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Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) - Leon Trotski, pseudonym of Leib or Lev Davidovich Bronstein


Russian Jewish Revolutionary leader and Soviet politician, a close friend of Lenin. Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution" became unpopular after Stalin had gained power in the Soviet Union. Trotsky was assassinated by one of Stalin's agents. Although Trotsky later condemned the Red Terror, he was, perhaps, one of its first proponents.

"Things are not going well. The Greek soldiers landed on the shores of Crimea, according to the reports of Allied diplomats and newspapermen, were mounted on Crimean donkeys, but the donkeys were not able to arrive in time at the Perekop Isthmus. Things are not going well. Evidently even donkeys have begun to shake off the imperialistic harness." (from Trotsky's speech on April 1919)

Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Leon Trotsky) was born in Yanovka, Ukraine, the son of an illiterate Jewish farmer. Trotsky's father, David Bronshtein, had bought land near the small town of Bobrinets, and eventually he became a substantial landowner. During the revolution he lost his estate, but Trotsky set him up as the manager of a flour mill near Moscow. Trotsky's mother, Anna, came from Odessa, where she had received a modest education. "We were not deprived, except of life's generosity and tenderness", Trotsky later said. His mother loved to read to her eight children and encouraged them to acquire a good education. She died in 1910. Only Lev, two sisters and a brother survived beyond childhood. After Trotsky was deported in 1929, his brother Alexander publicly disowned him, but he was shot in 1938. Liza, Trotsky's elder sister, died in 1924. Trotsky's younger sister Olga married an influential Bolshevik leader, Lev Kamenev, but she was shot in 1941. Her two young sons were shot in 1936.

After attending a Jewish primary school, Trotsky studied at a state school in Odessa. He was a very good student, who especially loved mathematics, but was expelled for a year when he fell foul of the French teacher. "I can hardly think of a single teacher whom I might remember with affection", he recalled.

Trotsky joined in 1896 the Social Democrats. Two years later he was arrested as a Marxist and exiled to Siberia. During this period Trostky occupied himself with Freemasonry, which he studied in prison. In 1902 he escaped and reached England. With him he carried a passport that used the name of a jailer in Odessa's prison, Trotsky.

In London Trotsky met Lenin and other Russian Revolutionary thinkers and collaborated in publication their journal of Iskra (The Spark). When the party split in 1903, and Trotsky broke with Lenin, he gained position as a leader of the Menshevik wing of the Social Democratic party, as opposed to the Bolshevik one under Lenin, prophesying that Leninist theory would result in a one-man dictatorship. In the abortive 1905 revolution Trotsky organized the first revolutionary Soviet council in St. Petersburg and was appointed president of the Soviet. About this time he propounded the doctrine of permanent revolution, which implied that revolution in one country must be followed by revolutions in other countries, eventually throughout the world. After the uprising ended he was again exiled to Siberia, and managed once more escape.

"Some time before the war the Austro-Hungarian government received a sharp note from St Petersburg, demanding that a stop be put to the activities of the Russian political emigrants in Vienna. The Minister of the Interior received the note and shook with laughter: 'Who do they think is going to start a revolution in Russia - perhaps that Herr Trotsky from the Café Central?'" (from Wit as a Weapon by Egon Larsen, 1980)

Trotsky worked then as journalist in Vienna, and become editor of Pravda (truth). With the outbreak of World War I he moved to Zürich in 1914 and then to Germany, where he was imprisoned for opposing the war. During World War I Trotsky led the internationalist wing of the Mensheviks. He denounced Russia's involvement in the war. In 1915 Trotsky moved to Paris, editing the socialist weekly Nashe Slovo, but he was expelled from France as a result of his pacifist propaganda. After a short stay in New York as the editor of Novy Mir, and finding out that some Wall Street bankers were willing to finance a revolution, Trotsky returned to Russia in 1917. He joined the Bosheviks in St. Petersburg and established the magazine Vperied (Forward). Trotsky was arrested for a short time by Aleksandr Feodorovich Kerenski's provisional government, but after release he played a major role in the October Revolution.

At the conference in Brest-Litovsk in 1918 Trotsky was leader of the Russian delegate. From 1919 to 1927 he was a member of Politburo. Trotsky was made the Russian Civil War commissar for war (1918-25) and created in this post the Red army. For two and half years, as he explained in My Life, he lived in his heavy armored train with two engines, travelling from one front to another. The Red army grew from 800,000 to 3,000,000, and fought on sixteen fronts simultaneously. With his speeches Trotsky encouraged villagers, troops, his illiterate audience who was cut off from the vital news. "These spring months become the decisive months in the history of Europe. At the same time this spring will decide definitely the fate of the bourgeois and rich peasant, anti-Soviet Russia."

In 1921-22 the last remnants of non-Communist socialist parties, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, were abolished. In May 1922 Lenin suffered a stroke which left him partly paralyzed, in early 1923 another took away his speech and in January 1924 he died. After Lenin's death, among the aspiring successors, Stalin and Trotsky were the leading figures. In his writings Trotsky stressed the peculiarities of the Russian economic and social development. "The insignificance of the Russian cities, which more than anything else promoted the development of an Asian state, also made impossible a Reformation - that is, a replacement of the feudal-bureaucratic orthodoxy by some sort of modernized kind of Christianity adapted to the demands of a bourgeois society. The struggle against the state church did not go farther than the creation of peasant sects, the faction of the Old Believers being the most powerful among them." (from The History of the Russian Revolution, 1931-33) Russia, lacking the mature capitalist development, could go straight to a dictatorship of the proletariat, but Trotsky believed that it was impossible to build socialism in one country alone. In this he disagreed fatally with Stalin.

"The dictatorship of the Communist Party is maintained by recourse to every form of violence." (from Terrorism and Communism, 1924)

Although Lenin had rejected Stalin as his successor, Stalin strengthened his position. He inclined towards concentrating on the development of a Communist order in Russia, while Trotsky was dedicated to the belief that Russia should catalyze worldwide Communist revolution. Stalin believed that socialism in one country was possible. A schism broke out in Communist ranks. Trotsky's Left Opposition tried to mobilize the Moscow proletariat, but this failed due to the workers' indifference. The failure proved that he was no longer a charismatic mass leader. Trotsky's influence began to decline and Stalin removed him from the commissariat for war.

From 1925 to 1926 Trotsky held relatively minor administrative post, before he was ousted from the party by Stalin. In 1927 Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata, in Kazakstan, where he devoted himself to writing his memoirs and bitter pamphlets. The 'combined opposition' of Trotsky, Grigory Zinoview, and Lev Kamenev was unsuccessful. In 1929 Trotsky was totally expelled from the Soviet Union. With this stroke Stalin became the sole and undisputable leader of the Communist Party, and therefore of the Soviet Union.

During the following years Trotsky lived in Turkey (1929-33), France (1933-35), Norway (1935-36), and finally found asylum in Mexico, where he was invited by the socialist artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957). With Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife, he had a brief affair. She gave him a self-portrait, 'Between the Courtains' (1937), when the relationship finished. The French surrealist André Breton, who saw the painting in Trotsky's study, said that "we are privileged to be present, as in the most glorious days of German romanticims, at the entry of a young woman endowed with all the gifts of seduction."

On the death of his elder son Lev Sedov in 1934, Trotsky wrote: "Yagoda [head of the security organs] caused the premature death of one of my daughters, and drove the other to suicide. He arrested my two sons-in-law who simply disappeared without a trace. The GPU arrested my younger son, Sergei... and he then disappeared." In Mexico Trotsky continued his attack on Stalin's leadership and the 'degeneration' of the political system in the Soviet Union. Trotsky regarded the dictatorship he and Lenin had established as justified because it was exercised in the interest of the proletariat, and so it was quite different from Stalin's dictatorship, because the latter acted only in its own interests. In the United States Trotskyism enjoyed support of influential critics and intellectuals, some of whom were associated with the literary and political journal the Partisan Review.

Trotsky's Literature and Revolution (1924), a collection of articles, was his most important contribution to literature criticism. He had sympathy for Russian Futurism and praises Mayakovsky for placing his art at the service of the Revolution. According to Trotsky, "art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes. But at present even the handling of a hammer is taught with the help of a mirror, a sensitive film which records all the movement... The deeper literature is, and the more it is imbued with the desire to shape life, the more significantly and dynamically will it be able to 'picture life..." Trotsky did not believe that it is possible to create genuine proletarian art at his time. In the 1920s the Bolshevik regime exercised a relatively tolerant cultural policy, and allowed experimentation, if it did nor criticize the Party or the Revolution. Trotsky did not reject Freud who was blacklisted in the Soviet Union. He showed some understanding of the Formalist school in its attempt to seek criteria for classification and valuation, but emphasized that the verbal art do not end with the word. "Artistic creation is always a complicated turning inside out of old forms, under the influence of new stimuli which originate outside art. In this large sense of the word, art is a handmaiden. It is not a disembodied element feeding on itself, but a function of social man indissolubly tied to his life and environment." Later Formalism became - in the hands of Stalinist censors - a swearword, which ended all kinds of experiments.

In 1938 Trotsky and his followers founded the Fourth International. During the Great Purge (1934-38), a wave of terror by which Stalin aimed at eliminating the opposition, Trotsky was accused of espionage. Stalin found a surprising ally in Winston Churchill, who was a consistent opponet of Communism, but saw in Trotsky an enemy of the establisehd order. When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939, starting the Winter War, Trotsky sided with the Red Army. A supposed family friend, Jacques van den Dreschd, wounded Trotsky mortally on August 21, 1940 with an ice pick. "The vengeance of history is more terrible than the vengeance of the most powerful General Secretary." (from Stalin, 1946)

See also: Isaac Babel have depicted Jews in Odessa and the Russian Civil war his novel Red Army (1926). Vienna after the turn of the century attracted several intellectuals and writers. Café Central near Palais Frestel was Trotsky's, Peter Altenbeg's, Robert Musil's, Kraftt-Ebbing's, and Alfred Adler's favorite place. - Film: The Assassination of Trotsky (1972), dir. by Joseph Losey, starring Richard Burton, Alain Delon, Romy Schneider. - For further reading: Three Who Made a Revolution by B.D. Wolfe (1948); Leon Trotsky by Irving Howe (1978); The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky by Baruch Knei-Paz (1978); Leon Trotsky: A Biography by Ronald Segal (1979); Trotsky: A Study in the Dynamics of His Thought by Ernest Mandel (1979); The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 by Isaac Deutscher (1980); The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-29 by Isaac Deutscher (1980); The Propher Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940 by Isaac Deutsher (1980); Trotsky: Fate of a Revolutionary by Robert S. Wistrich (1982); Trotskyism by Alex Callinicos (1990); A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950, vol. 7, by René Wellek (1991); Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary by Antonovich Volkogorov (1996); Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary by Dmitri Volkogonov (2007); Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary by Bertrand M. Patenaude (2009); Trotski by Christer Pursiainen (2011; in Finnish); Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life by Joshua Rubenstein (2011); Trotsky: A Biography by Robert Service (2011)  - Permanent revolution: Marx and Engels had predicted that the proletarian revolution would occur first in the industrialized nations of western Europe. Trotsky argued from his experience in 1905 that Russian bourgeois was too weak to carry through the coming revolution which would have to be taken over by the proletariat. The proletariat would then be deserted by the peasantry, who would join the mass of small owners opposing the socialist revolution. Since the proletariat in Russia was a minority, it would not be able to maintain itself in power unless it could rely on the help from a socialist revolution in the West. The revolution in Russia would touch off a conflagration in the rest of Europe - revolution in one country leads to revolution internationally. "This struggle, under conditions of an overwhelming predominance of capitalist relationships on the world arena, must inevitably lead to explosions, that is, internally to civil wars and externally to revolutionary wars. Therein lies the permanent character of the socialist revolution as such... The socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena, and is completed on the world arena." (from The Permanent Revolution, 1930) Later the "domino theory" - a cornerstone of the U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia - reflected curiously Trotskyist way of thinking: it argued that if the U.S. did not make a stand in South Vietnam, then the rest of the nations of Southeast Asia and beyond would accommodate to communist power and eventually topple one after the other like a stack of dominoes.

Selected works:

  • Itogi i perspektivy - Results & Prospects (tr. 1921)
  • Terrorizm i kommunizm, 1920 - The Defence of Terrorism (tr. 1905) / Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky (with a foreword by Max Schachtman, 1961; also titled as Dictatorship Vs. Democracy, with a preface by H. N. Brailsford, and a foreword by Max Bedact, 1922) / Terrorism and Communism (with a foreword by Slavoj Žizek, 2007)
  • Novyi kurs, 1923 - The New Course (translated by Max Shachtman, 1943)
  • Sochineniia, 1923-27 (12 vols.)
  • Pyat' let Kominterna, 1924 (2 vols.) - The First Five Years of the Communist International (translated by John G. Wright & R. Chappell, 1974)
  • Uroki Oktyabrya, 1924 - The Lessons of October (translated by John. G. Wright, 1937)
  • Literatura i revoliutsiia, 1925 - Literature and Revolution (translated by Rose Strunsky, 1925)
  • O Lenine, 1925 - Lenin: Notes for a Biographer (translated  by Tamara Deutscher, 1925)
  • Kuda idet Angliya?, 1925 - Where Is Britain Going? (edited by R. Chappell and Alan Clinton, in Collectded Writings and Speeches on Britain, 3 vols., 1974)
  • Voprosy byta, 1925 - Problems of Life (translated by Z. Vengerova, 1973) / Problems of Everyday Life and Other Writings on Culture and Science (tr. 1973)
  • Moya zhizn', 1930 (2 vols.) - My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (introd. by Joseph Hansen, 1930)
  • Permanentnaia revoliutsiia, 1930 - The Permanent Revolution (translated by Max Shachtman, 1931; John G. Wright, 1931) - Jatkuva vallankumous (suom. Esa Adrian)
  • Istoriya Russkoi Revolyutsii, 1931-33 - The History of the Russian Revolution (3 vols., translated by Max Eastman, 1932)
  • Stalinskaia shkola falsifikatsii: popravki i dopolneniia k literature epigonov, 1932 - The Stalin School of Falsification (translated by Max Shachtman, 1937)
  • Predannaia revolutsiia / La Révolution trahie, 1936 - The Revolution Betrayed (translated by Max Eastman, 1937)
  • Ikh moral' i nasha, 1938 - Their Morals and Ours (tr. 1938)
  • The Basic Writings of Trotsky, 1963 (edited by Irving Howe)
  • The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology, 1964 (ed. by Isaac Deutscher)
  • Leon Trotsky on Literature and Art, 1970 (edited by Paul N. Siegel)
  • The Trotsky Papers, 1917-1922, 1971 (edited by Jan M. Meijer)
  • Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935: Writings on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolutionism, 1986 (translated, annotated, and with introductory essays by Philip Pomper; Russian text annotated by Yuri Felshtinsky)
  • Trotsky’s Diary in Exile, 1935, 1976 (translated from the Russian by Elena Zarudnaya; with a foreword by Jean van Heijenoort)
  • Dnevniki i pisʹma, 1986 (edited by Yuri Felshtinsky)
  • Permanentnaia revolutsiia, 1993 (edited and with an introduction by Felix J. Kreisel)
  • Pisʹma iz ssylki, 1928, 1995 (edited by Yuri Felshtinsky)
  • Stalin: v dvukh tomakh, 1996 (2 vols., edited by Yuri Felshtinsky)
  • Stalin: roman-otkrovenie, 2007
  • Writings in Exile, 2012 (edited by Kunal Chattapadhyay and Paul Le Blanc)

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