At the Meetings Snowball often won over the majority with his brilliant speeches…(Orwell 47)
Leon Trotsky, born Leon Bronstein in 1879, is best known for being a Marxist revolutionary and founding leader of the Red Army. Also distinguished by his early split with Lenin and opposition to Stalin, his earnest revolutionary energy was the inspiration for George Orwell’s character Snowball in his revered novel Animal Farm.
Trotsky was first converted to the idea of Marxism during his imprisonment for helping to organize the South Russian Workers’ Union in 1898. It was during his time in prison that he identified as a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and adopted the name Trotsky as his revolutionary pseudonym. Escaping from Siberia, Trotsky met up with Georgi Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, and Julius Martov to become a writer for their newspaper Iskra (“The Spark”). It was during this time that he debated and argued with Lenin over exactly how the ideals and tasks of the socialist revolution ought to be carried out.
After the outbreak of WWI, Trotsky began editing a socialist newspaper, Nashe Slovo (“Our Word”) from Paris, in which his slogan was “peace without indemnities or annexations, peace without conquerors or conquered.” After a series of deportations, he left America for Russia after the February Revolution of 1917 overthrew Tsar Nicholas II. Within the new Bolshevik regime, Trotsky was appointed the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Though believing the “strongest cement in the new army was the ideas of the October revolution,” he also was confident that: “Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the army command has the death-penalty in its arsenal.” Even more ominous is his description of the ensuing Red Terror during the Russian Civil War:
The bourgeoisie today is a falling class… We are forced to tear it off, to chop it away. The Red Terror is a weapon utilized against a class, doomed to destruction, which does not wish to perish.
Within the different factions of the Party movements in Russia, Trotsky identified as a “Bolshevik-Leninist” and promoted his theory, founded in the speeches of Marx and Engels, of a permanent revolution. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, the Party found itself mangled between many competing theories, secret groups, and increasing fatigue from the bloodshed and instability. Trotsky supported the United Opposition against the rise of Stalin, but after it failed he was exiled and many of his followers executed in the Great Purges of 1937–1938.
In his last years, he moved through many countries, often meeting with their communist thinkers and providing his direction. Shortly before his assassination, he wrote “Trotsky’s Testament” which contained these words:
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.
In his last home in Coyoacan, Trotsky was attacked with an ice-axe by Stalin’s hired assassin in August of 1940 and died a few days later. Trotsky’s books were only allowed to be published again in the Soviet Union in the year 1987.
The Gryphon Editions consultation has placed Leon Trotsky on our list of the 100 Most Influential People because the masterful communication of his deadly ideas were a primary driving force throughout the entire beginning of the Soviet Union. His story will be immortalized once again in our leather-bound biography, part of our 100 Most Influential People Library.
To conclude, in the words of Orwell and the story of Trotsky, we learn,
You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.