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Leon Trotsky

a virtual exhibition

Introduction ~ Overview of the Trotsky Collection ~ Chronology of Trotsky's Life  ~ Exhibition of Trotsky material

Chronology of the life of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

November 7 (October 25th, old style): born Lev Davidovich Bronstein in the village of Yanovka in the Ukraine. His father was a farmer of Russified Jewish background.

At the age of eight, Bronstein is sent to school at Odessa, where he shows intellectual brilliance and literary gifts.

In preparation for his final examination (Abitur), he transfers to Nikolayev, where he first encounters socialist ideas and reads illegal pamphlets.

After a brief attendance at Odessa University, he returns to Nikolayev to assist in the organisation of the South Russian Workers Union.

Arrested for revolutionary activity. Spends next four-and-a-half years in prison and in exile in Siberia, during which time he marries his co-conspirator Aleksandra Sokolovskya, with whom he has two daughters.

He escapes from Siberia using a forged passport under the name Trotsky, permanently separating from Sokolovskya. Makes his way to London to join the Russian Social Democrats and works with Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) on the revolutionary newspaper Iskra (The Spark).

At the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party, held in London and Brussels, Trotsky sides with the Menshevik faction, rejecting Lenin's methods.

Trotsky returns to Russia to become a leading spokesman of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies. The Soviet (ie council) organises a revolutionary strike against the Tsarist regime, the aftermath of which brings Trotsky and the other leaders of the Soviet to trial in 1906.

Trotsky in his cell, 1906.
Photo: 1905, Sp Coll R87.95

While in jail, he writes one of his major theoretical works, Itogi i perspektivy (Results and prospects), expounding the theory of permanent revolution. In his book, Trotsky maintains that the Russian Revolution will lead to a permanent state of revolution internationally, inspiring proletarian revolution in the West, thus ensuring the establishment of socialist governments which will consequently support the revolution in Russia.

Exiled for a second time to Siberia, but again he escapes, settling in Vienna as a journalist.

Serves as a war correspondent in the Balkan Wars.

At outbreak of First World War, joins the majority of the Russian Social Democrats who condemn the war. Moves to France.

Participates in the international conference of anti-war socialists at Zimmerwald in Switzerland.

His anti-war agitation leads to his expulsion from France.

January: Arrives in New York. Joins the Bolshevik theoretician Nikolai Bukharin in editing the Russian language paper, Novy-Mir (New World).
February (March, old style): Welcomes the outbreak of revolution as the beginning of the permanent revolution he had predicted.
March 27: Trotsky and his family leave the USA by ship, but are detained by the authorities at Halifax, Nova Scotia. They are released a month later at the behest of the Russian government.
May 4: Reaches Petrograd and assumes leadership of the left-wing Menshevik faction.
August: While in prison after a crackdown on the revolutionaries by Kerensky's liberal government, Trotsky is formally admitted to the Bolshevik Central Committee.
September: On his release from prison, he is elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. From this point up to the arrival of Lenin, Trotsky is the principal protagonist in the Bolshevik preparations to seize power.
October 24 (November 6, new style): As a result of an attack by the authorities, Trotsky takes defensive measures, which result in the virtual overthrow of the Provisional Government. By the time Lenin appears on the scene in the early hours of October 25, Petrograd is in Bolshevik hands.
October 25 (November 7, new style): At the All-Russian Congress of Soviets held that evening, the new Soviet government is installed, headed by the Council of People's Commissars, with Trotsky as the Commissar of Foreign Affairs.
October 31 (November 13, new style): Trotsky defeats forces loyal to Kerensky at Pulkovo.
December (new style): Talks commence with Germans at Brest-Litovsk concerning a peace treaty.

January: Trotsky enters talks personally. Rejects Germany's annexationist terms. Lenin, however, is willing to pay the price in order to ensure the continued existence of the new Soviet state.
February 24: Trotsky resigns as Commissar of Foreign Affairs after signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
March 13: Trotsky is appointed Commissar of War and faces the formidable task of reconstructing a new Red Army from the detritus of the old Imperial Army.

The Politburo is formed, with Trotsky as one of its initial five members. Plays a leading role in the founding of the Third International (Comintern), writing its first manifesto calling for the overthrow of capitalism throughout the world.

Trotsky addressing Red soldiers during the civil war.
From Lenin to Stalin, Victor Serge, Pioneer Publishers, 1937
Sp Coll Trotsky

Final defeat of the White forces and the end of the Civil War. Second Congress of the Third International.

Trotsky faces opposition to his policy of war communism and the role of the trade unions.
March: Crisis comes to a head in the Kronstadt uprising, which is suppressed.

Lenin has first stroke. Although Trotsky is the obvious successor, Politburo supports the informal leadership of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Stalin now Secretary-General of the Communist Party.
December 22: Lenin warns in his Testament against the danger of a split in the Central Committee.

Leads first opposition against Stalin, criticising the bureaucratisation of the Party, the violation of democracy and the failure to develop adequate economic planning. Publishes an open letter, Novyi kurs (The new course).

January 16-18: Trotskyist opposition condemned at the 13th Communist Party Conference.
January 21: Lenin dies. Deceived concerning the date of the funeral, Trotsky fails to return to Moscow in time to be present. Publishes Uroki Oktyabya (Lessons of October) in which he links the opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev to the October Revolution with the failure of the Soviet-inspired German Communist uprising of 1923.

Trotsky resigns as Commissar of War. During pauses in the faction struggles, he writes on a wide range of topics, producing the following works (among others): Literatura i revolyutska (Literature and revolution), 1923; Voprosy byta (Problems of life), 1923; O Lenine (Lenin), 1924 and Kuda idet Angliya? (Where is Britain going?), 1925. 

Forms united left opposition with his old political opponents Zinoviev and Kamenev. They condemn Stalin's doctrine of 'socialism in one country'.
October: Trotsky ousted from the Politburo.

November 15: Trotsky and Zinoviev are expelled from the Party.

Trotsky banished to Alma Ata in Central Asia.

Exiled from the USSR, he is taken to Turkey, where he settles on the island Buyuk Ada , near Istanbul. Issued first number of the Byulletin Oppositsii (Bulletin of the Opposition).

Publishes Moya zhizn (My Life) and Permanentnaya revolyutsiya (Permanent revolution).

Publishes lstoriya Russkoi revolyutsii (History of the Russian Revolution).

Publishes Stalinskaya shkola falsifikatsii (The Stalin school of falsification).

Moves to France. After Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Trotsky urges his followers to form a new, Fourth International.

He is expelled from France and granted entry into Norway.

Under Soviet pressure, he is forced to seek asylum in Mexico. This is made possible through the agency of the Mexican revolutionary artist, Diego Rivera. He publishes La revolution trahie (The revolution betrayed).
The Moscow trials begin, in which both Trotsky and his son Lyova are condemned in absentia for crimes of terrorism against the Soviet Union.

January: Trotsky arrives in Mexico and takes up residence in the Avenida Londres in Coyoacán, near Mexico City. Evidence of the Moscow trials shown to be false, and the charges are refuted by an investigating committee, headed by the American philosopher John Dewey.

January 16: Trotsky' son Lyova dies in a Paris clinic.
February 16: Finishes Ikh moral I nasha (Their morals and ours), which he dedicates to his dead son.
September 3: Founding conference of the Fourth International at Périgny, near Paris.

May 24: Trotsky's house is attacked by an armed band, led by the communist painter, David Alfaro Siqueiros. Trotsky is unharmed.
August 20: Ramon Mercader, alias Jacson , who had gained the confidence of the Trotsky household, strikes Trotsky with an ice-axe; he dies the following day at 7.25am. At the time of his assassination, Trotsky was working on a biography and denunciation of Stalin.

Return to the introduction or go to the virtual exhibition of Trostkiana from Special Collections.

Top: Trotsky's passport picture, circa 1915, aged 36.
Photo from:
The Bolsheviki and World Peace, New York: Boni & Liveright, 1918 (Sp Coll Trotsky U72.11)