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Leon Trotsky emerges from the shadows of Soviet history

The British were hostile and the French terrorized, but ``the Americans have shown the greatest attentiveness,'' wrote the revolutionary leader. ``Yesterday I had in my office the head of the American military mission, General Jodson, in a purely personal capacity,'' he added ironically.

This example of back-channel United States diplomacy is 70 years old. The writer was Leon Trotsky, today still the most prominent of the Soviet Union's nonpersons. His letter was published in the latest issue of the Soviet Foreign Ministry Bulletin. Its publication underlines the degree to which the present leadership is slowly destroying the taboos surrounding its own history.

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Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union in 1929 and murdered by a Soviet agent in 1940. His role in Soviet history - as one of the main architects of the Russian Revolution, the first Soviet foreign minister, and one of the creators of the Red Army - has until very recently been almost completely ignored.

The elegantly written, three-page letter is reproduced in photocopy form in the Bulletin. It is dated Nov. 19, 1917, just three weeks after Vladimir Lenin seized power. (The letter is dated according to the old Russian style, which was about two weeks behind the Western calendar). It contains instructions to Vyacheslav Vorovsky, the head of the new government's first diplomatic mission. Vorovsky, a veteran revolutionary, had been sent to Stockholm as the Soviet plenipotentiary - empowered to open negotiations with foreign countries that might wish to contact Lenin's government.

In the letter, Trotsky tells Vorovsky about the first contacts between the new Soviet commanders and their German counterparts. The Soviet leadership, he says, was determined to turn armistice negotiations into a ``revolutionary instrument'' - at this point the Bolsheviks were hoping that their revolution would be emulated in Germany, Britain, and other West European nations.

German military pressure quickly forced the Soviets to negotiate seriously. In March 1918, Moscow and Berlin signed the treaty of Brest Litovsk, in which Russia lost large parts of the old empire. Trotsky, the chief negotiator, resigned his foreign affairs portfolio and took over defense.

In his letter to Vorovsky, Trotsky stressed that, in his contacts with foreign countries, Vorovsky should insist on the right to publish all details of negotiations. ``The openness [glasnost] of all negotiations is for us, of course, a question of principle.''

Then he had predicted that his job would be short lived: ``I will issue a few revolutionary decrees to the peoples of the world and then shut up shop.''

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