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Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronshtayn) was born on this date in 1879, which means that the 1917 Russian Revolution, which he helped to lead and defend in the civil war that immediately followed it, took place on his 38th birthday. Trotsky was arrested in 1898 for revolutionary activity and spent more than four years in prison and in Siberian exile, from which he escaped in 1902 with a forged passport bearing the name Trotsky. He was jailed and exiled again in 1906-07, and spent much of the years of World War I in Switzerland, Paris, Spain, and New York. Trotsky was initially a democratic socialist, but eventually joined the Bolsheviks and served as their military leader against the government of Alexander Kerensky and against the White Russians, Ukrainian nationalists, foreign agents, and other forces that fought the Red Army from 1917 to 1920. Trotsky was Lenin’s second-in-command and likely successor before Joseph Stalin succeeded at isolating him, removing him from positions of influence, condemning and libeling him, driving him into exile, and assassinating him in Mexico in August, 1940. In the years between his expulsion from the Communist Party (1927) and his murder, Trotsky was the primary world leader of anti-Stalinist communism: He opposed the Hitler-Stalin Pact, believed the USSR to be a “degenerated workers’ state,” advocated international revolution, denounced the Soviet purge trials, and wrote many in-depth critiques of the very “dictatorship of the proletariat” that he had vitally assisted in establishing. To see and hear him speaking in an old newsreel, look below.
“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.” —Leon Trotsky