Leon Trotsky


Russia and the Soviet Union 1917-1945

1. Identify the major features of the life of Leon Trotsky between 1917 and 1940.

Leon Trotsky is well recognised as one of the greatest Marxists that ever lived. After being arrested, sentenced to exile twice and supporting the Mensheviks, Trotsky was deported to New York City where he was to be a peaceful, productive member of society. Following the removal of the Tsar during the Russian Revolution, Trotsky returned to Russia in May 1917.

In August 1917, Trotsky joined the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party whose leader was none other than Vladimir Lenin. Trotsky assumed key roles in the events and policies concerning the Bolshevik Government, which included the Bolshevik Revolution, Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Civil War and views on Russia’s economic policies. The Bolshevik party focused on their one aim: overthrow the Provisional Government and replace it with a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Support from the people grew when they witnessed the Provisional Government fail in their all-out military attack in July. The Bolsheviks took advantage of this opportunity creating meaningful slogans for the people such as “end the war,” “all land to the peasants,” and “all power to the soviets.” On the 12th of October 1917 the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) was established, lead by Trotsky they planned to fight against the Provisional Government. On the night of November 6th the MRC ordered the Red Guards and other loyal units of soldiers to seize the key points of the city, which was successful in securing Bolshevik power. Thus Trotsky’s leadership of the MRC and the success of the revolution, earned Trotsky Lenin’s respect and confidence as well as the appointment of Minister for Foreign Affairs.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trotsky led a negotiation with the Germans concerning an agreement that was declared in December 1917. Trotsky ‘marched’ out of negotiations, however the immediate threat posed by German forces led the Bolsheviks to sign the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and agree to even harsher terms than what was first proposed. Trotsky was the main negotiator at the peace talks, supporting a strategy of ‘no war, no peace’. Despite Trotsky’s actions at negotiations, forcing the Bolshevik government to agree to even harsher terms, Lenin understood Trotsky’s motivations as a show of loyalty to the Bolshevik Government and allowed him to stay Minister of Foreign Affairs.

As the Civil War started, the Bolsheviks passed a declaration announcing the creation of the Red Army, which was Trotsky’s idea. On the 8th of April, Lenin appointed Trotsky as Minister for War. Shortly after Trotsky introduced conscription and obtained the numbers to overcome the Whites, the Red Army had a total of 3 million men by 1920. Trotsky’s disciplinary actions paid off with the Red Army being able to launch a counter-attack, driving the enemy back. Thus, with Trotsky’s other military success of the Bolshevik Revolution and the support from within the Army, Trotsky took on another major feature of his life, the Civil War and successfully created Red Army into victory, as well as consolidating his power by being made Commissar for War.

By the mid-1920’s there were many debates about the countries economic problems. Trotsky proposed a reduction in War Communism, in order for market forces to function more effectively. This policy was rejected at the time but was later established as the New Economic Policy. It meant a partial return to indirect methods of mobilisation, and to ‘state capitalism’. In 1925 Trotsky campaigned for the abandonment of NEP stating that it was too slow, instead Trotsky proposed rapid expansion of socialism in the countryside, involving the high taxation of peasants, rapid industrial growth and an aggressive foreign policy.

When Lenin suffered a stroke and died in 1922, it also signalled the downfall of Trotsky. With Lenin out of action Trotsky was his obvious successor, but he was met with opposition by the installation of an informal Troika, made up of Zinovyev, Kanenev and Stalin. Trotsky waited for a time to launch an attack on Stalin, by passing a vote of no confidence, but this backfired and Trotsky was accused of ‘factionalism and opportunism’. Trotsky became ill which left Stalin to dominate the Thirteenth Party Congress in 1924. In 1925 Trotsky was