Leon Trotsky

Man Whose Thoughts were of  Importance

by Ashish Malik,
May 2000



Lev Davidovich Bronstein, is better known by the name of Leon Trotsky.  In 1879, Trotsky was born in Ukraine to parents of the Jewish faith.  He was always considered a star pupil with an enormous ability to comprehend and lead.  His high billing all proved true as he entered the Russian political arena at the young age of 17. 


Trotsky’s initial involvement was with the Mykolayiv Populists but shortly thereafter he converted to the infamous thinking of Karl Marx.  His work, at times, did come at a price as he was arrested, jailed and exiled for his clear involvement with the organization of the Southern Russian Workers Union.  He remained exiled in Siberia for five years at which point he managed to escape.  It was at this time that Trotsky felt the need to mask his true formal identity and so changed his name from Lev Davidovich Bronstein to Leon Trotsky.  After his departure from Siberia he fled to Europe where he met the acquaintances of several prominent figures, the most notable being Vladimir Lenin.  It was not long before these figures saw the apparent brilliance and wisdom that Trotsky held.


Perhaps Trotsky’s most distinguishable characteristic was his independence and his lack of creating any permanent ties with one organization or group.  In 1903, he rivaled against the prominent Lenin and the Bolsheviks while siding with the smaller political group, the Mensheviks.  Having little support from any major figures or leaders, Trotsky decided go to Russia where he continued to achieve claim for his participation in the Russian Revolution in 1905. 

His hard work climaxed as he was appointed as the chairman of the Saint Petersburg Soviet of Workers Deputies.  Unfortunately, once again, his rebellions proved costly as he was jailed and then was eventually exiled.  Siberia, the location of Trotsky’s latest punishment, proved not secure enough to contain him as he a second time was able to flee this nation.  He now spend the next decade attempting to define his ideas and rationalizing his Marxist thoughts with other exiles and political leaders that parted ways with their native nations.


By 1917, Trotsky was employed in New York City for a Russian newspaper that he was a regular contributor to.  Simply by the nature of his occupation, he was still in touch with Russian occurrences and events.  Upon hearing of the February Revolution of 1917, he returned to Russia and was quickly thrust back in action as he assumed leadership of another independent group, the Social-Democratic Interdistrict Group and also joined the Petrograd Soviet.  His new positions lead him almost immediate recognition and fame and as a result, Lenin courted him.  Lenin’s efforts proved worthwhile as Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks and soon thereafter he was elected to the Central Committee.  After being elected to be chair of the Soviet (a mere three months after joining the Bolsheviks), he and Lenin worked toward their goal of overthrowing the Provisional Government and attaining armed support for the Bolshevik party.  When Lenin went into hiding, Trotsky was the general in charge and was the leader of workers and soldiers during the October Revolution which led to the Bolshevik seizure of power.  Under the new Soviet rule, Trotsky’s position shifted to commissar of foreign affairs.  Trotsky was later given credit for the creation and direction of the Red Army that eventually won the long civil war and maintained the revolution.


When Lenin experienced illnesses and was forced to pass the role of leadership, an obvious choice would have been Trotsky who was second only to Lenin, but this did not end up being the case.  Despite all the political success and brilliance that Trotsky maintained, he was never adept at ‘party politics’.  The lack of this trait led Trotsky to be defeated by a more skilled threesome (a group which included Grigory Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, and Joseph Stalin).  Stalin, the leader now opposing Trotsky’s radical views, had quite unique plans as well and proved to be the overwhelming winner over Trotsky.  In 1928, Stalin managed to have Trotsky expelled to Central Asia and in 1929 he was banned entirely from the USSR.  As a result of the rocky relationship carried between him and Stalin, Trotsky spend the rest of his life composing documents critiquing Stalin and his methods.  His time was spent in France, Turkey, Norway and Mexico.  It was in Mexico where Trotsky was found by a Stalin agent and fatally wounded on August 20, 1940. 


Trotsky, though not considered an economist, did give much to Marxist theories.  Two of more prominent contributions were  “combined and uneven development” and “permanent revolution”.  The former of these two previously states that a country that is not as developed as others does not necessarily have to go through the same sequence of events that the advanced nations may have in order to achieve that claim.  So instead, the ideal may be to constitute a ‘norm’ where methods of both the underdeveloped and the advanced are incorporated.  This combination of ideas leads to a hopeful ideal and is known as “permanent revolution”.  Trotsky wrote on this matter rather eloquently by stating “The permanent revolution, in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule … that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in complete liquidation.”[i]  This idea was created in 1905 in order to postulate and determine which of the classes was going to lead the upcoming Revolution in Russia.  The answer by Trotsky was that the class that initially was going to be needed to take the lead was going to have to be bourgeois-democratic in character.  This was because this group could only do the tasks that were going to have to be accomplished.  The tasks that were to be accomplished were the overthrow of the Czarist regime and the transformation of the agrarian relations.  Trotsky analyzed all this further and determined that the working class would have to become involved with the peasantry if the capitalist class would be overthrown.  This analysis was done during one of Trotsky’s visits in a jail cell.  The purpose of this theory and its publishing was to clarify how he and Lenin viewed the class relationships and the objectives of the Russian revolution to the entire world.  To conclude this theory of “permanent revolution”, Trotsky summarized it as follows:


The Perspective of permanent revolution may be summarized in the following way: the complete victory of the democratic revolution in Russia is conceivable only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which would inevitably place on the order of the day not only democratic but socialistic tasks as well, would at the same time give a powerful impetus to the international socialist revolution. Only the victory of the proletariat in the West could protect Russia from bourgeois restoration and assure it the possibility of rounding out the establishment of socialism.[ii]


Trotsky continues his argument that the Russian bourgeois was weak and would be unable to survive the revolution and as a result the proletariat would have to take over.  Then the proletariat would join the group of small owners that were opposing the revolution.  Trotsky felt that since the lower class was a minority in Russia, they would have trouble maintaining power and that the Russian Revolution would send off a blaze in the rest of Europe.


There is little doubt that Trotsky’s efforts and skills as a writer and orator helped keep the Soviet Russia in tact during the nation’s civil war.  But his weakness of being a political rival of those on the same ‘team’ as him led him to have little support and eventually his battle was lost to the powerful Stalin.  Stalin’s influence over people was so great that Trotsky was long considered an enemy to the Soviet by scholars and by the common folks.  Though not a pure economist, his thoughts and ideas had definite impact on the economy of Russia.  His actions were a result of his Marxist influence and strict following.  His contributions to the Revolutions based on the economic structure of Russia and the economic well being that the nation hoped to achieve.  Unfortunately, due to Stalin’s stranglehold over Russia, it was not until after World War II when Stalin’s era was reevaluated that people’s opinion of Trotsky’s role in Russia’s history changed for the better.


[i] Ryan, Sally. www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1931-tpv/

[ii] Ryan, Sally. www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1931-tpv/

Other sources used for this paper included:





Trotsky, Leon," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.




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