Liev Davidovich Bronstein was born on October 26, 1879, in the Ukrainian village of Yanovka, Russian Empire. Jew, son of middle peasants, he adhered to Marxism at 19 and went on to organize the workers of the region in a political and trade union organization called “South Russian Workers’ Union.”
Trotsky (a pseudonym borrowed from his jailer in 1902) passed three long exiles outside Russia (1902-1905, 1907-1917 and 1927-1940), but also participated in three revolutions (1905, February 1917 and October 1917). He was twice president of the Petrograd Soviet (1905 and 1917). He worked as a journalist in two wars: the Balkans in 1910, and during World War I, in 1914. Member of the Revolutionary Military Committee during the insurrection of October 1917, he managed the actions that led the Bolsheviks to power. After the victory of the insurrection, he was in charge of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and of peace negotiations with Germany in 1918.
He formed and led the Red Army, whose contingent reached five million men and women in 1920. He defeated 14 foreign armies during the Civil War. After 1921, he devoted to economic issues of the young workers’ state.
He inspired, along with Lenin, the formation of the Third International, writing its key documents and statements. After Lenin’s death, he waged a political battle against the bureaucratization of the Soviet state and the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party. Expelled from the USSR in 1927 for denouncing the anti-proletarian course of Stalin’s faction, Trotsky toured the world for 10 years an asylum seeker until his request was accepted by the Mexican government in 1937. He was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in 1940.
Trotsky was average build, black curly hairs, big blue eyes, metallic voice and rapid speech. When speaking he would gesture vibrantly and elegantly. He worked with Lenin in London in the writing team of Iskra, the first Bolshevik newspaper. After the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903, he moved away from Lenin for several years. He had never been, however, a Menshevik.
He had four children from two marriages. All of them died before him, two of them killed by Stalinism. He met the absolute glory and the most terrible failure. He never faced, however, both fates from a personal point of view. For Trotsky, his fate was the fate of the proletariat in struggle, its glories and failures were the glories and failures of the world working class and therefore essentially of political character.
In the stormy days of October 1917, just before the seizure of power, he was approached by a journalist to give a statement on behalf of the Bolsheviks. Trotsky replied, “The only statement at the moment is the one you hear from the mouths of our cannon,” and continued with quick steps to the headquarters of the Revolutionary Military Committee. Thus, Trotsky used to speak. And just as he spoke, he acted.
Trotsky was a man of action, but not of untrue action. For him, the revolutionary practical activity was inseparable from the study and intellectual work. At 26, based on the 1905 revolution experience, he formulated the first attempt of his “Theory of Permanent Revolution,” which claimed that a backward and semi-feudal Russia, with a weak and vacillating bourgeoisie, a democratic revolution against Czarism would lead immediately and inevitably to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Twelve years later, his predictions would be completely fulfilled.
But his most important theoretical work is undoubtedly “The Revolution Betrayed”, 1936. In this book, Trotsky analyzes the process of bureaucratization of the USSR and of the Bolshevik Party and states: Or the Soviet working class, under the leadership of a revolutionary party, will make a political revolution, to sweep away the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy from the Soviets and the workers’ state, or capitalism will be restored in Russia. Fifty years later, the restoration of capitalism in all planned economy countries confirmed, dramatically, Trotsky’s forecast.
Trotsky has extensive work over a myriad of issues. He wrote on literature, psychology, women’s oppression, moral and many other topics. He analyzed and left us valuable lessons about each of the revolutionary process he witnessed: the German Revolution (1923), the Chinese Revolution (1925-1927), the Spanish Revolution from 1931 to 1937 and the beginning of World War II. He also wrote two beautiful works of priceless historical and literary value, “History of the Russian Revolution” and “My Life,” his autobiography.
The greatest legacy
For Trotsky, however, his greatest achievement was not the victory of the October Revolution, the creation of the Red Army or the construction of the Third International, but the fact of having given the battle for the continuity of the Marxist tradition by founding the Fourth International in 1938. Trotsky used to say that if he was not present in Petrograd in October 1917, Lenin still would have ensured the victory of the revolution. The same would have happened with the Civil War and the Third International. But the foundation of the Fourth International was a task that only he could fulfill since Lenin was dead. Without the construction of a new International, the Marxist proletarian tradition would be lost forever as a result of the degeneration of the Third International, fully controlled by Stalinism.
The harsh conditions in which the Fourth International was built made its foundation even more necessary. Stalinism had triumphed in the USSR and the Nazis had come to power in Germany. It was necessary to form an international able to continue, as soon as conditions permitted, the struggle of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Rosa and Trotsky himself.
After being hit on the head with an ice-axe blow by Ramon Mercader, a GPU agent, the Stalinist secret police, Trotsky fought death for 22 hours and died on August 21, 1940. Thousands attended his funeral.
In the hospital, before finally losing consciousness, Trotsky asked his secretary to register his last message: “I am close to death from the blow of a political assassin. He hit me in my room, I fought him … we got … he hit me … please, tell our friends … … I sure of the victory … of the Fourth International … forward!
After 75 years of his assassination, Trotsky’s ideas remain alive in the struggle and organization of the world working class. Trotsky died. Long live Trotsky!
Excerpts of Trotsky’s testament, written on February 27, 1940. Click on the link to read the full text: Trotsky’s Testament.
For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.
Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.