Trotsky : How History Shaped the Man

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Song, Yong-hyun
Term Paper, AP European History Class, May 2008

Table of Contents

I. The Situation of Russia at the Time of Trotsky's Birth and Adolescence
II. Childhood and Adolescence
III. Marxism
IV. Lenin
V. 1905 Revolution
VI. World War I
VII. October Revolution
VIII. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
IX. Civil War
X. The Trade Union Debate, 1921-1922
XI. Fall from Power, 1922-1927
XII. In Exile

I. The Situation of Russia at the Time of Trotsky's Birth and Adolescence
            From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the Czarist regime saw many revolutionary activities. People of Russia were protesting against the incompetent monarchy. Revolutionaries primarily performed acts of terrorism against high ranking politicians (1). In the year 1881, terrorists even succeeded in murdering Czar Alexander II. Their prime goal was the redistribution of land and other revolutionary ideas originating from Western Europe such as: human rights, representative government, and mass democracy (2). By failing to meet these demands of the public concerning better living standards and instead attacking liberalism and modernism, the Czar alienated large segments of the population (3). There was a strong ambience of an imminent revolution in Russia. This environment gave way for Trotsky to grow up into a revolutionary.

II. Childhood and Adolescence
            Trotsky was born in 1879, October 26, (name Lev Davidovich Bronstein) as the 5th son of a wealthy Jewish farmer, David Leontyevich Bronstein in Kherson Province, now Ukraine (4). Although Jews mostly lived in cities, Trotsky's grand parents moved to the countryside as a result of anti Semitism in Russia. As the son of a wealthy farmer, Trotsky was able to witness the struggle of the laborers under his father. Frequent witnessing of strikes and other protests of the workers left a strong impression of the oppressed working class on his mind. As his family grew richer and as Trotsky¡¯s father became harsher towards his employees, Trotsky developed a stronger sense of sympathy and guilt towards the workers. (5)
            His father is considered to have been illiterate but his mother was an intellectual and pushed strongly for Trotsky¡¯s education (6). Trotsky¡¯s family was wealthy enough to send him to big cities such as Nikolaev and Odessa for schooling (7). Odessa was a free port from 1819 to 1859 and therefore had a population of extremely diverse nationalities. Also, Odessa very successful in trade and even was the largest grain exporting port in Russia (8). The time spent in Odessa formed Trotsky's cosmopolitanism, and also eventually exposed him to revolutionary thoughts and activities. Especially his school, Saint Paul Realschule, provided an international and open atmosphere that was rarely present in other Russian schools. There were various different ethnicities and different religions present in this school, and there was a strong ambience of liberalism (9). To add to all this, his cousins whom he lived with when going to school were also open minded intellects. He often engaged in debates and conversations with them about political and social issues. (10)

III. Marxism
            Marxism is a political philosophy derived from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Mainly focusing on the belief that capitalism is based on exploitation, and belief in a proletariat revolution, Marxism in various forms rapidly seeped through the European society in the 19th century. There were socialist parties in government and radical socialist revolutionists. (11)
            Trotsky first got in contact with Marxism in 1896. When he was in high school, as a brilliant young mind and a great debater, Trotsky participated in a debate circle which often debated liberal and revolutionary ideas. From one of these meetings, Trotsky came to know Marxism. Despite his strong refusal in the beginning, Trotsky soon became a stout supporter of Marxism. Although it was not apparent at first, accepting Marxism was the most lasting and influential decision to his life. He became one of the most famous supporters of Marxism and led the communist revolutions of Russia to form the first communist nation in history. Also, besides the basic concept of socialism, Trotsky adhered to and defended the idealistic aspect (permanent revolution) of Marxism throughout his life. (12)

IV. Lenin
            After accepting Marxism, Trotsky participated in revolutionary underground movements. As he gained more experience in such activities, he came to acquaintance with the name Lenin, and found a great liking for this renowned revolutionary leader. After escaping from Siberia, Trotsky went straight to London to Lenin. Meeting Lenin gave Trotsky a chance to mature his theoretical basis and to start a new carrier as a revolutionary. Lenin fostered Trotsky's capacities as a revolutionary by introducing Trotsky to other famous revolutionaries, giving a chance to converse and debating with them, giving chances for public speeches which Trotsky later became famous for, and strongly promoting him to become a member of Iskra (13). Thus, Trotsky was able to write freely at abundant amounts for the famous revolutionary paper Iskra.
            Also by joining Lenin, Trotsky stood at the center of the exile revolutionary movement. In the years before the Russian revolution of 1917, Lenin organized and led many communist associations. During the 1917 revolutions and during the Russian Civil War (1917-1921), Lenin again took the leadership of the Bolsheviks and formed the first communist country in history. During these struggles of Lenin, Trotsky was often the second man of Lenin and played vital roles for the communist cause. For example, Lenin trusted Trotsky to organize and lead the Red Army during the civil war which Trotsky did successfully. After the Civil War, when setting up the new communist nation, Lenin and Trotsky worked as a team in various different disparities occurring in the Communist Party. (14)

V. The 1905 Revolution
            When Trotsky was in exile in Poland, a nationwide general strike in Russia occurred, giving a chance for Trotsky to return to Saint Petersburg. After returning to the capital, Trotsky took over the newspaper Russian Gazette, increased its circulation to 500,000 and also co-founded Nachalo ("The Beginning") with Parvus and the Mensheviks. Before Trotsky arrived, the Mensheviks came up with the same idea of an ¡°elected non-party revolutionary organization representing the capital's workers, the first Soviet ("Council") of Workers¡± (15) . When Trotsky arrived, the Saint Petersburg Soviet was functioning headed by Khrustalyov-Nosar. Trotsky joined the Soviet under the name "Yanovsky" and was elected vice-Chairman. He did much of the actual work at the Soviet and was elected its chairman after Khrustalev-Nosar was arrested on November 26. On December 3, the Soviet was surrounded by troops loyal to the government and the deputies were arrested. Trotsky was tried in 1906 on charges of supporting an armed rebellion. He was convicted and sentenced to deportation.
            From leading the public in the 1905 revolution, Trotsky gained the experience and reputation which helped him in the 1917 Russian Revolution. For example, at the trial after he was arrested, Trotsky delivered some of the best speeches of his life. Not only at the trial but all through the revolution, Trotsky dazzled the Russian public with his public speaking skills and solidified his reputation as an effective public speaker. (16)

VI. World War I
            WW1 resulted in some major changes in Trotsky's theories. At the beginning of the war, Trotsky firmly believed in an international revolutionary movement of communism. Trotsky strongly denounced war and participated in antiwar activities. He therefore was also in disaccord with the Bolsheviks and Lenin who believed in National Socialism. However, as the war progressed, Trotsky changed his thoughts.
            Many socialists, including those closest to Trotsky, in Europe turned to National Socialism. The Mensheviks was torn apart those who supported internationalism and National Socialism. By the end of 1914, Trotsky bitterly accused of the two leaders of the Mensheviks, Pavel Borisovich Akselrod and Alexander Parvus, as nationalists. Trotsky was especially influenced when Alexander Parvus, who had maintained a strong friendship with Trotsky, became a supporter of National Socialism. This came as a surprise to Trotsky who completely ended all ties and relations with Parvus.
            Such changes in communist movement and the disintegration of European socialist groups (a result of unstable social environment of the war) made Trotsky admit the comparative efficiency and unity of the Bolsheviks. In his autobiography 'My Life', Trotsky confesses of his gradual change towards the Bolshevik philosophy of the communist revolution. By 1917, Trotsky was in substantive agreement with the Bolsheviks and joined their party. (17).

VII. October Revolution
            Trotsky returned to Russia in May 1917, from being in exile in the United States. He joined Lenin and the Bolsheviks who were looking for a chance to overthrow the provisional government.
            First, he recruited a huge mass for a demonstration against the provisional government. By inciting the Russian population disillusioned by WW1, Trotsky led the July Uprising which in its later stage accumulated half a million people. Through this uprising, the Congress of Soviets took over the capital, Petrograd. Then, through the successful campaigns of Trotsky and the failures of the provisional government to retake the city by force, by October, the Bolsheviks were the most popular party in Petrograd. On 16 October, the Petrograd Soviet created the "Military Revolutionary Committee for the defense of the capital against the counter revolution" - with the Bolshevists achieving an outright majority in the election to head this council. The Mensheviks and others then refused to participate: full control of all military forces in the capital city of Russia then fell under the control of Trotsky. Under his orders, the Military Revolutionary Council seized all important government buildings and sites over the night of the 24-25 October 1917: the October Revolution. Armed workers and soldiers stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd, the headquarters of the Duma government. On 25 October, Trotsky officially announced the end of the Duma government: many of its ministers were arrested and Kerensky fled into exile in America (18). The following summary of Trotsky's Role in 1917 was written by Stalin in Pravda.

      "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." (19

            Due to his role in the October Revolution, Trotsky became unquestionably the second man in the Bolshevik Party after Lenin. He overshadowed the ambitious Zinoviev, who had been Lenin's top lieutenant over the previous decade. Also, although Trotsky was formerly a devout pacifist, this revolution and the military aspects to it prepared Trotsky to be the brilliant military organizer who would lead Red Army in the civil war.treaty, Trotsky was ordered by Lenin to sign the treaty immediately. Trotsky faced criticism from the opposition that his overestimation of immediate revolutionary aspects overshadowed his ability to correctly address the situation of Russia in WW1. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky gave up his position as Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Although Trotsky did not give up his belief in permanent revolution, he became more focused on strengthening Russia internally, and became People's Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs.

VIII. Treaty of Brest Litovsk
            When the Congress of Soviets took control of Russia after the October Revolution, they were left with the problem of WW1. Lenin firmly supported the notion of a peace treaty with Russia, but the majority of the Bolsheviks, including Trotsky, did not. Trotsky waited for a communist revolution to take place in Germany that would end the war. However, as time passed, it became clear that a communist revolution from the West was not going to help end the war. In addition to this, the military weakness of the Russian eventually changed Trotsky's position to signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Therefore, after loosing much land to the Germans while delaying the treaty, Trotsky was ordered by Lenin to sign the treaty immediately. Trotsky faced criticism from the opposition that his overestimation of immediate revolutionary aspects overshadowed his ability to correctly address the situation of Russia in WW1. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky gave up his position as Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Although Trotsky did not give up his belief in permanent revolution, he became more focused on strengthening Russia internally, and became People's Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs.

IX. Civil War
            As the Bolsheviks gained control of Russia, the Mensheviks and other anti-Bolsheviks forces raged a civil war. The Bolsheviks were the Red Army and the opposition was the White Army. Trotsky organized and led the Red Army. He increased the size of the army from less than 300,000 in May 1918 to one million in October. With his speeches Trotsky encouraged villagers, troops, and illiterate audience to join the revolutionary purpose, and was successful in increasing the army to 5 million in later stages of the war (20). Although the Red Army was smaller in number, it achieved victory by good tactics and organization under the command of Trotsky.
            With the defeat of Denikin and Yudenich in late 1919, the Soviet government's emphasis shifted to economic work and Trotsky spent the winter of 1919-1920 in the Urals region trying to re-start its economy. Based on his experiences there, he proposed abandoning the policies of War Communism and promoted economic policies which included confiscating grain from peasants, and partially restoring the grain market (21). The following is an excerpt from Trotsky¡¯s biography, 'My Life'.

      "From the Urals I brought with me a store of economic observations that could be summed up in one general conclusion: war communism must be abandoned. My practical work had satisfied me that the methods of war communism forced on us by the conditions of civil war were completely exhausted, and that to revive our economic life the element of personal interest must be introduced at all costs; in other words, we had to restore the home market in some degree. I submitted to the Central Committee the project of replacing the food levy by a grain-tax and of restoring the exchange of commodities. "The present policy of equalized requisition according to the food scale, of mutual responsibility for deliveries, and of equalized distribution of manufactured products, tends to lower the Status of agriculture and to disperse the industrial proletariat, and threatens to bring about a complete breakdown in the economic life of the country." In these words, I formulated my view in the statement submitted to the Central Committee in February, 1920." (22)

            Also, his time in the Urals formed his opinion on the trade unions which soon became a hotly debated issue. The following is also from the autobiography, 'My Life'. "But the working masses, who had gone through three years of civil war, were more and more disinclined to submit to the ways of military rule." (23)
            During the war, although Trotsky made a reputation as an able leader, he also solidified some of his rivals. Trotsky had bitter disagreements with other Bolshevik leaders such as Zinoviev, Stalin, and Kamenev.

X. The Trade Union Debate 1921-1922
            The central committee was split up in 2 groups regarding the amount of freedom that should be allowed to the trade unions. Trotsky¡¯s side supported militarization of labor under government control, and Lenin's side maintained a freer form of trade unions. Trotsky thought that the Russian economy was too weak allow freedom in the workforce. He believed that the militarized efficient workforce was the key to revive Russia destroyed by civil war. The following is the data of the destitute Russian economy that reflects Trotsky's concerns.

      "In 1920, the production of iron ore and cast iron fell to 1.6% and 2.4% of their 1913 levels. The best record was for oil, which stood at 41 % of its 1913 level. Coal attained 17%. The general production of fully manufactured goods in 1920 stood at 12.9% of their 1913 value. Agricultural production dropped in two years (1917-19) by 16%, the heaviest losses being sustained by those products exported from the villages to the town: hemp fell by 26%, flax by 32%, fodder by 40%. The conditions of civil war, together with the chronic inflation of the period, brought trade between town and countryside to a virtual standstill." (24)

            However, Lenin believed that it was more important to gather the support of the individual workers by allowing them private property. Lenin was primarily concerned with losing the supporters of the revolution by militarized control of the work force. In the end, Trotsky¡¯s militarist policies did not result in economic revivals. Economic disorganization continued and developed, and even the Commissar of Transportation (of which Trotsky was in control) did not improve. Therefore the long and bitter debate eventually ended in Lenin's victory.

XI. Fall from Power (1922-1927)
            Trotsky's political career reached its peak in the early 1920s. He was second only to Lenin in the politburo. At Lenin's death (1924), many people thought that Trotsky would be the logical successor of the leader of the Soviet Union. However, Joseph Stalin, another leading revolutionary, ambitiously strove to become Lenin's successor, and a rivalry formed between Trotsky and Stalin. They were already often engaged in debates about communist policies from the days of the October Revolution. Trotsky became the leader of the Left Opposition (a faction within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union created by Lenin) and Stalin formed the troika, another power within the communist party. By 1924, Stalin outmaneuvered Trotsky politically and the troika held the central power. In 1925, Trotsky was de-facto ousted from the central positions in the communist party. Stalin strategically accused Trotsky of having had disparities with Lenin and failing to accept communism in one country. Trotsky lost the struggle against not only Stalin but also against a movement of bureaucratization of the Soviet Union that rose after the difficult and uncertain days of the civil war was over. (25)
            Stalin first ousted Trotsky to inner exile in Kazakhstan in 1927, then from Russia in February, 1929. From abrupt changes caused by Stalin, Trotsky's position in Russia declined from the legitimate successor of Lenin to a political exile. As a result, although Trotsky was dreaming of initiating and helping world communist revolutions from Russian headquarters, Trotsky had to live the rest of his life in exile. All this once most active and influential communist could now do was write articles and books and give indirect influence to other weak dispersed revolutionary activities around the world. Stalin had Trotsky's partners and family members killed in the Great Purges from 1936-1938, and is also considered as the direct cause of Trotsky's death (1940); historians speculate that he sent assassins to kill Trotsky. (26)

XII. In Exile
            After loosing in the struggle against Stalin, Trotsky was ousted from the politburo and was exiled to Kazakhstan in January 31, 1928. Then in February, 1929, he secretly was ousted by Stalin from the Soviet Union; he settled in Büyükada off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey. He stayed in this place for 4 years until he went to France when he was offered asylum by Daladier. In 1935, France expressed itss discomfort of Trotsky¡¯s presence, and he had to move to Norway. After being arrested from begin wrongly accused of being under the influence of the Soviet Union, Trotsky was deported to Mexico by the Norwegian government. In Mexico, however, Trotsky was warmly welcomed by the Mexican president L?zaro C?rdenas. Lazaro welcomed Trotsky in part to disprove claims that he was a Stalinist and in part to secure the support of the labor unions. (27)
            When he was in exile, Trotsky wrote many articles to magazines and newspapers and published many books. He had the sufficient time to publish his ideas and also needed to write for a source of income.
            He wrote about the history of the communist revolution, the present situation of Russian communism, the future of communism, and his life. He remained a prolific writer in exile, penning several key works, including his History of the Russian Revolution (1930) and The Revolution Betrayed (1936), a critique of the Soviet Union under Stalinism. He especially criticized the Stalinist regime. Trotsky influenced international communist movements through his writings.
            Besides the publishing work, Trotsky also participated in organizing the 4th international. At first, Trotsky did not want to make the 4th international for he thought that it might cause disparities with the 3rd international and weaken the international communist movement. However, in 1933, as he saw how the 3rd international in Germany gave-in to Hitler's rule, Trotsky became convinced with the notion of the 4th international.


(1)      Deutcher I pp.20-25
(2)      Russians Abroad chapter 34
(3)      Russians Abroad chapter 38
(4)      Leon Trotsky Biography, from Paralumun
(5)      Deutcher I p.41
(6)      Article Leon Trotsky, from Wikipedia
(7)      Leon Trotsky Biography, from Paralumun
(8)      Article Odessa, from Wikipedia

(9)      Deutcher I p.35
(10)      Leon Trotsky, from Biography Shelf
(11)      Article Marxism, from Wikipedia

(12)      Deutcher I
(13)      Deutcher I pp.100-103
(14)      Article Lenin, from Wikipedia
(15)      Article Leon Trotsky, from Wikipedia
(16)      Deutcher I pp.250-260
(17)      Deutcher I pp.300-310
(18)      Chapter 60: The October Revolution. Communism in Russia, from History of the White Race
(19)      Article Leon Trotsky, from Wikipedia
(20)      Leon Trotsky, from Books and Writers
(21)      Biography : Leon Trotsky, from Jewish Virtual Library
(22)      Trotsky, My Life, chapter 38
(23)      Trotsky, My Life, chapter 38
(24)      Woods & Grant, chapter VI
(25)      Article Leon Trotsky, from Wikipedia
(26)      Deutcher III
(27)      Article Lazaro Cardenas, from Wikipedia


Note : websites quoted below were visited in December 2007.
1.      Deutcher I : Issac Deutcher, The Prophet Armed, Trotsky 1879-1921, Korean translation
2.      Deutcher II : Issac Deutcher, The Prophet Unarmed, Trotsky 1921-1929, Korean translation
3.      Deutcher III : Issac Deutcher, The Prophet in Exile, Trotsky 1929-1941, Korean translation
4.      Article : Leon Trotsky, from Wikipedia,
5.      Article : Odessa, from Wikipedia,
6.      Article : Marxism, from Wikipedia,
7.      Article : Lenin, from Wikipedia,
8.      Article : Alzaro Cardenas, from Wikipedia,
9.      Russian History, from Russians Abrioad,
10.      Leon Trotsky Biography, from Paralumun,
11.      Short Biography of Trotsky, from Biography Shelf,
12.      Alan Woods and Ted Grant, Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for, posted on In Defense of Marxism,
13.      Leon Trotsky, My Life, posted by
14.      Chapter 60: The October Revolution. Communism in Russia, from March of the Titans, History of the White Race,

Teacher's postscriptum :
Minor flaws : notes 12 and 26 lack a page number. Bibliography positions 1-3, 13 lack a year of publication.
Major flaw : bibliography position 14 / note 18 : The source is written from a racist perspective and unquotable.