A Revolutionist in Istanbul: Leon Trotksy

On February 1929 Leon Trotsky entered Istanbul per ship accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov. When he arrived he was a man who had experienced a gradual downfall. He started as one of the most powerful man in Russia, the co-leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the head […]

On February 1929 entered Istanbul per ship accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov. When he arrived he was a man who had experienced a gradual downfall. He started as one of the most powerful man in Russia, the co-leader of the Russian of 1917 and the head of the Red Army, but soon became public enemy number one of the Soviet Union in Joseph ´s eyes. Exiled from his homeland the young Turkish Republic was the only country which accepted Trotsky within its borders.

Leon Trotsky as a Young Student
Leon Trotsky as a Young Student

I will briefly depict the life story of Lev Davidovich Bronstein alias Leon Trotsky; he was born in today´s Ukrainian village Bereslavka in 1879 as a child of a wealthy peasant family with Jewish origins. The access to a solid education and with it to Marxist circles enmeshed him in young years in political activity.[1] Before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, he spent the most of his time in Europe in order to escape imprisonment and banishment to Siberia by the Tsarist police. He grew up to be one of the most important figures of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and the Marxist movement. Despite his wavering relationship to Lenin, the undisputed leader of the Bolsheviks, the revolutionist faction of the party, Trotsky stayed indispensable for Lenin and the Marxist propaganda as a forceful speaker and writer, who ardently believed in the revolution.[2]

The burst of social riots in the Russian Empire during the World I as a consequence of misery and death created a power vacuum that was exploited by the Bolsheviks in order to seize control in October 1917. The result was a bloody civil between Bolsheviks and their opponents, the White movement. Trotsky, now fighting alongside Lenin, founded and led the Red Army with draconian methods  so as to prevent  the imminent loss of the . With the victory of the army his popularity and authority crested among the Bolsheviks.[3]

Trotsky was a founder of Red Army
Trotsky was a founder of Red Army

However his power came to an end with the death of Lenin in 1924. Joseph Stalin, former general secretary of the party and Trotsky´s archival, took over the position of Lenin mainly due to the fact that he stood up for the consolidation of power in Soviet Union whereas Trotsky still defended his idea of the international spread of the revolution. Trotsky´s radicalism necessary in war but difficult to handle in peacetime gave Stalin the chance to push him out of politics step by step. In 1925 Trotsky handed in his resignation with the Red Army due to the pressure. In 1926 and 1927 he lost his positions in the party. Finally in 1928 he was banished to Central Asia. However he still had numerous supporters, which is why he was one of the few who survived Stalin´s purge in the 1930´s. In order to get rid of Trotsky, Stalin sent him into exile to Turkey.[4]

As Trotsky entered Istanbul he immediately sent Mustafa Kemal Atatürk a letter about the fact that he was in Turkey by force.[5]  He did not know on which basis the negotiations had taken place between Stalin and Atatürk and was concerned about his security. However during his whole stay in Istanbul, the Turkish government should be guarding him. Not only due to an order from the Russian secret service but also because  the members of the White movement who had escaped during the Civil War and settled down in Istanbul were suspicious of him. Already during the negotiations with the Soviet Union, Atatürk had insisted on the pledge for the security of Trotsky´s life and ensured him his freedom with the statement that he would be handled as a free person within the framework of the Turkish laws as long as he would not intervene in the politics of Turkey.[6]


1. Service, Robert: Trotzky: Eine Biographie. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2012, p: 25, 58-62
2. Service, Robert: p: 70, 93, 139
3. Smith, Steve A.: Die Russische Revolution. Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart, 2011, p: 57-77
4. Patenaude, Bertrad M, Trotzki: Der Verratene Revolutionär. Ullstein Buchverlage, Berlin, 2010, p: 15-17
5. Coşar, Ömer Sami: Trotçki Istanbul´da. Türkiye Iş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, Istanbul, 2010, p: 14
6. Service, Robert: p: 475

Sections — 1 2 3

Photo Credits: International May Day, Panama, Old Picz, The Guardian, Revolutionary Books

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