The Darwin/Trotsky connection
Leon Trotsky (1879–1940) was the organizer, propagandist, and military leader of the communist seizure of power in Russia following the revolution of 1917. He was communist dictator Lenin’s heir apparent, until Stalin usurped this position. Intolerant, tactless and impatient, Trotsky had an unbounded faith in Marxism, which was reinforced by his uncritical acceptance of Darwinism.
His fanatical faith in these ideologies and his angry intolerance of enemies saw him use the Red Army to crush the enemies of the newly formed Soviet state in the Russian Civil War of 1918–20. He instituted the militarization of civilian labour and the confiscation of food from peasants. He crushed the Ukrainian Army of Insurgent Peasants; and its anarchist guerrilla leader, Nestor Makhno (1889–1934), who had been his ally against the White Russians, was badly wounded but managed to flee the country with his family. Trotsky brutally suppressed the Soviet sailors at Kronstadt,1 and committed other acts of violence with ease, ‘because of his absolute conviction that they served the purposes of the proletariat and its permanent revolution’.2
After the end of the Russian Civil War, Trotsky’s boundless energies were channelled into handling administrative details and carrying out such pet projects as the leadership of the Society of the Godless, which was responsible for the spread of the Soviets’ antitheistic propaganda. He was an ardent atheist and advocated an “atheistic substitute” for religion; this involved the use of the theatre for antireligious propaganda, and Communistic rituals of ‘red’ baptisms, ‘red’ weddings, ‘red’ Easters, etc.3 He persecuted Christians, desecrated church property, and hated all middle-class morality.
Trotsky advocated permanent worldwide revolution4 and called for the communist seizure of power in Germany and other countries where he thought conditions were ripe for such violent actions.
How could it have come about that Trotsky, the son of a rich Jewish land-owner,5 became so vehemently prejudiced against his father’s class and against religion? It had a lot to do with his college failure and his sexual sin.
Among the most recognized of the former Soviet regime’s cultural symbols is this stainless steel monument in Moscow, titled ‘A Worker and a Collective Farmer’; seen holding aloft the sickle and hammer.
At the age of 17, Trotsky dropped out of college to join a revolutionary commune. The only Marxist member of this group was a woman, some six years his senior, named Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya. At first, he was ferociously antagonistic to both Alexandra and her Marxist views, so much so that at a New Year’s Eve party in 1896 he proposed a toast with the words, “A curse on all Marxists, and on all those who want to bring hardness and dryness into all life's relationships!”6
However, he then began an affair with her, which caused him to reconsider her Marxism. After the commune’s activities landed its members in the Tsar’s prisons,7 Trotsky had ample time to develop his ideologies.
In prison in Odessa, Trotsky read Darwin’s Origin of Species and his Autobiography. Years later he wrote, “Darwin destroyed the last of my ideological prejudices. … In the Odessa prison I felt something like hard scientific ground under my feet. Facts began to establish themselves in a certain system. The idea of evolution and determinism—that is, the idea of a gradual development conditioned by the character of the material world—took possession of me completely.
“Darwin stood for me like a mighty doorkeeper at the entrance to the temple of the universe. I was intoxicated with his minute, precise, conscientious and at the same time powerful, thought. I was the more astonished when I read … that he had preserved his belief in God.8 I absolutely declined to understand how a theory of the origin of species by way of natural selection and sexual selection and a belief in God could find room in one and the same head.”9
The details would be filled in later, but in the age of great scientists like James Clerk Maxwell and Louis Pasteur, who were Christian creationists, Trotsky took up the faith of Marx and Darwin. The conversion experience was genuine and thorough. Its legacy would be written in the torrents of blood that flowed under his hand.
In 1940, Trotsky, while living in exile in Mexico, was assassinated on the orders of Josef Stalin, another who was converted to an atheistic view of life through reading Darwin. Stalin was perhaps history’s greatest mass murderer. He and Trotsky acted in a way that was quite consistent with their presuppositions: if no one made me, no one owns me, and there is no absolute right or wrong. In such an evolution-based worldview, there is nothing intrinsically ‘wrong’ with murdering people, even millions of them.
References and notes
- Kronstadt was a naval fortress manned by 20,000 sailors, on an island off Petrograd (now St Petersburg). In March 1921, the sailors (many of them sons of peasants) revolted in protest at the theft of grain from their parents, and on behalf of workers' freedom. On the orders of Trotsky, Red Army troops, dressed in white camouflage, crossed the ice to the naval base, captured it, and massacred the sailors.
- Woolley, B.L., Adherents of Permanent Revolution: A History of the Fourth (Trotskyist) International, University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, p. 2, 1999.
- Heller, M., Cogs in the Soviet Wheel, London, p. 204, 1988.
- “War,” he wrote, “like revolution, is based on intimidation. A victorious war destroys as a general rule only an inconsiderable part of the defeated army, scaring the others and breaking their will. Revolution works in the same way: it kills a few but frightens thousands.” Ref. 3, p. 119, which quotes Trotsky, L., Terrorizm i Kommunizm, Moscow, p. 57, 1920.
- Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein. He later hid his Jewish origin by adopting the name of one of his Odessa jailers as his revolutionary pseudonym.
- Carmichael, J., Trotsky: An Appreciation of his Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, p. 43, 1975.
- In 1900, a Jewish chaplain married Trotsky and Alexandra in a cell in a transfer prison in Moscow, after they both had been sentenced to four years in Eastern Siberia. There she bore him two daughters, and retained the name Mrs Bronstein until her death in 1938. With her help (she kept a ‘sick’ dummy in bed for several days), Trotsky escaped in 1902 and went to Paris. Here he met Natalya Ivanovna Sedova, who became his mistress. Although Trotsky was legally married to Alexandra, Natalya became ‘Mrs Trotsky’, bore him two sons, and remained with him until his death in 1940.
- Trotsky was wrong in this assessment, possibly due to Darwin’s mention of “the Creator” in the last paragraph of the Origin, an addition in editions 2–6, to make his book more palatable to English clergy. Darwin had given up Christianity by the age of 40. See Brentnall, J. and Grigg, R., Darwin’s slippery slide into unbelief, Creation 18(1):34–37, 1995.
- Eastman, M., Trotsky:A Portrait of his Youth, New York, pp. 117–118, 1925.