What Leon Trotsky achieved

Leon Trotsky died on August 21st, 1940, murdered in his Mexican retreat by an agent sent by Stalin to kill him. He was one of the leaders of Russia's Bolshevik October Revolution, which he saw as a permanent proletarian revolution, as opposed to the democratic "bourgeois" Menshevik revolution that had seized power in February.

Initially a Menshevik himself, Trotsky had joined Lenin in the Bolsheviks just before the October Revolution, and played a major role in establishing the totalitarian Communist state that followed. First as foreign commissar, he negotiated peace with Germany, then as Commissar for Naval and Military Affairs, he built up the Red Army into an efficient war machine that defeated the "White" forces who opposed the revolution.

He was totally ruthless, setting up the Red Terror to eliminate "ideologically impure elements," and initiated concentration camps and the practice of summary executions. He thought that soft-heartedness would destroy the revolution, and that the propertied classes had to be totally eliminated. He initiated the state takeover of the unions, and party control of any independent organizations. Control had to be total, which means a totalitarian state. And he wanted international revolution, not merely "socialism in one country."

When Lenin suffered a series of strokes and died, many had expected Trotsky would succeed him, including Trotsky himself, but he was outmanouevred by Stalin, now general secretary of the Central Committee. Trotsky's arrogance won him few friends, and he was thrown out of the party in 1927, then exiled in 1929 first to Kazakhstan, then to Turkey. All his supporters who remained within the Soviet Union's borders were executed in the Great Purges of 1936–1938.

Trotsky himself continued to write against Stalin, and worked to co-ordinate a movement of international Communism to oppose and denounce Stalin, whose rule he described as an "undemocratic bureaucracy" and a "degenerated workers' state." His 11 years of exile saw him living first in Turkey, then France, then Norway. In all three he was declared persona non grata and had to leave, finally settling in Mexico. He was finishing his biography of Stalin when he was attacked in his study by a blow to the head with an ice pick, and died next day.

Subsequent supporters of Trotsky have claimed that he would have implemented a genuine Socialist revolution, with workers' rule and a classless society. The reality is, though, that he would in all likelihood have been just as murderous as Stalin, and would have succumbed to the same megalomania that characterized the Soviet leader. He had already shown signs of this, and had practised an even more cold-blooded and fanatical zeal than Stalin.

Trotsky’s death at the hands of one of Stalin’s killers, reminds us that ruthless Russian leaders, then and now, have shown the same readiness to murder opponents living abroad, as recent events in the UK have confirmed.