Trotsky was undoubtedly the most brilliant intellect brought to prominence by the Russian Revolution, outdistancing Lenin and other theoreticians both in the range of his interests and in the imaginativeness of his perceptions. He was a tireless worker, a rousing public speaker, and a decisive administrator. On the other hand, Trotsky was not successful as a leader of men, partly because he allowed his brilliance and arrogance to antagonize the lesser lights in the Communist movement. Perhaps he fatally compromised himself when he became a Bolshevik in 1917, subordinating himself to Lenin’s leaderhip and accepting the methods of dictatorship that he had previously condemned.
At the age of eight, he was sent to school in Odessa, where he spent eight years with the family of his mother’s nephew, a liberal intellectual. When he moved to Nikolayev in 1896 to complete his schooling, he was drawn into an underground Socialist circle and introduced to Marxism.
In January 1898, Bronshtein was arrested for revolutionary activity and spent four and a half years in prison and in exile in Siberia, during which time he married his coconspirator Aleksandra and fathered two daughters. He escaped in 1902 with a forged passport bearing the name Trotsky, which he adopted as his revolutionary name. His wife remained behind, and the separation became permanent. Trotsky made his way to London, where he joined the group of Russian Social-Democrats working with Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin).
At the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, held in Brussels and London in July 1903, Trotsky sided with the Menshevik faction–advocating a democratic approach to Socialism–against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Shortly before this, in Paris, Trotsky had met and married Natalya Sedova, by whom he subsequently had two sons, Lev and Sergey. Upon the outbreak of revolutionary disturbances in 1905, Trotsky returned to Russia. He became a leading spokesman of the St. Petersburg Soviet (council) of Workers’ Deputies; when it organized a revolutionary strike movement and other measures of defiance against the tsarist government. In the aftermath, Trotsky was jailed and brought to trial in 1906. While incarcerated Trotsky wrote one of his major works, “Results and Prospects,” setting forth his theory of permanent revolution. In 1907, after a second exile to Siberia, Trotsky once again escaped. He moved to Switzerland and then to Paris. His anti-war stance led to his expulsion from both France and Spain. He reached New York City in January 1917.
Trotsky hailed the outbreak of revolution in Russia in February as the opening of the permanent revolution he had predicted. He reached Petrograd in mid-May and assumed the leadership of a left-wing Menshevik faction. Following the abortive July Days uprising, Trotsky was arrested in the crackdown on the Bolshevik leadership carried out by Aleksandr Kerensky’s liberal government. In August, while still in jail, Trotsky was formally admitted to the Bolshevik Party.
When an ineffectual government raid precipitated fighting early on November 6, Trotsky took a leading role in directing countermeasures for the soviet, while reassuring the public that his Military Revolutionary Committee meant only to defend the Congress of Soviets. Trotsky continued to function as the military leader of the Revolution when Kerensky vainly attempted to retake Petrograd with loyal troops. He organized and supervised the forces that broke Kerensky’s efforts at the Battle of Pulkovo on November 13. As foreign commissar, Trotsky’s first charge was to implement the Bolsheviks’ program of peace by calling for immediate armistice negotiations among the warring powers. Germany and its allies responded, and in mid-December peace talks were begun at Brest-Litovsk, though Trotsky continued vainly to invite support from the Allied governments.
Following the conclusion of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky resigned as foreign commissar, and was immediately made commissar of war, theretofore a committee responsibility. As war commissar, Trotsky faced the formidable task of building a new Red Army out of the shambles of the Old Russian Army and preparing to defend the Communist government against the imminent threats of civil war and foreign intervention. Trotsky chose to concentrate on developing a small but disciplined and professionally competent force. His abandonment of the revolutionary ideal of democratization and guerrilla tactics prompted much criticism of his methods among other Communists. He was particularly criticized for recruiting former tsarist officers and putting them to work under the supervision of Communist military commissars.
Rejecting Order No.1, Trotsky returned to the more usual system of command in which discipline was of prime importance. Trotsky was a character considered to be the most significant in Civil War and the Red Victory. He worked 18 20 hours a day; he was continually encouraging, cajoling, criticising or punishing those he commanded. Where ever a battle raged there would be Trotsky s armoured train containing numerous orders.
With the triumph of the Communist forces and the end of the Russian Civil War in 1920, Trotsky, retaining his office as commissar of war, turned his attention to the economic reconstruction of Russia. During the Civil War and War Communism phase of the Soviet regime, Trotsky was clearly established as the number-two man next to Lenin. In intellectual power and administrative effectiveness, he was Lenin’s superior and did not hesitate to disagree with him but he lacked facility in political manipulation to win party decisions.
When Lenin was stricken with his first cerebral hemorrhage in May 1922, the question of eventual succession to the leadership of Russia became urgent. Trotsky, owing to his record and his charismatic qualities, was the obvious candidate in the eyes of the party rank and file, but jealousy among his colleagues on the Politburo prompted them to combine against him. As an alternative, the Politburo supported the informal leadership of the troika composed of Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, and Stalin. Lenin invited Trotsky to open an attack on Stalin, but Trotsky chose to bide his time, possibly contemplating an alliance against Zinovyev. Stalin moved rapidly to consolidate his hold on the Central Committee at the 12th Party Congress in April 1923.
In January 1925 Trotsky’s was removed from the war commissariat. Early in 1926, following the split between the Stalin-Bukharin leadership and Zinovyev-Kamenev group and the denunciation of the latter at the 14th Party Congress, Trotsky joined forces with his old adversaries Zinovyev and Kamenev to resume the political offensive. In October 1926 Trotsky was expelled from the Politburo and a year later he and Zinovyev were dropped from the Central Committee. After an abortive attempt at a demonstration on the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, the two were expelled from the party.
In January 1928, Trotsky and his principal followers were exiled to remote parts of the Soviet Union, Trotsky himself being assigned to Alma-Ata (now Almaty) in Central Asia. In January 1929 Trotsky was banished from the territory of the Soviet Union. He was initially received by the government of Turkey and domiciled on the island of Prinkipo. In 1933 Trotsky secured permission to move to France. In 1935 Trotsky was compelled to move to Norway, and in 1936, under Soviet pressure, he was forced to seek asylum in Mexico, where he settled at Coyoac n.
Trotsky was the object of two assassination attempts, presumably by Stalinist agents. The first, machine guns attack on his house, failed. The second, by Ram n Mercader, a Spanish Communist who had won the confidence of the Trotsky household, was successful.
Had Trotsky won the struggle to succeed Lenin, the character of the Soviet regime would almost certainly have been substantially different, particularly in foreign policy, cultural policy, and the extent of terroristic repression. Trotsky’s failure, however, seems almost inevitable considering his own qualities and the conditions of authoritarian rule by the Communist Party organization.