Trotsky Is Sent into Exile Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Leon Trotsky was sent into exile, putting an end to significant opposition within the Soviet Communist Party to Joseph Stalin’s personal rule and his establishment of a totalitarian state.

Summary of Event

Both Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Ilich Lenin played important parts in the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. Like Lenin, Trotsky may have been indispensable. No one agitated more effectively among the working classes to bring them to the side of the Bolsheviks and no one showed more skill and determination in organizing them into a military force capable of winning power in Petrograd in 1917. No one stood more steadfastly beside Lenin in the crucial days of October, when several of the leading Bolsheviks opposed the leader’s decision to try to seize power. In the summer and fall of 1917, the special talents that Trotsky possessed—energy, determination, ruthlessness, and flaming oratory—found a situation in which they could be most effective. [kw]Trotsky Is Sent into Exile (Jan., 1929) [kw]Exile, Trotsky Is Sent into (Jan., 1929) Communist Party;Soviet Union [g]Russia;Jan., 1929: Trotsky Is Sent into Exile[07210] [c]Government and politics;Jan., 1929: Trotsky Is Sent into Exile[07210] Trotsky, Leon [p]Trotsky, Leon;exile Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;Trotsky’s exile[Trotskys exile] Lenin, Vladimir Ilich [p]Lenin, Vladimir Ilich;October Revolution Kamenev, Lev Borisovich Zinovyev, Grigory Yevseyevich

Leon Trotsky.


In the hard days of the civil war (1918-1921), Trotsky’s abilities and courage once again served the Bolsheviks well. It was he who, as people’s commissar of war, organized and directed the Red Army. In less than one year, by the force of his will and intelligence, he transformed an undisciplined group of youthful enthusiasts into an organized, disciplined army. He also tirelessly and ruthlessly directed that army in its struggle to the death against both the White Russians’ counterrevolution and foreign intervention. The Bolsheviks might not have survived the civil war and the Red regime might have been merely a passing phenomenon in world history without Trotsky, but only ten short years later he became an outcast, exiled from his native land by the Communist Party he had done so much to defend and perpetuate. His victorious rival, Joseph Stalin, rewrote history to conceal Trotsky’s important role in the Bolshevik seizure of power and victory in the civil war. Trotsky virtually became an “unperson” in the Soviet Union, remembered only for the false charge that he was a traitor to the revolution rather than one of its principal leaders.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, Trotsky lost the struggle for power in a personality clash with Stalin in which fateful aspects of Soviet Communist policy were thrashed out. Should the party continue the semicapitalistic New Economic Policy New Economic Policy (NEP) within the Soviet Union? Should it govern democratically or dictatorially? Should it stake all on the victory of world revolution, or should it try to consolidate “socialism” in the Soviet Union? These were the policy questions intertwined with the struggle for personal power. Between 1923 and 1925, Trotsky tried to turn the party away from the NEP to a policy of collectivization of the peasants and massive industrialization. Stalin, with the help of important Bolsheviks, such as Lev Borisovich Kamenev and Grigory Yevseyevich Zinovyev, and with overwhelming support among the mass of party members, brought about Trotsky’s defeat on this issue in the Party Congresses of 1923 and 1924. Feeling against Trotsky ran so high that Kamenev and Zinovyev at a Central Committee meeting in January, 1925, demanded his expulsion from the party, but Stalin, still unsure of himself, rejected their proposal. Trotsky was merely forced to give up his post as people’s commissar of war.

By mid-1925, however, Kamenev and Zinovyev became alarmed at Stalin’s demonstrated strength in the rank and file. They now saw him as a greater threat to their positions in the party than Trotsky, whom they, like many others, had suspected of a dictatorial tendency. Moreover, they had come to believe that it was time to abandon the NEP. Accordingly, they joined forces with Trotsky as he once again called for a rapid beginning of collectivization and industrialization. They also fought for the restoration of democracy in the party, which Stalin—as head of the Orgburo, which made party personnel decisions, and of the Secretariat, which controlled the party’s records and conducted all correspondence between Moscow and local party organizations—had transformed into a centrally directed, bureaucratic machine. They also fought for an active Communist role in international affairs against Stalin’s doctrine of “Socialism in one country.” At the Party Congress in December, 1925, Stalin and his supporters easily overcame this opposition group.

Defeated in the higher echelons of the party, Trotsky returned to the fray in 1926 and 1927, but in a different way. He tried to reach the rank and file by speeches, articles, and pamphlets and by the surreptitious organization of an opposition faction. Such oppositional activity had been banned by the Tenth Party Congress in March, 1921. Trotsky’s violation of the rule against factions led in October, 1926, to Trotsky’s expulsion from the Politburo, the leading policy-making organ of the party, the last bastion of his strength after his defeats in the Party Congresses of 1923-1925. His acts ran counter to the party’s deep need and desire for unity and eroded rather than increased his strength.

Trotsky’s last attempt to regain power came in October, 1927, on the anniversary of the revolution. He mounted public parades and demonstrations against Stalin and the party leadership. These pathetic efforts were easily crushed by Stalin’s loyal followers, and in December, 1927, at the Fifteenth Party Congress, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinovyev, and seventy-five of their most prominent followers were expelled from the party. In a prophetic act, Stalin allowed the “guilty” to return to the womb of the party if they would publicly recant their errors. Kamenev, Zinovyev, and numerous others did so. Trotsky refused, and he was exiled, first to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan, and then—in January of 1929—out of the Soviet Union altogether.


Trotsky lived on in exile, the center of forces opposing Stalin in world Communism, and the source of many polemical writings against the regime. Not content with the physical expulsion of Trotsky from the Soviet Union, Stalin sought to erase all memory of Trotsky’s vital role in the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War. Soviet history books were rewritten to misrepresent the roles of both Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky was falsely accused of opposing Lenin in 1917 and of secretly working for the defeat of Communism in the civil war, while Stalin was given credit for Trotsky’s achievements. This falsification of history reached its height in Stalin’s Great Purge of 1936-1938, when thousands of Stalin’s former opponents, including Zinovyev and Kamenev, were imprisoned or executed on trumped-up charges of trying to sabotage the building of socialism in Russia in collaboration with Trotsky. The exiled Trotsky was hounded by Soviet agents until 1940, when Stalin’s assassins killed him. Communist Party;Soviet Union

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carr, E. H. Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926. 3 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1958-1964. A detailed investigation of the personal and policy struggles in the period following Lenin’s death.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-1929. New York: Verso, 2003. The second volume of a sympathetic three-volume biography, this book recounts the power struggles of the 1920’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. An introduction to the first two decades of Soviet history that effectively brings out Stalin’s and Trotsky’s different programs for building socialism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Knei-Paz, Baruch. The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1978. A comprehensive analysis of Trotsky’s writings, with particular emphasis on Trotsky’s interpretation of Stalinism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Renton, Dave. Trotsky. London: Haus, 2004. Short monograph on the life, work, and politics of Trotsky and his effects on Soviet history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trotsky, Leon. My Life: An Attempt at Autobiography. Magnolia, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1930. Trotsky wrote this autobiography, which has been reissued several times, immediately after his exile from the Soviet Union in 1929.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tucker, Robert C. Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879-1929: A Study in History and Personality. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973. This study of Stalin’s rise to power offers a psychological interpretation of his rivalry with Trotsky.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Volkogonov, Dmitri. Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary. Translated and edited by Harold Shukman. New York: Free Press, 1996. Written by a retired Soviet general who has also published books on Lenin and Stalin, this is the first biography of Trotsky based on access to Soviet as well as Western archives.

October Manifesto

First Issue of Pravda Appears

Russian Communists Inaugurate the Red Terror

Lenin Leads the Russian Revolution

Bolsheviks Mount the October Revolution

Lenin Establishes the Comintern

Lenin Announces the New Economic Policy

Stalin Begins the Purge Trials

Categories: History