Leon Trotsky:

The Portrait of a Youth


The chief thing to be gained by visiting Soviet Russia is a feeling of the characters of the Bolsheviks. To a simple man that makes Bolshevism intelligible. Instead of writing another dissertation about it, therefore, I decided to compose the portrait of one of these characters. I chose Trotsky because he seems to me the most universally gifted man in the world to-day. There is no one more whole-somely alive, more interested in all the interests of mankind. If we can understand how Trotsky became a Bolshevik, we shall have some human understanding of what Bolshevism is.

For that reason my book is not a record of his achievements, but the story of his youth. I hope to write about those achievements also, but that is a different book. Only remember, while you read, that in 1905, at the age of twenty-six, this Jewish boy, standing at the head of the Petrograd Soviet of Worker's Deputies, spoke with an authority in Russia not inferior to that of the czar. The czar's prime minister appealed to that Soviet for the privilege of sending a telegram--and this, while the Soviet was printing and posting in the streets Trotsky's audacious proclamations of its purpose to overthrow the czar's government and establish a socialist state.

Remember that in 1918--untrained even in the contemplation of military affairs--Trotsky organized an army out of the hunger- and panic-stricken remnants of a nation, and fought off on seven fronts an invasion backed up by all the great powers of the world. Remember that he is considered by many who have heard him the greatest orator of our times. And remember that his books of literary criticism, as well as his political and economic studies, are read by every lively-minded man in Russia, and his prose style is a thing of intense individual beauty, and power.

I succeeded with some difficulty in persuading Trotsky himself to co-operate with me in composing this story. The degree of his co-operation is described in the following letter.


You wish to write my biography and ask my co-operation. My first motion was to refuse that co-operation. But afterward I thought that would be not right.

For better or worse, it befell me to play a certain role in the October revolution and its further development. Many people find their way to the general through the personal. In that sense biographies have their right. And, that being so, better they should he written without great distortions (small ones are quite unavoidable). In this direction--that is, in the direction of conscientious information--I will try to cooperate with you. But I cannot agree to read your manuscript, for that would make me somewhat responsible not only for the factual side, but also for the characterizations and valuations. It is quite obvious that this is impossible. I am ready to take the responsibility and that a limited one, for the facts I communicate in response to your questioning. For all the rest you must bear the responsibility alone.

With sincere greeting,


To this I ought to add that the facts stated in my concluding chapter about the relation between Lenin and Trotsky in the last years, were none of them supplied to me by Trotsky. These facts are accessible to anybody in Moscow who reads and speaks Russian and stays there a while.

I owe my gratitude for long conversations about Trotsky and his youth to Alexandra Lvovna and Natalia Ivanovna, to Mr. and Mrs. Spencer and their daughter Vera, and to many others who were his playmates and friends. And I owe a more general debt of gratitude to Eliena Vacilievna Krylenko, without whose infinitely generous help all this work in a newly acquired language would have been impossible.

M. E.

May, 1924.