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Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky


Leon Trotsky [Лев Давидович Троцкий; born Lev Davidovich Bronstein; Лев Давидович Бронштейн] (26 October O.S., 7 November) 1879 - 21 August 1940) Russian Marxist, intellectual, and revolutionary. In the early Soviet Union, he founded the Politburo, served as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and created and led the Red Army. After Lenin's death, Trotsky was exiled for his opposition to Josef Stalin's policies. His 1940 assassination in Mexico was carried out by a Soviet agent at Stalin's behest.


  • As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!
    • "On Optimism and Pessimism, on the Twentieth Century, and on Many Other Things" (1901), as quoted in The Prophet Armed : Trotsky, 1879-1921 (2003) by Isaac Deutscher , p. 45

  • In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their own powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes toward a great avenger and liberator who someday will come and accomplish his mission.

  • Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one's enemies.
    • Literature and Revolution (1924)

  • The struggle against war, properly understood and executed, presupposes the uncompromising hostility of the proletariat and its organizations, always and everywhere, toward its own and every other imperialist bourgeoisie...
    • "Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau" (July 1936)

  • The struggle against war and its social source, capitalism, presupposes direct, active, unequivocal support to the oppressed colonial peoples in their struggles and wars against imperialism. A 'neutral' position is tantamount to support of imperialism.
    • "Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau" (July 1936)

  • A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified. (Also quoted as "The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.")

  • A sledgehammer breaks glass but forges steel.
    • "We do not change our course" (1938)

  • As for us, we were never concerned with the Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle about the "sacredness of human life."
    • As quoted in Terrorism and Communism : A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1975), p. 82

  • The road to socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the state … Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up in a brilliant flame, so the state, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the most ruthless form of state, which embraces the life of the citizens authoritatively in every direction...
    • As quoted in Terrorism and Communism : A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1975), p. 177

  • In inner-party politics, these methods lead, as we shall yet see, to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a "dictator" substitutes himself for the central committee.
    • Quoted in Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (1963), ch. 3

  • Fascism is nothing but capitalist reaction; from the point of view of the proletariat the difference between the types of reaction is meaningless.
    • What Next? (1932)

  • The German soldiers, that is, the workers and peasants, will in the majority of cases have far more sympathy for the vanquished peoples than for their own ruling caste. The necessity to act at every step in the capacity of 'pacifiers' and oppressors will swiftly disintegrate the armies of occupation, infecting them with a revolutionary spirit.
    • Manuscript from 1940, quoted in Writings of Leon Trotsky‎ by George Breitman

The Russian Revolution (1930)

  • In a serious struggle there is no worse cruelty than to be magnanimous at an inopportune time.

  • There is a limit to the application of democratic methods. You can inquire of all the passengers as to what type of car they like to ride in, but it is impossible to question them as to whether to apply the brakes when the train is at full speed and accident threatens.

  • The historic ascent of humanity, taken as a whole, may be summarized as a succession of victories of consciousness over blind forces — in nature, in society, in man himself.

  • Let a man find himself, in distinction from others, on top of two wheels with a chain — at least in a poor country like Russia — and his vanity begins to swell out like his tires. In America it takes an automobile to produce this effect.

My Life (1930)

Full text online

  • The life of a revolutionary would be quite impossible without a certain amount of "fatalism."

  • In these pages, I continue the struggle to which my whole life is devoted. Describing, I also characterize and evaluate; narrating, I also defend myself, and more often attack. It seems to me that this is the only method of making an autobiography objective in a higher sense, that is, of making it the most adequate expression of personality, conditions, and epoch.
    Objectivity is not the pretended indifference with which confirmed hypocrisy, in speaking of friends and enemies, suggests indirectly to the reader what it finds inconvenient to state directly. Objectivity of this sort is nothing but a conventional trick. I do not need it. Since I have submitted to the necessity of writing about myself — nobody has as yet succeeded in writing an autobiography without writing about himself — I can have no reason to hide my sympathies or antipathies, my loves or my hates.
    • Foreword

  • I know well enough, from my own experience, the historical ebb and flow. They are governed by their own laws. Mere impatience will not expedite their change. I have grown accustomed to viewing the historical perspective not from the stand point of my personal fate. To understand the causal sequence of events and to find somewhere in the sequence one's own place – that is the first duty of a revolutionary. And at the same time, it is the greatest personal satisfaction possible for a man who does not limit his tasks to the present day.
    • Foreword

  • I do not measure the historical process by the yardstick of one's personal fate. On the contrary, I appraise my fate objectively and live it subjectively, only as it is inextricably bound up with the course of social development.
    Since my exile, I have more than once read musings in the newspapers on the subject of the "tragedy" that has befallen me. I know no personal tragedy. I know the change of two chapters of the revolution. One American paper which published an article of mine accompanied it with a profound note to the effect that in spite of the blows the author had suffered, he had, as evidenced by his article, preserved his clarity of reason. I can only express my astonishment at the philistine attempt to establish a connection between the power of reasoning and a government post, between mental balance and the present situation. I do not know, and I never have, of any such connection. In prison, with a book or a pen in my hand, I experienced the same sense of deep satisfaction that I did at the mass-meetings of the revolution. I felt the mechanics of power as an inescapable burden, rather than as a spiritual satisfaction.

  • It was as the supreme expression of the mediocrity of the apparatus that Stalin himself rose to his position.
    • Ch. 40

Trotzky's Diary in Exile — 1935 (1958)

  • Old age is the most unexpected of things that can happen to man.

  • Life is not an easy matter... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.

  • The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.

The Revolution Betrayed (1936)

Full text online

  • Bureaucracy and social harmony are inversely proportional to each other.
    • p.41

  • In Stalin each [Soviet bureaucrat] easily finds himself. But Stalin also finds in each one a small part of his own spirit. Stalin is the personification of the bureaucracy. That is the substance of his political personality.
    • ch. 11

Their Morals and Ours (1938)

Full text online

  • A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified, From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man.

Trotsky's Testament (1940)

Written statement (27 February 1940) Full text online

  • I thank warmly the friends who remained loyal to me through the most difficult hours of my life.  I do not name anyone in particular because I cannot name them all.
    However, I consider myself justified in making an exception in the case of my companion, Natalia Ivanovna Sedova. In addition to the happiness of being a fighter for the cause of socialism, fate gave me the happiness of being her husband. During the almost forty years of our life together she remained an inexhaustible source of love, magnanimity, and tenderness. She underwent great sufferings, especially in the last period of our lives. But I find some comfort in the fact that she also knew days of happiness.

  • 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.

  • Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.

  • Natasha and I said more than once that one may arrive at such a physical condition that it would be better to cut short one's own life or, more correctly, the too slow process of dying ... But whatever may be the circumstances of my death I shall die with unshaken faith in the communist future. This faith in man and in his future gives me even now such power of resistance as cannot be given by any religion.

In Defense of Marxism (1942)

Full text online

  • Dialectical thinking is related to vulgar thinking in the same way that a motion picture is related to a still photograph. The motion picture does not outlaw the still photograph but combines a series of them according to the laws of motion. Dialectics does not deny the syllogism, but teaches us to combine syllogisms in such a way as to bring our understanding closer to the eternally changing reality.
    • p. 66

  • The concrete is a combination of abstractions — not an arbitrary or subjective combination but one that corresponds to the laws of the movement of a given phenomenon.
    • p.147

Quotations about Trotsky

  • When Victor Adler objected to Berchtold, foreign minister of Austria-Hungary, that war would provoke revolution in Russia, even if not in the Habsburg monarchy, he replied: "And who will lead this revolution? Perhaps Mr. Bronstein [Trotsky] sitting over there at the Cafe Central?"

  • Proof of Trotsky's farsightedness is that none of his predictions has yet come true.
    • Isaac Deutscher (ca. 1970s), quoted in George F. Will (1994), The Leveling Wind

  • Trotsky explained that a nationalised planned economy needs democracy as the human body needs oxygen.
    • Alan Woods' summary of The Revolution Betrayed


  • You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.
    • This was attributed to Trotsky in an epigraph in Night Soldiers: A Novel (1988) by Alan Furst but it may actually be a revision of a statement earlier attributed to Trotsky: "You may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you." Only a very loose translation of "the dialectic" would produce "war."
      In a later work, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (2000) by Michael Walzer, the author states: War is most often a form of tyranny. It is best described by paraphrasing Trotsky's aphorism about the dialectic: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
      This statement on dialectic itself seems to be a paraphrase, with the original in In Defense of Marxism Part VII : "Petty-Bourgeois Moralists and the Proletarian Party" (1942) — where Trotsky publishes a letter to Albert Goldman (5 June 1940) has been translated as "Burnham doesn't recognize dialectics but dialectics does not permit him to escape from its net." More discussion on the origins of this quotation can be found at The Semi-Daily Journal of Economist Brad DeLong: Fair and Balanced Almost Every Day

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