Why did Trotsky maintain such a prominence in Bolshevik government from 1918 to the death of Lenin in 1924? – History (100 level Course)
Trotsky enjoyed prominence within Bolshevik government for his achievements before, during and after the Bolsheviks came to power:
• He was the “star” of the 1905 Revolution, heading the St. Petersburg soviet.
• He organised and implemented the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917.
• He was head of the Red Army during and immediately after the successful civil war of 1918-20.
As a result of these achievements he enjoyed powerful support from within the party, particularly from left-wing activists and from young Bolsheviks. This support in itself ensured his prominence. In party and government terms he could not be ignored.
Trotsky’s prominence was assured by his closeness to Lenin. He’d known Lenin since 1902. Despite differing views before 1917, Lenin liked and admired Trotsky. In his testament he described him as “outstanding” and was happy to give Trotsky his absolute trust. As a result, he was prepared to delegate key tasks.
• As commissar for foreign affairs, he was entrusted with the task of making peace with the Germans in 1918. Later, he was closely associated with COMINTERN, the body Lenin created to help spread world revolution.
• He was made head of the Red Army at a time when no such army existed. He created it, organised its structure and had general control over its winning tactics during the civil war, subsequently during the war with Poland and finally during the siege of the Kronstadt naval base (1921).
• He was a key figure in the Politburo, acting as something of an ideas man. It was he, for example, who came up with the idea for the NEP.
Trotsky’s closeness to Lenin gave him positions of authority within the government that equated to deputy leader. It also gave him a standing and authority that could not be ignored.
Trotsky’s closeness to Lenin was based on more than personal regard. The two men shared views about the development of government policy.
• They shared a common view on world revolution. Both expected socialist revolutions to break out in the wake of the Bolshevik seizure of power. Policy towards peace with Germany was conditioned by the view that peace would bring revolution. Out of this came the policy of “neither peace nor war” that stalled peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk for weeks.
• The failure of Germany to fall to an immediate socialist revolution did not deter Trotsky and Lenin. Both believed that the survival of socialism in Russia was dependent on world revolution. They therefore sought to ferment it through the establishment of the COMINTERN, a body that worked with Communists from throughout Europe.
• During the civil war both Lenin and Trotsky applied “war communism”. Where Lenin brought in specialists from the bourgeoisie to run industry, Trotsky brought in former Tsarist officers to run the army. Where Trotsky re-applied military discipline to the armed forces, Lenin applied it equally to the industrial workers.
• After 1921, Trotsky and Lenin moved Russia towards the NEP. Trotsky dreamed it up, Lenin supported him and put in charge of economic policy. Only illness prevented him from developing the role more fully.
• In 1924 the two came together again. Both were concerned at the bureaucratisation of the party and feared the power it gave to people like Stalin.
Given the impetus that Lenin and Trotsky gave the movement in policy matters, it was not surprising that Trotsky retained a key role in government. Further, with his ability to speak out and convince, he was often the person who fronted these policy developments.
Towards the end of the period, Trotsky’s prominence turned to notoriety in the eyes of others. Lenin’s illness and subsequent death made Trotsky the heir-apparent and sparked reaction from the likes of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. His close association with Lenin’s policies provoked a similar reaction. Stalin opposed him on world revolution. Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, all key party figures, opposed him on the issue of bureaucratisation. He was cast as Napoleon at a time when others sought more consensus in government. Not surprisingly, by the end of 1924 he was a marked man.