We present you 42 interesting facts about Leon Trotsky, the second most important leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917.
It’s impossible to describe Leon Trotsky’s revolutionary career in a few words.
Clandestine revolutionary under Tsarism, brilliant journalist, the prophet of the revolutions in Russia, deported in Siberia, exiled from country to country, President of the Petrograd Soviet, Lenin’s right-hand man and organizer of the October Revolution, Commander of the Red Army, Stalin’s biggest opponent, again deported, again exiled, finally assassinated.
Trotsky was so close to absolute power in the USSR, unfortunately for him, Stalin was clever and sent Trotsky to the “dustbin of history”
Trotsky’s story is similar to the tragedy of a classical hero.
42 interesting facts about Leon Trotsky:
#1.Coincidence or not? November 7, the victory day of the Russian Revolution, was also Leon Trotsky’s birthday.
#2. Did you know that Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Hitler, Freud, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand have something in common?
They all lived in Vienna at the same time, in 1913.
#3. A copy of Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” was found in Che Guevara’s backpack after he was captured by the Bolivian authorities.
#4. During the beginning of his revolutionary career, Trotsky read and analyzed Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous book “The Art of Controversy”.
According to one of Trotsky’s friends, he believed that by studying this book, he would improve his oratorical and debating skills.
And as we know, exactly these skills would later help Trotsky in his revolutionary and political career.
#5. While in exile, Trotsky worked as a journalist, writer, and political analyst.
After the surprising Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in August 1939, Trotsky was asked by an American Newspaper to analyze its political consequences.
At that time, Hitler’s goals were to quickly crush France and Great Britain.
Trotsky correctly predicted that it will be only a matter of time before Hitler would turn his attention and his armies and march East against Stalin and the Soviet Union.
#6. In 1939, during his exile in Mexico, Trotsky came up with a shocking yet plausible theory about Lenin’s death.
According to Trotsky, Stalin, who had direct access to Lenin, intentionally poisoned the leader of the Bolshevik party.
With Lenin out of the picture, Stalin would quickly seize power.
According to Trotsky’s memories, during Lenin’s final months, the leader of the Bolsheviks asked Stalin to obtain potassium cyanide for him in case the illness would become unbearable.
Stalin later informed the Politburo about Lenin’s request. At that moment, the event didn’t have Trotsky any special meaning.
Later after Stalin’s purges and Moscow trials of 1937, where some of the accusations were poisoning of party officials; Trotsky started to make his connexions.
Was Stalin really behind Lenin’s death?
#7. At his ranch in Coyocan, Mexico, Trotsky not only continued his revolutionary and political activities but also raised chickens and rabbits.
#8. Leon Trotsky was officially rehabilitated in 2001, ten years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
#9. Trotsky’s rise in the Bolshevik party can be described in one word: meteoric.
He didn’t join immediately the Bolshevik party when he returned to Russia in May 1917.
He officially joined the Bolsheviks in July-August 1917. In just 2 months he earned a position in the Central Committee, became the organizer of the October Revolution and shortly the Commisar of the People’s Foreign Affairs”(the equivalent of Foreign Minister).
#10. Trotsky created his version of Marxism, called “Trotskyism”. Its main concepts were the “Permanent Revolution” and “United Front”.
His ideology gained followers in many countries around the world.
#11. Born into a prosperous family of Jewish farmers in the village of Yanovka, present-day Ukraine.
Although in his biography Trotsky limited himself to saying that they were successful farmers, the reality is that his family was one of the richest in the area.
#12. Did you know that his real name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein?
Like Lenin and Stalin; Trotsky was his revolutionary pseudonym.
#13. According to Robert Service, there are many theories behind the origins of Trotsky’s revolutionary name.
Trotsky could have been a Polish town where the ancestors of Lev Bronstein lived before moving into Ukraine.
The second and most popular theory is that the name of Lev Bronstein’s jailer was Trotsky.
The third and last theory is that the name of the inhabitant from which Bronstein acquired his fake passport was called Trotsky.
#14. The first worker revolutionary organization supported by Trotsky was called South Russian Workers’ Union.
The main goal of the organization was to “free the workers from the yoke of capital”.
During his time as a member of the South Russian Workers Union, Trotsky acted as a Marxist propagandist.
Unfortunately for the young revolutionary, in 1898 the Tsarist authorities decided to dismantle the organization, and as a consequence 200 members, including Trotsky, were arrested.
#15. For his revolutionary activity, Trotsky was exiled twice to Siberia by the Tsarist authorities.
The young revolutionary proved to be very cunning and manage to quickly escape every time from his exiles.
By comparison, Stalin was exiled 6 times.
#16. Trotsky arrived in Petrograd on May 4, 1917. Two months after the Tsar’s abdication, and 1 month after the arrival of Lenin.
Because of his popularity among the many revolutionary movements in Russia, from Mensheviks and socialist-revolutionaries, Trotsky was greeted with applause, exactly like Lenin.
The most important sources for his popularity were his political writing, the two exiles in Siberia, and the short term as leader of the first Petrograd Soviet in 1905.
#17. Despite being married twice, this didn’t stop Trotsky from having an affair with Frida Kahlo, the wife of the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
#18. Before the First World War(1914-1918), Trotsky’s best friends were the leaders of the communist movement in Germany: Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Leo Jogiches.
After the success of the Revolution in Russia, Trotsky’s friends attempted to replicate the results in Germany.
The result was the Spartacist Uprising, which unfortunately for Trotsky’s allies it ended with a complete disaster for the German Communist movement.
#19. Ramon Mercader, Trotsky’s assassin, was sentenced to 20 years of prison.
After his release, the USSR granted him the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, while at the same time the Soviet authorities continued to deny any involvement in the murder of Trotsky.
#20. Why did Stalin choose to exile Trotsky in 1929 and not assassinate him in the first place?
The most plausible answer here would be that Stalin at that time was not powerful enough in the Communist Party.
Stalin assumed that by banishing his biggest rival, Trotsky would become a marginal political figure, with no means to fight back.
Ten years later, Stalin would regret his decision, because Trotsky proved to be a challenging foe by denouncing Stalin’s actions in interviews, books, pamphlets all over the world.
#21. In 1938, Trotsky was contacted by the New York publisher Harper&Brothers. The editors asked Trotsky to write a biography of Stalin, his arch-enemy.
Initially, Trotsky refused, but when he learned that he will receive 5000$ if agreed with writing the 80,000-word book, he changed his mind.
#22. In 1920, during the Soviet-Polish war, the Red Army has successfully retaken Kyiv from the Polish Army commanded by Josef Pilsudski.
The rising question was now: What would be the next major target for the Red Army?
Trotsky, though a fervent supporter of Exporting the Revolution, rejected the invasion of Poland, because of military reasons. Surprisingly Stalin had the same opinion.
It was Lenin who insisted on invading Poland and crushing any resistance, we all know today how the Soviet offensive ended.
#23. Trotsky was the organizer of the glorious October Revolution, his crucial role was even acknowledged by his biggest enemy Joseph Stalin. In his book, October Revolution, Stalin wrote: “All practical work in connection with the organization of the uprising was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the President of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee was organized.”.
#24. Trotsky was the de facto founder of the Red Army. Due to his great organizational skills, the size of the Red Army increased in a very short time, in 1918 it could only mobilize 300.000 soldiers, in 1920 the number reached 5 million.
#25. Trotsky defended the Russian Revolution not only with his oratorical skills but also with draconian punishments/laws.
It was Trotsky who introduced and authorized the use of “barrier troops” during the Russian Civil War in 1918.
The “barrier troops” also known as “blocking detachments” had a simple task, to shoot any Red Army deserter or soldier who retreated without permission.
If you thought order No.227 issued by Stalin in 1942, was an original idea, think again.
#26. After the split of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903 into two major factions: Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
The split was followed by many other internal dissensions.
In August 1912, Trotsky and his faction attempted to reunite all the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, at a conference in Vienna.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks rejected the proposals and as a consequence, Trotsky failed to become the unifier of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.
#27. No member of Trotsky’s family escaped Stalin’s revenge.
#28. Trotsky was suffering from insomnia and high blood pressure.
#29. In October 1919, at the peak of the Russian Civil War, Petrograd, the city of the October Revolution was close to falling under the White Army led by General Nikolai Yudenich.
Even Lenin thought that would be a good idea to abandon the city and regroup.
It was Trotsky who argued that the cradle of the Revolution need to be defended to the last man.
Trotsky personally took command of the city defenses and miraculously turn the tide of the battle in favor of the Red Army.
#30. At the time of the February Revolution in 1917, Trotsky like Lenin, and other important leaders, was not in Russia.
He was living in Bronx, New York.
#31. The first meeting between Trotsky and Lenin took place in London in October 1902.
#32. Did you know that Leon Trotsky was the real founder of the newspaper Pravda(Truth)?
The newspaper was smuggled illegally in Russia and it promoted revolutionary ideals.
Due to financial difficulties, the newspaper did not have a fixed number of printings.
Later the Bolsheviks would steal Trotsky’s newspaper, by creating their version of Pravda in 1912.
A very angry Trotsky saw this move as theft and even go as far as denouncing Bolsheviks.
Ironically, the letters written by Trotsky during this dispute would be used by Stalin after 1924 to portray his rival as a great enemy of Lenin.
#33. His brother-in-law plotted against him.
Lev Kamenev, one of the Bolshevik revolutionary leaders was married to Olga Bronstein, Trotsky’s younger sister.
His relationship with Trotsky’s sister didn’t prevent Kamenev from joining the alliance with Stalin and Zinoviev against his brother-in-law.
The triumvirate, which remains today known as the “Troika”(Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev) successfully prevented Trotsky from becoming the absolute leader of the Soviet Union.
#34. Initially, Trotsky was a Narodnik(agrarian populist ideology) and even opposed Marxism.
It was his first wife, Aleksandra Sokolovskaya, who convinced him to join the Marxist cause.
#35. Unlike Stalin, who thought that social democrats had to be crushed by communist parties/movements before any attempt to take power; Trotsky supported the concept of the “United Front”.
Communist and social democrats had to work together, combine their forces if they ever hoped to achieve victory against the bourgeoisie/ enemies of the revolution.
The victory of Nazism in Germany further solidified Trotsky’s opinions about the collaboration between communist and social democratic movements.
#36. Before his exile in 1929, only 2 cities in the USSR were named in his honor.
#37. Leon Trotsky’s main treasure was his archive. The archive consisted of 28 mailboxes, copies of documents signed by Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s records, and other important historical documents. In 1936 Leon Trotsky sold part of the archive to the Paris branch of the Amsterdam Institute for Contemporary History. Four years later (1940) he sold most of his archive to Harvard. Leon Trotsky wanted not only to benefit from it but also to save important documents. NKVD agents tried several times to steal or destroy the archive.
#38. Though a fanatical ideologist, Trotsky was also pragmatic.
During the Russian Civil War, Trotsky reinstated discipline, military ranks, and even recruited former Tsarist Officers in the newly formed Red Army. (by the end of the Civil War, almost 75% of the officers of the Red Army were former Tsarist officers).
Previously ranks, uniforms, and conscription were abolished during the Revolution because they were considered outdated.
Obviously, these measures were met with heavy criticism inside the Bolshevik Party.
As long as Lenin was alive, Trotsky ignored the criticism inside the Party and focused on winning the war. In the long term, this strategy proved to be damaging to his chances of succeeding Lenin.
#39. Did you know that Trotsky wrote an article about Lenin for Encyclopedia Britannica? In exchange for this article, he received a modest payment of 106 dollars.
#40. When he returned to Russia in May 1917, Trotsky’s plan was not to join the Bolsheviks.
For a short time, as leader of Mezhraiontsy, a social-democratic faction, he hoped he could restore unity to the left, of course around his party and ideology.
His plan, like in 1912, failed again, and ultimately, Trotsky sided with Lenin for the good of the revolutionary cause.
#41. Trotsky was one of the founders of the Comintern, the Communist International, and even wrote its first manifesto.
#42. Trotsky spoke very well German, French, and English, though in his autobiography he only admits that he was fluent only in Russian.
Raymond Molinier, a supporter of Trotsky, claims that he was fluent in French.
We hope that you have found these 42 interesting facts about Leon Trotsky informative and educational.
1. Robert Service, Trotsky: A Biography, Belknap Press.
2. Leon Trotsky, My Life, Dover Publications Inc.
3. Bertrand M. Patenaude, Trotsky Downfall of a Revolutionary, Harper-Collins e-books.
4. Joshua Rubenstein, Leon Trotsky a Revolutionary’s Life, Yale University Press.
5. Victor Serge and Natalia Sedova Trotsky, The Life And Death of Leon Trotsky, Haymarket Books.