The Life of Leon Trotsky

Submitted by sm on 21 April, 2007 - 7:48

By John O'Mahony

"On 14 March at a quarter to three in the afternoon the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone scarcely two minutes and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep, but for ever."

- Frederick Engels reporting the death of Karl Marx

It is over 60 years since one of the 20th century socialist movement's greatest minds, that of Leon Trotsky, ceased to think. On August 20, 1940, Leon Trotsky, who together with Lenin, had led the Russian workers' revolution of October 1917, was struck down with a blowto the head from an ice pick wielded by an assassin sent by the Russian dictator Stalin. He soon lost consciousness, and died the next day, August 21. Stalin was the leader of the Russian bureaucracy which had displaced the workers as rulers of the USSR. Trotsky would have been 61 on November 7. 1940,,

No other socialist militant has ever had so broad and deep an experience of all the phases of working dass struggle as Leon Trotsky had. In his teens in Tsarist Russia he was jailed for helping workers set up illegal trade unions. During the 1905 Revolution he was—still in his 20s— the leader of the Workers' Parliament (Soviet) in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), after which he was jailed and exiled.

He was for 20 years before 1917 a revolutionary socialist agitator, joumalist,and a theoretician of the workers' movement. He was active in France, Austria and the USA as well as in Russia. He helped organise the first stirrmgs of resistance in France to the great slaughter that was World War 1.

Pack in Russia after the Tsar was overthrown ir February 1917, Trotsky was again elected leader of the Petrograd Soviet. IDwin' the ~war, St. Petersburg, because of its German-sounding name had Deen renamed Petrograd).

October revolution

Trotsky joined Lenin's Bolshevik Party and was irnmediately elected to its Central Committee, receiving more votes than any other member apart from Lenin. In October 1917, he was the central organiser of the working elass insurrection organised through the Soviets.

When full-scale civil war broke out, which soon merged with the invasion of armies from no less than 14 capitalist states, including Britain, Trotsky, as Commissar for war, was first the organiser and then the leader of the newly created Red Army.

With peace, Trotsky, like everyone else, turned to reconstruction work. Following the defeat of workers' revolution in the rest of Europe, a new ruling elite based on the state bureaucracy took control in the USSR. Trotsky separated himself from the bureaucracy and together with the incorrupitible Bolsheviks, went into opposition. Defeated, he was expelled from the USSR Many of his comrades were jailed or sent to Siberia, where eventually they would be slaughtered.

In exile again, Trotsky became a far-sighted critic of Stalin's Communist Parties. In the period before Hitler came to power in Germany, crushing and destroying the German labour movement, Trotsky wrote many prophetic pamphlets and articles to warn the Getrman workers against the policies of the mass German Communist Party which were to lead to their destruction.

But Trotsky was now isolated. He would die isolated, with only a tiny handful of supporters.

Throughout the '30s he watched helplessly as one after another, the Stalmists and reformists led the European labour movements to destruction at the hands of faseism and reaetion in Gertnany, Audria, Spain and France. His voluminous writings on these life and death questions armed only small minor*ies and had no effect on the Stalinist and reformist led mass workerst movement. It would be decades before they became widely known to new genetations of soeialists.

In a private diary, he wrote m 1935 that he felt, watching the European labour movement go to its destruction, like a wise old physician forced to watch the destruction of someone he loved whom he knew how to save but was prevented from saving.

The Stalinist domination of the would-be revolutionary sections of the European labour movement isolated and paralysed him.

He would never escape from the mghtmare. He witnessed the Stalinist bureaucracy consolidating its power in the mid-'30s by waging a murderous, one-sided civil war on the Russian workers and peasants. He saw Stalin and Hitler make a pact to partition Poland, and the Nazis, with Stalin's backing, overrun Western Europe.

Trotsky's Iife was entwined with the greatest achievements of the lalbour movement and with its descent into the abyss in the 1930s. The very manner of his death symbolised perfectly the fate of the mass revolutionary movement he, together with Lenin, had organised and led.

Yet Trotsky never gave up. He reasoned, analysed and wrote: he worked to prepare the future of the labour movement. He told the bitter truth come what may. His writings are of immense value to the labour movement today — though he would surely have great contempt for those degenerate "Trotskyists" who treat them as holy writ.

The following passage, sometimes called Trotsky's Testament, sums up Trdts}y's personal philosophy. When the future generations he talks of here have finished off class society they will remember Trotsky with iove and gratitude.

"For fiarty-three years of my conscious life I have been a revoutionary; and for forty-two I have fought under the banner of M arxism. If 1 were to begin al! over again, I would . . . try to avoid making this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. 1 shall die a proletarian revolutionary, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and consequently an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the commumst future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.

Natasha [Natalia Sedova, his companion1 has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may entcr more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass; beneath the wa11, 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."

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