The Tragic Fate of Workers’ Russia


1.    Jessica Smith, Woman in the Soviet Union (Vanguard Press,1928). Quoted in W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War, 1918-1921 (Da Capo Press, 1999), p. 340.

2.    Many historians have claimed that the Bolsheviks regarded the policies of War Communism as intrinsically progressive, even as a “leap into socialism.” On the contrary, these measures were considered justifiable only as a temporary, emergency response to the conditions of Civil War and economic collapse.

3.    Quoted in Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 (Verso, 2003), p. 477.

4.    There were, nevertheless, many instances of extreme brutality in Cheka prisons, and the organization, like any police force, attracted a fair number of thugs and sadists. But these practices were often criticized in Bolshevik newspapers and were opposed by the Party’s leaders. The trouble was, the Cheka grew so large and amassed so much power that it was difficult – though, arguably, not impossible -- to monitor and control.

5.    Quoted in Arno Mayer, The Furies: Violence and Terrorism in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton, 2002), P. 254.

6.    Quoted in David Mandel, “The Russian Revolution, Ninety Years On,” Canadian Dimension, October 10, 2007.

7.    The initial success of the Red Army in Poland provoked a sharp debate among the Bolsheviks. Lenin was persuaded that Polish workers would welcome the Red Army and that the appearance of Soviet troops on the Polish-German border would inspire the German working class, which had just crushed a rightwing coup d’etat, the Kapp Putsch, with a massive general strike, to carry out a full-scale revolution. Trotsky argued that, on the contrary, a Soviet invasion would inflame Polish nationalism and that socialism could not be brought “on the point of a bayonet.” The debate was resolved when Polish forces eventually routed the Red Army and forced the Soviet Russia to sue for peace.

8.    Quoted in Tony Cliff, Trotsky: The Sword of the Revolution, 1917-1923 (Bookmarks, 1990), p. 193.

9.    Quoted in E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Vol. 3 (W.W. Norton, 1985), pp. 135-136.

10. In fact, the NEP was essentially the same as the Bolsheviks’ economic program in the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution, the transitional program they planned to implement while awaiting revolutions in Central Europe. War Communism can thus be seen as a temporary and unanticipated interruption to these plans. 

11. It was customary for Russian revolutionaries to adopt new names, both to shield their identities for underground work and to symbolize a break from their pasts. Thus Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov; he took the name “Lenin” from the Lena River in Siberia, where he was first exiled as a political prisoner. Trotsky’s original name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein; he named himself  “Trotsky” after a guard in the jail in which he was first imprisoned.

 Georgians were disproportionately numerous among Russian Social Democrats, particularly the Mensheviks (Chkheidze and Tseretelli).

12. It was at this point that Russian predominance in the Comintern began to turn into Russian control. Once Stalin was in power, the Comintern ceased to be an instrument for promoting workers’ revolutions from below and instead functioned as a cynically-manipulated instrument of Soviet – that is, Stalinist – foreign policy.

13. Neither the Fourteen nor Trotsky, however, advocated legalizing opposition parties. It was only in the 1930s, while reflecting in exile on the degeneration of the Revolution, that Trotsky returned to an understanding of the necessity of a multi-party soviet system.

14. For the next 11 years, Trotsky and his family were forced to move from country to country – first Turkey, then France, then Norway. Few governments were willing to allow a notorious revolutionary to live on their soil, and those that granted him a visa soon cancelled it and expelled him under pressure from Stalin. In exile, Trotsky tried to gather supporters and wrote steadily, producing a stream of books and articles on history and world affairs, but mostly critical analyses of Stalin and the fate of the Soviet system. Wherever he went he was hounded by agents of Stalin’s secret police, who operated undercover throughout the world. On Stalin’s orders, they harassed and murdered his supporters and members of his family. Trotsky’s older son, left behind in the Soviet Union, was executed during the Great Purges. His younger son was killed in Paris, and his daughter was driven to suicide in Berlin.

Finally, in 1937 the government of Mexico offered Trotsky asylum. But there, in 1940, he was murdered by an agent of Stalin as he sat at his writing desk.     

15. This new Stalinist social system will be the subject of a forthcoming third article.

16. Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (Ann Arbor, 1961), p. 79. Despite her criticism, Luxemburg was an ardent champion of the Bolshevik Revolution.