The article below may be copied and circulated but proper attribution of authorship is required.

Autobiography, 1879—1917.

Translated by F. Kreisel. Copyright: Iskra Research, 1999

Trotsky wrote this short autobiographical essay in 1917 or early in 1918, probably at the request of Yakov Sverdlov for his Party archive. It was discovered in 1921 and published, without the knowledge of Trotsky and even contrary to his wishes, in issue #3 of "Proletarskaia revolutsiia". In the subsequent issue the editors added this disclaimer:

In the recently published issue #3 of "Proletarskaia revolutsiia" there was published an "Autobiographical note of cde. Trotsky". This note was written for the Central Committee in 1917 or very early in 1918 and reached out editorial board as an archival document. Due to an unfortunate technical oversight this was not explained in the journal publication. Since this "note" contains certain "anachronisms" from our contemporary point of view, (for example, in its references to Friedrich Adler and to Parvus), cde. Trotsky had asked the editorial board to inform the readers about the date of its writing".

The editorial board of "Proletarskaia revolutsiia".

I was born on the 26th of October in the village of Yanovka of the Yelizavetgrad county in the province of Kherson on a small estate of my father's, a landowning settler. Up until the age of nine I lived in the village, then I was sent to the Odessa gymnasium of St. Paul as a day student. During my studies I was noted by great diligence, was always a top student. I was temporarily expelled from the second grade for organizing a "protest" against the teacher of French language. In this perhaps might be discerned a foretaste of my future animosity to our close allies, the French… On entering the seventh grade I transferred to the town of Nikolayev, where for the first time became acquainted with a radical milieu and revolutionary ideas. At that time there lived a Czech gardener, Franz Franzevich Shvigovsky, around whom there came together some young people with still forming and maturing radical attitudes.

Initially, I considered myself an enemy of Marxism rather than a Marxist. I was then going on seventeen. After completing the gymnasium and an attempt to enter the school of mathematics as a non-matriculated student, I made some contact with some workers in Nikolayev, most of them Baptists of a rationalist inclination. Ivan Andreyevich Mukhin played a leading role among them; he still, in spite of his advanced age, remains an experienced Bolshevik fighter.

This organization of the Nikolayev workers quickly grew and was named the South Russian Workers' Union. We printed on a drum copier many leaflets and an underground newspaper "Our Cause". Everything was new at the time. Simultaneously a similar organization was started in Odessa. I often had to travel from Odessa to Nikolayev, spending the night on board ship (both cities lie on the Black Sea) and the day in one of these towns collecting revolutionary literature and conducting agitation. By the time this movement spread widely (the Nikolayev Union collected together over 250 dues paying workers) the sleepy Nikolayev gendarmes caught up with us and helped by two agents provocateur arrested almost everyone. I was arrested on the 28th of January 1898. Thus starts the prison odyssey. For a while I was kept in the jail in Nikolayev, then transferred to the one in Kherson, after three months — to the Odessa prison where I spent almost two years. Following the sentence of four years of exile to Eastern Siberia I spent about five months in the transfer prison in Moscow, then about three months in the transfer prisons in Irkutsk and Aleksandrovsk, all told over two and a half years.

In the prisons I finally adopted the standpoint of Marxism, although it must be said that even prior to my arrest in January of 1898 I called myself a Social Democrat and worked in the spirit of proletarian class struggle.

Having spent about two years of the four year sentence in the village of Ust-Kut in the province of Irkutsk, once the revolutionary movement developed in 1902 I escaped via Irkutsk, having obtained a false passport in the name of Trotsky; hence the pen name, which later had become my actual name. In Irkutsk I made contact with the Siberian Social Democratic organization, wrote statements for it. Then I traveled to Samara and contacted the local "Iskra" organization, which was at that time collecting together the diminished and disorganized ranks of the Social Democracy. At the behest of the Samara group I traveled illegally to Kharkov, Poltava, Kiev, and from there, abroad. I crossed the border illegally to Austria, and in Vienna for the first time met Victor Adler and his son Fritz, who is a heroic internationalist of the present War. Via Zurich and Paris I traveled to London, at that time the location of the editorial board of "Iskra". Editors at that time were Lenin, Martov and Potresov — you must remember how long ago this was — and also the older Social Democratic leaders, Plekhanov, Akselrod and Zasulich, who nevertheless lived in Switzerland.

From the end of 1902 until February of 1905 I remained abroad among the workers of "Iskra", contributing to the newspaper and traveling to the European cities which had Russian student and workers' communities, giving lectures, etc.

At the Second Party Congress in the summer of 1903 I represented the Siberian Union together with Dr. Mandelberg. Once the Congress split into the Majority and the Minority I joined the opposition which had later developed into the so-called "Menshevism". At that time I published in Geneva a brochure by the name of "Our Political Tasks". But as soon as Menshevism started to formulate its tactics, in the sense of advocating that the proletariat coordinates its actions with the political bourgeoisie during the period of our "bourgeois" revolution, I broke with the Mensheviks and stood outside both factions.

After the 9th of January, when the popular movement started in Russia I traveled illegally via Austria to Kiev and St. Petersburg. There I worked for the most part in a literary role and supplied the underground printing press of the Central Committee with the majority of its statements, leaflets, etc. With respect to the tasks of the Russian revolution I adopted a position which I consider correct until today, i.e. I stated that the correlation of the class forces in Russian society, in the conditions of the revolutionary epoch must lead to the political regime of the proletariat. This working class regime, basing itself on the toiling peasant masses, cannot limit itself within the framework of a bourgeois revolution. Depending on the developments in the West this situation can expand into a developed socialist revolution.

The September-October revolution of 1905 found me in the Petersburg Soviet, in its Executive Committee. Later, following the arrest of Khrustalev, I was elected to the chair of the Petersburg Committee.

During this period I associated closely with Parvus, a person of extensive knowledge and outstanding political and literary talent. At the time he defended within the Second International and within Russian politics a clearly revolutionary and class based point of view; he mercilessly exposed opportunism, first and foremost, the opportunism of the right wing of the German Social Democracy. Together with him we edited the popular newspaper "Russkaia Gazeta" (Russian Newspaper) which achieved huge circulation by the time that the Soviet and the whole revolution were crushed in December of 1905. Together we also defined the political direction of the large daily newspaper "Nachalo" (Beginning), in which Martov and some of his friends also participated.

On December the 3rd of 1905 the Petersburg Soviet was arrested in the building of the Free Economic Society and thus began the period of an unbridled bloody counterrevolution. I spent some time in the "Crosses" (a notorious Petersburg jail), then at the Peter-and-Paul fortress, then at the preliminary house of detention, finally, following the trial and sentencing, at the transfer prison. The trial took a whole month and was one of the most famous political trials, outstanding both as to the extent of the accusations and also insofar as the number and variety of the accused and witnesses involved in it. The primary defendants were sentenced to deprivation of property rights and to exile. While in prison I edited a number of brochures, a collection of essays "Our Revolution" and, together with the other comrades, "The History of the Petersburg Soviet of the Workers Deputies".

In February of 1907 we were taken to Obdorsk (in Siberia). Thanks to a complicated stratagem, which we don't need to go into, I managed to be left behind in a hospital in Beriozov, and after a stay of six days I managed to escape. This escape in a reindeer sled over a virginal snowy desert from Beriozov to the Ural Mountains remains with me as one of the outstanding experiences of my life. My guide was a Zyrianin (native of Western Siberia) who in some mysterious way determined the direction of travel, the temporary encampments of other nomads, and so on. On reaching the Ural Mountains I came south on horses together with a tax official, posing myself as an engineer from the polar expedition of Baron de Tolle. On the 11th day I reached St. Petersburg, completely unexpected to my friends. Afterwards I spent about three months in Finland (then a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Empire), where I published a book about my adventure, then via Sweden I traveled to England to the London Congress of the Party in the summer of 1907. At this Congress I did not join either the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks, having differences with both factions over some major problems of the Russian revolution. I settled in Vienna, Austria, often traveling from there to Berlin and always maintaining relations with the left wing of the German Social Democracy. All the time I collaborated within the central organs of the German party and in their theoretical publications, in "Neue Zeit" and in the journal "Kampf" which opened in Vienna later. I conducted tours of lectures around Europe and this enabled me to maintain contacts with the Russian comrades and with the West European socialists. From 1908 I edited in Vienna, together with comrade Joffe and the ex-comrade Skobelev, a popular newspaper "Pravda", which was surreptitiously smuggled into Russia. During the Balkan War I was in Serbia and Bulgaria as a newspaper correspondent, then in Rumania during the Bucharest peace conference. Thanks to this I was able to get well acquainted with the socialist parties of the Balkan countries. In 1909 I published a book in German "On the Russian Revolution".

The approach of the World War found me in Austria, and on the 3rd of August, 1914, I had to leave there with my family within three hours, being forced to abandon to their fate my books and manuscripts. I lived in Zurich for a few months, and published there in German a book "The War and the International". This book was smuggled into Germany and there brought about a number of arrests and a court trial. During this trial its author was sentenced in abstentia to some months' imprisonment. In my role as a correspondent of the "Kievskaia Mysl" (Kievan Thought, a large liberal Kiev newspaper) I traveled to France and spent almost two years there. All this time I maintained the closest possible contact with the left wing of French socialism and syndicalism. I traveled together with the French leftists to Zimmerwald in August 1915, to the well-known "Zimmerwald Conference". Together with a number of Russian friends I published a small daily newspaper in Paris, mostly intended for the emigres. This newspaper, "Nashe Slovo" (Our Word), conducted an unremitting struggle against chauvinism and the opportunist trend within the labor movement, and was therefore constantly persecuted by the French military censors, was closed by them thrice, and each time opened again under a new name.

In late September 1916, following persistent persecution by agents of the French police, two police inspectors took me from France to Spain. The Paris Zimmerwald Committee published in this instance my open letter to the former minister Jules Guesde. After a ten-day sojourn in Spain I was arrested as a pernicious agitator because of a denunciation by the French police, and put in jail. From there police agents took me to Cadiz, where I stayed for about two months under police surveillance. Then I was condemned for expulsion from Spain to one of the American republics, since neither England, not Italy, nor Switzerland wanted to extend hospitality to a Russian political emigre-internationalist, expelled from France. In late December I departed with my family by boat from Barcelona, and in early January arrived in New York. There I participated in the struggle within the Socialist party, primarily within its Russian and German Federations; conducted a fight against US intervention in the War, wrote for the American press.

The news of the Russian revolution put paid to this activity. With my family I took the first ship of the Norwegian line going to Europe. But in the Canadian port of Halifax, where all shipping gets inspected by the British military, I was stopped together with five other comrades and interned in a Canadian prisoner of war camp as an agitator, "dangerous to the Allied cause". After spending a month in this camp in the company of German workers and sailors I was freed at the demand of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies — which demand was transmitted by the extant Provisional Government, with Miliukov as its minister of foreign affairs. Upon returning to Russia I joined the organization of the "United Social Democrats — Internationalists" so as to assist in its quick alliance with the Bolshevik party, since by this time all our differences became erased and joint work became mandatory.

Following the July days the government of Kerensky-Tsereteli-Skobelev had me arrested, accused me of treason and jailed me for about two months in the "Crosses".

The rest is well known…

L. Trotsky


By F. Kreisel

Trotsky's place in the history of the October revolution and the Civil War was second after Lenin. He took upon himself the job of People's Commissar for foreign affairs and led the peace negotiations with Germany and her allies at Brest-Litovsk. Following the conclusions of the negotiations and the start of the Civil War fighting Trotsky was assigned the leadership of the Military Commissariat of the young republic. While occupying the post of Chairman of the Revolutionary-Military Council and People's Commissar for defense he played a central role in the organization of the Red Army and in its victory over enemies foreign and domestic.

Trotsky was also central in convening, organizing and the political guidance of the Communist International. He was the leading member of the Executive Committee of the Comintern; he gave the main reports at the first four congresses and formulated their most important resolutions.

At the conclusion of the Civil War Trotsky begins to pay more attention to the problems of economic reconstruction. During the demobilization of the Red Army he organizes out of its detachments a number of labor armies devoted to quick reconstruction of the system of transport, the extraction of coal, rebuilding the railways, etc. Both Lenin and Trotsky view the New Economic Policy as a maneuver and a respite, and Trotsky foresees the future development of the economy on the basis of long range planning. Both Lenin and Trotsky have a deeply critical attitude to the Soviet State. The final political actions of Lenin's — the fight to defend the state monopoly on foreign trade, for a Union of equal republics against the great state chauvinist proposal of Stalin, for the strengthening of the State Planning Commission — are conducted by both leaders in tandem.

Trotsky considers the problems of Soviet Russia in the light of the prospects and problems of the world revolution. The slowing and the defeat of the revolutionary actions of the working class in Bulgaria and Germany in 1923 strengthened the conservative and bureaucratic tendencies within the ruling party inside the USSR. The NEP and the growth of petty bourgeoisie inside the country exert backward pressures on the party and state bureaucrats. In the fall of 1923 Trotsky sends a letter to the Politburo about the bureaucratic danger in the party. Two weeks later 46 leading party members send a similar letter about the withering away of party democracy. Pressured by agitated party rank and file the December conference of the Central Committee is forced to issue a decision about a change of policy to a "new course". This programmatic declaration is to remain a dead letter. As the defeat of the German revolution, for which the whole party was hoping in 1923, becomes obvious, a mood of discouragement erodes the activism of the party masses and Trotsky and the whole Left Opposition remain isolated within the party. With the illness and death of Lenin the party apparatus becomes ever more remote from the working class. Every fresh defeat of the proletariat — Estonia in 1924, Poland and England in 1926, China in 1927 — lower the conscious activism of the working class and strengthen the conservative, nationally oriented wing of Stalin and Bukharin. The theory of "socialism in a single country" introduces fatal poison into the Comintern and wrecks the long-term prospects of world socialism.

In 1923 Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev organized a secret "Triumvirate", an unprincipled and anti-party conspiracy against Trotsky. They plot against him within the Commissariat of Defense and in January of 1925 remove him from that post. But towards the end of 1925 Zinoviev and Kamenev become alarmed at the worsening social and political position of the working class by comparison with the growing and strengthening petty and middle bourgeoisie. They rise up against the conciliatory policy of Stalin-Bukharin. In 1926 Trotsky and Zinoviev come together into the Joint Opposition based on internationalist and proletarian critique of the right wing. This Opposition would unite the majority of the older pre-Revolutionary cadres of Bolshevism. Despite the moral weight of the Opposition the party — swollen and ideologically adulterated by the mass recruitment of politically raw workers and peasants, on the one hand, and filled to overflowing with the numerous careerist elements who would join any party in power — the party remains under the tight control of its central apparatus and its central apparatchik — Stalin. A similar process occurs within the Comintern and its national sections throughout the world: conscious revolutionists are isolated, persecuted and expelled, their place is taken by the corrupt apparatchiks and toadies.

In 1927 the leaders of the Opposition are expelled from the party; expulsions are extended to thousands of the most active and conscious rank and file oppositionists. Now begins the era of exile and prison sentences. In January of 1928 Trotsky is exiled to Alma Ata.

Throughout 1928 — 29 the Left Opposition arms itself in an ideological and moral sense. The careerists and weak-kneed cowards leave its ranks; on the other hand, it continuously attracts to itself the more conscious revolutionists. In the summer of 1928 in connection with the Sixth Congress of the Comintern Trotsky publishes his "Critique of the Comintern Program". This wide-ranging programmatic document serves as the principled platform for an international communist center. Circles and groups of Bolshevik-Leninists organize throughout the world on the basis of this program.

There are continuous splits within the ranks of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The eclectic character of the internal and external actions of the ruling bureaucracy lead to one crisis after another. Under such conditions Stalin becomes frightened of the sharp and principled criticism by Trotsky and insists on exiling him abroad. In February of 1929 Trotsky is expelled to Turkey with his wife and elder son Liova. Stalin hopes that isolated in remote Turkey, deprived of contact with his Russian supporters, Trotsky will be harmless.

Trotsky settles on Prinkipo, an island near Constantinople and reestablishes his contacts with supporters within and outside the Soviet Union. In early 1929 he publishes a series of articles in some of the leading newspapers around the world explaining the causes for his opposition and expulsion. The proceeds from these articles are used to establish Trotskyist press in a number of countries and to publish Lenin's secret "Testament". In July he publishes the first issue of the Russian language "Bulletin of the Opposition". This journal would continue publication until 1941. The same year he also writes "The Permanent Revolution".

In the next few years Trotsky would constantly attempt to secure a visa to live in one of the European countries, but the pressure of the Stalinists, on the one hand, of bourgeois reactionaries and fascists, on the other, prevent this. In April of 1930 there convenes the first international conference of the International Left Opposition, which decides to pursue a policy of reforming the Communist International by way of sharp political criticism.

Trotsky continues to write extensively on current events: the development of the Spanish revolution, fascism in Germany, the problems of the Five Year Plan and on many other subjects. His articles are published in Russian in the "Bulletin of the Opposition", and in dozens of organs of Trotskyist groups and parties in all the leading countries of the world in all the major languages. In 1931 — 33 he publishes his three-volume "History of the Russian Revolution". In 1932 he writes the book "Stalin's School of Falsification". In February of 1932 the enraged and frightened Stalin deprives Trotsky of his Soviet citizenship.

In November a group of Danish students invites Trotsky to give a lecture in Copenhagen on the October Revolution. In this way Trotsky receives his first chance to escape, at least for a while, from his remote Turkish cage and to meet with his European supporters.

At the end of January Hitler comes to power. Over a number of years Trotsky criticized Stalin's ultra-left policies; now this criticism is fully vindicated by this serious defeat of the working class. The Comintern, in a blind fury of bureaucratic arrogance, still continues to proclaim that its policy of the "Third Period" and "Social Fascism" — the German CP abused the Social Democrats as "Social Fascists" and refused to conduct joint defense actions against the threat posed by the real fascists of Hitler — that this ruinous policy was impeccably correct. In March Trotsky arrives at the conclusion that the German CP cannot be reformed and must be replaced by a new revolutionary party. In July he extends this conclusion to the rest of the Comintern. Soon there is organized the International Communist League — the precursor of the Fourth International.

On July 17th, 1933, Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova finally receive French visas and leave for France. Trotsky is forced to live very privately and secretly, hiding both from the Stalinists and the French fascists, under close surveillance by the police.

In October Trotsky proclaims the necessity of political revolution in the Soviet Union whose goal would be to overthrow the Thermidorean Stalinist bureaucracy, to restore workers' democracy and the possibility to resume an advance to socialism.

In February of 1934 Khristian Rakovsky, a well known European revolutionary, leader of Soviet Ukraine during the Civil War and an old friend and comrade of Trotsky breaks down under the pressure of six years of exile and prison and renounces his views. This is to be the last capitulation of a leading oppositionist to be accepted by Stalin. From now on oppositionists would only be murdered.

In December of 1934 Sergei Kirov is shot. Trotsky accuses Stalin in organizing this assassination in order to frighten the whole bureaucratic elite of the party.

In 1935 Trotsky begins to compose a biography of Lenin. He won't be allowed to finish it because of the pressure of the Moscow Trials and state persecution of himself. Due to France's appeasement of Stalin the situation now became dangerous to Trotsky and in the summer of 1935 he secures a residency permit from Norway and settles in the house of a left wing editor, Konrad Knudsen. He works on his fundamental book, "The Revolution Betrayed — What Is the USSR and Where Is It Going?", a deep analysis of the class nature of the Soviet state and the dynamics of its development.

In early August 1936, Trotsky finishes "The Revolution Betrayed", sends it to his editors and goes on vacation into the wilderness of Norway. On the next day some members of a Norwegian fascist group break into Knudsen's house and steal some of Trotsky's papers. At the same time there begins in Moscow the first of the infamous Moscow Trials, a public inquisition of Zinoviev, Kamenev and fourteen other leaders of the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution. Behind the scenes Stalin increases his pressure on the Norwegian government to extradite Trotsky to Moscow to be killed by the GPU.

The social democratic Norwegian government surrenders to Stalin's pressure and Trygve Lie, the justice minister, places Trotsky under a house arrest, rationalizing this despicable action by a reference to Trotsky's supposed violation of the Norwegian rules of asylum. This "violation of the rules of asylum" consisted in Trotsky's public statements denying his guilt and proclaiming the innocence of all the other defendants at the Moscow Trial of all the accusations imputed to them by Stalin. With the help of this social democratic arrest Stalin partly succeeded in silencing Trotsky during this fantastic court trial and in its immediate aftermath.

In December the Mexican government announced that it would extend to Trotsky the right of asylum and Norwegian social democrats placed Trotsky and his wife on a freighter sailing for Mexico. On January 9th, 1937, Trotsky arrived in the port of Tampico.

The Second Moscow Trial begins in January: Radek, Piatakov and fifteen other Old Bolsheviks are accused of Trotskyism, espionage, preparation of a pro-German state overthrow, etc. This time Trotsky is free to act; he conducts an open political campaign, which disproves the judicial falsifications of the Kremlin. On February 9th his speech is read out at a monster meeting in New York (the American government of course refused him a visa). In April he participates at an open public trial conducted under the chairmanship of a famous American philosopher, John Dewey. After a lengthy and detailed inquiry the Dewey Commission pronounces the Moscow Trials to be a judicial forgery and acquits Trotsky and his son Lev Sedov.

In February of 1938 Lev Sedov dies in a hospital near Paris in a medical murder set up by Stalin's secret agents. The younger son of Trotsky, Sergei, was killed a year earlier in one of Stalin's death camps.

The third Moscow Trial is staged in March of 1938: Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky, Rakovsky and eighteen other defendants are accused of a Bukharin — Trotsky plot in favor of some foreign governments. Trotsky denies all the accusations, publicly disproves Stalin's forgeries and prepares for the founding of the Fourth International.

In September of 1938 the representatives of the International Left Opposition gather near Paris and found the Fourth International on the basis of a program written by Trotsky and called "The Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International".

Trotsky continues the theoretical preparation of Marxist cadres. His articles analyzing the decay of capitalist Europe and its catastrophic descent towards a new world war are published in scores of modest publications of the world Trotskyist movement. In addition, despite the blockade by Stalinists and pro-Stalinist "radicals" his thoughts penetrate into the more serious of the mass organs of bourgeois press. He provides a timely analysis of the causes for the defeat of the Spanish revolution, correctly identifying Stalinism as the major cause for the victory of the Falange. Trotsky explains Stalin's extermination of the heads of the Red Army and foresees a bloc between Hitler and Stalin.

World War II begins on September 1st, 1939, with Hitler's attack on Poland. In these extremely difficult circumstances of defeats and disruptions within the world working class Trotsky struggles to preserve and develop the Marxist cadres seeing in them the pledge of future victory. He publishes a series of articles known as "In Defense of Marxism" and compiles a deeply analytical biography of Stalin.

Stalin continues his plots against Trotsky. His best spies and killers are sent to Mexico. On May 24th, 1940 a group of Stalinist bandits led by a well-known artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, attack Trotsky's guarded villa, kill one of the guards, but don't succeed in shooting Trotsky. A conference of the Fourth International meets at the end of May and approves the programmatic theses on the World War composed by Trotsky.

On August 20th a secret agent of Stalin, Ramon Mercader, penetrates into Trotsky's house by pretending to be a sympathetic journalist. While Trotsky reads Mercader's manuscript, the killer strikes him in the head with an ice axe. Trotsky dies on August 21st.

Trotsky's killer, Mercader, was imprisoned for twenty years in a Mexican jail. After his release he traveled to Moscow, was awarded the Order of Lenin and spent the remainder of his life in comfort under the protection of the killers of the GPU-KGB.