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31 October, 2023

ON 14 NOVEMBER 1927, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union expelled Leon Trotsky—seen here in the back seat of a car with his wife, Natalia, during his subsequent exile. The decision was taken by an extraordinary session of the CPSU’s central committee and central control commission, after Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev organised demonstrations, a week earlier, during the tenth-anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution. The expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev, and the accompanying purge of hundreds of opposition members, meant that the CPSU’s general secretary, Stalin, became the undisputed ruler of the Soviet Union.

Trotsky had been instrumental in the October Revolution and the civil war that followed, and was widely regarded as the obvious candidate to succeed Lenin as leader of the Soviet Union. However, after Lenin suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, in May 1922, the CPSU’s Politburo supported the informal leadership of Stalin, Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. Lenin recommended Stalin’s removal as general secretary and urged Trotsky to openly criticise the ruling troika, but, following his death, in January 1924, Stalin was able to consolidate his control over the party apparatus.

Both sides traded denunciations over the next few years. After Zinoviev and Kamenev broke with Stalin, in December 1925, they aligned themselves with Trotsky. The “united opposition” frequently criticised the leadership over Stalin’s policy of socialism in one country, his support for the Kuomintang in the Chinese Revolution, the growing bureaucratisation of the CPSU, the slow pace of industrial development and the lack of action against kulaks. Stalin responded by removing Trotsky from the Politburo, in October 1926, and then having Trotsky and Zinoviev ousted from the central committee, the following year. He was easily able to suppress the demonstrations of 7 November 1927. Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata for a year before being deported. He was assassinated in Mexico on 21 August 1940.