The Life of Leon Trotsky

Unknown artist, Leon Trotsky, 1980s?


Considerations on the biographies of the revolutionary leader

Just published in Spain La Fugue de Siberia en un Trineo de Renos (Siglo Veintiuno & Clave Intellectual), by León Trotsky (1879-1940). Testimony that seems like an adventure novel. The hero recounts his forced transfer to the Siberian penal colonies, his role as president of the Soviet of Workers' Delegates in St. Petersburg and his role in the 1905 Revolution in Russia. At that time, he predicted: “For the proletariat, democracy is in all circumstances a political necessity; for the capitalist bourgeoisie it is, under certain circumstances, a political inevitability”. Assertive, by the way, that dialogues with the struggle that unfolds and conditions the alternatives posed in the next elections, in Brazil.

The first deportation of the fighter for equality and freedom took place between 1900 and 1902, and was beneficial to his political and philosophical evolution. On that occasion, he borrowed from the jailer the pseudonym under which Lev Davídovich Bronstein entered the pantheon of socialism. In prison, a frequent visitor to the library, he read Shakespeare's plays. Subversive books entered through meanders invented by visitors.

He defended himself in the court that judged him, with a strong anti-monarchy speech, based on Shopenhauerian teachings about “the art of controversy” to weave counter-accusations to the imperial authorities. “On one side there is struggle, courage, truth, freedom. On the other, falsehood, vileness, slander, slavery. Citizens, choose!” A great orator, with a seductive verve and agile reasoning, he immediately captivated the audience. Deep down, it aimed at the attention and political awareness of the workers who followed the judicial process through the newspapers.

Before the judge, argued the government colluding with the pogroms (that is, with destructive practices) against Jewish communities in the settlement zone. He admitted that the Soviet armed itself, but because of the urgent need to combat “this form of government”. As he argued, he launched a series of moral and humanitarian denunciations of the enemy, the tsarist state.

By tricking the police into escaping, he started taking notes. He did not forget to address words to the reindeer pulling the sleigh. “The ones the guide had picked out of a herd of perhaps a hundred heads were magnificent. They are fascinating creatures. They do not go hungry, nor do they suffer fatigue. In our odyssey, they spent two days without eating and went on to the third without eating, with brief rests of two or three minutes. Food was sought for him. In the place where they felt the moss under the snow, they dug a hole with their hooves, dived in up to their necks and ate. On the way, the animals walked well together and I was amazed that they didn't get their legs tangled and fall. At the head of the Revolutionary Military Committee, he switched from sleigh to train in the task of organizing the victorious Red Army with the ideals that defeated tsar and capital.

The narrative has two parts, perfectly distinct: the way & the return. It ranges from his departure (03/01/1907) from the prison of the Peter and Paul Fortress, in St. stop before reaching the destination – the remote location of Obdorsk, on the edge of hope.

In his autobiography, in 1930, Trotsky, when addressing the contingency, recalls: “For me, it was a period of intense scientific and literary work. I studied rent theory and the history of social conditions in Russia. A work of mine, very developed but not completed, on land rent, was lost in the first years after the October Revolution. The study of Russian social history was condensed in the article 'Results and Prospects: the driving forces of the revolution' which is, in this range, the most complete exposition of the theory of permanent revolution”.

Em My life (Paz e Terra), recorded: “It was still not clear whether the revolution was in a definitive ebb, or whether it was coming to a halt and then starting again. In both cases it was necessary to fight the skeptics, theoretically review the experience of 1905, educate cadres for the new rise or for the next revolution. Lenin in conversation approved of the work I had done in prison, but he reproached me for not drawing the necessary consequences from it by joining the ranks of the Bolsheviks. And he was right.” In the paragraphs that close the memory of the escape, he observed: “Here ends my 'heroic' escape through the taiga (landscape with larger trees) and the tundra (landscape with low-lying plant species). In the most risky plot, the escape turned out to be easier and more prosaic than I had imagined”. In hindsight, afterwards, adrenaline melted into the air.

In Beryozov, Trotsky simulated a sciatica crisis in order not to continue the ordeal. "As is known, sciatica pain cannot be verified." From there, he undertook the return to civilization. “I wore two pelisses, one with the fur on the outside, the other with the fur on the inside, fur socks. In short, the winter equipment of a ostiak (inhabitant of Siberia, famous for excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages). In the briefcase I had a few bottles of alcohol, the safest currency in the snowy desert”. According to the future founder of the Fourth International: “The journey lasted eight days. We had covered 700 kilometers and were approaching the Urals. I pretended to be an engineer on Baron Toll's polar expedition. He had reached the connecting line with the railroad”. Liberation sign on the horizon. Afterwards, he went into exile in various countries in Europe.

If, on the way there, the letters to his dear companion served as an epistolary axis for the chronicle; on the way back, the adopted style is one of suspense about the success of the marching escape, without yet guessing the outcome. It was common knowledge, however, that “out of four hundred and fifty prisoners in a certain area of ​​Tobolsk, only one hundred remained.” The fact was auspicious. In the region, the cold used to be considered bearable at -25 or -30 °C, although it could reach -50 °C. “Every day we take a step down into the realm of cold and savagery.” The route was a punishment, which the uncertainty increased.

Later, in a famous trilogy (Brazilian Civilization) the biographer Isaac Deutscher highlighted The pen, Trotsky's nickname for his talent as a writer. “He embodied the highest degree of maturity to which the movement had aspired to ascend, until then. In formulating the objectives of the revolution, he went further than Martov (leader of the Mensheviks) and Lenin (leader of the Bolsheviks). He was better prepared to play an active role in events. An infallible political instinct had led him, at the opportune moments, to the sore points and foci of the revolution” (O armed prophet, vol. I). He was the bearer of “too great commitments with the proletariat”.

In the history of the labor movement and Marxism no cycle has been so dark and problematic as in the years of Trotsky's last exile, which found him disarmed. “It was a time when, to quote Marx, 'the idea tended towards reality', but since reality did not tend towards the idea, an abyss formed between them. At no time was capitalism closer to catastrophe than during the depressions and busts of the 1930s; and at no time did it show such savage elasticity. Never have such great masses been inspired by socialism; and they have never been so impotent and helpless”, points out Deutscher (the banished prophet, vol. III). One individual was missed.

With clarity, Trotsky foresaw the disaster of the replacement of the working classes by the vanguard. “The party organization tends to put itself in the place of the party as a whole; the central committee in the place of the organization and, to complete the picture, a dictator in the place of the central committee”. With which the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat” becomes the dictatorship over the proletariat. The tragic fate, which would culminate in the climber's pick, was foreshadowed. The prophecy came true, in full.

The “prophet”, which in the biblical sense of the First Testament means “the one who indicates alternative ways”, defeated in life, was a winner after the cowardly murder on the fateful 20th of August. The Stalinist command thought it would make him fall into sepulchral oblivion, but the opposite happened. Statues of the despotic bureaucrat were knocked over and trampled to the ground; the mausoleum of the former seminarian taken from Lenin's company. And a draftsman put Trotsky's there, without the cult.

The body decomposes with death. Ideas are recomposed, with memory. Trotsky survived the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which he helped found and, with Che Guevara, became in the contemporary imagination a worthy exponent of the post-capitalist utopia, in the face of the deformations of the regime based in Moscow. Today, both are myths that condense the willingness for an effective socialization of power and the openness to artistic-cultural innovations.

Josef Stalin, the "anonymous militant", was initially seen as a moderate administrator, sensible and disciplined enough to keep the script outlined in the precipitous closure of the National Assembly (Duma), a premonitory case of misfortune. Rosa Luxemburgo, who conceived socialism as inseparable from democracy, was a lucid voice in formulating the warning that would have made the difference. “The elimination of democracy, as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; because it holds the living source that can provide the corrective to the evils of social institutions. This source is the active, unfettered, energetic political life of the popular masses as a whole,” the balance sheet reads, the russian revolution, written in 1918 and published posthumously in 1922.

For Michael Löwy, “one of the indispensable texts not only for understanding the past, but for refounding socialism (or communism) in the XNUMXst century”. It is a libel in favor of popular sovereignty, against authoritarianism and bureaucracy.

Misjudging Stalin and the importance of representative bodies was costly. In seven decades, the USSR has produced no original thinkers. Much of the world's left, by osmosis, was frozen and embalmed in scholasticism, which consecrated the swarm of official quotes to prevent free thinking and impose the truth of the “lighthouse of the peoples”. Heretics were persecuted, excommunicated. There was a leap from “socialism in one country” to theoretical pastiche in all countries. The simplification of historical materialism implied the abandonment, in the name of chauvinist interests, of the central concept in the application of the dialectical method, “totality”.

The wizard of the Soviets also had a biographer in Portuguese, Paulo Leminski, author of León Trostky: the passion according to the Revolution (Brazilian). Under Freudian influence, the poet from Curitiba took Dostoevsky's novel, The Karamazov Brothers, written forty years before the insurrectionary phenomenon, as a prelude to the episode that continues to haunt the West. “When one of the Karamazovs kills his father, the Russian Revolution begins, that historic earthquake, in which Trotsky played a decisive role.” The totem of the structures of oppression collapsed. New ones would appear, Alas.

Already, under libertarian influence, the samurai of letters reports a speech from Gorky's memoirs, to whom Lenin would have confided an impression of Trotsky. “He knows how to organize. However, he is not one of us. He is with us, but he is not one of ours”. Without a doubt, the laconic comment expressed the diagnosis that ran through the minds of the senior leaders of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDP), which explains the position of the notable cadres formed by the Leninist school, in the dispute for the hegemony of the state apparatus, after the physical death of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1924).

Paulo Leminski celebrates in verses the growing recognition of the revived comrade in the poem he dedicates to one of the combative fractions of the Brazilian student movement, Liberdade e Luta / Libelu, under the dictatorship of the barracks: “bury me with the Trotskyists / in the common grave of the idealists / where lie those whom power has not corrupted.” He even erects a poem to toast old León and Natalia, in the couple's exile in Coyoacán: “there will never be a day like that day in Petrograd / nothing like one day following another coming”. Totalitarianism is not the only alternative to capitalism.

La Fugue de Siberia en un Trineo de Renos, in short, is the “personal and dramatic story, which gives us an observant Trotsky, profound, human, at times ironic, who explores the surroundings and expresses a state of mind or takes a picture of an environment that, without a doubt, reveals extreme, exotic, almost inhuman”. The sentence, in the presentation of the precious story, is from the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, author of The Man Who Loved Dogs (Boitempo). Trotsky's saga, at the age of 27, is a must-read. The translation in the native language is awaited.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.


⇒The website the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters. Help us to maintain this idea.⇐
Click here and find how.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table