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Leon Trotsky

participant in the Russian Communist Revolution

Leon Trotsky

Lev Davidovich Bronstein was born of middle-class Jewish parents near Elizavetgrad, Ukraine, in 1879. He was educated at the Peter and Paul Real Schule in Odessa, and then at the university of that town.

After two years of revolutionary activity, Bronstein was arrested in 1898, and soon after exiled to eastern Siberia. In 1902 he escaped to England by means of a forged passport in the name of Trotsky (which name he used thenceforward). In London, Trotsky soon became an important member of the small body of Social Democrats which included Vladimir Lenin. He collaborated in the publication of Iskra (Spark), the most famous of the Russian revolutionary newspapers. In 1905 he returned to Russia to take an active part in the revolution. That same year he was elected a member of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies and was chairman of the meeting at which the whole Soviet was arrested. He was exiled to Tobolsk, but escaped almost immediately and went to Vienna.

Trotsky spent the next several years as a revolutionary writer and editor in western Europe. In 1910 he attended the Social Democratic congress at Copenhagen, where he advocated a position midway between that of the Bolshevists and that of the Menshevists. In 1914 he wrote a book on the origins of World War I, published in German, and was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment. But he opposed the war not only in Germany but in the Allied countries, and in 1916 was expelled from France. He was arrested by the Spanish authorities on crossing their border, but was allowed to leave for America. He settled for a time in New York City, where he edited the Russian revolutionary Novy Mir (The New World).

When the revolution broke out in March, 1917, Trotsky's friends and subscribers to the paper collected the money for his journey to Russia. He arrived at Petrograd soon after Lenin. With Lenin, he helped plot the Bolshevik seizure of power and formation of the Soviet regime in November of that same year. He subsequently became the first Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, and later the Commissar of War. As Commissar of War, Trotsky made great use of officers of the old régime in organizing a new Red Army. In 1920 he organized as "labour armies" the troops that were not needed for war.

Despite the important role he had played in the success of the Communist revolution, Trotsky gradually found himself out of favor with the party. In 1923 he adopted a position that made it possible for the "old guard" of the Communist leaders to accuse him of canvassing for the support of the younger men. When Lenin died in 1924, many believed that Trotsky would be his successor, but that was not to be. The campaign to discredit him continued. He lost his post as Commissar of War and was given work of small political significance. In 1925 he was made head of the Central Committee for Concessions. In 1927 he was expelled from the Communist Party for his "anti-party activities," and in January 1928 was exiled to Viernie in Turkestan. He was subsequently banished and went to Constantinople, in 1929.

In 1936 Trotsky made his home in Norway; in 1937 he went to live in Mexico. On August 20, 1940, he was attacked in his suburban home at Mexico City; he died of his injuries the next day.


Encyclopædia Britannica Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1957

See Also

Vladimir Lenin
World War I
New York City

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This page was last updated on August 19, 2018.