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Trotsky - 1879-1917 - The Early Years

Leon Trotsky, aka Lev Davidovitj Trotzky, Russian Revolutionist, of Jewish parentage, originally named Lev (Leon) Davidovich Bronstein, was born at Nikolayev, Province of Kherson, 1877.Other sources report Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein on 7 November 1879 in the small village of Yanovka, then part of the Russian Empire and now southern Ukraine. He was the fifth child of a hard-working, well-off though uneducated Jewish farmer.

Unlike Lenin, he had not had the advantage of early systematic education. When Lev was about nine, his father sent him to live with friends of his family in the bustling port of Odessa. In high school he proved an exceptionally bright and capable student, completing the course in 1896. He never studied at a university. In 1896 Lev moved to the city of Nikolayev to complete his schooling. Here he was drawn into an underground Socialist circle and was introduced to Marxism. He helped to set up the underground South Russia Workers Union. At the early age of 17 he joined revolutionary groups in Nikolaiev, first the Populists and soon after, the Marxists.

In January 1898 more than 200 of the South Russia Workers Unions members, including Trotsky, were arrested. Trotsky spent the next two years in prison awaiting trial. For his connection with the illegal association of Russian workers in his native city, he was sentenced to exile for four years to Siberia (1899).

After more than two years in prison, in 1900 he was exiled to Ust-Kut, on the Lena River in Siberia. He began to contribute to a local newspaper and soon showed himself to be a gifted writer. While in prison, he married fellow Marxist Aleksandra Sokolovskaya who gave birth to their two daughters in Siberia.

In the summer of 1902 he escaped to Europe with a forged passport bearing the name Trotsky, which he adopted as his revolutionary pseudonym. He later said the name was that of a prison guard in Odessa. His wife remained behind, and the separation became permanent.

Soon afterward he crossed to Austria, and then came to Lenin in London. Trotsky made his way to London, where he joined a group of Russian Social-Democrats working with Vladimir Lenin on the revolutionary newspaper Iskra (The Spark), soon becoming one of its leading authors. A few lectures and articles written for Iskra (which was issued abroad by the leading group of Russian Marxists) revealed Trotsky's gifts as a speaker and writer; it was not long before he was admitted to the party's highest circles. That same year Trotsky met and later married Natalia Sedova who became his devoted companion until death. They had two sons together.

His close friendship with Lenin did not last long, however. Their paths parted in 1903, when Trotsky began to side with the Mensheviks.

Trotsky concluded as early as 1904 that the working class would have to carry out the democratic-bourgeois revolution in alliance with the peasant masses because of the very weakness of the indigenous Russian bourgeoisie. To this extent Trotsky's conclusions concurred with those of Lenin and the Bolsheviks at that time. However, Trotsky went further. For Trotsky both the heterogeneity and lack of organization amongst the peasant masses meant that, despite their overwhelming numbers, the Russian peasantry could only play a supporting role within the revolution. This political weakness of the peasantry, together with the absence of those social strata based in small scale production, meant that the Russian proletariat would be compelled to play the leading role in both the revolution, and in the subsequent revolutionary government.

Upon the outbreak of revolutionary disturbances in 1905, Trotsky secretly returned to Russias then capital St. Petersburg. He took a prominent part in the revolutionary movement in Petrograd in the fall of 1905, where he became a leading spokesman of a revolutionary organization representing the citys workers - the St. Petersburg Soviet (Council) of Workers Deputies. The first "Soviets of Workers' Deputies" in Russia emerged spontaneously during those months. On the initiative of the socialist parties, mainly the Mensheviks, industrial workers in the city's factories proceeded to elect representatives to non-partisan bodies called Soviets. (At a later stage, in 1917, there also emerged "Soldiers' " and "Peasants' " Soviets. ) The Soviet (council) was to serve as a leader in economic and political strikes. At that time there existed in Russia neither trade unions nor political associations able to cope with these tasks ; the Soviet was to be the first mass organization in a country where associations and parties were prohibited.

The chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet was a non-party lawyer, Khrustalev-Nosar; the vice chairmen were Leon (Lev) Trotsky, a non-Bolshevik Social-Democrat, and Nikolai Avksentiev, a member of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks at first looked with suspicion upon this new "nonparty" formation. The Soviet published an official organ, Izvestia (News) and a multitude of leaflets, including appeals to the army; it introduced an eight-hour working day in St. Petersburg industries, started to organize armed workers' brigades, and guided a number of workers' strikes. When its chairman, Khrustalev, was arrested on December 10, Trotsky the actual head of the Soviet, took over officially. But on December 29 [16] Trotsky himself was arrested, along with the entire Soviet. Trotsky and the other Council leaders were tried, and Trotsky was sentenced to to exile to Siberia for life, but in 1907 [1906] he escaped on his way to Siberia.

Arrested and exiled, he again escaped from Siberia and lived as an emigre in Western Europe from 1906 to January 1917. He succeeded in fleeing from Siberia and during the following years lived in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany (attending the University of Leipzig for a portion of the school year 1906-7), Turkey, and Bulgaria. During this period he was a member of the moderate (menshevist) wing of the Russian Social Democratic Party. A new congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party convened in London (May 1907). It was the best attended of all the congresses of that era. The Bolsheviks had a certain numerical superiority and won a decisive position in the "joint" Central Committee. At this congress the younger generation of Bolshe- viks started to assert itself : Grigori Zinoviev, Lev ( Leo ) Kamenev, Niko- lai Bukharin, and Kliment Voroshilov were present as Lenin's lieutenants. Leon Trotsky, though present, was still opposed to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

In Vienna, where Trotsky lived in very modest circumstances, he issued the newspaper Pravda, in which he sought to mediate between the menshevist and the radical wing of the party (bolshevist). While in Vienna, he earned his living as a correspondent in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. In 1913 he was war correspondent at Constantinople to cover the Balkan War for a bourgeois radical German paper, after which he spent some time in Bulgaria, engaged in studies of the Macedonian question.

At the outbreak of the World War in August 1914, Trotsky, being a Russian subject, was expelled from Vienna. He lived first in Switzerland and then in France, where he issued from Paris the Russian newspaper Nashe Slovo. The hostile attitude of this paper to the war led to his expulsion from France, whence he entered Spain, which also expelled him.

He arrived in the United States in 1916, and received a warm reception from his East Side comrades in New York, who were accustomed to helping revolutionary outcasts. The East Side was more of a state of mind. Externally it was a chain of tenements. Its streets are black with men, women, and children. Many of its thoroughfares are packed with push-carts. Behind them stood the picturesque peddlers whose shouts, siren-like, served to attract the beshawled housewife to the wares piled high for her scrutiny and discriminating purchase. In the whole neighborhood there was no colony of immigrants which can show such a rich and variegated life of the spirit as that of the Russian Jewish immigrants. They support five daily newspapers printed in Yiddish, with a circulation of over three hundred and fifty thousand, and read by many more. The Jewish life of the world is mirrored in this press. The international mind is popularized by the agile-minded Jewish journalists, and the news is frequently colored by the headline methods of the American popular dailies.

In 1917 "Defeatism" the Bolshevik attitude toward "imperialist war" was generally unpopular; "Lenin's ideas," wrote Trotsky, "did not have a single champion." [1 Leon Trotsky, Stalin (New York: Harper & Bros., 1941), p. 188.]

Trotsky stayed some time in the United States and Canada and left for home (March, 1917) after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution that overthrew Tsar Nicholas II. The British authorities took him off his ship, which had called at Halifax, and interned him in a Canadian camp for German prisoners in Halifax, after he had taken passage at New York for Europe. Trotsky made his way back to St. Petersburg, renamed Petrograd.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2016 21:09:14 ZULU