Leon Trotsky was one of the key figures of the Russian Revolution, and a talented theoretician, writer, orator and revolutionary leader.
His theoretical development of Marxism remains relevant today.
The young Trotsky grew up Jewish in a deeply repressive, antisemitic regime and sought revolutionary change from an early age.
During the 1905 revolution he was elected leader of the Petrograd Soviet (workers council) aged just 26. He saw first-hand the power of the soviet and declared it to be an embryonic workers’ government. He described the excitement of 1905. “Revolution appears as utter madness only to those who it sweeps aside and overthrows,” he wrote.
“To us it was different. We were in our own element, albeit a very stormy one.”
Trotsky used the experience to deepen his understanding of Marxism and helped develop the idea of “Permanent Revolution”.
The theory insisted that workers, despite being a minority in Russia, would be the key force to overthrow the Tsar. He argued that Russia couldn’t be seen in isolation from global capitalism and that revolution could spread elsewhere.
Trotsky only joined the Bolshevik party in July 1917—but said not joining earlier was the biggest mistake of his life.
He understood that the situation in Russia was too unstable to continue with the Provisional Government which had replaced the Tsar after the February Revolution.
The movement would have to continue to a socialist revolution or continue to be vulnerable to attacks.
As leader of the Revolutionary Military Committee Trotsky played a decisive role October Revolution that saw workers seize power.
Trotsky convinced Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin that the soviets, not the Bolsheviks, should issue the call for insurrection.
It was far from the bloody struggle for control that it is sometimes portrayed as. The revolution was almost bloodless as it had such mass support.
Shortly after October forces hostile to the revolution began to organise.
Trotsky led the Red Army to victory against a counter?revolution from Russia’s old rulers and more than a dozen invading armies.
He spent much of two years in an armoured train visiting the troops.
He played a key role in setting up the Communist International to bring together revolutionaries across the world to discuss strategy and tactics.
Trotsky led the opposition to Joseph Stalin from within Russia, but was driven to exile after he was accused of being an agent of fascism.
From exile, he resisted the rise of Hitler and worked on the theory of the united front, which analysed how revolutionaries should fight alongside reformists.
Trotsky defended the Bolsheviks and the revolution of 1917 until the day he died. He described a “river of blood” between the 1917 revolution and Stalinism.
Most of Trotsky’s family was murdered or driven to suicide by Stalin and Trotsky was killed by an agent of Stalin while in exile in Mexico in 1940.
He was killed because he was a living reminder of the potential for change.