The Leon Trotsky reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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Leon Trotsky

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1915 passport photoEnlarge

1915 passport photo

Leon Davidovich Trotsky (Russian: Лев Давыдович Троцкий; also transliterated Trostskii, Trotski, or Trotzky) (October 26 (O.S) = November 7 (N.S), 1879 - August 21, 1940), né Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Лев Давидович Бронштейн), was a Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist intellectual. He was an influential politician in the early Soviet Union; first as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and then as the founder and commander of the Red Army and People's Commisar of War. He was a founding member of the powerful Politburo. Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party and deported from the Soviet Union due to his opposition to Josef Stalin's policies and power consolidation, and was later murdered in Mexico by a Soviet agent.

His date of birth in the Gregorian calendar is November 7 – the same day as the Soviet revolution of 1917. Since the Julian calendar was replaced in 1918, his date of death is that of the Gregorian calendar. He was born in Yanovka, Kherson Province, Ukraine, the son of a farmer, David Bronshtein, of Jewish background.

Okhranka mugshot, circa 1900Enlarge

Okhranka mugshot, circa 1900

He was first introduced to Marxism in 1896, whilst at school in Nikolayev studying mathematics. He was first arrested in 1898 while working as an organizer for the South Russian Workers' Union. In 1900 he was sentenced to four years in exile in Siberia, where he married his first wife, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya. He escaped from Siberia, taking the name Trotsky from a former jailer in Odessa, and proceeded to London to join Vladimir Lenin, then managing editor of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party newspaper Iskra.

He attended the Second Congress of the RSDLP in London in the summer of 1903, and in the internal dispute which split the party, sided with the Mensheviks against Lenin. Although his allegiance to the Mensheviks was short-lived, the damage to his relationship with Lenin lasted for the next 14 years.

By 1905, he had returned to Russia. He was elected Chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies. His involvement in the October general strike and his support for that armed rebellion led to his conviction and sentence to exile for life. In January 1907, he escaped en route to exile and once again made his way to London, where he attended the Fifth Party Congress. In October, he moved to Vienna, where he edited a Social Democratic paper called Pravda, which was smuggled into Russia. It was one of numerous short-lived revolutionary Pravdas and had no connection with the official paper of the CPSU (see Pravda).

As war approached, Trotsky moved to neutral Switzerland, then France. He was deported from France and was living in New York City when the Russian Revolution removed the Tsar. He returned in May of 1917 to Russia as a supporter of the Bolshevik position, formally joining the faction a few months later. Trotsky was actively involved in efforts to overthrow the Provisional Government headed by Aleksandr Kerensky and was Chair of the Revolutionary Military Committee that planned and implemented the October Revolution.

Trotsky with troops at the Polish front, 1919Enlarge

Trotsky with troops at the Polish front, 1919

After the Bolsheviks came to power, he became the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs with the major goal of negotiating peace with Germany and her allies. But his withdrawal from the talks (February 10, 1918) provoked a German invasion (February 18), forcing the Soviet regime to sign the highly disadvantageous Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3. Trotsky subsequently resigned his diplomatic position and became People's Commissar of War. As founder and commander of the Red Army, he was largely responsible for their success over the White Army and victory in the Russian Civil War, during which tens of thousands were killed in Russia and the Ukraine.

With the illness and death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin was able to consolidate his control of the Party and the government. At this point, Trotsky was unable or unwilling to actively oppose Stalin. By remaining silent at the Twelfth Party Congress in 1923, particularly on the issue of the suppressed Testament of Lenin that called for Stalin's removal, Trotsky lost his last real opportunity to oppose Stalin, who, along with Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, was able to take control of the Party. Trotsky and his supporters founded the Left Opposition, which fought within the Communist Party for several years against Stalin's platform and leadership.

Trotsky put forward the theory of 'Permanent Revolution', which stood in stark contrast to Stalin's policy of building 'Socialism in One Country'. This ideological division provided much of the basis for the political divide between Trotsky and Stalin, which culminated on November 12, 1927 when he was expelled from the Soviet Communist Party (leaving Stalin with undisputed control of the Soviet Union). He was exiled to Alma Ata (now in Kazakhstan) on January 31, 1928. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929.

After his deportation from the Soviet Union

He was deported, and moved from Turkey to France to Norway, eventually settling in Mexico at the invitation of the painter, Diego Rivera; he lived at one point at the home of Rivera, and at another at that of Frida Kahlo. In 1938, Trotsky founded an international Marxist organization, the Fourth International, which was intended to be a Trotskyist alternative to the Stalinist Third International. He eventually quarreled with Rivera and in 1939 moved into his own residence. On May 24, 1940, Trotsky survived a raid on his home by alleged Stalinist assassins. While at the home on August 20, 1940, a Stalinist agent, Ramón Mercader, attacked Trotsky in Coyoacán (a suburb of Mexico City), driving the pick of an ice axe, whose shaft had been drastically shortened, into his skull. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's bodyguards burst into the room and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky stopped them, shouting, "Do not kill him! This man has a story to tell." Trotsky died the next day.

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 gave me the 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."

Trostsky's house in Coyoacán was preserved in much the same condition in was in on the day of the assassination and is now a museum. Trotsky's grave is in its grounds.

Trotsky was never formally rehabilitated by the Soviet government, despite the Glasnost-era rehabilitation of most other Old Bolsheviks killed by Stalin during the Great Purges.

See also: Trotskyism, Stalinism and the History of Russia series.


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