Saturday, February 23, 2008
An official Soviet portrait of Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky (Russian: , Lev Davidovich Trotsky, also transliterated Leo, Lyev, Trotskii, Trotski, Trotskij, Trockij and Trotzky) (November 7 [O.S. October 26] 1879 – August 21, 1940), born Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Лeв Давидович Бронштéйн), was a Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist. He was an influential politician in the early days of the Soviet Union, first as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army and People's Commissar of War. He was also among the first members of the Politburo.
After leading the failed struggle of the Left Opposition against the policies and rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and the increasing bureaucratization of the Soviet Union, Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party and deported from the Soviet Union in the Great Purge. As the head of the Fourth International, he continued in exile to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and was eventually assassinated in Mexico by Ramón Mercader, a Soviet agent. Trotsky's ideas form the basis of Trotskyism, a variation of communist theory, which remains a major school of Marxist thought that is opposed to the theories of Stalinism.
Before the 1917 Revolution
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein (alternative English spelling: Bronshtein) on November 7, 1879, in Yanovka, Kherson Province of the Russian Empire (today's Ukraine), a small village 15 miles from the nearest post office. He was the fifth child of a wealthy, but illiterate, 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.
Childhood and family (1879-1896)
Trotsky became involved in revolutionary activities in 1896 after moving to Nikolayev (now Mykolaiv). 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, and studied philosophy. In 1900 he was sentenced to four years in exile in Ust-Kut and Verkholensk (see map) 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.
Revolutionary activity and exile (1896-1902)
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 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.
But the name change remained a technicality and he never used the name "Sedov" either privately or publicly. Natalia Sedova sometimes signed her name "Sedova-Trotskaya". Trotsky and his first wife, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya, maintained a friendly relationship until she disappeared in 1935 during the Great Purges.
First emigration and second marriage (1902-1903)
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, and Trotsky and other Iskra editors attended. At first the 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
while working in the Russian party, regarded and still do regard themselves also as representatives of the Jewish proletariat.
As Trotsky explained two months later, his statement was just a tactical maneuver made on Lenin's request.
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.
Split with Lenin (1903-1904)
After the events of Bloody Sunday (1905), 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 ("Council") of Workers. By the time of Trotsky's arrival, the St. Petersburg Soviet was already functioning headed by Khrustalyov-Nosar (Georgy Nosar, alias Pyotr Khrustalyov), 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 Khrustalev-Nosar's arrest on November 26, was elected its chairman. On December 2, 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 Czarist government when openly engaged in a war with the entire people.
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.
1905 revolution and trial (1905-1906)
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.
In Vienna, Trotsky became close to Adolph Joffe, his friend for the next 20 years, who introduced him to psychoanalysis. 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 World War I which pitted Austria-Hungary against the Russian empire, Trotsky was forced to flee Vienna for neutral Switzerland to avoid arrest as a Russian émigré.
Second emigration (1907-1914)
The outbreak of WWI 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.
Trotsky 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 of 1917 overthrew Tzar Nicholas 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 by the Russian foreign minister Pavel Milyukov, he 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 in 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 (New Style), 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 (New Style). 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 Aleksandr Kerensky.
The following summary of Trotsky's Role in 1917 was written by Stalin in Pravda, November 6, 1918. (Although this passage was quoted in Stalin's book "The October Revolution" issued in 1934, it was expunged in Stalin's Works released in 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 November 7-8 (New Style), 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 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, who had been Lenin's top lieutenant over the previous decade, but whose star appeared to be fading. This turnaround led to enmity between the two Bolshevik leaders which lasted until 1926 and did much to destroy them both.
World War I (1914-1917)
After the Russian Revolution
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:
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 of 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 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.
Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Brest-Litovsk (1917-1918)
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, shamefully 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 March 4 to create the Supreme Military Council, headed by former chief of the imperial General Staff Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich. But 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, which was active within the Communist Party in late 1918-1919.
On March 13, 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 faithful 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.
Head of the Red Army (spring 1918)
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