Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437
Trotsky vigorously opposed censorship, both when he participated in the revolutionary movement against Russia’s czarist government, and when he served in Stalin’s later Soviet dictatorship. Trotsky argued that censorship was a tool of oppression under the czar. After he became a leading member of the revolutionary Bolshevist government, he argued for censorship as a revolutionary necessity. (The fact that he opposed censorship through most of his life, while supporting it in certain circumstances helps explain his portrayal as the pig Snowball in George Orwell’s 1945 fable, Animal Farm, which depicts Snowball as unwittingly paving the way for the dictatorship of Napoleon.)
Trotsky’s battle with censors began in 1903 when his “Report of the Siberian Delegation” was outlawed within the Russian Empire. After the Revolution, when he delivered a speech accepting his election as head of the Petrograd Soviet, he promised “full freedom for all factions, and the hand of the presidium will never be the hand which suppresses the minority.” Seven years later, however, during the civil war, he argued in Literature and Revolution that “we ought to have a watchful revolutionary censorship.”
After Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1927, he again found most of his work banned in Russia. In the years that followed, his attempts to promote his political views—critical of both Stalin and capitalism—were significantly hampered by censorship. For example, his writings were even banned in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1930, although they were freely available elsewhere in the United States. With Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, Trotsky—who had been a bitter critic of Nazism—found his work outlawed in Germany. The following year, Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy followed suit—but with the unusual exception of allowing deluxe editions. The Italian government possibly believed that the wealthy who could afford such editions would not be swayed by Trotsky’s arguments. Meanwhile Trotsky’s works were not only completely proscribed in the Soviet Union by 1933, but loyal members of pro-Stalin communist parties throughout the world were instructed to steal his books from public libraries and destroy them. Trotsky’s supporters often faced violence at the hands of communists when they attempted to publicly sell his works.
Within Russia, all references to Trotsky’s work and writings were deleted from publications—to the point of cutting pages out of encyclopedias in libraries. Nevertheless, Trotsky persisted in producing and distributing a large body of work highly critical of both Stalinism and fascism. The ultimate act of censorship occurred in 1940 when an agent of the Russian secret police murdered Trotsky in Mexico to silence his pen.