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Trotsky (Bronstein), Lev Davidovich

TROTSKY (Bronstein), LEV DAVIDOVICH (Leon; 1879–1940), Russian revolutionary, Soviet and Communist leader. Trotsky was the son of a Jewish farmer of Ivanovka, Ukraine. He studied mathematics at Odessa University, but gave up his studies to devote himself to revolutionary activities and joined the illegal Social Democratic Party in 1896. Arrested by the czarist authorities in 1898 and sent to Siberia, he escaped to England in October 1902, arriving on a forged passport issued in the name of "Trotsky." In London he cooperated with *Lenin, *Martov, and *Axelrod in editing the Social Democratic organ Iskra. At the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903, Trotsky attacked Lenin and supported the Mensheviks. In 1904 he left Iskra and published a pamphlet Nashi Politicheskiye zadachi ("Our Political Tasks"), in which he again attacked Lenin, exposing the dictatorial tendencies of the Bolsheviks. He became an independent socialist and worked for reconciliation between the various factions. At that time, under the influence of Helphand (Parvus), he formulated the theory of permanent revolution, according to which a bourgeois revolution in Russia would, by its inner momentum, lead quickly to the socialist stage, even before the socialist revolution in the West.

Trotsky returned to Russia at the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution and became a leader of the revolutionary workers' council (soviet) in Petersburg. He was arrested while chairing a meeting of the council and deported to Siberia a second time. Again he escaped and arrived in London in 1907 to take part in the congress of the Social Democratic Party. Later he moved to Vienna where he lived for several years as a correspondent for the popular liberal newspaper Kiyevskaya Mysi and wrote numerous articles devoted mainly to revolutionary theory.

At the outbreak of World War I Trotsky left for neutral Switzerland and wrote a detailed exposition of his anti-war policy entitled Der Krieg und die Internationale. He went to Paris in November 1914 to propagate his ideas in the émigré newspaper Nashe Slovo. Expelled two years later, he went to New York.

Trotsky returned to Russia shortly after the outbreak of the Revolution of February 1917, and was given a tremendous welcome by the Petrograd workers. He now cooperated with Lenin. Kerensky's provisional government arrested him, but he was soon released. While in prison he was elected to the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks. He also became head of the Petrograd Soviet and of its Military Revolutionary Committee. Trotsky voted for the armed insurrection at the decisive meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee. He directed the operation of the armed uprising on November 7, when the members of the provisional government were arrested and Soviet rule established. From then on Trotsky was one of the main organizers and leaders of the October Revolution and the Soviet regime, and played a part second only to that of Lenin. He became people's commissar for foreign affairs and head of the Russian delegation at the Brest-Litovsk peace talks. It was during this period that Trotsky and Lenin clashed over the question of peace with Germany. Trotsky, believing the German revolution to be imminent, was against signing a peace treaty which would give imperial Germany large parts of Russian territory; he proposed to stop the war unilaterally, but not to make peace under these conditions, coining the formula, "neither war nor peace." But the more skeptical Lenin insisted upon signing the peace treaty in order to save the revolution from a renewed Russo-German war.

In March 1918, Trotsky became people's commissar for military affairs, organizing the Red Army and directing military operations on the various civil war fronts from his famous armored train. After the bloody suppression of the Kronstadt fleet mutiny, aimed against the Bolshevik dictatorship, he took the salute at the victory parade in April 1921. He also served as people's commissar for transport and was responsible for preventing the complete collapse of the railway system.

In internal party debates during Lenin's lifetime, he expounded a harsh "left-wing" approach to the problems of the legitimacy of revolutionary terror against the regime's opponents, how to induce the peasants to supply the cities with food, and labor discipline in the nationalized industry.

After Lenin's death in 1924, however, Trotsky's position in the Communist hierarchy weakened quickly as a result of a campaign by party veterans aimed at discrediting him. He fought back with great determination. He headed the semi-legal left-wing opposition in the party and even enjoyed, from time to time, demonstrative support, mainly from younger party members and students. Stalin, however, played the various leaders and factions against each other until he assumed sole control of the party machine, and within two years succeeded in ousting Trotsky from the political life of both the Soviet Union and the Communist International. In January 1925, Trotsky was forced to resign from the Ministry of War and subsequently held only lesser posts in the Supreme Economic Council. Removed from the Politburo and the Central Committee in 1926, he was eventually expelled from the Communist Party on November 14, 1927, on the grounds that he was an "instigator of counterrevolutionary demonstrations."

In January 1928, Trotsky was convicted of counterrevolutionary activities and sent to Alma-Ata in Turkestan. Even there he fearlessly continued to lead the left-wing opposition in the Communist Party and a year later was expelled to Turkey with his wife and son. In Turkey he maintained contact with the opposition to Stalin in an attempt to organize a new Communist International, independent of Moscow. He went to Norway in 1936, but was forced to leave after several defendants at the Moscow trials accused him of joining *Zinoviev and *Kamenev in "an imperialist plot" to murder Stalin. He later settled in Mexico. During his years in exile he produced his vast literary output, including My Life (1930), The History of the Russian Revolution (3 vols., 1932–33), and The Permanent Revolution (1931), and edited The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx, published in 1939. On August 21, 1940, he was assassinated in Mexico City by a "friend" who is generally assumed to have acted on Stalin's orders. Remarkably gifted, a brilliant writer and orator, Trotsky fought all his life to bring about the socialist world revolution. He was opposed to Stalin's policy of building up "Socialism in one country," arguing that Socialism could only be achieved through revolution on a world scale. In 1938, his followers assembled in Switzerland to found the Fourth International which would be independent of the Moscow-centered Third (Communist) International, but they failed to create a mass movement in support of Trotsky. In the Soviet Union his name and the term Trotskyism officially became synonymous with treason and perfidy and served as the main object of hatred and slander during the famous purge-trials of veteran Bolsheviks in the middle and late 1930s. Trotsky's role in the revolution and the early Soviet regime was expunged from all official historical records in the Soviet Union and in the "orthodox" Communist movement everywhere, but he has had supporters and admirers in many countries including, silently, in the Soviet Union as well.

Trotsky and the "Jewish Question"

Convinced that there was no future for the Jews as a separate people, Trotsky favored their assimilation. At the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party (1903), he attacked the *Bund, claiming that despite its opposition to Zionism, it had adopted the nationalist character of Zionism. After the Sixth Zionist Congress he wrote an article in Iskra prophesying the disappearance of the movement (Jan. 1, 1904).

Trotsky visualized the solution of the Jewish problem only through the socialist reshaping of society within an international framework. But he was quite aware of the fact that his Jewish origin was a political handicap. When Lenin, after the victory of Nov. 7, 1917, proposed to put him at the head of the first Soviet government, Trotsky refused, and – in his own words (Moya Zhizn, II, 62–63) – mentioned "among other arguments the national aspect: would it be wise to give into the hands of the enemies such an additional weapon as my being Jewish?" Later he was shocked at the antisemitic innuendos of the campaign conducted against him in the late 1920s in the Soviet Union and he later emphasized the antisemitic undertones of the Moscow trials against Zinoviev, Kamenev, and others. In an interview with the New York Jewish Daily Forward, he admitted, in 1937, that the reemergence of antisemitism in Germany and the U.S.S.R. had brought him to the conclusion that the Jewish problem required a territorial solution, but he did not believe that Palestine was the answer; and the final solution would come only through the emancipation of all humanity by international socialism. "The longer the rotten bourgeois society lives, the more and more barbaric will antisemitism become everywhere," he said in the same interview.

In Trotsky and the Jews (1972), J. Nedava has made a special study of this question, throwing new light on the subject and revealing, inter alia, that Trotsky sat as an adviser at the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basle (1903), and later became increasingly interested in the Jewish Labor Movement in Ereẓ Israel.


I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, Trotsky 18791921 (1965); idem, The Prophet Unarmed, Trotsky 19211929 (1965); idem, The Prophet Outcast, Trotsky 19291940 (1963); B.D. Wolfe, Three Who Made a Revolution (1948, paperback 1966); L. Shapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1960).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.