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Leon Trotsky 1879-1940

Principal Focus: Through the study of Leon Trotsky, students gain an

understanding of the role of this personality in a period of national or
international history.

• Politics in pre-revolutionary Russia
• The 1917 revolution
• Tsar abdicates resulting in Dual Power – Provisional Government and
Petrograd Soviet
• March Revolution – “the Russian Revolution…sprang not so
much from the will of the people as from the mere
decomposition and collapse of the tsar’s government”
(Richard Charques, 1958)
• Early March – continually increasing number of strikers, refusal of
tsar to form new government, mutinies begin to occur.
• 13 March –Soviet of Workers and Soldiers is formed
• 15 March – Tsar Nicholas II abdicates. End of 300 year Romanov
Dynasty. From the Duma comes a new Provisional Government.
• End of all cooperation with the PG in April 1917 – April Theses
• Solid propagandist – “All power to the Soviets” appealed to workers
and soldiers. “Land, peace and bread” tapped into the main
concerns of the Russian people: desire to acquire land (this
disagreed with Marxist principles but it was necessary to gain Bolsh
• Time was right to seize power otherwise “History will never forgive
• Lenin accepted Trotsky’s argument that the seizure of power be
delayed until the meeting of the Second Congress of All Russian
Soviets on 8 Nov – would be presented as taking in the name of the
Soviets not just the Bolsh.
• Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) set up with Trotsky as its
• Red Guard units and soldiers directed to take control of city, enter
Winter Palace and arrest PG members
• Ultimatum to Kerensky to surrender
• Soviet took power
• Election in 1917 – Bolsh won – dismissed Constituent Assembly
• After the mostly bloodless coup, he immediately called for peace
with Germany, land for the peasants and the creation of Council of
People’s Commissars (SOVNARKOM).

• Establishment of the Bolshevik/Communist state

Modern History -1- Personality: Trotsky

• Pre-seizure of power – All-Russian Congress of Soviets made up of
Bolsh, Mensh and SR’s made all decisions
• Lenin and Trotsky initiated SOVNARKOM, the Council of People’s
• Pair manipulated a vote which gave SOVNARKOM the right to rule by
• War Communism
• NEP – Trotsky had strong opposition to it – believed it would be a
step back for Russia rather than the leap forward they needed –
stayed true to communism

• Family background and education
• Development of political ideals
• Born Davydovich Bronstein on 26 October 1879 in the Ukraine
• Grew up seeing suffering of peasants – helped him in future
connecting with peasantry
• No particular political views during school
• Post-graduation – heavily involved in underground movements
• Attracted to Marxism in 1896 – arrested in 1898 – part of an
underground group which organised strikes and protests
• After split of Russian Socialist Democratic Party (for a short time he
was a Mensh until he split) – wavering between Bolshevism and
• 1906 sentences to life imprisonment in Siberia – wrote about need
for permanent revolution
• During WWI began to accept ideas of Bolshevism and supported
• Joined Social Democratic Party in London where he met Lenin –
Lenin had heard of his oratorical and writing skills
• Started writing for SD’s newspaper, the Iskra, meaning ‘Spark’
• Lectured students on Marxism, historical materialism and
Volkogonov described that “intellectual recognition was…
immeasurably more important”
• Temporarily followed Martov’s Mensheviks after RSDLP split
• Second exile developed idea of ‘permanent revolution’ – socialist
revolution wouldn’t be successful until it was carried out globally,
shaping Lenin’s internationalisation of communism
o Working class revolution would only come after a Bourgeois
capitalist revolution
o Revolution in Russia only one part of a world revolution
o International dimension of revolution – Marxist doctrine
• Joined Bolsh Party in 1917

• Emerging political role 1905-1917

Modern History -2- Personality: Trotsky

• 1905 – secretly returned to Russia – active role in revolution –
exceptional organisational skills
• Dec 1905 – arrested and charged w/ supporting armed rebellion;
imprisoned for one year – wrote Russia’s readiness for revolution –
then exiled to Siberia for life – escaped to Finland
• Permanent revolution – Trotsky need for rev’n – knew proletarian
rev’n couldn’t survive
• Established united Socialist Democratic group – pushed for join of
Mensh and Bolsh – unsuccessful so he joined Bolsh in 1917
• WWI – moved to Switzerland, spent time writing condemning
‘capitalist war’ and calling for revolution
• In NY during Feb/March revolution
• Returns to Russia – May 1917, witness starvation – both Trotsky and
Lenin believe its time for socialist revolution
• Elected as member of new Central Committee of Bolsh and then
Chairman of Petrograd Soviet

• Role in 1917 revolution

• Returns in May – revolution had started
• Ideologically – against the PG, supporter of Soviets only, differences
with Lenin but became a Bolshevik in 1917
• Imprisoned after July Days – believed they were “costly” and
misguided – planned for what would work
• Oct 1917 – Chair of Military Revolutionary Committee – “we had not
prepared an insurrection, we had prepared for an insurrection”
• Released from prison – began working for Bolsheviks
• Lenin and Trotsky opposing views on rev’n – AGREED – peasants are
a source of revolutionary power, success of revolution was
dependent on other European revolutions. DISAGREED – Trotsky
questioned Lenin’s idea of alliance between peasants and workers,
Trotsky preferred broader based party to Lenin’s idea of an elite
• Kornilov Affair – Trotsky told Kronstadt sailors to remove Kornilov.
• Believed people needed to be armed in order to defend revolution
and country
• Head of Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) – scheduled to
bring on attack
• Persuaded Lenin to postpone coup until 8 Nov to coincide with
meeting of the Second Congress of All Russian Soviets.
• Instilled confidence in men – urged them to “stand firm”
• Organised Red Army – guerrilla style militia
• Ordered Red Guard units to seize city and Winter Palace – seized
vital bridges, railways, electricity, telephones, etc
• In charge of Nov seizure of Committee. Winter Palace seized – won
• Declared PG no longer exists

Modern History -3- Personality: Trotsky

• New govt formed – SOVNARKOM – Trotsky: Commissar for Foreign


• Role as Commissar for Foreign Affairs
• 1917 – Lenin appointed T as Commissar for Foreign Affairs
• First duty – inform Allies peace negotiations must begin immediately
– part of “Peace! Land! Bread!” ideology
• Chief negotiator with Germany
• Council of People’s Commissars issued peace decree with Germany
• Trotsky led delegation at Brest Litovsk, negotiating peace talks.
Declared position of “no war, no peace” and delayed signing the
harsh terms of losing land, people and money
• He had believed that Germany’s offer of unacceptable terms would
cause German workers to revolt and support Russia.
• Germany lost patience and advanced into Russia on Feb 18th 1918
causing great loss of life
• Forced to adopt Lenin’s proposal to sign peace agreement
immediately – helped consolidation of Bolshevik power
• Germany made the treaty especially harsh as they knew Lenin was
prepared to sign anything
• “we received new terms from Germany…with the direct
object of making the signing of peace impossible” (Trotsky)
• Treaty was “the hangman’s noose” (Trotsky, 1930)
• Russia lost 50% industries, 75% coal and iron reserves, 33%
• Germany wanted imperial superiority, demanding western section of
line drawn across Russian Empire.
• Trotsky resigned as Commissar of Foreign Affairs – believed the
signing was a betrayal of socialist revolutionaries

• Role as Commissar for War

• “Show me another man who could have practically created a
model army in a year and won respect of the military
specialist as well” (Lenin, 1919)
• “Whenever the situation of a particular front became
critical, Trotsky entrained himself for that front and threw
himself into the struggle” (McCauley)
• Trotsky appointed Commissar for War March 1918
• Reasons for Red Army- need for an organised, trained coherent
militia forced schooled in the ideology of the revolution, needed
discipline to fight the trained White forces
• Civil War occurred in mid-1918
• Opponents: Whites – western support Britain, US and France – odds
against Bolshevik victory but opposition not organised and made
small gains

Modern History -4- Personality: Trotsky

• Trotsky’s train – moving representative of the Central Committee –
propaganda, winning hearts and minds
• Military success – T and Kamenev signed order to crush Kronstadt
uprising – ruthless in his defence of revolution
• Trotsky created Red Army:
o Organised and trained military force
o Created to fight trained troops of Whites and foreign enemies
o Grew to 5 million soldiers
• Trotsky:
o Charisma and rhetoric inspired loyalty and idealism
o Resorted to discipline, ranks and hierarchy
o Death penalty for desertion
o Took personal command, fierce propaganda
o Invited ex-tsarist officers to join Reds
o Terror: officers families held hostage, execution – encouraged
army to advance
o Rushed from front to front both encouraging and terrifying his
forces with passionate speeches and dire threats
o Rewards for success on fronts – cash, clothing and food,
“Order of the Red Banner”
• Isaac Deutscher “rose to his full height…as its inspirer”
• Strengthened morale as he visited troops in countryside
• 1921 – Kronstadt uprising – a group Trotsky once referred to as
“pride of the revolution” – Trotsky suppressed it with great brutality
– still gave them a wake-up call

• Power struggle following the death of Lenin

• Lenin died January 1924
• Stalin vs. Trotsky
• Lenin feared Stalin would become a totalitarian dictator (Lenin’s
Testament) but info was kept quiet.
• Trotsky continued to propose ‘permanent revolution’ but it wasn’t
widely accepted
• Stalin interested in “socialism in one country” and terror
• Position as General Secretariat gave him control over who was in
• Stalin portrayed Trotsky as disloyal to Lenin (didn’t attend his
funeral) – Stalin built up a cult of Lenin, claimed he was his disciple –
Trotsky had supported Mensh previously “Stalin argued that
Trotsky had failed to present Lenin as he really was – the
greatest Marxist of the present age” - McCauley
• Stalin formed Triumvirate with Zinoviev and Kamenev against
• Propaganda highlighting “TROTSKY’S MISTAKES”
• Trotsky seen as arrogant and ambitious

Modern History -5- Personality: Trotsky

• Eventually: 1925: removed as War Commissariat ~ 1926: removed
from Politburo ~ 1927: expelled from Party ~ 1928: exiled to Alma
Ata, Kazakhstan
• Stalin held unchallengeable power – turned on leftists, independents
and rightists

• Expulsion from the Communist Party

• Convinced Party that Trotsky’s actions were traitorous – removed
him from Central Committee and Politburo
• Minimal support
• Narrow-minded, arrogant and ambitious -> position plummeted
• Propaganda highlighted Trotsky’s mistakes
• 1925 – removed as War Commissariat
• 1926 – removed from Politburo
• 1927 – expelled from Party
• 1928 – exiled to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan
• Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev and at least 20 others expelled from
Party in November 1927 during the purges
• Stalin held unchallengeable power – turned on leftists, independents
and rightists

• Life and activities in exile

• Exile in Kazakhstan
• 1929 deported to Constantinople, Turkey
• Formulated revolutionary ideas
• Began to write anti-Stalin letters
• Trotsky and followers deported – never return
• Spent most of his life in exile
• Criticised ideological authority and legitimacy of Stalinist regime
• 1936 published “The Revolution Betrayed” – focus on Stalin’s
betrayal of Bolsh ideals
• International press followed his writings
• Trotsky urged rebellion – Stalin needed to remove him
• American Committee in the Defence of Leon Trotsky – tried to prove
innocence, Stalin labelled this evidence as lies
• Trotsky’s friends abandoned him, suspected he had cooperated with
Stalin to achieve rapid new system of govt
• 19 December 1936 left Norway for Mexico
• Assassinated 20th August 1940 – skull broken by ice pick, Stalinist
agent, Mercador who had gradually gained Trotsky’s trust as a loyal
disciple. Died in hospital 21st August 1940 aged 62.

• Evaluation: for example practical revolutionary, naïve

Trotsky’s Strengths
• Tactician: planned Nov revolution
• Organised Red Army -> civil war victory

Modern History -6- Personality: Trotsky

• Great orator
• Refused to become involved in secret politics
• Supported other countries’ communist groups – money/agents
• End NEP – more socialism ‘permanent revolution’
• Fostering industrialisation before Stalin introduced it in the 5YP –
pioneered the development of the Dnieper Dam

Trotsky’s Weaknesses
• Arrogant
• Impatient
• Distrusted – fear of Trotsky dictatorship
• Questions over loyalty to Bolsh after switching from Mensheviks –
Stalin was an original Bolshevik
• Extremist views
• Illness clouded his judgements

Measures he took for Revolution/Communism

• Commissar for Foreign Affairs – at first reluctant to sign TBL,
eventually agreed with Lenin that peace was necessary and signed
with Germany to focus on the Consolidation of Communism
• Civil War – abandoned ideology to ensure Communist victory
• Sacrifice of Ideology for good of the Party – TBL, NEP, Lenin’s Last


• Developed idea of ‘permanent revolution’ – socialist revolution
would not be successful until it was carried out globally
• Bolsh should have waged a revolutionary war against invaders and
called on German troops not to use force against their fellow
• Socialism by force, based on a despotic party and a police state
• Suppression of human freedom
• Abandoned Marx’s economic determination
• One set of dictatorship to another

• Historians question whether T was really a man of the Communist

• Often placed himself between or above groups within the Party –
both ‘sides’ never fully trusted him
• His arrogance and untrustworthiness undermined his power and
authority in his power struggle
• Arrogance alienated many

Modern History -7- Personality: Trotsky

• Kochan and Abraham – T worked to keep alive the spirit of critical
Marxism that would force Socialists to confront the ideals of
Marxism – in this way he was very different to Stalin and Stalinism.

Modern History -8- Personality: Trotsky