Leon Trotsky (Лев Троцкий), born Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Лeв Давидович Бронштéйн), was a Russian Marxist politician and revolutionary. One of the leaders of the October Revolution, only second to Lenin, he was a major figure of the short-lived Russian Soviet Republic. Trotsky was last seen leading a failed attempt to relieve the Siege of Petrograd in the closing stages of the Russian Civil War.
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein on November, 7 1879 in Yanovka, Kherson Province of the Russian Empire. He was the fifth child of a wealthy Jewish farmer, David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922)and Anna Bronstein (d. 1910). Although the family was ethnically Jewish, it was not religious, and the languages spoken at home were Russian and Ukrainian instead of Yiddish. Trotsky's younger sister, Olga, married Lev Kamenev, a leading Bolshevik. When Trotsky was nine, his father sent him to Odessa to be educated and he was enrolled in a historically German school, which became Russified during his years in Odessa, consequent to the Imperial government's policy of Russification.
Entry into revolutionary activities
Trotsky became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896 after moving to Nikolayev. At first a narodnik (revolutionary populist), he was introduced to Marxism later that year and was originally opposed to it. But during periods of exile and imprisonment he gradually became a Marxist. 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, over 200 members of the union, including Trotsky, were arrested, and he spent the next two years in prison awaiting trial. Two months after his imprisonment, the first Congress of the newly formed Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was held, and from then on Trotsky considered himself a member of the party. While in prison, he married fellow Marxist Aleksandra Sokolovskaya. While serving his sentence he studied philosophy. In 1900 he was sentenced to four years in exile in Ust-Kut and Verkholensk in the Irkutsk region of Siberia, where his first two daughters, Nina Nevelson and Zinaida Volkova, were born.
In Siberia Trotsky 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. Others argued that overthrowing the monarchy was more important and that a well organized and disciplined revolutionary party was essential. The latter were led by the London-based newspaper Iskra, which was founded in 1900. Trotsky quickly sided with the Iskra position.
Trotsky escaped from Siberia in the summer of 1902. It is said he adopted the name of a jailer of the Odessa prison in which he had earlier been held, and this became his primary revolutionary pseudonym. Once abroad, he moved to London to join Georgy Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, Julius Martov and other editors of Iskra. Under the 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 also spent the previous 20 years in European exile together. Members of the new guard were in their early 30s and had only recently come from Russia. Lenin, who was trying to establish a permanent majority against Plekhanov within Iskra, expected Trotsky, then 23, to side with the new guard. Due to Plekhanov's opposition, Trotsky did not become a full member of the board, but from then on participated in its meetings in an advisory capacity, which earned him Plekhanov's enmity. In late 1902, Trotsky met Natalia Sedova, who soon became his companion and, from 1903 until his death, his wife. They had two children together, Lev Sedov (b. 1906) and Sergei Sedov (b. 1908).
Split with Lenin and trial
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. In the heat of the debate, Trotsky made a controversial statement to the effect that he and eleven other non-Bund Jewish delegates who had signed an anti-Bund statement.
Shortly thereafter, pro-Iskra delegates unexpectedly split into two factions. Lenin and his supporters (known as "Bolsheviks") argued for a smaller but highly organized party. Martov and his supporters (known as "Mensheviks") argued for a larger and less disciplined party. In a surprise development, Trotsky and most of the Iskra editors supported Martov and the Mensheviks while Plekhanov supported Lenin and the Bolsheviks. 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 then 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 conceded he had been wrong in opposing Lenin on the issue of the party. During these years Trotsky began developing his theory of permanent revolution, which led to a close working relationship with Alexander Parvus in 1904-1907. After the events of the 1905 Bloody Sunday, Trotsky secretly returned to Russia in February 1905. At first he wrote leaflets for an underground printing press in Kiev, but soon moved to the capital, Saint Petersburg. There he worked with both Bolsheviks like Central Committee member Leonid Krasin, and the local Menshevik committee which he pushed in a more radical direction. But the latter was 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 until October, when a nationwide strike made it possible for him to return to St. 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 Nachalo ("The Beginning") with Parvus and the Mensheviks, which proved to be very successful. 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 of Workers. By the time of Trotsky's arrival, the St. Petersburg Soviet was already functioning headed by Georgi Nosar, a compromise figure, and proved to be very popular with the workers in spite of the Bolsheviks' original opposition. Trotsky joined the Soviet under the name "Yanovsky" (after the village he was born in, Yanovka) and was elected vice-Chairman. He did much of the actual work at the Soviet and, after Nosar's arrest on November 26, was elected its chairman. On December 2, the Soviet issued a proclamation which included a condemning statement about the Tsarist government and its foreign debts. The following day, December 3, the Soviet was surrounded by troops loyal to the government and the deputies were arrested.
Trotsky and other Soviet leaders were tried in 1906 on charges of supporting an armed rebellion. At the trial, Trotsky delivered some of the best speeches of his life and solidified his reputation as an effective public speaker, which he confirmed in 1917-1920. He was convicted and sentenced to deportation. En route to deportation to Siberia in January 1907, Trotsky escaped 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 the Austrian Social Democratic Party and, occasionally, of the German Social Democratic Party, for seven years.
Exile and Weltkrieg
In Vienna, Trotsky became close to Adolph Joffe, his friend for the next 20 years, who introduced him to psychoanalysis. In October 1908 he started a bi-weekly Russian language Social Democratic paper aimed at Russian workers called Pravda ("Truth"), which he co-edited with Joffe, Matvey Skobelev and Victor Kopp and which was smuggled into Russia. The paper avoided factional politics and proved popular with Russian industrial workers. Both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks split multiple times after the failure of the 1905-1907 revolution. 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 St. Petersburg on April 22, 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. This was a period of heightened tension within the RSDLP and led to numerous frictions between Trotsky, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The most serious disagreement that Trotsky and the Mensheviks had with Lenin at the time was over the issue of "expropriations", i.e. armed robberies of banks and other companies by Bolshevik groups to procure money for the Party, which had been banned by the 5th Congress, but continued by the Bolsheviks.
In January 1912, the majority of the Bolshevik faction led by Lenin and a few Mensheviks held a conference in Prague and expelled their opponents from the party. In response, Trotsky organized a "unification" conference of social democratic factions in Vienna in August 1912 (a.k.a. "The August Bloc") and tried to re-unite the party. The attempt was generally unsuccessful. In Vienna, Trotsky continuously published articles in radical Russian and Ukrainian newspapers like Kievskaya Mysl under a variety of pseudonyms, often "Antid Oto". In September 1912 Kievskaya Mysl sent him to the Balkans as its war correspondent, where he covered the two Balkan Wars for the next year and became a close friend of Christian Rakovsky, later a leading Soviet politician and Trotsky's ally in the Soviet Communist Party.
On August 3, 1914, at the outbreak of the Weltrkieg which pitted Austria-Hungary against the Russian empire, Trotsky was forced to flee Vienna for neutral Switzerland to avoid arrest as a Russian émigré. It 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, and wrote a book against the war, The War and the International. The thrust of the book was against the pro-war position taken by the European social democratic parties, primarily the German party.
Leon Trotsky with his daughter NinaTrotsky moved to France on November 19, 1914, as a war correspondent for the Kievskaya Mysl. In January 1915 he began editing (at first with Martov, who soon resigned as the paper moved to the Left) Nashe Slovo ("Our Word"), an internationalist socialist newspaper, in Paris. He adopted the slogan of "peace without indemnities or annexations, peace without conquerors or conquered", which didn't go quite as far as Lenin, who advocated Russia's defeat in the war and demanded a complete break with the Second 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 to it, in the end Lenin voted for Trotsky's resolution to avoid a split among anti-war socialists.
In September 1916, Trotsky was deported from France to Spain for his anti-war activities. Spanish authorities did not let him stay and he was deported to the United States on December 25, 1916. He arrived in New York City on January 13, 1917. In New York, he wrote articles for the local Russian language socialist newspaper Novy Mir and the Yiddish language daily Der Forverts (The Forward) in translation and made speeches to Russian émigrés.
Trotsky was living in New York City when the February Revolution overthrew Tsar Nikolai II. He left New York on March 27, but his ship was intercepted by British naval officials in Halifax, Nova Scotia and he spent a month detained at Amherst, Nova Scotia. After initial hesitation, the Russian foreign minister Pavel Milyukov was forced to demand that Trotsky be released, and the British government freed Trotsky on April 29. He finally made his way back to Russia on May 4.
Upon his return, Trotsky was in substantive agreement with the Bolshevik position, but did not join them right away. Russian social democrats were split into at least 6 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 St. 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 August 7, 1917, but was released 40 days later in the aftermath of the failed counter-revolutionary uprising by Lavr Kornilov. After the Bolsheviks gained a majority in the Petrograd Soviet, Trotsky was elected Chairman on October 8. He sided with Lenin against Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev when the Bolshevik Central Committee discussed staging an armed uprising and he led the efforts to overthrow the Provisional Government headed by Alexander Kerensky.
After the success of the uprising on 7-November 8, Trotsky led the efforts to repel a counter-attack by Cossacks under General Petr Krasnov and other troops still loyal to the overthrown Provisional Government at Gatchina. Allied with Lenin, he successfully defeated attempts by other Bolshevik Central Committee members (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Alexei Rykov, etc) to share power with other socialist parties. By the end of 1917, Trotsky was unquestionably the second man in the Bolshevik Party after Lenin, overshadowing the ambitious Zinoviev.
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 December 22, 1917 to February 10, 1918. At that time the Soviet government was split on the issue. Left Communists, led by Nikolai Bukharin, continued to believe that there could be no peace between a Soviet republic and a capitalist country and that only a revolutionary war leading to a pan-European Soviet republic would bring a durable peace. They cited the successes of the newly formed (January 15, 1918) voluntary Red Army against Polish forces of Gen. Józef Dowbor-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 hopes of accelerating the hoped−for Soviet revolution in the West, but they were dead set against signing any peace treaty. In case of a German ultimatum, they advocated proclaiming a revolutionary war against Germany in order to inspire Russian and European workers to fight for socialism. 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.
But he agreed with the Left Communists that a separate peace treaty with an imperialist power would be a terrible moral 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 may 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.
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 and, since he held the balance of power, he was able to pursue his policy in Brest-Litovsk. When he could no longer delay the negotiations, he withdrew from the talks on February 10, 1918, refusing to sign on Germany's harsh terms. After a brief hiatus, the Central Powers notified the Soviet government that they would no longer observe the truce after February 17. At this point Lenin again argued that the Soviet government had done all it could to explain its position to Western workers and that it was time to accept the terms. Trotsky refused to support Lenin since he was waiting to see whether German workers would rebel and whether German soldiers would refuse to follow orders.
Germany resumed military operations on February 18. Within a day, it became clear that the German army was capable of conducting offensive operations and that Red Army detachments, which were relatively small, poorly organized and poorly led, were no match for it. In the evening of February 18, 1918, Trotsky and his supporters in the committee abstained and Lenin's proposal was accepted 7-4. The Soviet government sent a telegram 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 February 21, 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 February 23, 1918; the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3 and ratified on March 15, 1918. Since he was so closely associated with the policy previously followed by the Soviet delegation at Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky resigned from his position as Commissar for Foreign Affairs in order to remove a potential obstacle to the new policy.
Commander of the Red Army
Trotsky's managerial and organization-building skills with the Soviet military were soon tested in many ways. The Bolsheviks were left with the loss of most of the country's territory, an increasingly well organized resistance by Russian anti-Communist forces and widespread defection by the military experts that Trotsky relied on. Trotsky and the government responded with a full-fledged mobilization, which increased the size of the Red Army from less than 300,000 in May 1918 to one million in October, and an introduction of political commissars into the army. The latter were responsible for ensuring the loyalty of military experts (who were mostly former officers in the imperial army) and co-signing their orders.
Given the lack of man power and the invading 16 foreign armies, Trotsky also insisted that former Tsarist officers should be used as military specialists within the Red Army, with a combination of Bolshevik political commissars to ensure the revolutionary nature of the Red Army. In September 1918, the 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 Red Latvian Rifleman Ioakim Vatsetis, who had formerly led the Eastern Front. Vatsetis was put in charge of day-to-day operations of the army while Trotsky became chairman of the newly formed Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic and retained overall control of the military. Trotsky and Vatsetis had clashed earlier in 1918 while Vatsetis and Trotsky's adviser Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich were also on unfriendly terms. Nevertheless, Trotsky eventually established a working relationship with the often prickly Vatsetis. Trotsky appointed former imperial general Pavel Sytin to command the Southern Front, but in early October 1918 Stalin refused to accept him and so was recalled from the front. Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov tried to make Trotsky and Stalin reconcile, but their meeting was unsuccessful.
Russian Civil War
Throughout late 1918 and early 1919, there were a number of attacks on Trotsky's leadership of the Red Army, including veiled accusations in newspaper articles inspired by Stalin and a direct attack by the Military Opposition at the VIIIth Party Congress in March 1919. On the surface, he weathered them successfully and was elected one of only five full members of the first Politburo after the Congress.
In mid-1919 the dissatisfied had an opportunity to mount a serious challenge to Trotsky's leadership. 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 June 6 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 vigorously protested and wanted to keep emphasis on the Eastern Front. They insisted that it was vital to capture Siberia before the onset of winter and that once Kolchak's forces were broken, 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-July 4 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. When, on July 5, Trotsky offered his resignation, the Politburo and the Orgburo of the Central Committee unanimously rejected it.
Yet, a number of 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 bloated Revolutionary Military Council who were not involved in its day to day operations, were relieved of their duties on July 8, while new members including Smilga were added. The same day, while Trotsky was already in the south, Vatsetis was suddenly arrested by the Cheka on suspicion of involvement in an anti-Soviet plot, and replaced by Sergei Kamenev.
By October 1919 the government was beginning to lose 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 Germany from intervening. Lenin prevailed, and Germany took advantage of a demoralized leadership from Zinoviev in Petrograd to begin its intervention into the Russian Civil War, wanting to avoid anarchy on two sides of Europe. By October, 22 Yudenich's troops were on the outskirts of Petrograd, where Zinoviev decided to surrender. Trotsky took control of the army in the South in order to resolve the situation.
The progress of German and White troops was constant during the year 1920, and in spite of his internal policies of repression inside the ranks of the Red Army, plagued with desertion and terrible losses, Trotsky was unable to counter the united White armies and the German Expeditionary Corps, and was unable to avoid the rise of secessionist factions throughout Russia. On February, 2 1921, the armies of Trotsky and Tukhachevsky were definitely defeated at Tsaritsyne by the troops of Groener, Wrangel and Denikin. Sent to Moscow to ensure the defence of the city against the White armies, Trotsky took advantage of the state of panic within the Soviet leaders to flee Russia by June. This decision proved to be wise, as during the 1922 Moscow Trials, Trotsky was among the prosecuted Soviet leaders, such as Kamenev, Zinoviev and others, that were condemned to death penalty, albeit in absentia. Trotsky remains the only major Soviet leader, in exile or still living, who hasn't been granted amnesty by the Russian government on 1928.
Life In Exile
In 1922, after the dismantlement of Soviet Russia, Trotsky reappeared in Paris, where the Commune of France had just been proclaimed by French syndicalists led by Emile Pouget. Pouget, who had already been the host of Lenin before the latter fled to Switzerland, presented Trotsky as one of the leaders of the "Russian Revolution, defeated by Imperialist and reactionary Germany, which had inspired the successful French one", and Trotsky established himself in Paris as Chairman of the Russian Communisty Party in exile, a title that had been hardly disputed, even after Lenin's death in 1924 and the 1928 Bolshevik amnesty. However, Trotsky began to act as a figurehead within the pro-Bolshevik Jacobin faction of the French trade unions, opposed to Pouget's leadership. Soon after, by early 1925, Trotsky was deemed "undesirable" by the French government and forced to depart to other countries.
Trotsky remains a controversial figure within left-wing groups throughout the world. Seen as a deserter and the man responsible for the disaster of Soviet Russia by some, he is celebrated as one of the remaining historical and "uncorrupted" leaders of the 1917 October Revolution by others. However, Marxist-Leninist theories have become a minority viewpoint amongst most leftist parties, supplanted by syndicalist values after the success of the Commune of France and Union of Britain; the current Russian Marxists themselves, led by Bukharin, consider themselves as trade unionists. Trotsky has traveled throughout the world, presenting his theory of permanent revolution and inspiring some leaders, such as James Cannon in the United States, Oswald Mosley in Britain or Jacques Duclos in France. After living in Britain, where he has survived an assassination attempt in 1929, in Italy, in Brazil and in the United States, nobody knows where Trotsky currently resides. Some suppose that he has returned to Paris, lives under a false name in Mittelafrika or resides in Mexico. Anyway, nobody in Russia, most particularly the leftists, want to see him back in his motherland...