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Leon Trotsky’s vast impact and contribution to Russian/Soviet history is made through his strong ideologies, organization and leadership.
The successful consolidation of Communism in Soviet Russia from the period of 1917 to 1928 can be largely attributed to the masterful orator and intellectual that was Leon Trotsky. Throughout this period he successfully premeditated the Bolshevik accession into power, and through his military brilliance, defended the Communist ideology and the foothold it had gained in Russia.
One of the most significant contributions of Trotsky was his involvement in organising the 1917 revolution. With Lenin in exile, Trotsky began recruiting, arming and disciplining the Bolshevik Red Guard and in October he was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Trotsky became the public face of Bolshevism and the key figure in three months of strategically important planning; in preparation for the revolution, Trotsky packed the Soviet with as many Bolshevik delegates as possible and organised the Military Revolutionary Committee. Given his role as the Committee’s central figure, Trotsky was primarily responsible for organising the movements of the Red Guard and the issuing of weapons, and ultimately the success of the November Revolution. Timed to occur just prior to the All Russian Congress of Soviets which was scheduled to meet on 7 November, the MRC and the Red Guards laid siege to the Winter Palace and secured occupation of other key strategic points throughout Petrograd; the post and telegraph offices, railway stations, bridges and garrisons. By the end of 7 November Lenin had declared ‘All power to the soviets’ and the All Russian Congress of Soviets, the majority of whom were Bolshevik delegates, voted approval of the coup.
Another aspect in which Trotsky played a significant role was in the peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In his capacity as Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Trotsky led the Russian delegation during the peace negotiations between Russia and Germany at Brest-Litovsk. Having developed his belief in a peace without indemnities or annexations during the war, Trotsky remained resolute in this belief at Brest-Litovsk. When the Germans presented their terms, Trotsky responded that Russia would end the war but not sign a peace treaty, instead choosing to believe that socialist revolution was imminent in Germany. He simply refused to accept the German terms and walked out of the negotiations. When revolution did not occur, the Germans resumed the offensive. Trotsky’s arrogance had backfired for the Bolsheviks and resulted in even harsher terms.
The Treaty was signed on 3 March 1918 after much heated debate amongst the Central Committee. The harsh terms of the Treaty caused a rift amongst the Bolshevik leadership and Trotsky resigned his position.
However, the Treaty eliminated the Bolsheviks’ most dangerous enemy and gave the new Soviet government the freedom from international conflict that it needed to consolidate its rule. The Treaty was annulled when Germany signed the Armistice in November 1918.
Trotsky’s involvement in the Civil War against the Whites is another contribution that had a lasting impact on Russia/Soviet history. Trotsky transformed the Red Army into a fighting force. By unleashing the ‘Red Terror’ against the Whites he ruthlessly achieved communist victory in the Civil war.
In his capacity as Commissar, Trotsky increased the size of the Red Army to three million and attached political commissars to ex-Tsarist officers to maintain discipline and loyalty. He often took the families of many officers hostage to further ensure loyalty. Furthermore, he recruited factory workers loyal to the Communists, introduced conscription and imposed the death penalty for desertion and disloyalty. Touring the country by train, Trotsky was able to distribute ammunition, maintain morale, discipline and revolutionary fervour. As a result, he was able to defeat the White armies one at a time and the Civil War was over by the 1921.
His leadership, determination and utter ruthlessness were critical in achieving Communist victory in the Civil War and in attaining control over most of what had been the Tsarist Empire. He remained Commissar for War until 1925 when he was forced to resign.
Lastly, by losing the power struggle with Stalin, Trotsky quite inadvertently, sentenced Russia to two decades oppression, by failing to consolidate his own power in the years following Lenin’s death.
Stalin’s propaganda machine used Trotsky as a focus for its propaganda, denouncing him as the fount of all evil. Trotsky was exiled in 1929 and during that time, continued to write against Stalin.
Leon Trotsky had an extensive and lasting impact on Russia/ Soviet history and his school of thought, views and personality continue to affect Marxist teachings to this day in the form of Trotsky-ism, a major school of thought within Marxism. Through his involvement in the 1917 revolution, treaty of Brest Livstok and the civil war, he drastically impacted the path of Russian/soviet history. Trotsky’s significance is indisputable through his oratorical and the positions he held inside and outside Russia.
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