Leon Trotsky

Leon Davidovich Trotsky (October 26 (O.S.) = November 7 (N.S.), 1879 – August 21, 1940), was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein to Jewish parents in Yanovka, Kherson Province, Ukraine. His date of birth in the Gregorian calendar is November 7 – the same day as the Soviet revolution of 1917. Since the Julian calendar was replaced in 1918, his date of death is that of the Gregorian calendar.

He was first arrested in 1898 while working as an organizer for the South Russian Workers’ Union. In 1900 he was sentenced to four years in exile in Siberia. He escaped from Siberia, taking the name Trotsky from a former jailer in Odessa, and proceeded to London to join Vladimir Lenin, then managing editor of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party newspaper Iskra.

He attended the Second Congress of the RSDLP in London in the summer of 1903, and in the internal dispute which split the party, sided with the Mensheviks against Lenin. Although his allegiance to the Mensheviks was short-lived, the damage to his relationship with Lenin lasted for the next 14 years.

By 1905, he had returned to Russia. His involvement in the October general strike and his support for that armed rebellion led to his conviction and sentence to exile for life. In January 1907, he escaped en route to exile and once again made his way to London, where he attended the Fifth Party Congress. In October he moved to Vienna.

As war approached he moved to neutral Switzerland, then France. He was deported from France and was living in New York City when the Russian Revolution removed the Tsar. He returned in May 1917 to Russia where he ultimately joined the Bolsheviks and became actively involved in efforts to overthrow the Provisional Government headed by Aleksandr Kerensky.

After the Bolsheviks came to power, he became the Commissar For Foreign Affairs with the major goal of negotiating peace with Germany and her allies. But his withdrawal from the talks (February 10, 1918) provoked a German invasion (February 18), forcing the Soviet regime to sign the highly disadvantageous Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3. Trotsky subsequently resigned his diplomatic position and became Commissar of War. As founder and commander of the Red Army he was largely responsible for their success over the White Army and victory in the Russian Civil War.

With the illness and death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin was able to consolidate his control of the Party and the government. At this point, Trotsky was unable or unwilling to actively oppose Stalin. By remaining silent at the Twelfth Party Congress in 1923, Trotsky lost his last real opportunity to oppose Stalin, who along with Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev was able to take control of the Party.

Trotsky would later develop his theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’, which stood in stark contrast to Stalin’s policy of building “Socialism in One Country.” This ideological division provided much of the basis for the political divide between Trotsky and Stalin, which culminated on November 12, 1927 when he was expelled from the Soviet Communist Party (leaving Stalin with undisputed control of the Soviet Union). He was exiled to Alma Ata (now in Kazakhstan) on January 31, 1929.

He was deported and moved from Turkey to France to Norway, eventually settling in Mexico at the invitation of the painter, Diego Rivera. In 1938, Trotsky founded an international Marxist organization, the Fourth International, which was intended to be a Trotskyist alternative to the Stalinist Third International. He eventually quarreled with Rivera and in 1939 moved into his own residence. On May 24, 1940, Trotsky survived a raid on his home by alleged Stalinist assassins. While at the home of Frida Kahlo on August 20, 1940, a Stalinist agent, Ramon Mercader del Rio Hernandez, attacked Trotsky in Coyoacán (a suburb of Mexico City), driving an ice-pick into his skull.

Mercader later testified at his trial: “I laid my raincoat on the table in such a way as to be able to remove the ice-pick which was in the pocket. I decided not to miss the wonderful opportunity that presented itself. The moment Trotsky began reading the article gave me the chance, I took out the ice-pick from the raincoat, gripped it in my hand and, with my eyes closed, dealt him a terrible blow on the head.” Trotsky died the next day.