Lenin v Trotsky



Two individuals dominated the Russian Revolution: Lenin and Trotsky.


Historians have argued ever since who was the more important.   The information below should help you decide what you think, but be careful - it will be obvious from what I have written and how I have written it which of the two I think was the greatest!  


Don't let my bias affect your decision.




HistoryLearning site - basic facts

Spartacus website - basic account

Wikipedia - detailed

Lenin Internet Archive - the ultimate! Hugely detailed.




Trotksy - simple site with nice pictures, written by a computer expert.

Spartacus - basic account

Wikipedia - detailed

Trotsky Internet Archive - very detailed.





Born at Simbirsk on the Volga. His father was a local inspector of schools, his mother the daughter of a surgeon.


As a young man studied law. Became interested in the writings of Karl Marx and Joined revolutionary groups at Kazan.


Moved to St. Petersburg and began to spread the ideas of Marx. Formed a working class freedom group in the capital.


He was exiled to Siberia where he married one of his revolutionary friends from St. Petersburg.


On his release from Siberia and shortly before leaving Russia he began a newspaper called Iskra (the Spark) which spread Marxist ideas and laid the foundation of Bolshevism.


At a congress in London the Russian Social Democratic Party split into two groups: the Mensheviks, or moderate Socialists, and the Bolsheviks, a more tightly disciplined and extreme group of which Lenin became the leader.


He returned to Russia for the rising of that year and worked ‘underground’ until he escaped to Switzerland in 1907.


He continued to direct the work and policies of the Bolsheviks from Switzerland, Paris and Cracow. In 1912 the Mensheviks were expelled from the Social Democratic party and the Bolsheviks emerged as a more clear­cut party with Pravda as their newspaper.


He returned to Russia from Switzerland and became the leader of the Bolsheviks in Petrograd, working with Trotsky and Stalin. He drew support away from Kerensky and the Mensheviks and stressed the idea of the revolution of the proletariat, the working classes, based on Workers’ Soviets.


As President of the Council of People’s Commissars after the Bolshevik victory in Petrograd, Lenin became the head of the first Soviet government. He made peace with Germany, handed the large estates over to the peasants and replaced the Czarist government by Workers’ Soviets.


With Trotsky and Stalin he directed the Soviet government and the Bolshevik war effort from the Politburo. A policy of ‘War Communism’, and one party rule grew out of the dangers of the Civil War.


Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy to relieve the hardships of ‘War Communism’ and to restore exhausted Russia after the destruction of the Civil War.


Two years illness resulting from the strain of revolutionary leadership and from an attempt on his life in August 1918, led to his death in 1924.


Assessment of Lenin:

1.   He was a great revolutionary thinker.   He was editor of the Communist newspaper Iskra (1900-), and founder of the Bolsheviks (London Conference 1903, when the Russian Communist Party split in two).  

2.   He persevered – for years he led the Bolsheviks from exile in Switzerland.

3.   He was an opportunist – in 1917 he persuaded the Germans to give him money to go back to Russia and organise a revolution.

4.   He was a figurehead – he returned to St Petersburg in 1917 (at the Finland Station) and immediately became the Bolshevik leader.   His slogan ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ won thousands of supporters.

5.   He was the controller – it was Trotsky who organised the Red Guards and planned the November Revolution, but it was Lenin who put him in that position!   Trotsky never questioned Lenin’s leadership (which has to say something).

6.   He was ruthless – he formed the Assembly in 1917, but when it returned a majority of Social Revolutionaries (not Bolsheviks) he simply abolished it and declared the ‘dictatorship of the Proletariat’ and the one-party state.   When there was opposition, he created the Cheka.   When there was Civil War he brought in War Communism and shot strikers.

7.   He was visionary – think of all the things he set up in the Bolshevik State (see http://www.johndclare.net/Russ6.htm).

8.   He was flexible – when the Kronstadt sailors rebelled, he had the sense to relax War Communism and bring in the NEP.





LEON TROTSKY 1877-1940



Born in the Ukraine, the son of a Jewish landowner.


Became the leader of the south Russia labour movement in Odessa.


He was exiled to Siberia but escaped abroad.


He built up the Red Army during the Civil War and remained its leader until 1925. He was a member of the Politburo, the small committee of five which governed Russia and directed the Soviet war effort.


He returned to Russia to play a leading part in the revolution of that year as Chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet.


After further exile and escape he lived in Vienna from 1907-14 writing and speaking about Socialist policies.


He continued to live abroad in France, Spain and New York.


He returned to Russia to join the Bolsheviks in Petrograd and became the head of the Revolutionary Military Committee in the ‘October’ Revolution.   He organized the Bolshevik troops who seized Petrograd and became the Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the first Soviet government. He helped to make the peace of Brest­Litovsk which ended the war with Germany.


He pout down the Kronstadt rebellion and saved the Revolution.


The death of Lenin led to the clash between Trotsky and Stalin for the leadership of the Bolshevik movement. Trotsky advocated ‘World Revolution’ and the spread of Communism to other countries.


Trotsky lost the struggle with Stalin. He was removed from his post as Commissar of the Red Army in 1925, expelled from the Politburo in 1926, driven from the Communist party in 1927 and exiled from Russia in 1929.


Trotsky lived in France, Norway and Mexico and continued to write about Bolshevism and to criticize the policy of Stalin in Russia. He was assassinated in Mexico in 1940.


Assessment of Trotsky:

Trotsky was VITALLY important throughout the Russian Revolution:


1.   Trotsky was one of the main thinkers behind the Communists

He had become a workers’ leader aged only 20, and in 1900 was exiled.   He spent most of the next 17 years abroad – apart from 1905, when he came back and became the Chairman of the St Petersburg Soviet during the 1905 revolution.   During his years of exile:

·         He was editor of Pravda (Truth) – the main Communist newspaper.   He also wrote in other Communist newspapers.   He helped to form what Communists believed.

·         He attacked the war in his book ‘War and the International’ (1914), setting out the ideas for Communist foreign policy – World Revolution and the spread of Communism to other countries.


2.   Trotsky organised the November Revolution, 1917

Lenin did not like Trotsky, but Trotsky was so important that he was forced to work with him   Trotsky became Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee – ie leader of the Bolshevik Red Guards.   As such, it was Trotsky who organised the November Revolution and carried it out.

After the Revolution, Trotsky became a member of the Politburo – the committee of 5 Bolsheviks who ran the government.


3.   Trotsky organised the peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

After the November Revolution, Lenin made Trotsky Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

Trotsky did not conduct foreign affairs in the old way.   He was very blunt – he closed down the French Information Bureau because of its anti-Soviet propaganda, and arrested all Englishmen in Russia until the English released a Soviet journalist they had detained.

The Politburo decided that they had to have peace with Germany, and ordered a ceasefire Nov 7.   Trotsky had to accept the very harsh terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk – but then he told the Germans that he would destroy them just as soon as Germany lost the war!


4.   Trotsky organised the Terror

Actually, Trotsky opposed Terror – he said: ‘We have not organised the revolution to kill’.   But there were so many groups trying to destroy the Bolsheviks that, on 20 Dec 1917, Lenin created the ‘Extraordinary Commission for the Suppression of the Counter-Revolution’ (the Cheka) = a secret police force.   Trotsky was put in charge, and began mercilessly to eliminate all enemies of the Revolution.


5.   Trotsky won the Civil War

When the ‘Whites’ attacked the Bolsheviks and started the Civil War, Lenin made Trotsky Commissar for War, and President of the Supreme War Council.   As such, he won the Civil War virtually single-handed:

·         He declared: ‘War is the instrument of policy’.

·         He rebuilt the Russian army based on the Red Guards.

·         He raised troops – increasing numbers from 7,000 in March 1918 to 5 million in Sep 1920.

·         He recruited and trained the army officers which was VERY difficult – remember that most officers supported the Whites

·         He organised the supplies of weapons and food to the army.

·         When the Kronstadt sailors revolted in Mar 1921, Trotsky forced the Red Guards to attack across the melting ice, and ruthlessly put down the revolt.


6.   Trotsky thought up the New Economic Policy

Trotsky had realised long before 1921 that the Russians were starving and that eventually they would turn against the Bolsheviks – so he proposed a New Economic Policy to let them have a little prosperity.   At first everyone opposed him, but the Kronstadt rebellion made them see that he was right – Lenin brought in the NEP in 1921.


7.   Trotsky was used to give Stalin power

After Lenin’s death, Trotsky lost the battle with Stalin to take over power.   He was exiled in 1929 and murdered in 1940.   During all that time, he wrote books (esp. the History of the Russian Revolution) attacking Stalin.   Stalin’s propaganda machine used Trotsky as a focus for its propaganda, denouncing him as the fount of all evil.