Trotsky in 1921
|People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs of the Soviet Union|
13 March 1918 – 15 January 1925
|Preceded by||Nikolai Podvoisky|
|Succeeded by||Mikhail Frunze|
|People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR|
8 November 1917 – 13 March 1918
|Preceded by||Mikhail Tereshchenko|
|Succeeded by||Georgy Chicherin|
|President of the Petrograd Soviet|
8 October – 8 November 1917
|Full member of the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th,11th, 12th, 13th, 14th Politburo|
10 October 1917 – 23 October 1926
|Born||Lev Davidovich Bronstein
7 November 1879
near Yelizavetgrad, Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire(now in Ukraine)
|Died||21 August 1940 (aged 60)
Coyoacán, Federal District,Mexico
|Cause of death||Assassination|
Leon Trotsky[a] (/ˈtrɒtski/; Russian: Лев Дави́дович Тро́цкий; pronounced [ˈlʲɛf ˈtrotskʲɪj] ( listen); born Lev Davidovich Bronstein;[b] 7 November [O.S. 26 October] 1879 – 21 August 1940) was a Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founding leader of the Red Army.
Trotsky initially supported the Menshevik Internationalists faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He joined the Bolsheviks immediately prior to the 1917 October Revolution, and eventually became a leader within the Communist Party. He was, alongside Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Bubnov, one of the seven members of the first Politburo, founded in 1917 in order to manage the Bolshevik Revolution.During the early days of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the Soviet Union, he served first as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army with the title of People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs. He was a major figure in the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War (1918–1923).
After leading a failed struggle of the Left Opposition against the policies and rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and against the increasing role of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky was removed from power (October 1927), expelled from the Communist Party (November 1927), and finally exiled from the Soviet Union (February 1929). As the head of the Fourth International, Trotsky continued in exile to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. On Stalin’s orders, he was assassinated in Mexico in August 1940 by Ramón Mercader, a Spanish-born Soviet agent.
Trotsky’s ideas formed the basis of Trotskyism, a major school of Marxist thought that opposes the theories of Stalinism. He was one of the few Soviet political figures who were not rehabilitated by the government under Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s. In the late 1980s, his books were released for publication in the Soviet Union.
- 1Before the 1917 Revolution
- 1.1Childhood and family (1879–1895)
- 1.2Revolutionary activity and imprisonment (1896–1900)
- 1.3First marriage and Siberian exile (1900–1902)
- 1.4First emigration and second marriage (1902–1903)
- 1.5Split with Lenin (1903–1904)
- 1.61905 revolution and trial (1905–1906)
- 1.7Second emigration (1907–1914)
- 1.8World War I (1914–1917)
- 2Russian Revolution and Aftermath
- 2.1Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Brest-Litovsk (1917–1918)
- 2.2Head of the Red Army (spring 1918)
- 2.3Civil War (1918–1920)
- 2.4Trade union debate (1920–1921)
- 2.5Trotsky’s contribution to the Russian Revolution
- 2.6Lenin’s illness (1922–1923)
- 2.7Left opposition (1923–1924)
- 2.8After Lenin’s death (1924)
- 2.9A year in the wilderness (1925)
- 2.10United Opposition (1926–1927)
- 2.11Defeat and exile (1927–1928)
- 3Exile (1929–1940)
- 5Contributions to theory
- 6See also
- 9Further reading
- 10External links
Before the 1917 Revolution
Childhood and family (1879–1895)
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein on 7 November 1879, in Yanovka or Yanivka, in the Kherson governorate of the Russian Empire (now Bereslavka, in Ukraine), a small village 24 km (15 miles) from the nearest post office. He was the fifth of eight children of well-to-do farmers, David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922) and his wife Anna Lvovna (née Zhivotovskaya) (1850–1910). The family was of Jewish origin but reportedly not religious. The language they spoke at home was Surzhyk, a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian. Trotsky’s younger sister, Olga, who also grew up to be a Bolshevik and a Soviet politician, married the prominent BolshevikLev Kamenev.
Much attention has been given by anti-Communists, anti-Semites, and anti-Trotskyists, to Trotsky’s original surname, stressing the political and historical significance of the name Bronstein. Some authors, notably Robert Service, have also claimed that Trotsky’s childhood first name was the Yiddish “Leiba”. The American Trotskyist David North remarked that this was an apparent attempt to emphasize Trotsky’s Jewish origins, that contrary to Service’s claims there is no documentary evidence to support it, and that it is highly improbable, since the family did not speak Yiddish. Both North and Walter Laqueur in their books say that Trotsky’s childhood name was Lyova, a standard Russian diminutive of the name “Lev”.
When Trotsky was nine, his father sent him to Odessa to be educated. He was enrolled in a German school, which became Russified during his years in Odessa, as a result of the Imperial government’s policy of Russification. 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.Although Trotsky stated in his autobiography My Life that he was never perfectly fluent in any language but Russian and Ukrainian, Raymond Molinier wrote that Trotsky spoke French fluently.
Revolutionary activity and imprisonment (1896–1900)
Trotsky became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896 after moving to the harbor town of Nikolayev (now Mykolaiv) on the Ukrainian coast with the Black Sea. At first a narodnik (revolutionarypopulist), he was introduced to Marxism later that year, which he originally opposed. Instead of pursuing a mathematics degree, Trotsky helped organize the South Russian Workers’ Union in Nikolayev in early 1897. Using the name ‘Lvov’, he wrote and printed leaflets and proclamations, distributed revolutionary pamphlets, and popularized socialist ideas among industrial workers and revolutionary students.
In January 1898, more than 200 members of the union, including Trotsky, were arrested. He spent the next two years in prison awaiting trial, first in Nikolayev, then Kherson, then Odessa, and finally in Moscow. In the Moscow prison he came into contact with other revolutionaries. There he first heard about Lenin and read Lenin’s book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, and gradually became a Marxist. Two months into his imprisonment, on 1 – 3 March 1898, the first Congress of the newly formed Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was held. From then on Trotsky identified as a member of the party.
First marriage and Siberian exile (1900–1902)
In 1900 he was sentenced to four years in exile. Because of the marriage, Trotsky and his new wife were allowed to be exiled to the same location in Siberia. Accordingly, the couple was exiled to Ust-Kut and the Verkholensk in the Baikal Lake region of Siberia. They had two daughters, Zinaida (1901 – 5 January 1933) and Nina (1902 – 9 June 1928), both born in Siberia.
In Siberia, Trotsky studied philosophy. There he became aware of the differences within the party, which had been decimated by arrests in 1898 and 1899. Some social democrats known as “economists” argued that the party should focus on helping industrial workers improve their lot in life and were not so worried about changing the government or thought that these 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 was led by the London-based newspaper Iskra, or in English, The Spark, which was founded in 1900. Trotsky quickly sided with the Iskra position and began writing for Iskra.
Leon and Alexandra soon separated and divorced, but maintained a friendly relationship. Their children were later raised by Trotsky’s parents. Both daughters married and Zinaida had children, but the daughters died before their parents. Nina Nevelson died from tuberculosis (TB), cared for in her last months by her older sister. Zinaida Volkova died after following her father into exile in Berlin with her son by her second marriage, leaving her daughter in Russia. Suffering also from tuberculosis, then a fatal disease, anddepression, Volkova committed suicide. Alexandra disappeared in 1935 during the Great Purges, and was murdered by Stalinist forces three years later.
First emigration and second marriage (1902–1903)
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Until this point in his life Trotsky had used his real name—Lev or Leon Bronstein. It was at this time that he changed his name 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, which became his primary revolutionary pseudonym. After his escape from Siberia, he moved to London to join Georgi Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, Julius Martovand other editors of Iskra. Under the pen name Pero (“feather” or “pen” in Russian), Trotsky soon became one of the paper’s leading authors.
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. Not only were Plekhanov’s supporters older (in their 40s and 50s), but they 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 come from Russia. Lenin, who was trying to establish a permanent majority against Plekhanov within Iskra, expected Trotsky, then 23, to side with the new guard and wrote in March 1903:
I suggest to all the members of the editorial board that they co-opt ‘Pero’ as a member of the board on the same basis as other members. […] We very much need a seventh member, both as a convenience in voting (six being an even number), and as an addition to our forces. ‘Pero’ has been contributing to every issue for several months now; he works in general most energetically for the Iskra; he gives lectures (in which he has been very successful). In the section of articles and notes on the events of the day, he will not only be very useful, but absolutely necessary. Unquestionably a man of rare abilities, he has conviction and energy, and he will go much farther.
Because of Plekhanov’s opposition, Trotsky did not become a full member of the board. But, from then on he participated in its meetings in an advisory capacity, which earned him Plekhanov’s enmity.
In late 1902, Trotsky met Natalia Ivanovna Sedova, who soon became his companion and, from 1903 until his death, his wife. They had two children together, Lev Sedov (1906 – 16 February 1938) and Sergei Sedov (21 March 1908 – 29 October 1937), both of whom would predecease their parents. Regarding his sons’ surnames, Trotsky later explained that after the 1917 revolution:
In order not to oblige my sons to change their name, I, for “citizenship” requirements, took on the name of my wife.
Trotsky never used the name “Sedov” either privately or publicly. Natalia Sedova sometimes signed her name “Sedova-Trotskaya”.
Split with Lenin (1903–1904)
In the meantime, after a period of secret police repression and internal confusion that followed the first party Congress in 1898, Iskra succeeded in convening the party’s 2nd congress in London in August 1903. Trotsky and other Iskra editors attended. The first congress went as planned, with Iskra supporters handily defeating the few “economist” delegates. Then the congress discussed the position of the Jewish Bund, which had co-founded the RSDLP in 1898 but wanted to remain autonomous within the party.
Shortly thereafter, the pro-Iskra delegates split into two factions. Lenin and his supporters, the Bolsheviks, argued for a smaller but highly organized party while Martov and his supporters, the Mensheviks, argued for a larger and less disciplined party. In a surprise development, Trotsky and most of the 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.
From 1904 until 1917, he described himself as a “non-factional social democrat”. Trotsky spent much of his time between 1904 and 1917 trying to reconcile different groups within the party, which resulted in many clashes with Lenin and other prominent party members. Trotsky later 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, which led to a close working relationship with Alexander Parvus in 1904–1907.
1905 revolution and trial (1905–1906)
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 Saint Petersburg. This single strike grew into a general strike and by 7 January 1905 there were 140,000 strikers in Saint Petersburg. On Sunday, 9 January 1905, Father Georgi Gapon led a peaceful procession of citizens through the streets to the Winter Palace to beseech the tsar for food and relief from the oppressive government. The peaceful demonstration was fired upon by the Palace Guard resulting in the death of 1,000 demonstrators. Thus, Sunday 9 January 1905 became known as Bloody Sunday.
Following the events of Bloody Sunday, Trotsky secretly returned to Russia in February 1905, by way of Kiev. At first he wrote leaflets for an underground printing press in Kiev, but soon moved to the capital, Saint Petersburg, where he worked with both Bolsheviks, such as Central Committee member Leonid Krasin, and the local Menshevik committee, which he pushed in a more radical direction. The latter, however, were betrayed by a secret police agent in May, and Trotsky had to flee to rural Finland. There he worked on fleshing out his theory of permanent revolution.
On 19 September 1905, the typesetters at the Sytin Print Works in Moscow went out on strike for shorter hours and higher pay. By the evening of 24 September, the workers at 50 other printing shops in Moscow were also on strike. On 2 October 1905, the typesetters in printing shops in Saint Petersburg, decided to strike in support of the Moscow strikers. On 7 October 1905, the railway workers of the Moscow–Kazan Railway went out on strike. The confusion engendered by these strikes made it possible for Trotsky to return from Finland to Saint Petersburg on 15 October 1905. On the same day that he returned to Saint Petersburg, Trotsky appeared before the Saint Petersburg Soviet Council of Workers Deputies which was meeting at the Technological Institute in Saint Petersburg. Not only were the elected Deputies present at this meeting, but also attending were some 200,000 people—about 50% of all workers in Saint Petersburg. After returning to the capital, Trotsky and Parvus took over the newspaper Russian Gazette and increased 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.
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. Khrustalev-Nosar was a lawyer that stood above the political factions contained in the Soviet. However, since his election, he proved to be very popular with the workers in spite of the Bolsheviks’ original opposition to him. Khrustalev-Nosar became famous in his position as spokesman for the Saint Petersburg Soviet. Indeed, to the outside world, Khrustalev-Nosar was the embodiment of the Saint Petersburg Soviet. Trotsky joined the Soviet under the name “Yanovsky” (after the village he was born in, Yanovka) and was elected vice-Chairman. He did much of the actual work at the Soviet and, after Khrustalev-Nosar’s arrest on 26 November 1905, was elected its chairman. On 2 December, the Soviet issued a proclamation which included the following statement about the Tsarist government and its foreign debts:
The autocracy never enjoyed the confidence of the people and was never granted any authority by the people. We have therefore decided not to allow the repayment of such loans as have been made by the Tsarist government when openly engaged in a war with the entire people.
The following day, the Soviet was surrounded by troops loyal to the government and the deputies were arrested. Trotsky and other Soviet leaders were tried in 1906 on charges of supporting an armed rebellion. At the trial on 4 October 1906, Trotsky delivered one of the best speeches of his life.[clarification needed] It was this speech that solidified his reputation as an effective public speaker. He was convicted and sentenced to internal exile to Siberia.
Second emigration (1907–1914)
While en route to exile in Obdorsk, Siberia, in January 1907, Trotsky escaped at Berezov and once again made his way to London, where he attended the 5th Congress of the RSDLP. In October, he moved to Vienna where he often took part in the activities of theAustrian Social Democratic Party and, occasionally, of the German Social Democratic Party, for seven years.
In Vienna, Trotsky became close to Adolph Joffe, his friend for the next 20 years, who introduced him to psychoanalysis. In October 1908 he was asked to join the editorial staff of Pravda (“Truth”), a bi-weekly, Russian-language social democratic paper for Russian workers, which he co-edited with Joffe, Matvey Skobelev and Victor Kopp. It was smuggled into Russia. The paper appeared very irregularly, only five issues appeared in the first year of publication. However, the paper avoided factional politics and 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 publication of Pravda. Trotsky approached the Russian Central Committee to seek financial backing for the newspaper throughout 1909. The Central Committee was controlled by a majority of Bolsheviks, at this time, in 1910. Thus, Lenin agreed to the financing of Pravda, but required a Bolshevik be appointed as co-editor of the paper. When various Bolshevik and Menshevik factions tried to re-unite at the January 1910 RSDLP Central Committee meeting in Paris over Lenin’s objections, Trotsky’s Pravda was made a party-financed ‘central organ’. Lev Kamenev, Trotsky’s brother-in-law, was added to the editorial board from the Bolsheviks, but the unification attempts failed in August 1910 when Kamenev resigned from the board amid mutual recriminations. Trotsky continued publishing Pravda for another two years until it finally folded in April 1912.
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 letter was intercepted by the police, and a copy was put into their archives. Shortly after Lenin’s death in 1924, the letter was pulled out of the archives and made public by Trotsky’s opponents within the Communist Party to portray him as Lenin’s enemy.
This was a period of heightened tension within the RSDLP, leading to numerous frictions between Trotsky, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The most serious disagreement that Trotsky and the Mensheviks had with Lenin at the time was over the issue of “expropriations”, i.e., armed robbery of banks and other companies by Bolshevik groups to procure money for the Party. These actions had been banned by the 5th Congress, but were continued by the Bolsheviks.
In January 1912, the majority of the Bolshevik faction, led by Lenin and a few Mensheviks, held a conference in Prague and expelled their opponents from the party. In response, Trotsky organized a “unification” conference of social democratic factions in Vienna in August 1912 (a.k.a. “The August Bloc”) and tried to re-unite the party. The attempt was generally unsuccessful.
In Vienna, Trotsky continuously published articles in radical Russian and Ukrainian newspapers, such as Kievskaya Mysl, under a variety of pseudonyms, often using “Antid Oto”. In September 1912, Kievskaya Mysl sent him to the Balkans as its war correspondent, where he covered the two Balkan Wars for the next year and became a close friend of Christian Rakovsky. The latter was later a leading Soviet politician and Trotsky’s ally in the Soviet Communist Party. On 3 August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, in which Austria-Hungary fought against the Russian empire, Trotsky was forced to flee Vienna for neutral Switzerland to avoid arrest as a Russian émigré.
World War I (1914–1917)
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The outbreak of World War I caused a sudden realignment within the RSDLP and other European social democratic parties over the issues of war, revolution, pacifism and internationalism. Within the RSDLP, Lenin, Trotsky and Martov advocated various internationalist anti-war positions, while Plekhanov and other social democrats (both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) supported the Russian government to some extent. In Switzerland, Trotsky briefly worked within the Swiss Socialist Party, prompting it to adopt an internationalist resolution. He wrote a book opposing the war, The War and the International, and the pro-war position taken by the European social democratic parties, primarily the German party. As a war correspondent for the Kievskaya Mysl, Trotsky moved to France on 19 November 1914. In January 1915 in Paris, he began editing (at first with Martov, who soon resigned as the paper moved to the left) Nashe Slovo (“Our Word”), an internationalist socialist newspaper. He adopted the slogan of “peace without indemnities or annexations, peace without conquerors or conquered.” Lenin advocated Russia’s defeat in the war and demanded a complete break with theSecond International.
Trotsky attended the Zimmerwald Conference of anti-war socialists in September 1915 and advocated a middle course between those who, like Martov, would stay within the Second International at any cost and those who, like Lenin, would break with the Second International and form a Third International. The conference adopted the middle line proposed by Trotsky. At first opposed, in the end Lenin voted for Trotsky’s resolution to avoid a split among anti-war socialists.
On 31 March Trotsky was deported from France to Spain for his anti-war activities. Spanish authorities did not want him and deported him to the United States on 25 December 1916. He arrived in New York City on 13 January 1917. He stayed for nearly three months at 1522 Vyse Avenue in The Bronx. In New York he wrote articles for the local Russian language socialist newspaper, Novy Mir, and the Yiddish-language daily, Der Forverts (The Jewish Daily Forward), in translation. He also made speeches to Russian émigrés. He was officially earning some $15 a week.
Trotsky was living in New York City when the February Revolution of 1917 overthrew Tsar Nicholas II. He left New York on 27 March, 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. After initial hesitation, the Russian foreign minister Pavel Milyukov demanded the release of Trotsky as a Russian citizen, and the British government freed him on 29 April.
He reached Russia on 4 May. After his return, Trotsky substantively agreed with the Bolshevik position, but did not join them right away. Russian social democrats were split into at least six groups, and the Bolsheviks were waiting for the next party Congress to determine which factions to merge with. Trotsky temporarily joined the Mezhraiontsy, a regional social democratic organization in Saint Petersburg, and became one of its leaders. At the First Congress of Soviets in June, he was elected a member of the first All-Russian Central Executive Committee (“VTsIK”) from the Mezhraiontsy faction.
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. He sided with Lenin against Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev when the Bolshevik Central Committee discussed staging an armed uprising, and he led the efforts to overthrow the Provisional Government headed byAleksandr Kerensky.
The following summary of Trotsky’s role in 1917 was written by Stalin in Pravda, 10 November 1918. Although this passage was quoted in Stalin’s book The October Revolution (1934), it was expunged from Stalin’sWorks (1949).
All practical work in connection with the organization of the uprising was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the President of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee was organized.
After the success of the uprising on 7–8 November, 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 socialist parties. By the end of 1917, Trotsky was unquestionably the second man in the Bolshevik Party after Lenin. He overshadowed the ambitious Zinoviev, who had been Lenin’s top lieutenant over the previous decade, but whose star appeared to be fading. This reversal of position contributed to continuing competition and enmity between the two men, which lasted until 1926 and did much to destroy them both.
Russian Revolution and Aftermath
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Brest-Litovsk (1917–1918)
After the Bolsheviks came to power, Trotsky became the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and published the secret treaties previously signed by the Triple Entente that detailed plans for post-war reallocation of colonies and redrawing state borders.
Trotsky led the Soviet delegation during the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk from 22 December 1917 to 10 February 1918. At that time the Soviet government was split on the issue. Left Communists, led by Nikolai Bukharin, continued to believe that there could be no peace between a Soviet republic and a capitalist country and that only a revolutionary war leading to a pan-European Soviet republic would bring a durable peace. They cited the successes of the newly formed (15 January 1918) 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. They did not mind holding talks with the Germans as a means of exposing German imperial ambitions (territorial gains, reparations, etc.) in the hope of accelerating the hoped−for Soviet revolution in the West, but they were dead set against signing any peace treaty. In case of a German ultimatum, they advocated proclaiming a revolutionary war against Germany in order to inspire Russian and European workers to fight for socialism. This opinion was shared by Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who were then the Bolsheviks’ junior partners in a coalition government.
Lenin, who had earlier hoped for a speedy Soviet revolution in Germany and other parts of Europe, quickly decided that the imperial government of Germany was still firmly in control and that, without a strong Russian military, an armed conflict with Germany would lead to a collapse of the Soviet government in Russia. He agreed with the Left Communists that ultimately a pan-European Soviet revolution would solve all problems, but until then the Bolsheviks had to stay in power. Lenin did not mind prolonging the negotiating process for maximum propaganda effect, but, from January 1918 on, advocated signing a separate peace treaty if faced with a German ultimatum. Trotsky’s position was between these two Bolshevik factions. Like Lenin, he admitted that the old Russian military, inherited from the monarchy and the Provisional Government and in advanced stages of decomposition, was unable to fight:
That we could no longer fight was perfectly clear to me and that the newly formed Red Guard and Red Army detachments were too small and poorly trained to resist the Germans.
But he agreed with the Left Communists that a separate peace treaty with an imperialist power would be a terrible morale and material blow to the Soviet government, negate all its military and political successes of 1917 and 1918, resurrect the notion that the Bolsheviks secretly allied with the German government, and cause an upsurge of internal resistance. He argued that any German ultimatum should be refused, and that this might well lead to an uprising in Germany, or at least inspire German soldiers to disobey their officers since any German offensive would be a naked grab for territories. He wrote in 1925:
We began peace negotiations in the hope of arousing the workmen’s party of Germany and Austria-Hungary as well as of the Entente countries. For this reason we were obliged to delay the negotiations as long as possible to give the European workman time to understand the main fact of the Soviet revolution itself and particularly its peace policy. But there was the other question: Can the Germans still fight? Are they in a position to begin an attack on the revolution that will explain the cessation of the war? How can we find out the state of mind of the German soldiers, how to fathom it?
Throughout January and February 1918, Lenin’s position was supported by 7 members of the Bolshevik Central Committee and Bukharin’s by 4. Trotsky had 4 votes (his own, Felix Dzerzhinsky‘s,Nikolai Krestinsky‘s and Adolph Joffe‘s) and, since he held the balance of power, he was able to pursue his policy in Brest-Litovsk. When he could no longer delay the negotiations, he withdrew from the talks on 10 February 1918, refusing to sign on Germany’s harsh terms. After a brief hiatus, the Central Powers notified the Soviet government that they would no longer observe the truce after 17 February. At this point Lenin again argued that the Soviet government had done all it could to explain its position to Western workers and that it was time to accept the terms. Trotsky refused to support Lenin since he was waiting to see whether German workers would rebel and whether German soldiers would refuse to follow orders.
Germany resumed military operations on 18 February. Within a day, it became clear that the German army was capable of conducting offensive operations and that Red Army detachments, which were relatively small, poorly organized and poorly led, were no match for it. In the evening of 18 February 1918, Trotsky and his supporters in the committee abstained and Lenin’s proposal was accepted 7–4. The Soviet government sent a radiogram to the German side accepting the final Brest-Litovsk peace terms.
Germany did not respond for three days, and continued its offensive encountering little resistance. The response arrived on 21 February, but the proposed terms were so harsh that even Lenin briefly thought that the Soviet government had no choice but to fight. But in the end, the committee again voted 7–4 on 23 February 1918; the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March and ratified on 15 March 1918. Since Trotsky was so closely associated with the policy previously followed by the Soviet delegation at Brest-Litovsk, he resigned from his position as Commissar for Foreign Affairs in order to remove a potential obstacle to the new policy.
Head of the Red Army (spring 1918)
The failure of the recently formed Red Army to resist the German offensive in February 1918 revealed its weaknesses: insufficient numbers, lack of knowledgeable officers, and near absence of coordination and subordination. Celebrated and feared Baltic Fleet sailors, one of the bastions of the new regime led by Pavel Dybenko, fled from the German army at Narva. The notion that the Soviet state could have an effective voluntary or militia type military was seriously undermined.
Trotsky was one of the first Bolshevik leaders to recognize the problem and he pushed for the formation of a military council of former Russian generals that would function as an advisory body. Lenin and the Bolshevik Central Committee agreed on 4 March to create the Supreme Military Council, headed by former chief of the imperial General Staff Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich.
The entire Bolshevik leadership of the Red Army, including People’s Commissar (defense minister) Nikolai Podvoisky and commander-in-chief Nikolai Krylenko, protested vigorously and eventually resigned. They believed that the Red Army should consist only of dedicated revolutionaries, rely on propaganda 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, conscription and reliance on carefully supervised non-Communist military experts eventually led to the Military Opposition (Russian: Военная оппозиция), which was active within the Communist Party in late 1918–1919.
On 13 March 1918, Trotsky’s resignation as Commissar for Foreign Affairs was officially accepted and he was appointed People’s Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs – in place of Podvoisky – and chairman of the Supreme Military Council. The post of commander-in-chief was abolished, and Trotsky gained full control of the Red Army, responsible only to the Communist Party leadership, whose Left Socialist Revolutionary allies had left the government over Brest-Litovsk. With the help of his deputy Ephraim Sklyansky, Trotsky spent the rest of the Civil War transforming the Red Army from a ragtag network of small and fiercely independent detachments into a large and disciplined military machine, through forced conscription, party-controlled blocking squads, compulsory obedience and officers chosen by the leadership instead of the rank and file. He defended these positions throughout his life.
Civil War (1918–1920)
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.
Trotsky and the government responded with a full-fledged mobilization, which increased the size of the Red Army from fewer than 300,000 in May 1918 to one million in October, and an introduction of political commissars into the army. The latter had the task of ensuring the loyalty of military experts (mostly former officers in the imperial army) and co-signing their orders. Trotsky regarded the organization of the Red Army as built on the ideas of the October Revolution. As he later wrote in his autobiography:
An army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the army command has the death-penalty in its arsenal. So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements—the animals that we call men—will build armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear. And yet armies are not built on fear. The Tsar’s army fell to pieces not because of any lack of reprisals. In his attempt to save it by restoring the death-penalty, Kerensky only finished it. Upon the ashes of the great war, the Bolsheviks created a new army. These facts demand no explanation for any one who has even the slightest knowledge of the language of history. The strongest cement in the new army was the ideas of the October revolution, and the train supplied the front with this cement.
In response to Fanya Kaplan‘s failed assassination of Lenin on 30 August 1918, and to the successful assassination of the Petrograd Cheka chief Moisei Uritsky on 17 August 1918, the Bolsheviks instructed Felix Dzerzhinsky to commence a Red Terror, announced in the 1 September 1918 issue of the Krasnaya Gazeta (Red Gazette). 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.
In dealing with deserters, Trotsky often appealed to them politically, arousing them with the ideas of the Revolution.
In the provinces of Kaluga, Voronezh, and Ryazan, tens of thousands of young peasants had failed to answer the first recruiting summons by the Soviets … The war commissariat of Ryazan succeeded in gathering in some fifteen thousand of such deserters. While passing through Ryazan, I decided to take a look at them. Some of our men tried to dissuade me. “Something might happen,” they warned me. But everything went off beautifully. The men were called out of their barracks. “Comrade-deserters – come to the meeting. Comrade Trotsky has come to speak to you.” They ran out excited, boisterous, as curious as schoolboys. I had imagined them much worse, and they had imagined me as more terrible. In a few minutes, I was surrounded by a huge crowd of unbridled, utterly undisciplined, but not at all hostile men. The “comrade-deserters” were looking at me with such curiosity that it seemed as if their eyes would pop out of their heads. I climbed on a table there in the yard, and spoke to them for about an hour and a half. It was a most responsive audience. I tried to raise them in their own eyes; concluding, I asked them to lift their hands in token of their loyalty to the revolution. The new ideas infected them before my very eyes. They were genuinely enthusiastic; they followed me to the automobile, devoured me with their eyes, not fearfully, as before, but rapturously, and shouted at the tops of their voices. They would hardly let me go. I learned afterward, with some pride, that one of the best ways to educate them was to remind them: “What did you promise Comrade Trotsky?” Later on, regiments of Ryazan “deserters” fought well at the fronts.
Given the lack of manpower and the 16 opposing foreign armies, Trotsky also insisted on the use of former Tsarist officers as military specialists within the Red Army, in combination with Bolshevik political commissars to ensure the revolutionary nature of the Red Army. Lenin commented on this:
When Comrade Trotsky informed me recently that the number of officers of the old army employed by our War Department runs into several tens of thousands, I perceived concretely where the secret of using our enemy lay, how to compel those who had opposed communism to build it, how to build communism with the bricks which the capitalists had chosen to hurl against us! We have no other bricks! And so, we must compel the bourgeois experts, under the leadership of the proletariat, to build up our edifice with these bricks. This is what is difficult; but this is the pledge of victory.
In September 1918 the Bolshevik government, facing continuous military difficulties, declared what amounted to martial law and reorganized the Red Army. The Supreme Military Council was abolished and the position of commander-in-chief was restored, filled by the commander of the Latvian Riflemen, Ioakim Vatsetis (a.k.a. Jukums Vācietis), who had formerly led the Eastern Front against the Czechoslovak Legions. Vatsetis took charge of day-to-day operations of the army while Trotsky became chairman of the newly formedRevolutionary Military Council of the Republic and retained overall control of the military. Trotsky and Vatsetis had clashed earlier in 1918, while Vatsetis and Trotsky’s adviser Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich were also on unfriendly terms. Nevertheless, Trotsky eventually established a working relationship with the often prickly Vatsetis.
The reorganization caused yet another conflict between Trotsky and Stalin in late September. Trotsky appointed former imperial general Pavel Pavlovich Sytin to command the Southern Front, but in early October 1918 Stalin refused to accept him and so he was recalled[by whom?] from the front. Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov tried to make Trotsky and Stalin reconcile, but their meeting proved unsuccessful.
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 theVIIIth 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:
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. The Red Army had defeated the White Army’s spring offensive in the east and was about to cross the Ural Mountains and enter Siberia in pursuit of Admiral Alexander Kolchak‘s forces. But in the south, General Anton Denikin‘s White Russian forces advanced, and the situation deteriorated rapidly. On 6 June commander-in-chief Vatsetis ordered the Eastern Front to stop the offensive so that he could use its forces in the south. But the leadership of the Eastern Front, including its commanderSergey Kamenev (a former colonel of the Imperial army), and Eastern Front Revolutionary Military Council members Ivar Smilga, Mikhail Lashevich and Sergey Gusev vigorously protested and wanted to keep the emphasis on the Eastern Front. They insisted that it was vital to capture Siberia before the onset of winter and that once Kolchak’s forces were broken, many more divisions would be freed up for the Southern Front. Trotsky, who had earlier had conflicts with the leadership of the Eastern Front, including a temporary removal of Kamenev in May 1919, supported Vatsetis.
At the 3–4 July Central Committee meeting, after a heated exchange the majority supported Kamenev and Smilga against Vatsetis and Trotsky. Trotsky’s plan was rejected and he was much criticized for various alleged shortcomings in his leadership style, much of it of a personal nature. Stalin used this opportunity to pressure Lenin to dismiss Trotsky from his post. But when Trotsky offered his resignation on 5 July, the Politburo and the Orgburo of the Central Committee unanimously rejected it.
However, some significant changes to the leadership of the Red Army were made. Trotsky was temporarily sent to the Southern Front, while the work in Moscow was informally coordinated by Smilga. Most members 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, Vatsetis 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 support during the intra-Party battles of the 1920s.
By October 1919, the government was in the worst crisis of the Civil War: Denikin’s troops approached Tula and Moscow from the south, and General Nikolay Yudenich‘s troops approached Petrograd from the west. Lenin decided that since it was more important to defend Moscow, Petrograd would have to be abandoned. Trotsky argued that Petrograd needed to be defended, at least in part to prevent Estonia and Finland from intervening. In a rare reversal, Trotsky was supported by Stalin and Zinoviev and prevailed against Lenin in the Central Committee. He immediately went to Petrograd, whose leadership headed by Zinoviev he found demoralized, and organized its defense, sometimes personally stopping fleeing soldiers. By 22 October the Red Army was on the offensive and in early November, Yudenich’s troops were driven back to Estonia, where they were disarmed and interned. Trotsky was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for his actions in Petrograd.
With the defeat of Denikin and Yudenich in late 1919, the Soviet government’s emphasis shifted to the economy. Trotsky spent the winter of 1919–1920 in the Urals region trying to restart its economy. Based on his experiences, he proposed abandoning the policies of War Communism, which included confiscating grain from peasants, and partially restoring the grain market. Still committed to War Communism, Lenin rejected his proposal. He put Trotsky in charge of the country’s railroads (while retaining overall control of the Red Army), which he directed should be militarized in the spirit of War Communism. It was not until early 1921, due to economic collapse and social uprisings, that Lenin and the rest of the Bolshevik leadership abandoned War Communism in favor of the New Economic Policy.
In early 1920, Soviet–Polish tensions eventually led to the Polish–Soviet War. In the run-up and during the war, Trotsky argued that the Red Army was exhausted and the Soviet government should sign a peace treaty with Poland as soon as possible. He did not believe that the Red Army would find much support in Poland proper. Lenin later wrote that he and other Bolshevik leaders believed the Red Army’s successes in the Russian Civil War 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.”
The Red Army offensive was turned back during the Battle of Warsaw in August 1920, in part because of Stalin’s failure to obey Trotsky’s orders in the run-up to the decisive engagements. Back in Moscow, Trotsky again argued for a peace treaty and this time prevailed.
Trade union debate (1920–1921)
In late 1920, after the Bolsheviks won the Civil War and before the Eighth and Ninth Congress of Soviets, the Communist Party had a heated and increasingly acrimonious debate over the role of trade unions in the Soviet state. The discussion split the party into many “platforms” (factions), including Lenin’s, Trotsky’s and Bukharin’s; Bukharin eventually merged his with Trotsky’s. Smaller, more radical factions like the Workers’ Opposition (headed by Alexander Shlyapnikov) and the Group of Democratic Centralism were particularly active.
Trotsky’s position formed while he led a special commission on the Soviet transportation system, Tsektran. He was appointed there to rebuild the rail system ruined by the Civil War. Being the Commissar of War and a revolutionary military leader, he saw a need to create a militarized “production atmosphere” by incorporating trade unions directly into the State apparatus. His unyielding stance was that in a worker’s state the workers should have nothing to fear from the state, and the State should fully control the unions. In the Ninth Party Congress he argued for “such a regime under which each worker feels himself to be a soldier of labor who cannot freely dispose of himself; if he is ordered transferred, he must execute that order; if he does not do so, he will be a deserter who should be punished. Who will execute this? The trade union. It will create a new regime. That is the militarization of the working class.” Lenin sharply criticised Trotsky and accused him of “bureaucratically nagging the trade unions” and of staging “factional attacks”. His view did not focus on State control as much as the concern that a new relationship was needed between the State and the rank-and-file workers. He said, “Introduction of genuine labor discipline is conceived only if the whole mass of participants in productions take a conscious part in the fulfillment of these tasks. This cannot be achieved by bureaucratic methods and orders from above.” This was a debate that Lenin thought the party could not afford. His frustration with Trotsky was used by Stalin and Zinoviev with their support for Lenin’s position, to improve their standing within the Bolshevik leadership at Trotsky’s expense.
Disagreements threatened to get out of hand and many Bolsheviks, including Lenin, feared that the party would splinter. The Central Committee was split almost evenly between Lenin’s and Trotsky’s supporters, with all three Secretaries of the Central Committee (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. At the end of the Tenth Congress, after peace negotiations had failed, Trotsky gave the order for the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion, the last major revolt against Bolshevik rule.
Years later, anarchist Emma Goldman and others criticized Trotsky’s actions as Commissar for War for his role in the suppression of the rebellion, and argued that he ordered unjustified incarcerations and executions of political opponents such as anarchists, although Trotsky did not participate in the actual suppression. Some Trotskyists, most notably Abbie Bakan, have argued that the claim that the Kronstadt rebels were “counterrevolutionary” has been supported by evidence of White Army and French government support for the Kronstadt sailors’ March rebellion. Other historians, most notably Paul Avrich, claimed the evidence did not point towards this conclusion, and saw the Kronstadt Rebellion as spontaneous.
Trotsky’s contribution to the Russian Revolution
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.
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.
Lenin said in 1921 that Trotsky was “in love with organization,” but in working politics, “he has not got a clue.” Swain explains the paradox by arguing that Trotsky was not good at teamwork; he was a loner who had mostly worked as a journalist, not as a professional revolutionary like the others.
Lenin’s illness (1922–1923)
In late 1921 Lenin’s health deteriorated, he was absent from Moscow for even longer periods, and eventually had three strokes between 26 May 1922 and 10 March 1923, which caused paralysis, loss of speech and finally death on 21 January 1924. With Lenin increasingly sidelined throughout 1922, Stalin (elevated to the newly created position of the Central Committee general secretary[c] earlier in the year), Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev[d] formed a troika (triumvirate) to ensure that Trotsky, publicly the number-two-man in the country and Lenin’s heir presumptive, would not succeed Lenin.
The rest of the recently expanded Politburo (Rykov, Mikhail Tomsky, Bukharin) was at first uncommitted, but eventually joined the troika. Stalin’s power of patronage[e] in his capacity as general secretary clearly played a role, but Trotsky and his supporters later concluded that a more fundamental reason was the process of slow bureaucratization of the Soviet regime once the extreme conditions of the Civil War were over: much of the Bolshevik elite wanted ‘normalcy’ while Trotsky was personally and politically personified as representing a turbulent revolutionary period that they would much rather leave behind.
Although the exact sequence of events is unclear, evidence suggests that at first the troika nominated Trotsky to head second rate government departments (e.g., Gokhran, the State Depository for Valuables) and then, when Trotsky predictably refused, tried using it as an excuse to oust him. At this time there was speculation about Trotsky’s health and whether he had epilepsy.
When, in mid-July 1922, Kamenev wrote a letter to the recovering Lenin to the effect that “(the Central Committee) is throwing or is ready to throw a good cannon overboard”, Lenin was shocked and responded:
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”.
In late 1922, Lenin’s relationship with Stalin deteriorated over Stalin’s heavy-handed and chauvinistic handling of the issue of merging Soviet republics into one federal state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). At that point, according to Trotsky’s autobiography, Lenin offered Trotsky an alliance against Soviet bureaucracy in general and Stalin in particular. The alliance proved effective on the issue of foreign trade,[f] but it was complicated by Lenin’s progressing illness. In January 1923 the relationship between Lenin and Stalin completely broke down when Stalin rudely insulted Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. At that point Lenin amended his Testament suggesting that Stalin should be replaced as the party’s general secretary, although the thrust of his argument was somewhat weakened by the fact that he also mildly criticized other Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky. In March 1923, days before his third stroke, Lenin prepared a frontal assault on Stalin’s “Great-Russian nationalistic campaign” against the Georgian Communist Party (the so-called Georgian Affair) and asked Trotsky to deliver the blow at the XIIth Party Congress. With Lenin no longer active, Trotsky did not raise the issue at the Congress.
At the XIIth Party Congress in April 1923, just after Lenin’s final stroke, the key Central Committee reports on organizational and nationalities questions were delivered by Stalin and not by Trotsky, while Zinoviev delivered the political report of the Central Committee, traditionally Lenin’s prerogative.[g] Stalin’s power of appointment had allowed him to gradually replace local party secretaries with loyal functionaries and thus control most regional delegations at the congress, which enabled him to pack the Central Committee with his supporters, mostly at the expense of Zinoviev and Kamenev’s backers.
At the congress, Trotsky made a speech about intra-party democracy, among other things, but avoided a direct confrontation with the troika. The delegates, most of whom were unaware of the divisions within the Politburo, gave Trotsky a standing ovation, which couldn’t help but upset the troika. The troika was further infuriated by Karl Radek‘s article Leon Trotsky – Organizer of Victory[h] published in Pravda on 14 March 1923.
The resolutions adopted by the XIIth Congress called, in general terms, for greater democracy within the Party, but were vague and remained unimplemented. In an important test of strength in mid-1923, the troika was able to neutralize Trotsky’s friend and supporterChristian Rakovsky by removing him from his post as head of the Ukrainian government (USSR Radnarkom) and sending him to London as Soviet ambassador. When regional Party secretaries in Ukraine protested against Rakovsky’s reassignment, they too were reassigned to various posts all over the Soviet Union.
Left opposition (1923–1924)
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Starting in mid-1923, the Soviet economy ran into significant difficulties, which led to numerous strikes countrywide. Two secret groups within the Communist Party, “Workers’ Truth” and “Workers’ Group”, were uncovered and suppressed by the Soviet secret police. On 8 October 1923 Trotsky sent a letter to the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, attributing these difficulties to lack of intra-Party democracy. Trotsky wrote:
In the fiercest moment of War Communism, the system of appointment within the party did not have one tenth of the extent that it has now. Appointment of the secretaries of provincial committees is now the rule. That creates for the secretary a position essentially independent of the local organization. […] The bureaucratization of the party apparatus has developed to unheard-of proportions by means of the method of secretarial selection. […] There has been created a very broad stratum of party workers, entering into the apparatus of the government of the party, who completely renounce their own party opinion, at least the open expression of it, as though assuming that the secretarial hierarchy is the apparatus which creates party opinion and party decisions. Beneath this stratum, abstaining from their own opinions, there lies the broad mass of the party, before whom every decision stands in the form of a summons or a command.
Other senior communists who had similar concerns sent The Declaration of 46 to the Central Committee on 15 October in which they wrote:
[…] we observe an ever progressing, barely disguised division of the party into a secretarial hierarchy and into “laymen”, into professional party functionaries, chosen from above, and the other party masses, who take no part in social life. […] free discussion within the party has virtually disappeared, party public opinion has been stifled. […] it is the secretarial hierarchy, the party hierarchy which to an ever greater degree chooses the delegates to the conferences and congresses, which to an ever greater degree are becoming the executive conferences of this hierarchy.
Although the text of these letters remained secret at the time, they had a significant effect on the Party leadership and prompted a partial retreat by the troika and its supporters on the issue of intra-Party democracy, notably in Zinoviev’sPravda article published on 7 November. Throughout November, the troika tried to come up with a compromise to placate, or at least temporarily neutralize, Trotsky and his supporters. (Their task was made easier by the fact that Trotsky was sick in November and December.) The first draft of the resolution was rejected by Trotsky, which led to the formation of a special group consisting of Stalin, Trotsky and Kamenev, which was charged with drafting a mutually acceptable compromise. On 5 December, the Politburo and the Central Control Commission unanimously adopted the group’s final draft as its resolution. On 8 December Trotsky published an open letter, in which he expounded on the recently adopted resolution’s ideas. The troika used his letter as an excuse to launch a campaign against Trotsky, accusing him of factionalism, setting “the youth against the fundamental generation of old revolutionary Bolsheviks” and other sins. Trotsky defended his position in a series of seven letters which were collected as The New Course in January 1924. The illusion of a “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.
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 organization, it was defeated elsewhere, and the Conference was packed with pro-troika delegates. In the end, only three delegates voted for Trotsky’s position and the Conference denounced “Trotskyism”[i] as a “petty bourgeois deviation”. After the Conference, a number of Trotsky’s supporters, especially in the Red Army’s Political Directorate, were removed from leading positions or reassigned. Nonetheless, Trotsky kept all of his posts and the troika was careful to emphasize that the debate was limited to Trotsky’s “mistakes” and that removing Trotsky from the leadership was out of the question. In reality, Trotsky had already been cut off from the decision making process.
Immediately after the Conference, Trotsky left for a Caucasian resort to recover from his prolonged illness. On his way, he learned about Lenin’s death on 21 January 1924. He was about to return when a follow up telegram from Stalin arrived, giving an incorrect date of the scheduled funeral, which would have made it impossible for Trotsky to return in time. Many commentators speculated after the fact that Trotsky’s absence from Moscow in the days following Lenin’s death contributed to his eventual loss to Stalin, although Trotsky generally discounted the significance of his absence.
After Lenin’s death (1924)
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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.
None of us desires or is able to dispute the will of the Party. Clearly, the Party is always right…. We can only be right with and by the Party, for history has provided no other way of being in the right. The English have a saying, “My country, right or wrong”, whether it is in the right or in the wrong, it is my country. We have much better historical justification in saying whether it is right or wrong in certain individual concrete cases, it is my party…. And if the Party adopts a decision which one or other of us thinks unjust, he will say, just or unjust, it is my party, and I shall support the consequences of the decision to the end.
The attempt at reconciliation, however, did not stop troika supporters from taking potshots at him.
In the meantime, the Left Opposition, which had coagulated somewhat unexpectedly in late 1923 and lacked a definite platform aside from general dissatisfaction with the intra-Party “regime”, began to crystallize. It lost some less dedicated members to the harassment by the troika, but it also began formulating a program. Economically, the Left Opposition and its theoretician Yevgeni Preobrazhensky came out against further development of capitalist elements in the Soviet economy and in favor of faster industrialization. That put them at odds with Bukharin and Rykov, the “Right” group within the Party, who supported the troika at the time. On the question of world revolution, Trotsky and Karl Radek saw a period of stability in Europe while Stalin and Zinoviev confidently predicted an “acceleration” of revolution in Western Europe in 1924. On the theoretical plane, Trotsky remained committed to the Bolshevik idea that the Soviet Union could not create a true socialist society in the absence of the world revolution, while Stalin gradually came up with a policy of building ‘Socialism in One Country‘. These ideological divisions provided much of the intellectual basis for the political divide between Trotsky and the Left Opposition on the one hand and Stalin and his allies on the other.
At the thirteenth Congress Kamenev and Zinoviev helped Stalin defuse Lenin’s Testament, which belatedly came to the surface. But just after the congress, the troika, always an alliance of convenience, showed signs of weakness. Stalin began making poorly veiled accusations about Zinoviev and Kamenev. Yet in October 1924, Trotsky published Lessons of October, an extensive summary of the events of the 1917 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 left unmentioned. This started a new round of intra-party struggle, which became known as the Literary Discussion, with Zinoviev and Kamenev again allied with Stalin against Trotsky. Their criticism of Trotsky was concentrated in three areas:
- Trotsky’s disagreements and conflicts with Lenin and the Bolsheviks prior to 1917.
- Trotsky’s alleged distortion of the events of 1917 in order to emphasize his role and diminish the roles played by other Bolsheviks.
- Trotsky’s harsh treatment of his subordinates and other alleged mistakes during the Russian Civil War.
Trotsky was again sick and unable to respond while his opponents mobilized all of their resources to denounce him. They succeeded in damaging his military reputation so much that he was forced to resign as People’s Commissar of Army and Fleet Affairs and Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council on 6 January 1925. Zinoviev demanded Trotsky’s expulsion from the Communist Party, but Stalin refused to go along and played the role of a moderate. Trotsky kept his Politburo seat, but was effectively put on probation.
A year in the wilderness (1925)
1925 was a difficult year for Trotsky. After the bruising Literary Discussion and losing his Red Army posts, he was effectively unemployed throughout the winter and spring. In May 1925, he was given three posts: chairman of the Concessions Committee, head of the electro-technical board, and chairman of the scientific-technical board of industry. Trotsky wrote in My Life that he “was taking a rest from politics” and “naturally plunged into the new line of work up to my ears” but some contemporary accounts paint a picture of a remote and distracted man. Later in the year, Trotsky resigned his two technical positions (maintaining Stalin-instigated interference and sabotage) and concentrated on his work in the Concessions Committee.
In one of the few political developments that affected Trotsky in 1925, the circumstances surrounding the controversy around Lenin’s Testament were described by American Marxist Max Eastman in his book Since Lenin Died (1925). The Soviet leadership denounced Eastman’s account and used party discipline to force Trotsky to write an article denying Eastman’s version of the events.
In the meantime, the troika finally broke up. Bukharin and Rykov sided with Stalin while Krupskaya and Soviet Commissar of Finance Grigory Sokolnikov aligned with Zinoviev and Kamenev. The struggle became open at the September 1925 meeting of the Central Committee and came to a head at the XIVth Party Congress in December 1925. With only the Leningrad Party organization behind them, Zinoviev and Kamenev, dubbed The New Opposition, were thoroughly defeated while Trotsky refused to get involved in the fight and didn’t speak at the Congress.
United Opposition (1926–1927)
During a lull in the intra-party fighting in the spring of 1926, Zinoviev, Kamenev and their supporters in the “New Opposition” gravitated closer to Trotsky’s supporters and the two groups soon formed an alliance, which also incorporated some smaller opposition groups within the Communist Party. The alliance became known as the “United Opposition”.
The United Opposition was repeatedly threatened with sanctions by the Stalinist leadership of the Communist Party and Trotsky had to agree to tactical retreats, mostly to preserve his alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev. The opposition remained united against Stalin throughout 1926 and 1927, especially on the issue of the Chinese Revolution. The methods used by the Stalinists against the Opposition became more and more extreme. At the XVth Party Conference in October 1926 Trotsky could barely speak because of interruptions and catcalls, and at the end of the Conference he lost his Politburo seat. In 1927 Stalin started using the GPU (Soviet secret police) to infiltrate and discredit the opposition. Rank and file oppositionists were increasingly harassed, sometimes expelled from the Party and even 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, resulting in the abdication of the Chinese Emperor 12 February 1912. Sun Yat-sen established the Republic of China. In reality, however, the Republic controlled very little of the country. Much of China was divided between various regional warlords. The Republican government established a new “nationalist people’s army and a national people’s party—the Kuomintang. In 1920, the Kuomintang opened relations with Soviet Russia. With Soviet help, the Republic of China built up the nationalist people’s army. With the development of the nationalist army, a Northern Expedition was planned to smash the power of the warlords of the northern part of the 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. Stalin, like Lenin, believed that the KMT bourgeoisie, together with all patriotic national liberation forces in the country, would defeat the western imperialists in China.
Trotsky wanted the Communist party to complete an orthodox proletarian revolution and opposed the KMT. Stalin funded the KMT during the expedition. Stalin countered Trotskyist criticism by making a secret speech in which he said that Chiang’s right wing Kuomintang were the only ones capable of defeating the imperialists, that Chiang Kai-shek had funding from the rich merchants, and that his forces were to be utilized until squeezed for all usefulness like a lemon before being discarded. However, Chiang quickly reversed the tables in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by massacring the Communist party in Shanghai midway through the Northern Expedition.
Defeat and exile (1927–1928)
In October 1927, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Central Committee. When the United Opposition tried to organize independent demonstrations commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1927, the demonstrators were dispersed by force and Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Communist Party on 12 November. Their leading supporters, from Kamenev down, were expelled in December 1927 by the XVth Party Congress, which paved the way for mass expulsions of rank and file oppositionists as well as internal exile of opposition leaders in early 1928.
When the XVth Party Congress made 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 in Kazakhstan on 31 January 1928. He was expelled from the Soviet Union to Turkey in February 1929, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
After Trotsky’s expulsion from the country, exiled Trotskyists began to waver. Between 1929 and 1934, most of the leading members of the Opposition surrendered to Stalin, “admitted their mistakes” and were reinstated in the Communist Party. Christian Rakovsky, who had inspired Trotsky between 1929 and 1934 from his Siberian exile, was the last prominent Trotskyist to capitulate. Almost all of them were executed in the Great Purges of 1937–1938.
Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union in February 1929. His first station in exile was at Büyükada off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey, where he stayed for the next four years. He was at risk from the many former White Army officers in the city, who had opposed the Bolshevik Revolution, but Trotsky’s European supporters volunteered to serve as bodyguards and assured his safety.
In 1933 Trotsky was offered asylum in France by Prime Minister Édouard Daladier. He stayed first at Royan, then at Barbizon. He was not allowed in Paris, though he did visit the city in secret during December 1933, to meet with various political allies. The philosopher and activist Simone Weil arranged for Trotsky and his bodyguards to stay for a few days at her parents’ house. In 1935 he was told he was no longer welcome in France. After weighing alternatives, he moved to Norway. Having obtained permission from then Justice Minister Trygve Lie to enter the country, Trotsky became a guest of Konrad Knudsen near Oslo. On 2 September 1936 he was transferred to a farm in Hurum where he was under house arrest, allegedly because of Soviet influence on the government. Before Christmas 1936 he and his wife were deported to Mexico, on a freighter under guard by Jonas Lie. The Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas welcomed Trotsky and arranged for a special train to bring him to Mexico City from the port of Tampico.
Trotsky lived in the Coyoacán area of Mexico City at the home (The Blue House) of the painter Diego Rivera and Rivera’s wife and fellow painter, Frida Kahlo, with whom Trotsky had an affair. His final move was a few blocks away to a residence on Avenida Viena in May 1939, following a break with Rivera.
He wrote prolifically in exile, penning several key works, including his History of the Russian Revolution (1930) and The Revolution Betrayed (1936), a critique of the Soviet Union under Stalinism. Trotsky argued that the Soviet state had become a “degenerated workers’ state” controlled by an undemocratic bureaucracy, which would eventually either be overthrown via a political revolution establishing a workers’ democracy, or degenerate into a capitalist class.
Cannon, a long-time leading member of the American communist movement, had supported Trotsky in the struggle against Stalinism since he first read Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet Union in 1928. Trotsky’s critique of the Stalinist regime, though banned, was distributed to leaders of the Comintern. Among his other supporters was Chen Duxiu, founder of the Chinese Communist Party.
Moscow show trials
In August 1936, the first Moscow show trial of the so-called “Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center” was staged in front of an international audience. During the trial, Zinoviev, Kamenev and 14 other accused, most of them prominent Old Bolsheviks, confessed to having plotted with Trotsky to kill Stalin and other members of the Soviet leadership. The court found everybody guilty and sentenced the defendants to death, Trotsky in absentia. The second show trial, of Karl Radek, Grigory Sokolnikov, Yuri Pyatakov and 14 others, took place in January 1937, during which more alleged conspiracies and crimes were linked to Trotsky. In April 1937, an independent “Commission of Inquiry” into the charges made against Trotsky and others at the “Moscow Trials” was held in Coyoacán, with John Dewey as chairman. The findings were published in the book Not Guilty.
“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.”
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, he changed his mind after the Nazitakeover in Germany and the Comintern’s response to it. He said, that:
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.
In 1938, Trotsky and his supporters founded the Fourth International, which was intended to be a revolutionary and internationalist alternative to the Stalinist Comintern.
Towards the end of 1939 Trotsky agreed to go to the United States to appear as a witness before the Dies Committee of the House of Representatives, a forerunner of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Representative Martin Dies, chairman of the committee, demanded the suppression of the American Communist Party. Trotsky intended to use the forum to expose the NKVD‘s activities against him and his followers.
He made it clear that he also intended to argue against the suppression of the American Communist Party, and to use the committee as a platform for a call to transform World War II into a world revolution. Many of his supporters argued against his appearance. When the committee learned the nature of the testimony Trotsky intended to present, it refused to hear him, and he was denied a visa to enter the United States. On hearing about it, the CPSU immediately accused Trotsky of being in the pay of the oil magnates and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After quarreling with Diego Rivera, Trotsky moved to his final residence on Avenida Viena. He was ill, suffering from high blood pressure, and feared that he would suffer a cerebral haemorrhage. He even prepared himself for the possibility of ending his life through suicide.
On 27 February 1940, Trotsky wrote a document known as “Trotsky’s Testament”, in which he expressed his final thoughts and feelings for posterity. After forcefully denying Stalin’s accusations that he had betrayed the working class, he thanked his friends, and above all his wife and dear companion, 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.
27 February 1940
After an ineffectual attempt to have Trotsky murdered, in March 1939, Stalin assigned the overall organisation 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, one of which relied on Ramón Mercader. According to Sudoplatov, all of the three networks were designed to operate entirely autonomously from the NKVD’s hitherto established spy networks in the U.S. and Mexico.
On 24 May 1940, Trotsky survived a raid on his villa by armed assassins led by the NKVD agent Iosif Grigulevich and Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. Trotsky’s young grandson, Vsievolod Platonovich “Esteban” Volkov (born 1926), was shot in the foot and a young assistant and bodyguard of Trotsky, Robert Sheldon Harte, was abducted and later murdered, but other guards defeated the attack.
On 20 August 1940, in his study, Trotsky was attacked by Ramón Mercader who used a mountaineers’ ice-axe as a weapon. The blow to his head was bungled and failed to kill Trotsky instantly, as Mercader had intended. Witnesses stated that Trotsky spat on Mercader and began struggling fiercely with him. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky’s bodyguards burst into the room and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky stopped them, laboriously stating that the assassin should be made to answer questions. Trotsky was taken to a hospital, operated on, and survived for more than a day, dying at the age of 60 on 21 August 1940 as a result of loss of blood and shock.Mercader later testified at his trial:
I laid my raincoat on the table in such a way as to be able to remove the ice axe which was in the pocket. I decided not to miss the wonderful opportunity that presented itself. The moment Trotsky began reading the article, he gave me my chance; I took out the ice axe from the raincoat, gripped it in my hand and, with my eyes closed, dealt him a terrible blow on the head.
According to James P. Cannon, the secretary of the Socialist Workers Party (USA), Trotsky’s last words were “I will not survive this attack. Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before.”
Trotsky’s house in Coyoacán was preserved in much the same condition as it was on the day of the assassination and is now a museum run by a board which includes his grandson Esteban Volkov. The current director of the museum isCarlos Ramirez Sandoval. Trotsky’s grave is located on its grounds. A new foundation (International Friends of the Leon Trotsky Museum) has been organized to raise funds to further improve the museum.
Trotsky was never formally rehabilitated during the rule of the Soviet government, despite the Glasnost-era rehabilitation of most other Old Bolsheviks killed during the Great Purges. His son, Sergei Sedov, killed in 1937, was rehabilitated in 1988, as was Nikolai Bukharin. Above all, beginning in 1989, Trotsky’s books, forbidden until 1987, were finally published in the Soviet Union.
Trotsky was finally rehabilitated on 16 June 2001 by the decision of the General Prosecutor’s Office (Certificates of Rehabilitation № 13/2182-90, № 13-2200-99 in Archives Research Center “Memorial”).
Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban Volkov, who lives in Mexico, is an active promoter of his grandfather. Trotsky’s great-granddaughter, Mexican-born Nora Volkow (Volkov’s daughter), is currently head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Contributions to theory
Trotsky considered himself a “Bolshevik-Leninist”, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed in many respects from those of Stalin or Mao Zedong, most importantly in his rejection of the theory of Socialism in One Country and his declaring the need for an international “permanent revolution“. Numerous Fourth Internationalist groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have different interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this. Supporters of the Fourth International echo Trotsky’s opposition to Stalinist totalitarianism, advocating political revolution, arguing that socialism cannot sustain itself without democracy.
Permanent Revolution is the theory that the bourgeois democratic tasks in countries with delayed bourgeois democratic development can only be accomplished through the establishment of a workers’ state, and that the creation of a workers’ state would inevitably involve inroads against capitalist property. Thus, the accomplishment of bourgeois democratic tasks passes over into proletarian tasks. Although most closely associated with Leon Trotsky, the call for Permanent Revolution is first found in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in March 1850, in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution, in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League:
It is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. … Their battle-cry must be: “The Permanent Revolution”.
Trotsky’s conception of Permanent Revolution is based on his understanding, drawing on the work of the founder of Russian Marxism Georgy Plekhanov, that in ‘backward’ countries the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution could not be achieved by the bourgeoisie itself. This conception was first developed by Trotsky in collaboration with Alexander Parvus in late 1904–1905. The relevant articles were later collected in Trotsky’s books 1905and in Permanent Revolution, which also contains his essay “Results and Prospects”.
According to Trotskyists, the October Revolution (which Trotsky directed) was the first example of a successful Permanent Revolution. The proletarian, socialist October Revolution took place precisely because the bourgeoisie, which took power in February, had not been able to solve any of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. It had not given the land to the peasants (which the Bolsheviks did on 25 October), nor given freedom to the oppressed minority nations, nor emancipated Russia from foreign domination by ending the war which, at that point, was fought mainly to please the English and French creditors. Trotskyists today argue that the state of the Third World shows that capitalism offers no way forward for underdeveloped countries, thus again proving the central tenet of the theory. In contrast, Stalinist policy in the former colonial countries has been characterized by the so-called Two-stage theory, which argues that the working class must fight for “progressive capitalism” along with the “progressive national bourgeoisie” before any attempts at socialism can be made.
The United Front
Trotsky was a central figure in the Comintern during its first four congresses. During this time he helped to generalise the strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks to newly formed Communist parties across Europe and further afield. From 1921 onwards the united front, a method of uniting revolutionaries and reformists in common struggle while winning some of the workers to revolution, was the central tactic put forward by the Comintern after the defeat of the German revolution.
After he was exiled and politically marginalised by Stalinism, Trotsky continued to argue for a united front against fascism in Germany and Spain. His articles on the united front represent an important part of his political legacy.
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