Leon Trotsky Research Paper

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Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Trotskii [Bronshtein]) was a leading Russian revolutionary. Born into a Jewish farming family in present-day Ukraine, Trotsky became a Marxist publicist and organizer in the 1890s. During Russia’s 1905 Revolution, he became chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies just before its suppression by the tsarist government. Forced to flee Russia, he spent the next several years as a journalist in Europe.

After 1917′s February Revolution overthrew the tsarist regime, Trotsky returned to Russia. Despite fifteen years of disputes with Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky now found their views congruent, and joined Lenin’s Bolsheviks to help lead the October coup d’etat that overthrew Russia’s provisional government. Trotsky served briefly as Soviet foreign minister before shifting in spring 1918 to building the Soviet military to fight the Russian civil war. After the Red Army’s 1920 victory, Trotsky struggled against other Bolsheviks to take the ailing Lenin’s place as head of the Soviet Union. For some historically conscious Bolsheviks, Trotsky’s talent, military authority, and arrogance raised the specter of a new Bonaparte; a coalition of enemies, led by Joseph Stalin, first removed him from power then exiled him in 1929.

Trotsky produced a remarkable amount of work, including history, military theory, and even literary criticism, but his key contribution is his concept of permanent revolution (perhaps more aptly termed uninterrupted revolution). According to classical Marxism, proletarian revolution can take place only after a successful bourgeois revolution and the consequent long-term development of capitalism create material abundance, socioeconomic polarization, and a self-conscious working class. After the 1905 Revolution, however, Trotsky suggested that in Russia, the bourgeoisie alone was too weak to overthrow the autocracy and establish bourgeois capitalism. This created an opportunity for the proletariat to hijack the bourgeois revolution, by collaborating with the bourgeoisie to overthrow the tsarist regime, then immediately destroying the bourgeoisie and establishing a proletarian govern-ment—precisely what Lenin and Trotsky later did in 1917. Though Trotsky’s theory had a specifically Russian context, he noted its applicability to other backward societies.

Russian backwardness was, however, a double-edged sword. While it allowed direct transition from bourgeois to proletarian revolution, it produced a socialist regime in an underdeveloped country. Without accompanying revolutions in industrially advanced countries, the new Soviet state was vulnerable. This led Trotsky after 1917 to promote revolution abroad to protect Soviet Russia, a stance Stalin distorted. Painting Trotsky as pessimistic about Soviet prospects, Stalin used nascent Soviet nationalism against him. Soviet backwardness also led Trotsky to push industrialization, if necessary at the peasantry’s expense. Though Stalin attacked this policy during the struggle for power, he adopted it upon consolidating victory.

Trotsky’s theoretical work continued in exile. Trotsky did not attribute his defeat to Stalin, who he dismissed as a nonentity, but instead to Russian backwardness. Material want and a scarcity of class-conscious workers, Trotsky argued, created the conditions for the ascendance of the Soviet bureaucracy, which employed Stalin as a tool to solidify its own position. In analyzing the bureaucracy, Trotsky anticipated later criticisms that suggested that Marxist revolutions merely substituted a new exploitative ruling class for the old one. Trotsky, however, did not see the Soviet bureaucracy as a class, for that would mean that Russia’s proletarian revolution had failed. Though deformed and twisted by the bureaucracy, the Soviet Union remained for Trotsky a genuine workers’ state, the fruit of a true proletarian revolution.

Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin led to his assassination in 1940 by a Stalinist agent in Mexico City. He was a non-person for the rest of the Soviet Union’s existence, his achievements expunged from the historical record. Elsewhere, however, his charisma, anti-Stalinism, rhetorical flair, and reputation as the ne plus ultra of the revolutionary left ensured that Trotskyism remained an important force on the far left.


  1. Day, Richard B. 1973. Leon Trotsky and the Politics of Economic Isolation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Deutscher, Isaac. 1954. The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879–1921. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Deutscher, Isaac. 1959. The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921–1929. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Deutscher, Isaac. 1963. The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929–1940. New York: Oxford University Press.
  5. Knei-Paz, Baruch. 1978. The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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