Leon Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein was a Marxist revolutionary and theorist, and a Soviet politician who engineered the transfer of all political power to the Soviets. Trotsky initially supported the Menshevik Internationalists faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He joined the Bolsheviks just before the 1917 October Revolution, and immediately became a leader within the Communist Party.
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein on 7 November 1879, the fifth child in a Russian Jewish family, of wealthy farmers in Yanovka or Yanivka, in the Kherson governorate of the Russian Empire (now Bereslavka, in Ukraine), a small village 24 kilometres (15 mi) from the nearest post office. His parents were David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922) and his wife Anna Lvovna (née Zhivotovskaya) (1850–1910). The family was of Jewish origin. The language they spoke at home was Surzhyk, a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian. Trotsky's younger sister, Olga, who also grew up to be a Bolshevik and a Soviet politician, married the prominent Bolshevik Lev Kamenev.
When Trotsky was nine, his father sent him to Odessa to be educated in a Jewish school. He was enrolled in a German-language school, which became Russified during his years in Odessa as a result of the Imperial government's policy of Russification. As Isaac Deutscher notes in his biography of Trotsky, Odessa was then a bustling cosmopolitan port city, very unlike the typical Russian city of the time. This environment contributed to the development of the young man's international outlook. Although Trotsky said in his autobiography My Life that he was never perfectly fluent in any language but Russian and Ukrainian, Raymond Molinier wrote that Trotsky spoke French fluently.
As a young man, Trotsky passed through a career cycle shared by scores of Russian radicals. An interest in revolutionary politics in his late teens led to abandoning higher education Trotsky had shown great promise as a mathematician for a life underground. Populist ideology, which saw the peasant masses as the driving force behind a future revolution, gave way to Marxism, with its faith in the political potential of the factory worker. Trotsky was picked up by the Russian police at the age of nineteen and shipped off to Siberia. There he read deeply, displayed his native talent as a writer, and acquired a wide-ranging reputation as a promising political newcomer. In 1902 the young man escaped from his place of captivity and made his way to London, there to present himself to Vladimir Lenin, whose work Trotsky had admired in Siberia. Lenin was impressed by the flamboyant novice revolutionary: Trotsky brilliantly displayed his forensic talents in the mass meetings and debates that played a major role in Russian exile life.
Trotsky quickly slipped away from Lenin to establish an independent reputation. He rejected Lenin's rigid model for a professional revolutionary party at the Second Congress of Russian Marxists in London (1903). In the Russian Revolution of 1905, it was Trotsky rather than Lenin who hastened back to lead the St. Petersburg Soviet and to dominate events during the massive general strike in the autumn. Trotsky was arrested, sent to Siberia for a second time, and once again escaped. He spent the next decade as a political writer, journalist, and war correspondent, and a freelance revolutionary. During the Balkan Wars of 1912/1913, he trailed after the Serbian and Bulgarian armies, acquiring a useful grounding in military affairs.
At the start of World War I, Trotsky moved from Vienna to Zurich and then to Paris. The military side of the war intrigued him, but he devoted the bulk of his energies to a denunciation of the belligerent governments. At Socialist gatherings in Switzerland (Zimmerwald in September 1915 and Kienthal in April 1916) Trotsky stopped short of endorsing Lenin's calls for Russian military defeat as the quickest route to revolution. The two men remained rivals within the disorderly ranks of Russian Marxism, but the March Revolution of 1917 set them on converging paths.
Trotsky heard of the revolution while living in New York; he returned to Petrograd only in May, after a period of internment at the hands of British naval police in Canada. He arrived to find himself in full agreement with Lenin that the provisional government must be overthrown; both men an¬ticipated that a radical Marxist revolution in Russia would quickly spread to the other belligerent nations of Europe. Trotsky joined Lenin's Bolshevik faction shortly after returning to Russia and served as Lenin's chief lieutenant in the political and propaganda campaign that led to the successful November Revolution.
Trotsky then took the post of minister of foreign affairs, with the title changed to "people's commissar for foreign affairs." Attempts to call a peace conference attended by all the warring nations met a wall of indifference; so did parallel appeals to the populations of the belligerent nations to turn on their governments. The pledge of peace had, more than any other element in the Bolshevik program, appealed to large numbers of Russians. Trotsky was reluctantly drawn to an armistice (signed December 15), followed by a peace conference with the Central Powers alone. Unable to accept a victors' peace designed in Berlin, Trotsky tried stalling; then, with Lenin's cautious assent, the people's commissar confronted the Germans with his startling declaration (on February 10) of "no war, no peace"; Russia would neither accept German peace terms nor agree to continue the war. Debo suggests that this shocker aroused interest in German diplomatic circles; but the generals who called the tune in German foreign policy simply recovered their composure and renewed the military drive to the east. Trotsky left office, permitting Lenin to persuade Bolshevik party leaders to accept the humiliating German peace terms.
Trotsky resumed an active role in the revolution in March 1918 as commissar of war. He took the lead in creating the Red Army, rejecting party ideologues' objections to a conventional military force replete with officers, saluting, and harsh discipline. He proved a talented military organizer, and his fiery rhetoric stirred Russian soldiers to fight in 1918 and 1919, just as a year or so before it had helped hasten the breakdown of the tsar's army.
The postwar years were a dismal experience for the brilliant and successful revolutionary leader and military commissar. The loss of Lenin's support (the party chief suffered a series of strokes starting in early 1922, and he died in January 1924) and the rise of skilled rivals, notably Joseph Stalin, led to Trotsky's political demise. He was forced from his posts in the party, then expelled from the party itself in 1927. In 1929 he began a life of exile that ended in Mexico City. There he was assassinated by a Stalinist agent on August 21, 1940.
Permanent Revolution is the theory that the bourgeois democratic tasks in countries with delayed bourgeois democratic development can only be accomplished through the establishment of a workers' state, and that the creation of a workers' state would inevitably involve inroads against capitalist property. Thus, the accomplishment of bourgeois democratic tasks passes over into proletarian tasks. Although most closely associated with Leon Trotsky, the call for Permanent Revolution is first found in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in March 1850, in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution, in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League:
It is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. ... Their battle-cry must be: "The Permanent Revolution".
Trotsky's conception of Permanent Revolution is based on his understanding, drawing on the work of the founder of Russian Marxism Georgy Plekhanov, that in 'backward' countries the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution could not be achieved by the bourgeoisie itself. This conception was first developed by Trotsky in collaboration with Alexander Parvus in late 1904–1905. The relevant articles were later collected in Trotsky's books 1905 and in Permanent Revolution, which also contains his essay "Results and Prospects".
According to Trotskyists, the October Revolution (which Trotsky directed) was the first example of a successful Permanent Revolution. The proletarian, socialist October Revolution took place precisely because the bourgeoisie, which took power in February, had not been able to solve any of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. It had not given the land to the peasants (which the Bolsheviks did on 25 October), nor given freedom to the oppressed minority nations, nor emancipated Russia from foreign domination by ending the war which, at that point, was fought mainly to please the English and French creditors. Trotskyists today argue that the state of the Third World shows that capitalism offers no way forward for underdeveloped countries, thus again proving the central tenet of the theory. In contrast, Stalinist policy in the former colonial countries has been characterized by the so-called Two-stage theory, which argues that the working class must fight for "progressive capitalism" along with the "progressive national bourgeoisie" before any attempts at socialism can be made.
Trotsky considered himself a "Bolshevik-Leninist", arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed in many respects from those of Stalin or Mao Zedong, most importantly in his rejection of the theory of Socialism in One Country and his declaring the need for an international "permanent revolution". Numerous Fourth Internationalist groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have different interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this. Supporters of the Fourth International echo Trotsky's opposition to Stalinist totalitarianism, advocating political revolution, arguing that socialism cannot sustain itself without democracy.
Trotsky's ideas formed the basis of Trotskyism, a major school of Marxist thought that opposes the theories of Stalinism. He was written out of the history books under Stalin, and was one of the few Soviet political figures who was not rehabilitated by the government under Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s. It was not until the late 1980s that his books were released for publication in the Soviet Union, which dissolved a short time later.
While in the prison in Moscow, in the summer of 1899, Trotsky married Aleksandra Sokolovskaya (1872–1938), a fellow Marxist. The wedding ceremony was performed by a Jewish chaplain. In 1900, he was sentenced to four years in exile in Siberia. Because of their marriage, Trotsky and his wife were allowed to be exiled to the same location in Siberia. They were exiled to Ust-Kut and the Verkholensk in the Baikal Lake region of Siberia. They had two daughters, Zinaida (1901 – 5 January 1933) and Nina (1902 – 9 June 1928), both born in Siberia.
Leon and Alexandra soon separated and divorced, but maintained a friendly relationship. Their children were later raised by Trotsky's parents in Ukraine. Both daughters married and Zinaida had children, but the daughters died before their parents. Nina Nevelson died from tuberculosis (TB), cared for in her last months by her older sister. Zinaida Volkova died after following her father into exile in Berlin. She had taken her son by her second marriage, and left her daughter in Russia. Suffering also from TB, then a fatal disease, and depression, Volkova committed suicide. Their mother Aleksandra disappeared in 1935 during the Great Purges in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and was murdered by Stalinist forces three years later.