Russia and the Soviet Union 1917-1945
1. Identify the major features of the life of Leon Trotsky between 1917
Leon Trotsky is well recognised as one of the greatest Marxists that
ever lived. After being arrested, sentenced to exile twice and supporting
the Mensheviks, Trotsky was deported to New York City where he was to be a
peaceful, productive member of society. Following the removal of the Tsar
during the Russian Revolution, Trotsky returned to Russia in May 1917.
In August 1917, Trotsky joined the Central Committee of the
Bolshevik party whose leader was none other than Vladimir Lenin.Trotsky
assumed key roles in the events and policies concerning the Bolshevik
Government, which included the Bolshevik Revolution, Treaty of Brest-
Litovsk, the Civil War and views on Russia’s economic policies.The
Bolshevik party focused on their one aim: overthrow the Provisional
Government and replace it with a “dictatorship of the proletariat”.
Support from the people grew when they witnessed the Provisional Government
fail in their all-out military attack in July.The Bolsheviks took
advantage of this opportunity creating meaningful slogans for the people
such as “end the war,” “all land to the peasants,” and “all power to the
soviets.” On the 12th of October 1917 the Military Revolutionary Committee
(MRC) was established, lead by Trotsky they planned to fight against the
Provisional Government. On the night of November 6th the MRC ordered the
Red Guards and other loyal units of soldiers to seize the key points of the
city, which was successful in securing Bolshevik power.Thus Trotsky’s
leadership of the MRC and the success of the revolution, earned Trotsky
Lenin’s respect and confidence as well as the appointment of Minister for
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trotsky led a negotiation with the
Germans concerning an agreement that was declared in December 1917.
Trotsky ‘marched’ out of negotiations, however the immediate threat posed
by German forces led the Bolsheviks to sign the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and
agree to even harsher terms than what was first proposed. Trotsky was the
main negotiator at the peace talks, supporting a strategy of ‘no war, no
peace’. Despite Trotsky’s actions at negotiations, forcing the Bolshevik
government to agree to even harsher terms, Lenin understood Trotsky’s
motivations as a show of loyalty to the Bolshevik Government and allowed
him to stay Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As the Civil War started, the Bolsheviks passed a declaration
announcing the creation of the Red Army, which was Trotsky’s idea.On the
8th of April, Lenin appointed Trotsky as Minister for War.Shortly after
Trotsky introduced conscription and obtained the numbers to overcome the
Whites, the Red Army had a total of 3 million men by 1920. Trotsky’s
disciplinary actions paid off with the Red Army being able to launch a
counter-attack, driving the enemy back.Thus, with Trotsky’sother
military success of the Bolshevik Revolution and the support from within
the Army, Trotsky took on another major feature of his life, the Civil War
and successfully created Red Army into victory, as well as consolidating
his power by being made Commissar for War.
By the mid-1920’s there were many debates about the countries economic
problems. Trotsky proposed a reduction in War Communism, in order for
market forces to function more effectively. This policy was rejected at the
time but was later established as the New Economic Policy.It meant a
partial return to indirect methods of mobilisation, andto’state
capitalism’.In 1925 Trotsky campaigned for the abandonment of NEP
stating that it was too slow, instead Trotsky proposed rapid expansion of
socialism in the countryside, involving the high taxation of peasants,
rapid industrial growth and an aggressive foreign policy.
When Lenin suffered a stroke and died in 1922, it also signalled the
downfall of Trotsky. With Lenin out of action Trotsky was his obvious
successor, but he was met with opposition by the installation of an
informal Troika, made up of Zinovyev, Kanenev and Stalin. Trotsky waited
for a time to launch an attack on Stalin, by passing a vote of no
confidence, but this backfired and Trotsky was accused of ‘factionalism and
opportunism’. Trotsky became ill which left Stalin to dominatethe
Thirteenth Party Congress in 1924. In 1925 Trotsky was removed as Minister
for War and in 1927 he was expelled from the party. Trotsky was once again
sentenced to exile in 1928 to Alma Ata (now Kazakhstan). During his exile
he founded a Marxist organisation name the Fourth International which was
supposed to be the opposite of the Stalinist Third International.On
August 20th, 1940 a Stalinist invaded Trotsky’s home and assassinated him.
2. Assess the contribution of Leon Trotsky to the Bolshevik Party between
1917 and 1928.
Leon Trotsky’s role in the Bolshevik Party was highly valued, as his
contributions gained the power needed to shape Russia into a communist
society. This was after all the aims of the Bolsheviks as they believed
that the people deserved “all power to the soviets.”Trotsky used his
intellectual abilities as an orator and a writer to benefit the party and
his position as a member.
Trotsky first joined the Bolshevik Party as a member of the Central
Committee in 1917. Alongside Lenin, they were recognised as the most
influential opponents of the Russian Provisional Government.”Trotsky and
Lunacharsky were among the ten delegates of the ‘united social-democrats’
who solidly supported the Bolsheviks throughout the three weeks of the
congress.” (Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 1, p. 89.) In contrast to
Trotsky’s prior interest in the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks sought to take
control of the liberals and return to a communist society with the
proletarians. Due to the outspoken views of the Bolsheviks, Trotsky was
arrested, but he was released less than a month later and was quickly
appointed Chairman of the Executives Committee of the Petrograd Soviet.
Since the Bolsheviks were under constant observation Lenin went into hiding
and left Trotsky in charge.Trotsky took on the responsibility and
prepared the Bolsheviks for the revolution to defeat the Provisional
Government.This was called the October Revolution,whereTrotsky
conducted all of the supporters in the insurrection into St. Petersburg.
Trotsky’s gift as an orator came in good use as he gave a number of
speeches to convince the people of the city to join the Bolshevik
revolution. “Leon Davidovich Trotsky was not at that time formally a
member of our party, but as a matter of fact he worked within it
continually from the day of his arrival from America. At any rate,
immediately after his first speech in the Soviet, we all looked upon him as
one of our party leaders.” (Proletarskaya Revolutsia, 1923, p. 71.)
After the rise of the Bolsheviks Trotsky became the Minister for
Foreign Affairs. Trotsky was undeniably a key figure in negotiations,
particularly peace treaties between Russia and the central powers.A low
point for Trotsky was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk where he was forced to
accept ruthless terms that humiliated himself and the Bolsheviks.Lenin
still held respect for Trotsky and understood why he accepted the terms,
but Trotsky resigned and became the Minister of War instead.From the
remaining soldiers of the Imperial Army he founded the Red Army and was
their Commander. An opposing force, called themselves the White Army, of
Mensheviks, supporters of the Tsar, landlords and capitalists. Even though
he did not have any previous military training, Trotsky’s leadership is
considered responsible for their triumph over the White Army in the Russian
Civil War. To recruit more members for the Reds, Trotsky smartly made sure
that the army were always well fed and were better off than the rest of
Russia. Trotsky then began to make it a necessity for the supporting men
to join the army and fight with the Bolsheviks.
With the death of Lenin, Stalin took control of the party and the
government with no opposition from Trotsky. In 1923 at the Twelfth Party
Congress, Trotsky remained unspoken and loss all hope of regaining control
of the party. After having little to do with the Bolshevik party, Trotsky
independently continued to work on his idea of permanent revolution,
differing from the political view of Stalin.Stalin worked alongside
Kamenev and Zinoviev to take away Trotsky’s power within the party, in 1925
they openly criticised Trotsky, successfully removing Trotsky from his
position as Commissar of War.On November 12th, 1927 Stalin dismissed
Trotsky from the Soviet Communist Party consequently leaving Stalin,
Kamenev and Zinoviev in complete control of the Soviet Union. “The
dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation
embracing the whole of the class, because in all capitalist countries …
the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts
… that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly
exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard
… for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass
proletarian organisation.” (V. Lenin)
In 1928 Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata, signifying the end of his
reign with the Bolshevik Party.Without the strong and intellectual
guidance of Trotsky, it is quite possible that the Bolshevik Party would of
remained a small unnerving party with little influence over the people.
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