionary students.[31]

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.[32] In the Moscow prison, he came into contact with other revolutionaries, heard about Lenin and read Lenin's book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia.[33] Two months into his imprisonment, on 1–3 March 1898, the first Congress of the newly formed Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was held.[34] From then on Trotsky identified as a member of the party.

First marriage and Siberian exile (1899–1902)[edit]

Trotsky's first wife Aleksandra Sokolovskaya with her brother (sitting on the left) and Trotsky (sitting on the right) in 1897

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.[35]

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 (1901–1933) and Nina (1902–1928), both born in Siberia.

In Siberia, Trotsky studied philosophy.[36] He became aware of the differences within the party, which had been decimated by arrests in 1898 and 1899. Some social democrats known in Leninist phraseology 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.[37] 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 (The Spark), which was founded in 1900. Trotsky quickly sided with the Iskra position and began writing for the paper.[38]

In the summer of 1902, at the urging of his wife, Aleksandra, Trotsky escaped from Siberia hidden in a load of hay on a wagon.[39] Aleksandra later escaped from Siberia with their daughters.[36] Both daughters married, and Zinaida had children, but the daughters died before their parents. Nina Nevelson died from tuberculosis in 1928, cared for in her last months by her older sister. Zinaida Volkova followed her father into exile in Berlin, taking her son by her second marriage but leaving behind a daughter in Russia. Suffering also from tuberculosis and depression, Zinaida committed suicide in 1933. Aleksandra disappeared in 1935 during the Great Purges in the Soviet Union under Stalin and was murdered by Soviet forces three years later.

First emigration and second marriage (1902–1903)[edit]

Until this point in his life, Trotsky had used his birth name: Lev (Leon) Bronstein.[40] 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.[41] This became his primary revolutionary pseudonym. After his escape from Siberia, Trotsky moved to London, joining Georgi Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, Julius Martov, and other editors of Iskra. Under the pen name Pero ("quill" or "pen"), Trotsky soon became one of the paper's leading writers.[12]

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.[42]

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 Sedova (1882–1962), who soon became his companion. They married in 1903, and she was with him until his death. They had two children together, Lev Sedov (1906–1938) and Sergei Sedov (1908–1937), 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.[43]

Trotsky never used the name "Sedov" either privately or publicly. Natalia Sedova sometimes signed her name "Sedova-Trotskaya".

Split with Lenin (1903–1904)[edit]

Trotsky in 1902

In the meantime, after a period of secret police repression and internal confusion that followed the First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1898, Iskra succeeded in convening the party's Second 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 Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1898 but wanted to remain autonomous within the party.[44]

Shortly after that, the pro-Iskra delegates unexpectedly split into two factions. The split was initially over an organisational issue. Lenin and his supporters, the Bolsheviks, argued for a smaller but highly organized party where only party members would be seen as members, while Martov and his supporters, the Mensheviks, argued for a bigger and less disciplined party where people who assisted the party would also be seen as members. In a surprise development, Trotsky and most of the Iskra editors 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.[45]

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.[46]

During their split, Lenin referred to Trotsky as "Little Judas" (Iudushka, based on the character from Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin's novel The Golovlyov Family),[47][48] a "scoundrel"[49] and a "swine".[50]

1905 revolution and trial (1905–1906)[edit]

The unrest and agitation against the Russian government came to a head in 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.[51]

On Sunday, 9 January 1905, Father Georgi Gapon knowingly led a procession of radicals mixed within larger groups of ordinary working citizens through the streets to the Winter Palace to supposedly beseech the Tsar for food and relief from the government. According to Gapon himself, he led the people into a Palace Guard already on the defensive due to the crowd instigating violence against them. They eventually fired on the demonstration, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of violent radicals, peaceful demonstrators and police caught within the melee. Although Sunday, 9 January 1905, became known as Bloody Sunday, Gapon's own biography points to a conspiracy. This was later confirmed by Russian police records listing the number of known militant radicals found among the dead.[52][53]

Police mugshots of Trotsky in 1905 after Soviet members were arrested during a meeting in the Free Economic Society building

Following the events of Bloody Sunday, Trotsky secretly returned to Russia in February 1905, by way of Kiev.[54] 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.[55]

On 19 September 1905, the typesetters at the Ivan Sytin's printing house 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.[56] Amid the resulting confusion, Trotsky returned from Finland to 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 half of all workers in Saint Petersburg.[57]

Trotsky in prison, awaiting trial, 1906

After his return, Trotsky and Parvus took over the newspaper Russian Gazette, increasing its circulation to 500,000. Trotsky also co-founded, together with Parvus and 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.[58]

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, the 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. He was a lawyer that stood above the political factions contained in the Soviet.[59]

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.[60] Indeed, to the outside world, Khrustalev-Nosar was the embodiment of the Saint Petersburg Soviet.[59] 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 foreign debts:[61]

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, on 3 December 1905, the Soviet was surrounded by troops loyal to the government and the deputies were arrested.[62] 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)[edit]

Trotsky with Alexander Parvus (left) and Leo Deutsch (right) in Saint Peter and Paul Fortress prison at Saint Petersburg in 1906

While en route to exile in Obdorsk, Siberia, in January 1907, Trotsky escaped at Berezov[63] 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 and, occasionally, of the German Social Democratic Party.[44]

In Vienna, Trotsky became close to Adolph Joffe, his friend for the next 20 years, who introduced him to psychoanalysis.[64]

Trotsky reading Pravda in Vienna, circa 1910

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 Adolph Joffe and Matvey Skobelev. It was smuggled into Russia.[65] The paper appeared very irregularly; only five issues were published in its first year.[65]

Avoiding factional politics, the paper proved popular with Russian industrial workers. Both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks split multiple times after the failure of the 1905–1907 revolution. Money was very scarce for the publication of Pravda. Trotsky approached the Russian Central Committee to seek financial backing for the newspaper throughout 1909.[66]

A majority of Bolsheviks controlled the Central Committee in 1910. Lenin agreed to the financing of "Pravda", but required a Bolshevik to be appointed as co-editor of the paper.[66] When various Bolshevik and Menshevik factions tried to re-unite at the January 1910 RSDLP Central Committee meeting in Paris over Lenin's objections,[67] 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. Kamenev resigned from the board amid mutual recriminations. Trotsky continued publishing Pravda for another two years until it finally folded in April 1912.[25]

The 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 Menshevik leader, bitterly denouncing Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Though he quickly got over the disagreement, the message was intercepted by the Russian secret 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.[12]

The 1910s were 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",[68] i.e., armed robbery of banks and other companies by Bolshevik groups to procure money for the Party. These actions had been banned by the 5th Congress, but were continued by the Bolsheviks.

Trotsky in Vienna

In January 1912, the majority of the Bolshevik faction, led by Lenin, as well as a few defecting Mensheviks, held a conference in Prague and 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 Bolsheviks and Mensheviks into one party. The attempt was generally unsuccessful.[44]

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".[69] 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. While there, Trotsky chronicled the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbian army against the Albanian civilian population.[70] He became a close friend of Christian Rakovsky, 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 which Austria-Hungary fought against the Russian Empire, Trotsky was forced to flee Vienna for neutral Switzerland to avoid arrest as a Russian émigré.[30]

World War I (1914–1917)[edit]

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, redividing the party into defeatists and defencists. Within the RSDLP, Lenin, Trotsky and Martov advocated various internationalist anti-war positions that saw defeat for your own country's ruling class imperialists as the "lesser evil" in the war, while they opposed all imperialists in the imperialist war. These anti-war believers were known as "defeatists". Those who supported one side over the other in the war were known as "defencists". Plekhanov and many other defencist social democrats (both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) supported the Russian government to some extent and wanted them to win the war, while Trotsky's ex-colleague Parvus, now a defencist, sided against Russia so strongly that he wanted Germany to win the war. 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,[71] and the pro-war position taken by the European social democratic parties, primarily the German party.

Leon Trotsky with his daughter Nina in 1915

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.[72]

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.[73]

In September 1916,[74] 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 over two 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.[75]

Trotsky was living in New York City when the February Revolution of 1917 led to the abdication of 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 month at 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".[76]

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.[76] Morris then forbade Trotsky to make any more public speeches, leading to 530 prisoners protesting and signing a petition against Morris' order.[76] 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.[76]

Trotsky arriving in Petrograd by train in May 1917

He reached 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 Petrograd, 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 faction.[77]

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 8 October [O.S. 25 September] 1917.[78]

Trotsky 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 Russian Provisional Government headed by socialist Aleksandr Kerensky.

The following summary of Trotsky's role in 1917 was written by Joseph Stalin in Pravda, 6 November 1918.[79] Although this passage was quoted in Stalin's book The October Revolution (1934),[79] it was expunged from Stalin's Works (1949).[80]

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 Bolshevik insurrection 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 other Bolshevik Central Committee members (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, etc.) to share power with other moderate, socialist parties. Trotsky was an outspoken advocate for a predominantly Bolshevik government and was reluctant to recall Mensheviks as partners after their voluntary withdrawal from the Congress of the Soviets. However, he released several, socialist ministers from prison and neither did Trotsky nor his colleagues in 1917 wish to suppress these parties. The Bolsheviks also reserved a number of vacant seats in the Soviets and Central Executive for the parties in proportion to their vote share at the Congress.[81]

At the same time, a number of prominent members of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries had assumed positions in Lenin's government and lead commissariats in several areas. This included agriculture (Kolegaev), property (Karelin), justice (Steinberg), post offices and telegraphs (Proshian) and local government (Trutovsky).[82]

According to Deutscher, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries presented a number of demands for a coalition government. These demands proposed disarming the Bolshevik detachments and excluding Lenin and Trotsky from the coalition. This was seen as unacceptable to even the most moderate, Bolshevik negotiators such as Kamenev and Sokolnikov.[83]

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.[editorializing]

Russian Revolution and aftermath[edit]

Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Brest-Litovsk (1917–1918)[edit]

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly on 6 January 1918. The Tauride Palace is locked and guarded by Trotsky, Sverdlov, Zinoviev, and Lashevich.

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. On 23 November 1917, Trotsky revealed the secret treaty arrangements which had been made between the Tsarist government, Britain and France, causing them considerable embarrassment.

Brest-Litovsk[edit]

Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev at the Brest-Litovsk negotiations (c. 1917–1918)

In preparation for peace talks with the representatives of the Imperial German government and the representatives of the other Central Powers leading up to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Leon Trotsky appointed his old friend Joffe to represent the Bolsheviks. When the Soviet delegation learned that Germans and Austro-Hungarians planned to annex slices of Polish territory and to set up a rump Polish state with what remained, while the Baltic provinces were to become client states ruled by German princes, the talks were recessed for 12 days. The Soviets' only hopes were that, given time, their allies would agree to join the negotiations or that the western European proletariat would revolt, so their best strategy was to prolong the negotiations. As Foreign Minister Leon Trotsky wrote, "To delay negotiations, there must be someone to do the delaying".[84] Therefore, Trotsky replaced Joffe as the leader of the Soviet delegation during the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk from 22 December 1917 to 10 February 1918.[85] 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 empire, and that only a revolutionary war leading to a pan-European Soviet republic would bring a durable peace.[86][87]

They cited the successes of the newly formed (15 January 1918) voluntary 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 used.[86]

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. Still, they were dead set against signing any peace treaty. In the case of a German ultimatum, they advocated proclaiming a revolutionary war against Germany 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.[88]

Territory lost under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

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:[89]

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 land grab for territories. Trotsky wrote in 1925:[90]

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?

Trotsky, in a letter he wrote to Lenin during the negotiations, which must have been written before January 18, 1918, described its policy, summarily, as follows:[91][92][93]

Dear Vladimir Ilyich
It is impossible to sign their peace. They already have agreed with fictitious Governments of Poland, Lithuania, Courland and others concerning territorial concessions and military and customs treaties. (...)
We cannot sign their peace. My plan is this:
We announce the termination of the war and demobilization without signing any peace. We declare we cannot participate in the looting war of the Allies nor can we sign a looting peace. Poland's, Lithuania's and Courland's fate we place upon the responsibility of the German working people.
The Germans will be unable to attack us after we declare the war ended. At any rate, it would be very difficult for Germany to attack us, because of her internal condition. The Scheidemannites adopted a formal resolution to break with the Government if it makes annexationist demands of the Russian revolution.
The Berliner Tageblatt and the Vossische Zeitung demand an understanding with Russia by all means. The Centrists favor an agreement. (...)
We declare we end the war but do not sign a peace. They will be unable to make an offensive against us. If they attack us, our position will be no worse than now (...)
We must have your decision. We can still drag on negotiations for one or two or three or four days. Afterward they must be broken off. I see no other solution than that proposed. I clasp your hand.
Yours,
TROTZKY.
Answer by direct wire: "I agree to your plan" or "I don't agree."

However, even though Lenin was in favor of a peace, due to party opposition, he basically responded with these messages from January 18, 1918:[94]

Message to Trotsky.
Stalin has just arrived; we will look into the matter with him and let you have a joint answer right away.
Lenin

Pass the following on to Trotsky: please adjourn proceedings and leave for Petrograd.
Send a reply; I will wait.
Lenin, Stalin

As it was remarked by Trotsky that, "[... p]ossibly this answer already showed that he did not agree with my proposition (...)", Trotsky returned to Petrograd to debate with Lenin.[95] During his debate with Trotsky, Lenin concluded: "(...) In any case, I stand for the immediate signing of peace; it is safer."[96]

However, after debates with the German delegation, Trotsky and the Russian delegation withdrew from peace talks on 10 February 1918, by declaring ending the war on the side of Soviet Russia, and not signing a peace treaty.[97] Contrary to Russia's declaration, 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. On 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, taking the final Brest-Litovsk peace terms.[98]

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 to remove a potential obstacle to the new policy.

Head of the Red Army (spring 1918)[edit]

Leon Trotsky speaks from his armoured train during the Russian Civil War in 1920

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 the controversial treaty of Brest-Litovsk.[88]

The entire Bolshevik leadership of the Red Army, including People's Commissar (defence minister) Nikolai Podvoisky and commander-in-chief Nikolai Krylenko, protested vigorously against Trotsky's appointment 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 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, forced 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.[99]

Civil War (1918–1920)[edit]

1918[edit]

An antisemitic[100] 1919 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".

The military situation soon tested Trotsky's managerial and organization-building skills. In May–June 1918, the Czechoslovak Legions en route from European Russia to 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.[101]

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 organisation of the Red Army as built on the ideas of the October Revolution. As he later wrote in his autobiography:[102]

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.

Another controversial feature of his military decisions was to inaugurate hostage-taking of relatives of ex-Tsarist officials working in the Red Army to avert the risk of defection or betrayal.[103] Service pointed out that this practice was exercised by both Red and White armies during the Civil War.[104]

Trotsky would later defend his decision and argue that none of the families of ex-officials who did betray the army and contribute to additional human casualties were themselves ever executed. He would also insist that had these draconian measures been adopted rather than excess “magnanimity” to opponents at the start of the October Revolution then Russia would have experienced far less casualties. [105] Deutscher draws attention to the fact that Trotsky preferred to exchange hostages and prisoners rather than execute them. He recounts that Trotsky had released General Krasnov on parole in 1918 after the Kerensky–Krasnov uprising during the initial stage of the civil war but the general would take up arms against the Soviets shortly again afterwards.[106]

Red Terror[edit]
European theatre of the Russian Civil War in 1918–19

Arising after assassination attempts on Vladimir Lenin and Trotsky along with the successful assassinations of Petrograd Cheka leader Moisei Uritsky and party editor V. Volodarsky,[107] the Red Terror was enacted. The French Reign of Terror has been viewed as an influence and a model for the civil war repressions.[108][10] The decision to enact the Red Terror was also driven by initial White Army massacres of "Red" prisoners in 1917, allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and the large-scale massacres of Reds during the Finnish Civil War in which 10,00-20,000 workers had been liquidated by the Finnish Whites.[107]

In his book, Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky, Trotsky argued that the reign of terror in Russia began with the White Terror under the White Guard forces and the Bolsheviks responded with the Red Terror.[109]

In December 1917, Felix Dzerzhinsky was appointed to the duty of rooting out counter-revolutionary threats to the Soviet government. He was the director of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (aka Cheka), a predecessor of the KGB that served as the secret police for the Soviets.[110]

From early 1918, the Bolsheviks started physical elimination of opposition and other socialist and revolutionary fractions, anarchists among the first.[111] On 11 August 1918, prior to the events that would officially catalyze the Terror, Vladimir Lenin had sent telegrams "to introduce mass terror" in Nizhny Novgorod in response to a suspected civilian uprising there, and to "crush" landowners in Penza who resisted, sometimes violently, the requisitioning of their grain by military detachments.[112]

Leonid Kannegisser, a young military cadet of the Imperial Russian Army, assassinated Moisey Uritsky on August 17, 1918, outside the Petrograd Cheka secret police headquarters in retaliation for the execution of his friend and other officers.[113]

On August 30, Socialist Revolutionary Fanny Kaplan unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Vladimir Lenin.[108][110]

During interrogation by the Cheka, she made the following statement:

"My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution. I was exiled to Akatui for participating in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev [now Kyiv]. I spent 11 years at hard labour. After the Revolution, I was freed. I favoured the Constituent Assembly and am still for it".[114]

In September 1918, Trotsky rushed back from the far-eastern front of the civil war to reach Moscow after the second day of the shooting and Stalin remained in Tsaritsyn.[115]

Kaplan referenced the Bolsheviks' growing authoritarianism, citing their forcible shutdown of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, the elections to which they had lost. When it became clear that Kaplan would not implicate any accomplices, she was executed in Alexander Garden. The order was carried out by the commander of the Kremlin, the former Baltic sailor P. D. Malkov and a group of Latvian Bolsheviks[116][page needed][non-primary source needed] on September 3, 1918, with a bullet to the back of the head.[117] Her corpse was bundled into a barrel and set alight. The order came from Yakov Sverdlov, who only six weeks earlier had ordered the murder of the Tsar and his family.[118][119]: 442 

These events persuaded the government to heed Dzerzhinsky's lobbying for greater terror against opposition. The campaign of mass repressions would officially begin thereafter.[108][110] The Red Terror is considered to have officially begun between 17 and 30 August 1918.[108][110] Regarding the 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, the Red Terror hastens the destruction of the bourgeoisie.[120]

Desertions[edit]

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.

The first use of the punitive barrier troops by the Red Army occurred in the late summer and fall of 1918 in the Eastern front during the Russian Civil War, when People's Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs (War Commissar) Leon Trotsky of the Communist Bolshevik government authorized Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the commander of the 1st Army, to station blocking detachments behind unreliable Red Army infantry regiments in the 1st Red Army, with orders to shoot if front-line troops either deserted or retreated without permission. The barrier troops comprised personnel drawn from Cheka punitive detachments or from regular Red Army infantry regiments.[121]

In December 1918 Trotsky ordered that detachments of additional barrier troops be raised for attachment to each infantry formation in the Red Army. On December 18 he cabled:

How do things stand with the blocking units? As far as I am aware they have not been included in our establishment and it appears they have no personnel. It is absolutely essential that we have at least an embryonic network of blocking units and that we work out a procedure for bringing them up to strength and deploying them.[121]

The barrier troops were also used to enforce Bolshevik control over food supplies in areas controlled by the Red Army, a role which soon earned them the hatred of the Russian civilian population.[122]

Trotsky with Demyan Bedny near Kazan, 1918

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.[123]

Trotsky with Lenin and Kamenev

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 the day-to-day operations of the army. At the same time, 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, this time 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.

In 1919, 616 "hardcore" deserters of the total 837,000 draft dodgers and deserters were executed following Trotsky's dracionan measures.[124] According to historian Orlando Figes, "a majority of deserters (most registered as "weak-willed") were handed back to the military authorities, and formed into units for transfer to one of the rear armies or directly to the front". Even those registered as "malicious" deserters were returned to the ranks when the demand for reinforcements became desperate". Forges also noted that the Red Army instituted amnesty weeks to prohibit punitive measures against desertion which encouraged the voluntary return of 98,000-132,000 deserters to the army.[125]

1919[edit]

Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev motivate the troops to fight in the Soviet-Polish war, 1 May 1920
Trotsky addressing soldiers of the Red Army during the Polish-Soviet War

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 later wrote:[99]

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.

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.[126]

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[127] to dismiss Trotsky from his post.

However, some significant changes to the leadership of the Red Army were made. Trotsky was temporarily sent to the Southern Front, while Smilga informally coordinated the work in Moscow. Most members of the 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 Cheka on 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 his support during the intra-Party battles of the 1920s.[128]

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[129] 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.

1920[edit]

Béla Kun, Alfred Rosmer, Leon Trotsky, Mikhail Frunze and Sergey Gusev, Kharkov, Ukraine, 1920

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. A false rumor of his assassination circulated in Germany and the international press on New Year's Day 1920.[130] Based on his experiences, he proposed abandoning the policies of War Communism,[131] which included confiscating grain from peasants, and partially restoring the grain market. Still committed to War Communism, Lenin rejected his proposal.

Mikhail Kalinin and Leon Trotsky greet Red Army troops. Polish–Soviet War.
Trotsky on an anti-Soviet Polish poster titled "Bolshevik freedom" which depicts him on a pile of skulls and holding a bloody knife, during the Polish–Soviet War of 1920. Small caption in the lower right corner reads:
The Bolsheviks promised:
We'll give you peace
We'll give you freedom
We'll give you land
Work and bread
Despicably they cheated
They started a war
With Poland

Instead of freedom they brought
The fist
Instead of land – confiscation
Instead of work – misery
Instead of bread – famine.

In early 1920, Soviet–Polish tensions eventually led to the Polish–Soviet War. In the run-up and during the war, Trotsky argued[127] 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 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."[132]

Poland defeated the Red Army, and the offensive was turned back during the Battle of Warsaw in August 1920. Back in Moscow, Trotsky again argued for a peace treaty, and this time prevailed.

Trade union debate (1920–1921)[edit]

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:

"....a regime in which every worker feels himself a soldier of labour, who cannot dispose of himself freely; if the order is given to transfer him, he must carry it out; if he does not carry it out, he will be a deserter who is punished. Who looks after this? The trade unions. It creates the new regime. This is the militarisation of the working class."[133]

Trotsky with Vladimir Lenin and Klim Voroshilov among soldiers in Petrograd in 1921.

Lenin sharply criticized 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 labour discipline is conceived only if the whole mass of participants in productions takes a conscious part in the fulfillment of these tasks. Bureaucratic methods and orders from above cannot achieve this." 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 (Krestinsky, 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. Krestinsky was replaced as a member of the 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.

Red Army troops attack Kronstadt sailors in March 1921.

Disappointed in the direction of the Bolshevik government, the rebels from Kronstadt—whom Leon Trotsky himself had praised earlier as "adornment and pride of the revolution"—demanded a series of reforms: reduction in Bolshevik power, newly elected soviet councils to include socialist and anarchist groups, economic freedom for peasants and workers, dissolution of the bureaucratic governmental organs created during the civil war, and the restoration of civil rights for the working class.[134]

Convinced of the popularity of the reforms they were fighting for (which they partially tried to implement during the revolt), the Kronstadt seamen waited in vain for the support of the population in the rest of the country and rejected aid from emigrants. Although the council of officers advocated a more offensive strategy, the rebels maintained a passive attitude as they waited for the government to take the first step in negotiations. By contrast, the authorities took an uncompromising stance, presenting an ultimatum demanding unconditional surrender on March 5. Once this period expired, the Bolsheviks raided the island several times and suppressed the revolt on March 18 after killing several thousand people.

At the end of the Tenth Congress, Trotsky himself gave the order for the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, which was the last major revolt against Bolshevik rule.[135] Trotsky presented alleged French press articles announcing the revolt two weeks before its outbreak as proof that the rebellion was a plan devised by the emigre and the forces of the Entente. Lenin used the same tactic to accuse the rebels a few days later at the 10th Party Congress.[136] Trotsky's role was questioned by other socialists, including ex-Trotskyists. In the United States, Dwight Macdonald broke with Trotsky and left the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party by noting the Kronstadt rebellion.[137] A similar critique of Trotsky's role in the Kronstadt rebellion was raised by American anarchist Emma Goldman. In her essay "Trotsky Protests Too Much", she states, "I admit, the dictatorship under Stalin's rule has become monstrous. That does not, however, lessen the guilt of Leon Trotsky as one of the actors in the revolutionary drama of which Kronstadt was one of the bloodiest scenes".[138][139][140] 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.[141] Other historians, most notably Paul Avrich, claimed the evidence did not point towards this conclusion, and saw the Kronstadt Rebellion as spontaneous.[142]

Trotsky's contribution to the Russian Revolution[edit]

Leon Trotsky, the People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, as the Guard of the October Revolution on 14 May 1923

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 the 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.[143]

Historian Geoffrey Swain argues that:

The 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.[144]

Lenin said in 1921 that Trotsky was "in love with organisation," 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.[145]

Lenin's illness (1922–1923)[edit]

Trotsky with Red Army soldiers in Moscow, 1922

In late 1921, Lenin's health deteriorated and 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.[d] Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev[e] 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[f] 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 bureaucratisation of the Soviet regime once the extreme conditions of the Civil War were over. Much of the Bolshevik elite wanted 'normality,' 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).[146] 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:[147]

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 (Sovnarkom). The Politburo approved the proposal, but Trotsky "categorically refused". Lenin's proposal has been interpreted by various scholars as evidence that he designated Trotsky as a successor as head of government.[148][149][150][151][152]

Trotsky with Rakovsky, c. 1924

In late 1922, Trotsky secured an alliance with Lenin against Stalin and the emerging Soviet bureaucracy.[153] Stalin had recently engineered the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), further centralising state control. The alliance proved effective on the issue of foreign trade[g] but was hindered by Lenin's progressing illness.

In January 1923, Lenin amended his Testament to suggest that Stalin should be removed as the party's general secretary, while also mildly criticising 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.[154] Instead, he made a speech about intra-party democracy while avoiding any direct confrontation of the troika.[h] 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.[155]

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 – Organiser of Victory"[i] published in Pravda on 14 March 1923. Stalin delivered the key reports on organisational 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.

The power struggle in the Soviet Union which emerged during Lenin's illness and eventual death would also determine the prospect of world revolution. In particular, the leadership of the German Communist party had requested that Moscow send Trotsky to Germany to direct the 1923 insurrection. However, this proposal was rejected by the Politburo which was controlled by Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev who decided to send a commission of lower-ranking Russian Communist party members.[157]

Left opposition (1923–1924)[edit]

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.[158]

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 neutralise, 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"[159] and other sins.

Trotsky defended his position in a series of seven letters which were collected as The New Course in January 1924.[160] 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 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.[161] In 1924, in a series of conferences at Sverdlov University; Stalin cited several times, in a critical way 'the Permanentists', as the followers of Trotsky 'Permanent revolution'.

Leon Trotsky with Soviet leaders write the letter of defiance to British Foreign Secretary Marquess Curzon of Kedleston in 1923, in a parody of Ilya Repin's Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks

Since the troika controlled the Party apparatus through Stalin's Secretariat and 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 Moscow Party organisation, 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"[j] as a "petty bourgeois deviation".

Internationally, Trotsky's opposition and criticism of the ruling troika received support from several, Central Committee members of foreign communist parties. This included Christian Rakovsky, Chairman of the Ukraine Sovnarkom, Boris Souvarine of the French Communist Party and the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party which was led by prominent theoreticians such as Maksymilian Horwitz, Maria Koszutska and Adolf Warski.[162]

After Lenin's death (1924)[edit]

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 conciliatory speech:[163]

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.[164]

Andrei Bubnov, Kliment Voroshilov, Leon Trotsky, Mikhail Kalinin, and Mikhail Frunze attend the October Revolution parade in Red Square on 7 November 1924

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 crystallise. 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 Yevgeni Preobrazhensky came out against further development of capitalist elements in the Soviet economy and in favour of faster industrialisation.[citation needed] 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,[165] an extensive summary of the events of the 1917 revolution.

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 emphasise 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 mobilised 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)[edit]

Leon Trotsky and Leonid Serebryakov attend the Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union in May 1925

For Trotsky, 1925 was a difficult year. 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[75] that he "was taking a rest from politics" and "naturally plunged into the new line of work up to my ears".[166] Trotsky would also deliver a tribute to Lenin in his 1925 short book, "Lenin".[167][168]

Some contemporary accounts paint a picture of a remote and distracted man.[169] 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.[170]

In one of the few political developments that affected Trotsky in 1925, the circumstances of the controversy over Lenin's Testament were described by American Marxist Max Eastman in his book Since Lenin Died (1925). Trotsky denied these statements made by Eastman in an article he wrote.[171]

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 XIV 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.

Leon Trotsky addresses a meeting in the House of the Unions in March 1926

United Opposition (1926–1927)[edit]

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.

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 became more and more extreme. At the XV 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 arrested.

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,[172] resulting in the abdication of the Chinese Emperor, Puyi, on 12 February 1912.[173] 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 country. This 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 Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalists to bring about a bourgeois revolution before attempting to bring about a Soviet-style working class revolution.[174]

Kalinin and Stalin bearing the coffin of Felix Dzerzhinsky on 22 July 1926. Trotsky can be seen over Kalinin's left shoulder.

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.[175] Stalin countered Trotskyist criticism by making a secret speech in which he said that Chiang Kai-shek's right-wing Kuomintang were the only ones capable of defeating the imperialists, that Chiang 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 Northern Expedition.[176][177]

Defeat and exile (1927–1928)[edit]

Trotsky with his wife Natalia and son Lev in Alma Ata, 1928

On the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, the Opposition held a street demonstration, and Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party shortly after.[178][179] Trotsky gave the eulogy at the funeral of his friend, the Soviet diplomat Adolph Joffe, in November 1927. It would be the last speech that Trotsky would give in the Soviet Union. When the XV 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 Union to Turkey in February 1929, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and their eldest son, Lev.[180]

Fate of Left Oppositionists after Trotsky's exile (1929–1941)[edit]

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 the 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.[181] 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.[181] 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").[182] 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.[183] However, Rakovsky was cited in allegations involving the killing of Sergey Kirov, and was arrested and imprisoned in late 1937, during the Great Purge.[184]

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 Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. Also among the Medvedev Forest victims was Trotsky's sister/Kamenev's first wife, Olga Kameneva.[13]

Exile (1929–1940)[edit]

Turkey[edit]

After being deported from the Soviet Union, in February 1929, Trotsky arrived in Turkey. During his first two months in Turkey, Trotsky lived with his wife and eldest son at the Soviet Union Consulate in Istanbul and then at a nearby hotel in the city. In April 1929, Trotsky, his wife and son were moved to the island of Büyükada by the Turkish authorities. On Büyükada, they were moved into a house called the Yanaros mansion.[185] 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.[186] At this time, he made requests to enter Belgium, France, Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom,[187] but all refused access.

Trotsky's house, the Yanaros mansion on the island of Büyükada in Turkey, as it appears today. Trotsky lived at the house from April 1929 until July 1933.

In 1931, Trotsky wrote a letter to a friend entitled "What is Fascism" in which he attempted to define fascism and asserted that the Communist International was wrong to describe the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera as "fascist" because it was not a mass movement arising from a base in the lower classes.[188]

On 20 February 1932, Trotsky and all of his family lost their Soviet citizenship and were forbidden to enter the Soviet Union.[189][190] In 1932, Trotsky entered via a port into the fascist Kingdom of Italy[191][192] on his way to a socialist conference in Denmark.[193] By the end of 1932, Trotsky had made contact with the anti-Stalin opposition inside the USSR and discussed the possibility of forming a bloc.[194] There was no evidence of any alliance with Nazi Germany or Japan, as the Soviet Union government claimed. The alleged members of the anti-Stalin bloc were Zinovievites, rightists and Trotskyists who "capitulated" to Stalin. Kamenev and Zinoviev were also alleged members of the bloc. Trotsky wanted by no means that the alliance became a fusion, and he was afraid of the right gaining much power inside the bloc. Historian Pierre Broué concluded that the bloc dissolved in early 1933, since some of its members like Zinoviev and Kamenev joined Stalin again, and because there were no letters in the Trotsky Harvard archive mentioning the bloc after 1932.[195]

France[edit]

In July 1933, Trotsky was offered asylum in France by Prime Minister Édouard Daladier. Trotsky accepted the offer, but he was forbidden to live in 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' house.[186] Following the 6 February 1934 crisis in France, the French minister of internal affairs, Albert Sarraut, signed a decree to deport Trotsky from France.[186] 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.[186]

In May 1935, soon after the French government had agreed to 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.

Norway[edit]

Konrad Knudsen's House in Veksal, Norderhov, Norway, where Trotsky lived from June 1935 to September 1936

After obtaining permission from 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. Trotsky was hospitalized for a few weeks at the nearby Oslo Community Hospital, from 19 September 1935.[196] 

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,[196] along with an increase in pressure from the Soviet government on the Norwegian authorities. On 5 August 1936, Knudsen's house was burgled by fascists from the Nasjonal Samling while Trotsky and his wife were out on a seashore trip with Knudsen and his wife. The 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.[197] Although the perpetrators were caught and put on trial, the "evidence" obtained in the burglary was used by the government to make claims against Trotsky.[196] 

On 14 August 1936, the Soviet Press Agency TASS announced the discovery of a "Trotskyist–Zinovievist" plot and the imminent start of the Moscow trials of the accused. Trotsky demanded a complete and open enquiry into Moscow's accusations. The accused were sentenced to death, including 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.[197] The following day Trotsky was interrogated by the police about his political activities, with the police officially citing Trotsky as a "witness" to the fascist raid of 5 August 1936.[198]

On 2 September 1936, four weeks after the break-in at Knudsen's house, Trygve Lie ordered that Trotsky and his wife be transferred to a farm in Hurum,[199] where they were under house arrest.[196] The treatment of Trotsky and his wife at Hurum was harsh, as they were forced to stay indoors for 22 hours per day under the constant guard of thirteen policemen, with only one hour permitted twice a day for a walk on the farm.[196] 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.[196] From October 1936, even the outdoor walks were prohibited for Trotsky and his wife.[196] Trotsky did eventually manage to smuggle out one letter on 18 December 1936, titled The Moscow "Confessions".[200] 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 Moscow Trials 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.[196] 

Mexico[edit]

Trotsky's house in Mexico City from April 1939 until his assassination in August 1940
Trotsky arrives in Mexico, January 1937 with his wife. Artist Frida Kahlo behind them.
A speech of Trotsky in Mexico, where he thanks Mexico and President Lázaro Cárdenas for receiving him, and says that Stalin's trial against him is based on false evidence

The Ruth arrived in Mexico on 9 January 1937.[196] 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.[201]

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.[202][203] She later presented him with Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky on his birthday, the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution.[204] His final move was a few blocks away to a residence on Avenida Viena in April 1939, following a break with Rivera.[203]

James Cannon and Felix Morrow with a bust of Trotsky

Trotsky wrote prolifically while 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. He 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 class.[205]

While in Mexico, Trotsky also worked closely with James Cannon, Joseph Hansen, and Farrell Dobbs of the Socialist Workers Party of the United States, and other supporters.[206] 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.[207]

While in Mexico, Trotsky worked with André Breton and Diego Rivera to write the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art, which inspired the creation of the organization, the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art (FIARI) in 1938. This organization was short-lived and ended before 1940.

Moscow show trials[edit]

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 every defendant guilty, in absentia, including Trotsky, sentencing them to death. 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. The findings were published in the book "Not Guilty".[208]

The 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[209][210]

Fourth International[edit]

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 said:[211]

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 International.[212]

In 1938, Trotsky and his supporters founded the Fourth International, which was intended to be a revolutionary and internationalist alternative to the Stalinist Comintern.

The Dies Committee[edit]

Trotsky with American comrades, including Harry DeBoer (left) in Mexico, shortly before his assassination, 1940

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 Jr., 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.[213]

Final months[edit]

After quarreling with Diego Rivera, Trotsky moved to his final residence on Avenida Viena in April 1939.[214] 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.[215] 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 loyal support:

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 youth.
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.
L. Trotsky
27 February 1940
Coyoacán.[215]

Assassination[edit]

The study where Leon Trotsky was assassinated with an ice axe on 20 August 1940

After a failed attempt to have Trotsky murdered in March 1939, Stalin assigned the overall organization of implementing the task to the NKVD officer Pavel Sudoplatov, who, in turn, co-opted Nahum Eitingon. According to Sudoplatov's Special Tasks, the NKVD proceeded to set up three NKVD agent networks to carry out the murder; these three networks were designed to operate entirely autonomously from the NKVD's hitherto-established spy networks in the U.S. and Mexico.[216]

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.[217] Trotsky's 14-year-old grandson, Vsevolod Platonovich "Esteban" Volkov (7 March 1926 – 16 June 2023), was shot in the foot. A young assistant and bodyguard of Trotsky, Robert Sheldon Harte, disappeared with the attackers and was later found murdered; it is probable that he was an accomplice who granted them access to the villa.[218] Trotsky's other guards fended off the attackers.[219] Following the failed assassination attempt, Trotsky wrote an article titled "Stalin Seeks My Death" on 8 June 1940, in which he stated that another assassination attempt was certain.[220][221]

On 20 August 1940, Trotsky was attacked in his study by Spanish-born NKVD agent Ramón Mercader, who used an ice axe[222] as a weapon.[223][k] The operation was known within the NKVD as "Operation Utka" (Operation Duck).

A mountaineering ice axe has a narrow end, called the pick, and a flat wide end called the adze. The adze of the axe wounded Trotsky, fracturing his parietal bone and penetrating 7 cm (2.8 in) into his brain.[225] The blow to his head was bungled and failed to kill Trotsky instantly. 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 beat Mercader to death, but Trotsky stopped them, laboriously stating that the assassin should be made to answer questions.[226] Trotsky was then taken to a hospital and operated on, surviving for more than a day, but dying, at the age of 60, on 21 August 1940 from exsanguination and shock.[227][225] 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.[226]

According to James Cannon, the Trotskyist secretary of the American Socialist Workers Party, Trotsky's last words were "I will not survive this attack. Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before."[228] Mercader was tried and convicted of the murder and spent the next 20 years in a Mexican prison. Stalin wrote that the assassin of Trotsky was a dangerous Trotskyist. This is why Mercader had no awards initially, though his mother was presented with the Order of Lenin for her own part of the operation. Ramón Mercader could not be either assassinated or freed from prison by the Soviets. When he was released from jail in 1960 and arrived in the USSR in 1961, Leonid Brezhnev signed a sentence to award Mercader the Order of Lenin, the Gold Star, and the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union "for the special deed". The KGB boss Alexander Shelepin presented all these awards to Ramón Mercader in person.[229][230]

In the aftermath of Trotsky's assassination, an estimated 300,000 people had passed by his funeral casket in Mexico City over several days by 27 August 1940.[231][232][233]

Personality and characteristics[edit]

Portrait of Leon Trotsky as Commander of the Red Army, 1920

Trotsky was regarded as an outstanding orator,[234] preeminent theoretician[235] and organiser that, in the view of historian Michael Kort, "forged and directed the Red Army".[236] He served as one of the original Politburo members in Lenin's government.[237][238] Biographer Isaac Deutscher considered him to be the "prompter of [the] planned economy and industrialization" during the early years of the Soviet Union.[239] Historian Laura Engelstein judged Trotsky to be personally fastidious, but possessing the qualities of vanity and volatility which were not shared with Lenin. Engelstein also described him as talented and dynamic, "but only a second in command".[240]

Political theorist Ernest Mandel summarised the dominant image of Trotsky as "self-confident",[241] "unshakeable in the conviction of his historic mission",[242] "strict with others and himself"[243] and "indifferent to material privileges and to the small joys and sorrows of life".[243] Mandel argued this image reflected "certain aspects of Trotsky's personality, strengths and weaknesses".[243]

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore described Trotsky as the "genius of the revolution"[244] and biographer Dmitri Volkogonov characterised him as a "vivid, complex, multi-faceted personality in the gallery of world figures" who was remembered "with hatred and respect, anger and admiration" decades after his assassination in Mexico.[245] Volkogonov also found Trotsky to be a constant "spectre" for Stalin, after his exile, and also wrote that he was "of a different calibre intellectually, with his grasp of organization and his talents as a speaker and writer". Volkogonov considered Trotsky "far superior" to figures such as Molotov, Kaganovich, Khrushchev, Zhdanov and "also superior to Stalin and Stalin knew it".[246]

Biographer Robert Service commented that he was a "volatile and untrustworthy",[234] "arrogant individual"[234] that impressed supporters even during the periods of "personal adversity in the 1920s and 1930s"[234] but failed to "coax and encourage them to the full".[234] Service stated that Trotsky gave the "minimum time to the Jewish question" and believed that "he ceased to be a Jew in any important sense because Marxism had burned out the fortuitous residues of his origins".[247]

Political scientist August Nimtz regarded Trotsky to have had better foresight than Marxist and some non-Marxist intellectual observers with his work The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (1936). Trotsky argued that the Stalinist regime was a "ephemeral phenomenon" and Nimtz believed this had later been proven with the Soviet collapse after 1989.[248] Other scholars have similarly described Trotsky as having a prescient judgement of events such as the rise of Nazi Germany and The Spanish Civil War through his political writings and levels of military accuracy.[249][250] Deutscher also referenced his "uncanny clear sightedness" in predicting the emergence of a single dictator who would "substitute himself" for the Central Committee, the party and the working class.[251]

Trotsky with his second wife in 1932

Trotsky was a Marxist intellectual.[252][253][254][255] Russian historian Vladimir Buldakov considered Trotsky, in some respect, a "typical representative" of "Russia's radical intelligentsia" who had "elements of bourgeois origin".[256] He had a diverse and profound range of interests which exceeded that of other Bolshevik theoreticians such as Nikolai Bukharin.[257] He also had a notable interest in literature and wrote on "everyday life and cultural progress as well as on the more customary Marxism of the day".[234] Trotsky and his second wife, Natalia Sedova enjoyed Viennese galleries and made frequent visits to museums such as the Louvre and the Tate Gallery across Europe to view specific art collections.[258] He also retained a personal interest in science which stemmed from his youth when he considered studying mathematics and physics at the New Russian University in Odessa.[259]

His personal secretary and later a historian of mathematical logic, Jean van Heijenoort, considered him to be amicable, inquisitive and occasionally charming with new acquaintances during his final years in Mexico.[260] Old Bolshevik Anatoly Lunacharsky viewed Trotsky as the best prepared among the Social-Democratic leaders during the 1905–07 revolution and stated that he "emerged from the revolution having acquired an enormous degree of popularity, whereas neither Lenin nor Martov had effectively gained any at all".[261]

His arch enemy, Stalin, even read and sometimes appreciated a great deal of his writings.[262] According to Rubenstein, Stalin had even acknowledged that "after Lenin, Trotsky was the most popular figure in the country" at the end of the Civil War.[152] He also recognized the prominent role of Trotsky during the October revolution in the 1917 Pravda editorial. Stalin himself wrote: "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".[263][264][265]

Upon his exile in 1929, eighteen of his close relatives remained in the Soviet Union and all were subjected to repressive measures with seven of his family members including his son Sergei Sedov, sister Olga Kameneva and brother Aleksandr Bronstein having been shot.[266] He spoke several European languages "with a markedly Russian accent"[267] and identified as a cosmopolitan and internationalist.[268] In the course of his life, Trotsky wrote about 30,000 documents, most of which are contained in various archives.[269] Deutscher stated that Trotsky wrote most of the Soviet's manifestos and resolutions, edited its Izvestia newspaper and also composed the oath of loyalty for the Red Army.[270] According to Mandel, Trotsky wrote the Zimmerwald Manifesto for the Zimmerwald Conference because he was radically opposed to World War I and drafted the Appeal for the Convocation of the First Comintern Congress due to his active involvement with the Third International.[271] He also served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International for the initial Congress sessions.[272][273][271]

Aside from his interest in political activism, Trotsky also worked as a statistician and a journalist.[274] Trotsky stated that he worked for three newspapers and oversaw the "Russian Gazette" with Alexander Parvus. He claimed that the circulation under his tenure had increased from 30,000 to 500,000.[275] However, historians Anthony Heywood and Jonathan Smele believe this was an exaggerated claim and cited circulation figures from the editors of Trotsky's collected works that the figures had in fact increased to 100,000 which they still regarded as impressive and comparatively ahead of Lenin's New Life newspaper by 20,000.[276]

Political stature and conflicts with Stalin[edit]

Had Trotsky won the struggle to succeed Lenin, the character of the Soviet regime would almost certainly have been substantially different, particularly in foreign policy, cultural policy, and the extent of terroristic repression. Trotsky's failure, however, seems to have been almost inevitable, considering his own qualities and the conditions of authoritarian rule by the Communist Party organization.

—Historian Robert Vincent Daniels, 1993[277]

Historian Robert Vincent Daniels expressed the view that Trotsky was "undoubtedly the most brilliant intellect brought to prominence by the Russian Revolution, outdistancing Lenin and other theoreticians both in the range of his interests and in the imaginativeness of his perceptions". Yet, he emphasised his personal arrogance as an underlying weakness which antagonised other members of the communist movement. Daniels also argued that had Trotsky assumed the role of Lenin's successor then he would have presided over an alternate Soviet Union markedly distinct from Stalin's regime.[277][278]

Contrarily, Service asserted that the succession of Trotsky would have resulted in a similar totalitarian dictatorship akin to Stalin's rule and increased the likelihood of conflict across the European continent.[279] Although, historian Sheila Fitzpatrick found it implausible that Trotsky like Stalin would have launched an anti-semitic campaign after World War II or initiated the Great Purge. Rather, she suggested Trotsky would presumably have provided good leadership during the Second World War but may have struggled to maintain party cohesion as seen during the succession struggle after 1924.[280] Political theorist David North argued that Trotsky's military policies would have averted the dismantlement of Soviet defenses alongside the high levels of human casualties associated with Operation Barbarossa and the Second World War.[281] Biographer Geoffrey Swain believed that the Soviet Union under the leadership of Trotsky would have been far more technocratic due to his reliance on "bourgeois experts" in the planning process.[282] Other scholars have pointed to the fact that Trotsky opposed the policy of forced collectivisation under Stalin and favoured a voluntary, gradual approach towards agricultural production as an area of differentiation.[283][284]

Trotsky as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs with the Soviet delegation at Brest-Litovsk, 1917

His enmity with Stalin developed during the Civil War with the latter's disregard of military specialists whom Trotsky considered indispensable for the success of the Red Army. In Tsaritsyn, Stalin ordered the imprisonment of several specialists on a barge in the Volga river and oversaw the sinking of the floating prison in which the officers perished.[285][286][287][288] Bazhanov also claimed that Stalin's antagonism towards Trotsky stemmed from the fact that he was Jewish and that the former would refuse to obey military orders during the Russian Civil War.[289] According to Rogovin, Trotsky received hundreds of letters reporting the use of anti-semitic methods during the inter-party struggle between Stalin and the United Opposition.[290]

Trotsky lacked the political acumen to succeed against Stalin's machinations.[291][149][292] Lenin had encouraged Trotsky, in his absence, to challenge Stalin at the Twelfth Party Congress over the Georgian Affair but the latter relented.[293] Historian Peter Kenez believed that Trotsky could probably have removed Stalin with the use of Lenin's testament but he "stupidly" acquiesced to the collective decision not to publish the document.[294] Historian Martin McCauley commented that Trotsky "displayed a lamentable lack of political judgement" on multiple occasions such as declining Lenin's proposal to become deputy chairman of Sovnarkom, failing to build a power base before forming a bloc with Lenin against the Orgburo and not immediately recognising that a triumvirate had been established to prevent his succession.[291] Rubenstein differed in his interpretation and attributed Trotsky's decision to decline Lenin's proposal because he believed the position had "little authority of its own" and overlapped with other government and party officials.[152] Deutscher believed he had underestimated Stalin's cunning, ruthlessness and tenacity on several occasions.[295] Political scientist Richard B.Day argued that it was more probable that Trotsky's interest in building socialism outweighted his desire for personal power.[296]

Historian Orlando Figes noted that Trotsky never held a party post and rarely attended party meetings despite serving as a member of the Politburo. Figes also described him as having "too many characteristics that made it extraordinarily hard to work collectively with him". [297] Biographer Joshua Rubenstein regarded Trotsky's position among the Soviet elites as largely dependent on Lenin. Rubenstein also added that he had an image of an outsider within party circles as he had previously been an "outspoken critic of Lenin".[298] Conversely, Volkongov stated that Trotsky had the support of many party intellectuals but this was overshadowed by the huge apparatus which included the GPU and the party cadres who were at the disposal of Stalin.[299] Historian Paul Dukes considered it a debatable notion that his personal "sophistication" as a political figure led to "his defeat in the great struggle of 1923 and after". He also reached the view that Trotsky did not share Stalin's understanding of the party in which "fewer than 10 percent of its members were fully literate" and this was in spite of the fact that Stalin "was a man of narrower outlook in virtually every respect".[300]

Trotsky himself ascribed his political defeat to external, objective conditions rather than the individual qualities of Stalin. He specifically argued that the failed series of international insurrections as seen in Bulgaria in 1923 and China in 1927 had diminished the prospect of world socialism and demoralised the Russian working class which in turn strengthened the growth of an internal, Soviet bureaucracy.[301] Russian historian Vadim Rogovin also remarked that Trotsky, in the 1930s, did not abandon hope for the spread of the revolution. Rogovin argued that Trotsky's prognosis of world events was plausible as a majority of European countries such as Germany, France, and especially Spain, "went through a period of revolutionary crisis".[302] Although, Daniels contended that Trotsky would have in reality been no more prepared than other Bolshevik figures to risk war or the loss of trade opportunities despite his support for world revolution.[303]

Relations with Lenin[edit]

Lenin delivering a speech to a crowd in Moscow Square, with Trotsky and Kamenev in the background, May 1920.

His relations with Lenin have been a source of intense historical debate.[304] Historian Paul Le Blanc and philosopher Michael Lowy described Lenin and Trotsky as the "widely leading figures in the Russia's Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 as well as in the final years of the rising world communist movement". They characterized Lenin and Trotsky as "fierce adversaries" during the early years of the Russian socialist movement but described the duo as having reached a convergence and a substantial agreement in 1917 before colliding their efforts to achieve the October Revolution. They also highlighted the mutual appreciation and respect between Lenin and Trotsky with the former seeking to work closely with Trotsky on the Iskra newspaper, prior to their polemical disagreements, and Lenin acknowledging that his theory on permanent revolution "happened to be right" after 1917.[305]

However, Swain viewed the notion that Trotsky was Lenin's natural heir a myth and cited several scholars such as Erik Van Rees, James White and Richard B.Day who Swain claimed had challenged the traditional characterization of their relationship.[306] North specifically rejected this position and argued Swain sought to discredit historical works appreciative of Trotsky. North continued to argue that Swain gave an insufficient consideration of the "complex historical, political, social and theoretical issues that arise in any serious study of the Lenin-Trotsky relationship". He also asserted that Swain had distorted and misrepresented the positions of the cited scholars.[307] Le Blanc also disputed Swain's representation of Trotsky and referenced various historians which included E.H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, Moshe Lewin, Ronald Suny and W. Bruce Lincoln across different generations. According to Le Blanc, these historians on balance had tilted "toward the view that Lenin's desired "heir" was collective responsibility in which Trotsky placed an important role and within which Stalin would be dramatically demoted (if not removed)".[308] Similarly, historian Roy Medvedev noted the close association of Trotsky and Lenin in the Soviet republic throughout the period of 1921–24. Medvedev mentioned a number of public commendations such as "greetings in honour of comrades Lenin and Trotsky were announced at many rallies and meetings, and portraits of Lenin and Trotsky hung on the walls of many Soviet and party institutions".[309]

Lenin and Trotsky (both photographed in 1920) were viewed as the leading figures in the first Soviet government

Initially, Lenin turned down the leading position of Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars when the Bolsheviks formed a new government, after the October Revolution in 1917, and suggested Trotsky for the position. However, Trotsky refused the position and other Bolsheviks insisted that Lenin assume principal responsibility which thereafter resulted in Lenin eventually accepting the role of chairman.[310][311][312] On a separate occasion, Lenin expressed hostility to the early attempts by the triumvirate to remove Trotsky from the leadership. In a 1922 memo written to Kamenev, he chastised the efforts by the Central Committee to "throw Trotsky overboard" as the "height of stupidity. If you do not consider me already hopelessly foolish, how can you think of that ?".[313][314] In his last testament, Lenin urged the wider party circles to not use and hold Trotsky's non-Bolshevik past against him.[315]

Soviet writer Maxim Gorky recollected Lenin in the first version of his sketch, V.I. Lenin, dismissing rumours of an alleged political difference between himself and Trotsky with the words: "There are many lies, and it seems, particularly many lies about me and Trotsky". Gorky also stated that Lenin made an approving assessment of Trotsky due to his military organisation of the army in a single year.[316] In the view of Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin was "pleased with the definite manner" of Trotsky's theoretical comprehension of diverging Russian revolutionary movements during their first meeting in 1902. She similarly expressed this view in a personal note after Lenin's death that her husband's attitude towards Trotsky had "not changed until his death" since their initial meeting in London.[305] In his final months, Lenin read several of Trotsky's works among a wider collection of books which interested him. Lenin read Problems of Everyday Life in the last month of his life and instructed Krupskaya to read him a passage from another of Trotsky's books that characterised Marxism and Leninism. Lenin also read Trotsky's pamphlet, The New Course, on the day prior to his death.[317] According to Stalin's secretary, Boris Bazhanov, Lenin "in general leaned towards a collegial leadership, with Trotsky in the first position".[318]

Lenin's succession[edit]

Comrade Trotsky, on the other hand, as his struggle against the C.C. on the question of the People's Commissariat of Communications has already proved, is distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C., but he has displayed excessive self-assurance and shown excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work.

—Lenin's testament; 1923[319][320][321][322] Most historians consider the document to be an accurate reflection of Lenin's views.[323][324]

Trotsky was generally viewed as Lenin's choice as a successor in 1923.[325][326] He had been nominated to be Lenin's deputy in 1922 and 1923 and assume responsbility over the Council of National Economy or Gosplan.[327] According to Mccauley, Lenin had revealed that he planned to retire to the Central Committee and made an arrangement for Trotsky to speak on his behalf as his natural successor which in turn triggered the formation of the troika.[328] Forges drew focus to the increasing alignment between Lenin and Trotsky in 1923. He cited Lenin's testament which was critical of Stalin and the bureaucracy along with their shared position on foreign trade, party reform and the Georgian affair.[329]

Rogovin interpreted Lenin's proposal to the Politburo that Trotsky be confirmed as the "First Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Sovnarkom" as signifying that he was entrusted "with the highest government post" and he argued that this was also considerable given Lenin's illness at the time. Rogovin also referenced a previous proposal by Lenin in 1917 to appoint Trotsky with another senior position as People's Commissar of Internal Affairs.[330] Yet, historian Richard Pipes dismissed the view that Trotsky was Lenin's successor due to his proposed and joint appointment as deputy chairman with Kamenev in 1922. Pipes attributed this overstated claim to Trotsky's supporters and explained that he had in fact been reprimanded by the party for "categorically refusing" the post.[331] Conversely, Medvedev stated that Trotsky "undoubtedly would have been first among Lenin's deputies" given his authority in 1922 and noted that Kamenev lacked any personal desire to become Chairman upon Lenin's death.[332]

Slavic studies scholar Derek Watson presumed that Trotsky would have been the first Vice-Chairman of an additional RSFSR body working alongside with the other deputies.[333] Deutscher argued that had Trotsky assumed the post of deputy, then it would have been difficult for Rykov to have been promoted above him as chairman after Lenin's death in 1924.[334] Polish historian Marian Kamil Dziewanowski also echoed these views and argued that had Trotsky accepted the post of Vice-Chairman then his prestige and power would have been strengthened as a counter-weight to Stalin's growing influence. Dziewanowski expressed the view that Trotsky as Vice-Chairman would have been a natural successor to Lenin as Chairman of the Soviet Union. However, his rejection of the position enabled Stalin to place Rykov as Lenin's successor and serve as a key ally in the Politburo against Trotsky.[335]

Russian peasants holding banners of Lenin (left), Marx (centre) and Trotsky (right) in early Soviet Russia.

Similarly, Soviet historian Victor Danilov believed that Lenin's proposed appointment of Trotsky as deputy "would have made him in effect Lenin's successor". Danilov also cited Politburo Secretary Bazhanov's notes of a concluding speech delivered by Trotsky in 1923 to the wider party membership. Trotsky explained his decision to decline the proposed position of Lenin's chief deputy due to concerns about his "Jewish origins" which could accentuate anti-semitic attitudes towards the Soviet Union.[336][337] Mccauley stated that Trotsky would "almost certainly" have become the successor had Lenin succumbed to his first stroke in 1922.[338] Deutscher noted that Zinoviev had been Lenin's closest discipline rather than Trotsky between 1907 and 1917. However, Zinoviev's opposition to the October revolution had strained his relations with Lenin.[339]

Opponents such as Winston Churchill even argued that "Lenin [had] indeed regarded Trotsky as his political heir" and sought to protect him before his passing in 1924.[340] Zinoviev and Kamenev also viewed Trotsky as Lenin's most likely successor and sided with Stalin out of fear that Trotsky would remove them from the party leadership.[341] However, his chief adversary Stalin, strongly denied claims that Trotsky was the succeeding chairman following Lenin's illness. He pointed out that Trotsky was expected to serve as one of several deputy chairmen under Lenin which included Kamenev, Rykov and Tsiurupa. Although, he did reference a written document signed by Lenin in 1922 which assigned Trotsky and Kamenev different areas of focus as deputy chairmen. Lenin's authorised document proposed Trotsky as deputy chairman of the Council of Commissars rather than Kamenev who was intended to serve only as a deputy chairman of the Labour Defence Council.[342] On Lenin’s initiative, Stalin requested the Central Committee that Trotsky be appointed Deputy Chairman and Chairman of Gosplan in January 1933 but he refused the position.[343][344] In his autobiography, My Life, Trotsky maintained that Lenin had intended for him to be his successor as Chairman of the Soviet Union with his proposed appointment as deputy. He explained that this process would have begun after their alliance in 1923 with the formation of a commission to mitigate the growth of the state bureaucracy which in turn would have facilitated the conditions for his succession in the party.[345]

Legacy[edit]

Leon Trotsky's grave in Coyoacán, where his ashes are buried

In 1923, the historic town of Gatchina in Petrograd Governorate (now Leningrad Oblast) was renamed Trotsk (Russian: Троцк) by the Soviet authorities after Lev Trotsky.[346] After Joseph Stalin became General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party (b), Trotsky was gradually exiled, and the town was renamed Krasnogvardeysk (Красногварде́йск, Red Guard City) in 1929. In 1944, to increase the morale of Russian troops, the town's historic name was restored.[347]

Trotsky's house in Coyoacán has been preserved in much the same condition as it was on the day he was assassinated there, and is now the Leon Trotsky House Museum in Mexico City, run by a board which included his grandson Esteban Volkov (1926–2023).[348] Trotsky's grave is located on its grounds. The foundation "International Friends of the Leon Trotsky Museum" has been organized to raise funds to improve the museum further.

Shortly before his assassination, Trotsky agreed to sell the bulk of the papers he still had to Harvard University. After his assassination, his widow, Natalya Sedova collected his remaining papers and shipped them to Harvard, and in the years following, Harvard managed to collect additional papers that had been hidden from both Soviet and Nazi agents in Europe.[349] These papers now occupy 65 feet (20 m) of shelf space in Harvard's Houghton Library.[350]

Trotsky was never rehabilitated during the rule of the Soviet government, despite the de-Stalinization-era rehabilitation of most other Old Bolsheviks killed during the Great Purges. His son, Sergei Sedov, who died 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 the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation (Certificates of Rehabilitation No. 13/2182-90, No. 13-2200-99 in Archives Research Center "Memorial").[351]

West German students holding a placard of Trotsky in 1968

Trinidadian historian CLR James wrote, in the aftermath of Trotsky's death, that he evoked strong feelings of enmity and fear from several political figures. According to James, this included Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill because "these men knew his stature, the power of what he stood for, and were never lulled by the smallness of his forces".[352]

Historian Harold Shukman assessed the conflicting perspectives on Trotsky's legacy in the Soviet Union and the Western world. He also commented on the lack of a balanced view. Specifically, he stated:

Trotsky's legacy, unlike those of Stalin and Lenin, had long been submerged and obliterated as a topic of debate, and his place in Soviet history books had correspondingly diminished to one of no importance. For Western readers, however, Trotsky has always been one of the most enigmatic and powerful personalities of the Russian revolution, a Mephistophelian figure whose life ended in an appropriately dramatic way.[353]

Political theorist David North attributed his diminished influence and historical role to the "virtually unlimited resources of the Soviet regime, and of Stalinist-run parties throughout the world, [which] were devoted to blackguarding Trotsky as an anti-Soviet saboteur, terrorist and fascist agent. Within the Soviet Union, his political co-thinkers, past and present, were ruthlessly exterminated".[354] North was also critical of the biographical literature on Trotsky's legacy written by some historians such as Ian Thatcher, Geoffrey Swain and Robert Service. He viewed these recent trends in historiography as "manifestations of the confluence of neo-Stalinist falsification and traditional Anglo-American anti-Communism".[355]

In 2018, John Kelly wrote that "almost 80 years after Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International, there are now Trotskyite organisations in 57 countries, including most of Western Europe and Latin America". However, he also argued that no Trotskyite group had ever led a revolution or built an enduring mass political party.[356]

Robert Alexander made a similar observation in 1991 that Trotskyists had never assumed power in any nation but explained that the international movement did "not enjoy the support of a well-established regime, as did the heirs of Stalinism". Alexander also recognised that the "persistence of the movement in a wide variety of countries" and the instability of political events across most of the world means the "possibility that a Trotskyist party might come to power in the foreseeable future cannot be totally ruled out".[357]

On the other hand, British historian and socialist Christian Høgsbjerg believed that academic literature on Trotskyism had minimised its historical role in building wider social movements. Høgsbjerg stressed the key role of British Trotskyists in various movements such as the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (1966-71), the Anti-Nazi League (1977-81), the Anti Poll Tax Federation (1989-91) and the Stop the War Coalition (2001).[358]

Historical reputation[edit]

Trotsky in his office, 1922

In modern historiography, Trotsky's legacy has evoked a range of conflicting and diverse views.[359] Biographer Paul Le Blanc stated "for millions of people throughout the world, Trotsky was initially seen as a revolutionary liberator".[360] He was viewed by contemporaries in the initial Soviet period and later historians as the hero of the revolution.[361] Historian Betrand Patenaunde also noted his social appeal among the Petrograd workers in which he drew "vast crowds of workers, soldiers and sailors in Petrograd with his spellbinding oratory in 1917".[362]

In the Soviet Union, his reputation gradually deteriorated over the course of the succession struggle as his views were presented as sectarian and anti-Leninist.[363] Throughout the Stalin era, his name and image would be erased from history books, museums and films. At the same time, Trotsky became a convenient bogeyman for Soviet affairs and was associated with ideological heresy.[364] The works of Trotsky also remained banned until the Gorbachev era.[365] Following the de-Stalinization period, later generations of Soviet and Russian historians would reevaluate his role in the history of the revolution with varying interpretations.[366]

Scholarly consensus holds Trotsky to have demonstrated remarkable leadership of the Red Army during the Civil War.[367] He had been awarded the Order of the Red Banner for his role in the Red Army such as organising the defence of Petrograd when other members of the Bolshevik leadership were prepared to abandon the former capital.[368] According to military scholar William C. Martel, scholars view Trotsky as "one of the outstanding figures in modern military history" and a "directing genius". Martell also regarded Trotsky alongside Marx, Engels and Lenin as instrumental in the development of principles which translated grand strategy into a guiding framework for revolutionary movements.[369]

A number of scholars and Western socialists have regarded Trotsky as a democratic alternative rather than a forerunner to Stalin with particular emphasis drawn to his activities in the pre-Civil War period and as leader of the Left Opposition.[370][371] Prior to the October Revolution, Trotsky had been part of an old radical democracy which included both Left Mensheviks and Left Bolsheviks.[372] He had also proposed the election of a new Soviet presidium with other socialist parties on the basis of proportional representation in September 1917.[373] Deutscher described Trotsky as the "Soviet's moving spirit" in 1905 and highlighted his representation of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and the rest of the Soviets on major occasions. [374] Rogovin stated that the Left Opposition, led by Trotsky, was a political movement that "offered a real alternative to Stalinism, and that to crush this movement was the primary function of the Stalinist terror". He also argued that the establishment of the one-party Soviet socialist system was due to the conditions which were "imposed on Bolshevism by hostile political forces".[375]

Conversely, other figures such as Volkogonov have strongly criticised his defence of the Red Terror and dictatorship of the proletariat.[376] Service argued that his "ideas and practices laid several foundation stones for the erection of the Stalinist political, economic, social and even cultural edifice".[377] Cherniaev considered Trotsky to be partly responsible for the establishment of a one-party, authoritarian state and initiating several military practices such as summary executions which later became standard practice during the Stalinist era.[143] Thatcher cited his defence of terror in his work, Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky, but also acknowledged that Trotsky was capable of leniency and had personally urged that White army deserters be treated with understanding.[378]

Bust of Trotsky at the Leon Trotsky House Museum in Mexico City, Mexico

This view has been disputed by some writers such as French socialist historian Pierre Broue who criticised Western representations of Trotsky's role in the Kronstadt rebellion which he argued had falsely presented Trotsky as the principal figure that led and was responsible for the repression. He also added that military tribunals and executions for desertions were a common feature of every war and not exclusive to the actions of the Red Army under Trotsky. [379] Dukes believed Trotsky had been maligned and caricatured as a historical figure which necessitated a historical reappraisal.[300] Patenaude regarded Service's characterisation of Trotsky as a "mass murderer and a terrorist" to be reflective of a wider attempt to discredit Trotsky as a historical figure and noted his work featured several inaccuracies and distortions of the historical record.[380] Daniels argued that many of the distinctive features of Stalin's rule such as his campaigns against "bourgeois experts" as seen with "the Shakhty trials, his contemptuous anti-intellectualism and the dogmatization of Marxism, the purges—run totally counter to Trotsky's thought".[381]

Various historians have credited Trotsky and the Left Opposition with shifting the Soviet economic orientation from the NEP policy towards a planned economy through their proposals for mass industrialization.[382] Trotsky had delivered a joint report to the April Plenum of the Central Committee in 1926 which proposed a program for national industrialization and the replacement of annual plans with five-year plans. His proposals were rejected by the Central Committee majority which was controlled by the troika and derided by Stalin at the time.[383] The eventual adoption of the five year plans in 1928 would serve as the basis for Soviet modernization.[384]

Several scholars have regarded his historical writings on the Soviet bureaucracy as having a considerable influence in shaping the receptive, attitudes of later Marxists and many non-Marxists. Trotsky associated bureaucratism with authoritarianism, excessive centralism and conservatism. Political scientist Baruch Knei-Paz argued that Trotsky had done more than any other political figure to "show the historical and social roots of Stalinism" as a bureaucratic system.[385] British cybernetician Stafford Beer who worked on a decentralized form of economic planning, Project Cybersyn from 1970 to 1973, was reported to have read and been influenced by Trotsky's critique of the Soviet bureaucracy.[386] Other historians have noted the literary value of his account of historical events and social analysis with works such as 1905 and The History of the Russian Revolution for wider historiography.[387][388]

Political ideology and contributions to Marxist theory[edit]

Trotsky reading The Militant, a socialist newsweekly, circa 1936

Trotsky considered himself to be a "Bolshevik-Leninist",[389] arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He viewed himself as an advocate of orthodox Marxism.[390] Trotsky also adhered to scientific socialism and viewed this as a conscious expression of historical processes.[391]

His politics differed in some aspects from those of Stalin or Mao Zedong, most importantly in his rejection of the theory of "socialism in one country" and his declaring of the need for an international "permanent revolution". Numerous Fourth Internationalist groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyists and see themselves as standing in this tradition. However, 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 and arguing that socialism cannot sustain itself without democracy.[392] In particular, Trotsky called for the restoration of the right of criticism in areas such as economic matters, the revitalization of trade unions and free elections of the Soviet parties.[393]

Trotsky also formulated a theory of fascism based on a dialectical interpretation of events to analyze the manifestation of Italian fascism and the early emergence of Nazi Germany from 1930 to 1933.[394]

Economic programme[edit]

The Scissor crisis: retail and wholesale prices of agricultural and industrial goods in the Soviet Union July 1922 to November 1923

Trotsky was an early proponent of economic planning since 1923 and favored an accelerated pace of industrialization.[395] In 1921, he had also been a prominent supporter of Gosplan as a newly established body and called for the strengthening of its formal responsibilities to support a balanced level of economic reconstruction after the Civil War.[396] Trotsky also urged economic decentralisation between the state, oblast regions and factories to counter structural inefficiency and the problem of bureaucracy.[397] His position differed from the majority of Soviet leaders at the time who supported the New Economic policy.[395][398] Inversely, he found allies among a circle of economic theorists and administrators which included Evgenii Preobazhensky and Georgy Pyatakov, deputy chairman of the Council of the National Economy.[399]

Trotsky had specified the need for the "overall guidance in planning i.e. the systematic co-ordination of the fundamental sectors of the state economy in the process of adapting to the present market" and urged for a national plan[400] alongside currency stabilization.[401] He also rejected the Stalinist conception of industrialisation which favoured heavy industry. Rather, he proposed the use of foreign trade as an accelerator and to direct investments by means of a system of comparative coefficients.[402]

Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev pictured in the mid-1920s as members of the United Opposition

Trotsky and the Left Opposition developed a number of economic proposals in response to the scissor crisis which had undermined relations between the workers and peasants in 1923–1924. This included a progressive tax on the wealthier sections of populations such as the kulaks and NEPmen alongside an equilibrium of the import-export balance to access accumulated reserves to purchase machinery from abroad to increase the pace of industrialization.[403][404]

The policy was later adopted by members of the United Opposition which also advocated a programme of rapid industrialization during the debates of 1924 and 1927. The United Opposition proposed a progressive tax on wealthier peasants, the encouragement of agricultural cooperatives and the formation of collective farms on a voluntary basis.[405]

Trotsky as president of the electrification commission along with members of the Opposition bloc had put forward an electrification plan which involved the construction of the hydroelectric Dnieprostroi dam.[406][407] He had also warned against the danger of market spontaneity and called for a well-thought out strategy of commercial balance. Overall, Trotsky was sharply critical of Bukharin and Stalin's views on the state of the Soviet economy. Russian historian, Vladimir Buldakov found that some historical research had supported the view that Trotsky advocated the most rational decisions for industrial development.[408]

In 1932-33, Trotsky maintained the need for mass participation in the operationalisation of the planned economy.[409] He elaborated on the need of Soviet democracy for the industrialization period when questioned by the Dewey Commission in 1937:

The successes are very important, and I affirmed it every time. They are due to the abolition of private property and to the possibilities inherent in planned economy. But, they – I cannot say exactly – but I will say two or three times less than they could be under a regime of Soviet democracy[410]

According to Fitzpatrick, the scholarly consensus was that Stalin appropriated the position of the Left Opposition on such matters as industrialisation and collectivisation.[411] Other scholars have argued that the economic programme of Trotsky differed from the forced policy of collectivisation implemented by Stalin after 1928 due to the levels of brutality associated with its enforcement.[412][413]

Permanent Revolution[edit]

A Diego Rivera mural (Man, Controller of the Universe) depicts Trotsky with Marx and Engels as a true champion of the workers' struggle

The Permanent Revolution concept 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 a "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 the 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. Trotsky first developed this conception 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." Some Trotskyists have argued 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 theory.[414]

United front[edit]

Trotsky was a central figure in the Comintern during its first four congresses. During this time, he helped to generalize 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 the 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 revolution.

Trotsky was a strong critic of the shifting Comintern policy position under Stalin which directed German Communists to treat social democrats as "social fascists". Historian Bertrand Patenaude believed that the Comintern policy following the "Great Break" facilitated the rise of Hitler's party.[415] Marxist theorist and economist Hillel Ticktin argued that Trotsky's political strategy and approach to fascism such as the emphasis on an organisational bloc between the German Communist Party and Social-Democratic party during the interwar period would very likely have prevented Hitler from ascending to political power.[416]

After he was exiled and politically marginalized 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 essential part of his political legacy.[417]

Uneven and combined development[edit]

The concept of uneven and combined development derived from the political theories of Trotsky.[418] This concept was developed in combination with the related theory of permanent revolution to explain the historical context of Russia. He would later elaborate on this theory to explain the specific laws of uneven development in 1930 and the conditions for a possible revolutionary scenario.[419] According to biographer Ian Thatcher, this theory would be later generalised to "the entire history of mankind".[420]

Political scientists Emanuele Saccarelli and Latha Varadarajan valued his theory as a "signal contribution" to the discipline of international relations. They argued his theory presented "a specific understanding of capitalist development as 'uneven', insofar as it systematically featured geographically divergent 'advanced' and 'backward' regions" across the world economy.[421]

Literary criticism and socialist culture[edit]

Cubist, stylized depictions of Trotsky which have been attributed to Yury Annenkov, 1921

In Literature and Revolution, Trotsky examined aesthetic issues in relation to class and the Russian revolution. Soviet scholar Robert Bird considered his work as the "first systematic treatment of art by a Communist leader" and a catalyst for later, Marxist cultural and critical theories.[422] Trotsky's writings on literature such as his 1923 survey which advocated tolerance, limited censorship and respect for literary tradition had strong appeal to the New York Intellectuals.[423]

Trotsky presented a critique of contemporary literary movements such as Futurism and emphasised a need of cultural autonomy for the development of a socialist culture. According to literary critic Terry Eagleton, Trotsky recognised "like Lenin on the need for a socialist culture to absorb the finest products of bourgeois art".[424] Trotsky himself viewed the proletarian culture as "temporary and transitional" which would provide the foundations for a culture above classes. He also argued that the pre-conditions for artistic creativity were economic well-being and emancipation from material constraints.[425]

Political scientist Baruch Knei-Paz characterised his view on the role of the party as transmitters of culture to the masses and raising the standards of education, as well as entry into the cultural sphere, but that the process of artistic creation in terms of language and presentation should be the domain of the practitioner. Knei-Paz also noted key distinctions between Trotsky's approach on cultural matters and Stalin's policy in the 1930s.[425]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

In popular culture


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Trotsky was People's Commissar for Military Affairs from 14 March 1918 and People's Commissar for Naval Affairs from April 1918 before the offices were merged on 12 November 1923.
  2. ^ Russian: Лев "Лейба" Давидович Бронштейн, tr. Lev "Leyba" Davidovich Bronshteyn, IPA: [lʲef lʲɪjbə dɐˈvʲidəvʲɪtɕ brɐnʂˈtʲejn].
  3. ^ /ˈtrɒtski/;[3] Russian: Лев Давидович Троцкий, tr. Lev Davidovich Trotskiy, IPA: [ˈlʲef ˈtrotskʲɪj] ; Ukrainian: Лев Давидович Троцький; also transliterated Lyev, Trotski, Trotskij, Trockij and Trotzky.
  4. ^ 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 Politburo member. Stalin took over the position as senior secretary, which was formalized at the XIth Party Congress in April 1922, with Molotov becoming second secretary.
  5. ^ 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.

  6. ^ 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.[citation needed] 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Radek wrote:[156]

    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.

  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ The murder weapon was an ice axe (and not an ice pick—an awl-like bartender's tool); this misnomer has been explained as being occasioned by the assassin's use of the French-language term picolet—meaning the winter-mountaineering tool which resembles the pickaxes used in mining and other excavations, and by the multiple languages spoken by those involved in reporting the details; many history and reference books have confused the two tools.[224]

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Works by Trotsky[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Works[edit]