Russian revolutionary leader who, from the October Revolution to the death of Lenin, was the second most powerful man in the Soviet Union. He lost ground to Stalin after Lenin's death and was assassinated in exile.
Born in Yelisavetgrad (now Kirovograd), the son of a farmer, Trotsky was educated at a local Jewish school before attending schools in Odessa and Nikolaev, from which he graduated in 1897. Active in the South Russian Workers Union, he was exiled to Siberia but escaped, joining Lenin in London, where he began to write for Iskra. He first supported the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party against the Bolsheviks led by Lenin; during the 1905 revolution he was elected as speaker for the Mensheviks in the St Petersburg Soviet. He was exiled to Siberia a second time in 1907 but escaped to Vienna, where he worked as the editor of the newspaper Pravda.
Trotsky abandoned the Mensheviks to rejoin Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the Sixth Party Congress in July 1917; with Lenin he helped to organize the October Revolution and the overthrow of the provisional government. When the Bolsheviks came to power he was named commissar for foreign affairs in the new Soviet government and led the negotiations with the Germans at the Brest-Litovsk Peace Conference. During the civil war, in the capacity of minister for war, he built up the Red Army and directed the campaign against the White Army. His rapid advancement and his views on the nature of the revolutionary process (he believed that socialism inside Russia was not possible until revolution had occurred in western Europe) created bitter enemies. When Lenin died in 1924, Trotsky attempted to form an alliance with Lev Kamenev (1883–1936) and Zinoviev but was defeated in the struggle for power by Stalin. He was expelled from the party in 1927 and, exiled to central Asia in 1928, was forced to leave the Soviet Union. He eventually settled in Mexico (1936), where he was assassinated in 1940, probably by Soviet agents.
In exile Trotsky continued to write and speak out against Stalin; his best-known publications include My Life (1930), The History of the Russian Revolution (3 vols, 1932–33), and The Revolution Betrayed (1937).
Subjects: History — Politics.