The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


I will issue a few revolutionary proclamations
to the peoples of the world, and
then shut up shop.

Trotsky, upon becoming Foreign Minister

Trotsky 1917-1921 - The Prophet Armed

After Trotsky's return to Russia (May, 1917), he attached himself to Lenin (Ulianov), the uncontested leader of the bolsheviks, who in 1915 had already been issuing violent polemics from Zurich against Trotsky's alleged predilection for the "social-chauvinists." Trotsky vacillated between the various Social-Democratic factions; he was never, at least until 1917, a full-fledged Bolshevik; he had his own small following and occupied a position between the factions, advocating their reunification. Although a man of talents, he remained a lone leader almost all his life; he had few personal friends. A certain haughtiness was one of his traits; he often stressed his superiority and influence over others; he was reproached for being self-enamored and self-preoccupied. At the height of the revolution he was by far the best of the Bolshevik orators.

In Petrograd, in 1917, Trotsky's small organization ("Mezhraiontsy"), under his influence, stretched out its hand to the Bolsheviks and began a close cooperation with them. On July 15 [2], 1917, Trotsky wrote in Pravda : "At present, I think there are no differences between the "United" [Trotskyites] and the Bolshevik organizations, either in principle or tactics. This means there are no motives which would justify separate existence of their organizations." The "unification" between Lenin's Bolsheviks and the Trotsky group, announced at the Bolshevik congress in August 1917, was at the time a formality. There remained divergent views on issues which did not involve current tactics, and in the following years these differences were to become very important.

Trotsky was more international-minded than most of the Bolshevik leadership; to him the "imminent" world revolution was more of a reality than to them; the slogan of a "United States of Europe," which had been discarded by Lenin some time before, was still adhered to by Trotsky, who saw a union of a revamped United States of America with a "United States of Europe" into one world socialist commonwealth.

Of course, Trotsky admitted, Marx's expectation of a social revolution in the West in the 19th century had not materialized; Marx's timing had proved to be wrong, but

"If Marx was premature in predicting the social revolution, this does not mean that our predictions, too, will be premature. After all the commotion of war, after fifty years of socialist cultural education, after all that people have gone through what conditions could be more favorable for a social revolution? And if the war, which has forced all peoples to shake off hypocrisy, falsehood and the tarnish of chauvinism, will not lead Europe toward the social revolution, this will mean that Europe is destined for economic stagnation, that it will perish as a civilized country and will serve only the curiosity of tourists; the center of revolutionary movements will switch to America or Japan. . .

The United States of Europe without monarchy, standing armies and secret diplomacy are therefore the most important component part of the proletarian program of peace. . . .


... we have all reason to hope that during this war there will develop in the whole of Europe a mighty revolutionary movement. It is obvious that it will be able to grow successfully and achieve victory only as an all-European movement. Remaining isolated within national boundaries, it would be doomed. Our social-patriots are pointing to the dangers to the Russian revolution presented by German militarism. This danger certainly exists, but it is not the only danger. British, French, Italian imperialism is a no less ominous enemy of the Russian revolution than the military machine of the Hohenzollerns. The salvation of the Russian revolution lies in extending it over the whole of Europe. . . .


It goes without saying that the United States of Europe will become only one of two axes of the worldwide organized economy. The other axis will be the United States of America ....


To perceive the perspectives of the social revolution within a national framework would mean to become a victim of the same national narrowness which represents the essence of social-patriotism. . . ."

[Trotsky, "Nuzhno Nemedlenno Ob"edinyatsya na Dele, Otvet na Zaprosy" (It Is Necessary to Unite in Practice Immediately, Answer to Inquiries) (July 2 [15], 1917), Sochineniya (Works) (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatelstvo (State Publish- ing House), n. d.), vol. Ill, part 1, p. 149.

Trotsky, "Rech na Obshchegorodskoi Konferentsii Ob"edinennoi S.-D. Po Dokladu t. Uritskogo ob Otnoshenii k Vremennomu Pravitelstvu 7 Maya 1917" (Speech at the All-City [Petrograd] Conference of the United Social-Democrats On the Report by Comrade Uritsky Regarding the Attitude Toward the Provisional Government) (May 7 [20], 1917), Sochineniya, vol. Ill, part 1, p. 48.

"Trotsky, "Soedinennye Shtaty Evropy" (The United States of Europe), Sochineniya, vol. Ill, part 1, pp. 86, 88-90.]

The last sentence contained an implied condemnation of "Socialism in one country" as well as the seeds of the future conflict with Stalinism.

Despite previous disagreements with Lenin, Trotsky now became one of the most trusted leaders of the bolshevists and spent a short time in prison after their unsuccessful attempt in July to seize power, but was soon liberated and took an active part in the preparations for the next revolution (November 1917).

Trotsky went on to play a decisive role in the Bolshevik seizure of power known as the October Revolution of 1917. The Bolsheviks, skillfully exploiting popular trends in their propaganda, dominated the Petrograd Soviet and the Moscow Soviet by September, with Trotsky, freed from prison after the Kornilov revolt, now chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Realizing that the time was ripe for seizing power by armed force, Lenin returned to Petrograd in October and convinced a majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which had hoped to take power legally, to accept armed uprising in principle. Trotsky won the Petrograd garrison over to Soviet authority, depriving the Provisional Government of its main military support in Petrograd.

With Lenin restricted in his activity because he still feared arrest, the main task of organizing the insurrection fell upon Trotsky. Between the 22d [9th] and 26th [13th] of October the "Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet" was elected and its election publicly announced; its task was the seizure of power. The Committee consisted of the presidiums of the Soviet and of the soldiers' section, representatives of the fleet, of the regional committee of Finland, of the railroad unions, of the factory committees, the trade unions, the party military organizations, the Red Guard, etc.

The remaining Bolsheviks and left-wing SRs declared the Soviets the governing bodies of Russia and named the Council of People's Commissars (Sovet narodnykh komissarov Sovnarkom) to serve as the cabinet. Lenin became chairman of this council. Trotsky took the post of commissar of foreign affairs; Stalin, a Georgian, became commissar of nationalities. By acting decisively while their opponents vacillated, the Bolsheviks succeeded in effecting their coup d'etat.

With these large bodies as members, the Military Revolutionary Committee embraced people from various political groups. In essence, however, the Committee, whose president was Trotsky, and its chief workers Podvoiski, Antonov-Ovseenko, Lashevich, Sadovski, and Mekhonoshin, relied exclusively upon Bolsheviks. Trotsky played the leading role. In the absence of Lenin and with Zinoviev and Kamenev vacillating, the sole organizer of the Soviet seizure of power was the devoted partisan of the worldwide "permanent revolution."

On November 6 [October 24] the government, in an attempt to take the offensive against the expected insurrection, tried to close down certain Bolshevik press organs and suppress the Military Revolutionary Committee. It was much too late; the government was impotent. Trotsky's Committee easily went over to the counterattack, and the next day all power was in its hands. "A piece of official sealing-wax on the door of the Bolshevik editorial-rooms as a military measure that is not much. But what a superb signal for battle!"

His eventual antagonist and executioner, Stalin, wrote, on the first anniversary of the November upheaval : "All the work of practical organization of the uprising was carried out under the direct leadership of Trotsky, chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be said with certainty that, as regards the garrison's rapid going-over to the Soviet and the skilful organization of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Party is above all and in the main indebted to Comrade Trotsky."

The headquarters of the Military Revolutionary Committee was the large old Smolny Institute (before the revolution it had been an educational institution for girls; in August 1917 it was taken over by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee VTsIK and the Petrograd Soviet as the site of their offices and meetings) ; in October-November all Soviet orders and instructions of a military and political character emanated from the Smolny. The well-guarded rooms of the Bolshevik faction of the Soviet were the actual center of the operations.

"A good detachment of five hundred men," wrote Nikolai Sukhanov, "would have been entirely sufficient to liquidate Smolny and everyone there."

On November 3 [October 21] the Soldiers' Committee of the Petrograd garrison convened a meeting which set in motion the upheaval of November 7 [October 25]. Following Trotsky's address, the meeting decided that it would follow only the instructions of the Military Revolutionary Committee; thus the entire military force assigned to defend the government, and kept in the capital for that purpose, resolved to recognize the Bolshevik-controlled Soviet as its sole authority.

Before the year was out Trotsky became the second man in the party after Lenin. Trotsky quickly found himself negotiating peace terms with Germany to pull Russia out of World War I. Although admitting that the exhausted and outdated Russian military couldnt fight, he refused to accept Germanys harsh peace terms.

He became People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Trotsky later wrote: "The commissariat of foreign affairs actually meant freedom from departmental work. To comrades who offered their help, I almost invariably suggested that they look for a more gratifying field for their energy. One of them later gave, in his memoirs, a fairly juicy report of a conversation he had with me soon after the Soviet government was formed. What diplomatic work are we apt to have? I said to him, according to his account. I will issue a few revolutionary proclamations to the peoples of the world, and then shut up shop." On November 21 Trotsky presented to the belligerent powers, in the name of the new Government, a proposition for an armistice and for negotiations for a democratic peace without annexations or indemnities, simultaneously beginning the publication, in Pravda and other organs closely connected with the new Government, of a number of documents from the ministerial correspondence of the former Russian governments.

When the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917, they had rather rudimentary notions of how to carryon the foreign relations of a large country. Upon assuming the position of foreign minister, Trotsky declared that he would "issue a few revolutionary proclamations and then close up shop". One reason for this cavalier attitude was the intial Bolshevik conviction that the revolution in Russia would trigger similar explosions in Germany, France, and England, thus bringing into being an international socialist world with no need for the traditional diplomacy of the rotten capitalist past.

After the armistice, Trotsky was Chairman of the Russian Delegation to the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk (December 1917- February 1918), where he sought to use the negotiations as a basis for agitational addresses, with the object of advancing world revolution, from which the bolsheviks expected an early peace and a general victory for the communist ideas. As this method ultimately became rather transparent, and the General Powers were trying to urge the Russian Delegation to negotiate with the Ukrainian delegates as representatives having equal privileges with them, Trotsky on February 10, 1918 issued a declaration that Russia would sign no such treaty, but would rather continue the war.

The Central Powers considered this to be a denunciation of the armistice and resumed hostilities, and the Russian Government, consequently, decided to submit without further ado to the German peace conditions of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918). Trotsky resigned his post in the Ministry, but remained as the so-called Commissar for Military Affairs. In this position he worked with great energy for the establishment of a "Red Army", in which he succeeded, by means of drastic compulsions, in bringing about a new military venture (against anti-bolshevist Russian armies, against Ukraine, etc.), thus enabling him to maintain discipline in his new army.

He took on the daunting charge of building a new Red Army. His methods of forced conscription and compulsory obedience prompted much criticism and resistance by rival party leaders, notably Joseph Stalin. But his approach paid off and by 1922 the Red Army had largely emerged victorious from the bitter Civil War.

During the Civil War Trotsky further secured his position as the number-two man next to Lenin. He was one of the initial five members of the Politburo the top Communist Party policy-making body created in 1919. Trotsky exceeded Lenin in intellectual power and administrative effectiveness, but his arrogance made him few friends and he found it hard to secure party decisions. Years later he was accused of unjustified incarcerations and executions of political opponents and fiercely criticized for giving the orders to suppress the last major revolt against the Bolshevik rule - the Kronstadt Rebellion.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 25-11-2016 12:03:38 ZULU