By Paul McCann
Leon Trotsky was a Russian Marxist and was one of the main organisers behind the Russian Revolution. He helped bring the Bolshevik’s into power in October 1917 in Russia, and was renowned as a great Marxist theorist and as such held powerful positions in Soviet Russia.
He was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein in Russian held Ukraine, in a town called Yanovka in 1879. His father was a rich Jewish farmer and so Trotsky attended a Jewish primary school. He then went on to high school and finally on to Mikolayiv collage where he excelled in every subject and was top of his classes.
Trotsky first heard of radical new political ideas as a student in Makolayiv and while he was there he joined an illegal organisation of militants. The organisation was concerned with people’s rights under the Russian imperial government. It was here that he became a Marxist supporter and a member of the Social Democrats. In 1887 he helped found the South Russian Workers Union a Marxist organisation. Then in 1888, Trotsky was arrested and sentenced into exile to Siberia. Here he met and married Alexandra Solovskaya, also a believer in Marxism.
In 1902, Trotsky escaped to London where he met with Lenin and there he wrote a newspaper called the Iskra (The Spark). He then attended the historic second RSDLP (Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) meeting. This meeting split the party into two parties, that is the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Up until 1917 Trotsky left both parties and became independent because of his disagreements with both. Then in 1905 he hurried back to Russia to take part in an attempted Revolution started by the socialist workers movement. During the time he became Soviet chairman in St. Petersburg.
He was arrested again, this time for publishing his ideas of a revolution in Russia. He now believed that the revolution in Russia could only work if the monarchy fell. He also believed by the example of Russia that the rest of the European countries would follow and this would start a world Revolution.
From 1907 to 1914 Trotsky lived in Vienna with Natalya Sedova who was his second wife after his first marriage ended in 1903. As a revolutionary socialist Trotsky did not believe in workers fighting a war over land so he moved to Switzerland (a neutral country) when World War I broke out in 1914. His arguments against the war got attention from Lenin and other revolutionaries. After leaving Switzerland he was forced to look for asylum. He was granted refuge in New York in 1917. He tried in France and Spain before hand but failed, as intelligence in these countries knew he was a revolutionary and did not want him in their country. He returned to Russia when the February Rebellion broke out and worked with Lenin to launch the Comintern an international organization that united Marxist in 1919. By now Nicholas II was dead and a provisional government was set up.
In July 1917 Trotsky abandoned his independent course and joined the Bolsheviks. Lenin and Trotsky were now the most influential people who apposed the government while the Mensheviks went along with the new powers. Trotsky was imprisoned in August for treason but later released on bail in September and elected chairman of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. While Lenin was still in hiding Trotsky led masses of soldiers and workers in the insurrection that brought down the provisional government, the second phase of the revolution.
When the Bolsheviks came into power Trotsky became Commissioner of Foreign Affairs in the new government led by Lenin, his job was mainly to negotiate with Germany and the other Central powers. He later resigned because of his objection with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky then took charge of the Russian military, which he turned into an well-organised and efficient fighting force. This army was called the Red Army and although Trotsky wasn’t a great military leader he was a good organiser and won the respect of his soldiers. Trotsky and his Red Army won the Russian Civil War in 1918-1921 thanks to his organisation. This war was fought against anti-revolutionaries called White Russians.
Trotsky was a very successful publicist and wrote many important books during the 1920’s. These include Terrorism and Communism in 1920, Problems of Everyday Life in 1923, On Lenin: Materials for a Biographer in 1924 and Literature and Revolution in 1925.
During the Civil War and War Communism phase of the Soviet regime, Trotsky was clearly established as the number-two man next to Lenin. In December 1922, Lenin formed the USSR with the help of Trotsky’s Red Army. Lenin suffered from a stroke, which brought about the race for control of the party. Trotsky was the obvious candidate in the eyes of the party but jealousy amoung the Politburo prompted them to combine against him, these people included Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, and Stalin. In the Winter of 1922-23 Lenin partially recovered and turned to Trotsky for help in correcting his mistakes particularly in foreign trade policies, handling national minorities and the reform of the bureaucracy. Lenin favored Trotsky over Stalin and just before he was silenced by a final stroke in March 1923, Lenin invited Trotsky to open an attack on Stalin but he chose to bide his time possibly contemplating an alliance against Zinovyev.
Trotsky didn’t stand a chance against a rival such as Stalin as he had support of the people and from two high-ranking Communists called Grigory and Len Kamener. From 1927, he suffered continual ridicule from Stalin thus leading to Trotsky’s exile from the USSR in 1929. Trotsky lived Turkey up until 1933 and then France and Norway until finally moving to Mexico City in Mexico with his family. In Mexico he continued opposing Stalin and spoke out against ‘Stalinism’, which was the name given to Stalin’s rule in Russia. He wrote many other books including History of the Russian Revolution said to be one of his best works. He also wrote The Revolution Betrayed defying Stalin’s ideals.
In Stalin’s eyes Trotsky was still a great treat to him and a strong opposition so Stalin ordered him assinated. Two attempts on his life were made, presumably by Stalin’s agents. The first a machine gun attack on his house in May 1940 but it failed the following August another attempt was made by Ramon Mecader a Spanish born agent of Stalin. He won the respect of Trotsky’s household and succeeded in assinating him. Mecader was sentenced to 20 years as an axe murderer under Mexican law. The Russian government disclaimed any responsibility for the incident.
Trotsky’s whole life was devoted to spreading the idea of Socialism throughout the world and he would go to any lengths to get the idea to every country in the world starting with his own country, Russia. He was a renowned Marxist leader and writer and few politicians aroused more passion and controversy than Trotsky did. He was deeply committed to his beliefs and would not stop until he achieved world revolution. Despite his ability to be ruthless, he was no match for Stalin. Stalin was better at building support among party members and this is what Trotsky could not achieve and was to be his downfall although he was second to Lenin.
Service, R.S. The Russian Revolution 1900-1927, MacMillian Education Ltd., Hong Kong, 1988
Pipes, R.P., A Concise History Of The Russian Revolution, The Harvill Press, Great Britain, 1995
Pitcher, H.P., Witness Of The Russian Revolution, John Murry (Publishers) Ltd., London, 1994
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