Article abstract: Trotsky was a preeminent leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Along with Vladimir Ilich Lenin, he directed and guided the revolution and became one of its leading political, military, and intellectual figures. Ousted from political power by Joseph Stalin in 1927 and exiled from the Soviet Union two years later, Trotsky continued to publish on a wide variety of political issues until his murder by a Soviet secret police agent in 1940.
The small farming village of Yanovka, in the southern Ukraine, was the birthplace of the Russian Revolutionary leader Leon Trostky. Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, in November, 1879, a period of considerable change in Imperial Russia. His parents were well-to-do farmers and, although barely literate, were committed to securing an education for their son. The Bronstein family was Jewish, although not particularly religious. While maintaining Jewish cultural traditions, they also assimilated much of the Russian and Ukrainian culture that surrounded them. By naming their son “Lev,” the Russian word for lion and the Hebrew word for heart, they combined both Jewish and Russian traditions.
Lev Bronstein began his formal education in the port city of Odessa. One of the most Westernized of Russian cities, Odessa was a mecca for students and foreigners. Bronstein attended a German school, and it was at this school and in this cosmopolitan city that he developed an understanding of and appreciation for the West. He completed his schooling in the provincial city of Nikolayev. As Odessa had made him a man of the West, Nikolayev made him a man of politics. In Nikolayev, Bronstein met a group of young radicals and initially opposed their Marxist ideas. He maintained a passionate rivalry with Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya, one of the most articulate Marxists in the group and the woman who became his first wife. In the spring of 1879, the radicals of Nikolayev, under Bronstein’s leadership, organized the illegal and underground South Russian Workers’ Union. The organization was short-lived, and in less than a year the members were arrested and exiled to Siberia. Before leaving for the Siberian wasteland, Bronstein and Sokolovskaya were married in a Moscow prison.
During his imprisonment and exile, Bronstein became increasingly convinced of the philosophical concepts of Marxism. During this time, he first encountered the works of Lenin. Exiled in the far reaches of Siberia, Bronstein read Lenin’s plan for revolution, Chto delat? (1902; What Is to Be Done?, 1929). It was as if Bronstein had heard a calling. In 1902, leaving his wife and four-month-old daughter behind, Bronstein escaped from Siberia and journeyed to London to meet Lenin. In order to cross the Russian border undetected, Bronstein secured a false passport in which he penned the alias Trotsky, the name of his former jailer in Odessa, and the name that would be his for the remainder of his life.
Trotsky’s pen was his most valuable asset. In London, he joined the editorial board of Iskra, the newspaper and the organizational nucleus of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). Trotsky’s fiery prose won for him praise among his fellow émigrés. He did not restrict his writing to revolutionary tracts. Trotsky was deeply interested in culture and literature. Later in life he wrote penetrating literary criticisms and critiques on the development of culture and its relationship to the proletariat. Trotsky was nicknamed “Pero” (the pen) by his contemporaries.
The year 1903 holds particular importance in Trotsky’s life. He traveled to Paris on a lecture tour and met Natalia Sedova, who became his second wife and who remained with him in triumph and defeat until his death. It was also the year of the Second Congress of the RSDLP. During the congress, bitter disagreements between factions in the RSDLP caused a schism, creating two parties, the Bolsheviks, headed by Lenin, and the Mensheviks, headed by L. Martov. Trotsky sided with Martov and against Lenin on the issue of party structure. An ideological opponent of Lenin and the Bolsheviks for more than a decade, Trotsky also had his differences with the Mensheviks, and, although he supported some of their programs, he remained independent, not joining either political party.
The 1905 revolution brought Trotsky back to Russia. Writing for both the Bolshevik and Menshevik presses, Trotsky became a popular spokesman for the revolution. In October, he was elected chairman of the Soviet of Workers’ Delegates. By December, however, the revolution had run its course and the czarist regime regained authority and arrested leading members of the Soviets. Trotsky was again deported to Siberia, this time for life. Once again he escaped. Back in Europe, Trotsky turned to writing, composing his first major work.
Trotsky, now notorious, traveled from country to country as a political journalist. It was during this time that he developed his most important contribution to Marxist ideology, the theory of “permanent revolution.” The theory rests on...
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