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How far was Stalin’s success due to his political ability as opposed to the weaknesses of his rivals

Joseph Stalin, leader of communist Russia from 1928-1953, succeeded in his rise to power due to mainly two factors, his political ability, as well as the weaknesses of his rivals. However, most achievements Stalin did are due to his abilities and his skills to treat people and play them out against each other, but certainly also the mistakes made by his rivals play a big role. Without those his success wouldn’t have been possible.After Lenin’s death in 1924, the question of his succession was unsolved. In his testament he criticised each of his closest colleagues. Trotsky was most likely to be Lenin’s successor, since he had been his right-hand and already played a big role in the first revolution, whereas Stalin only played a minor role. “Stalin on the other hand, was seen as an administrator and a rather dull personality.” 1However, clear was that he wanted to be succeeded not by a single person, but a leadership by the politburo. A power struggle for Lenin’s succession began.Since all the close colleagues of Lenin were heavily criticized in his testament, they agreed not to publish it. This was especially to the benefit of Stalin, who Lenin accused “for not being able to use power with sufficient caution…and being too rude”2 and later suggested that he should lose his job as General Secretary. He was now able to present himself as the loyal right hand of Lenin, which gained him a lot of support. He was well aware of the advantages in being associated with Lenin’s name. Stalin managed to “root himself in the cult of Lenin and thus assume unimpeachable authority”3. On Lenin’s funeral in January 1924, to which Trotsky did not attend and later claimed he was given a wrong date by Stalin, the latter held an impressive speech which presented himself as “the guardian and interpreter of the Lenin myth”.4 Through his abilities and because he knew what to do, he was seen as Lenin’s continuer. This got him a lot of advantages. In addition his posts within the party gave him a lot of power. Already before Lenin died Stalin assured an important role in the Party.He held the post as General Secretary, Commissar for Nationalities (only until 1923) and Commissar for State Control (also until 1923). The most important of these posts was the General Secretary, though, which he became in 1922.It, enabled Stalin to use his power of the position to gather important information. He recognised that the main focus of power actually was the Politburo and not the government itself. As General Secretary, he had his people who would report to him regularly and he had access to files of the more than 20,000 party members. The position also gave him the power to appoint and dismiss people. Therefore he was able to promote his own supporters in key positions. That is he brought these in to vote out more sophisticated intellectuals. Many of the party members owed loyalty to him. When the party grew, new party members who were poorly educated and politically na�ve came in. These were easy to manipulate. Stalin, who had the same background as most of them, he was from a poor family, used this to make them identify with and therefore support him.When Stalin was about to change his opinion to whatever seemed best to be in a key position and not to lose support, he proved his political abilities and his skills to “play on the people’s fears and emotions”5, once again. Initially Stalin was more for the right side and allied with Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov. They were for NEP, or private ownership and for “socialism in one country” rather than the left, who were for a widespread revolution and against NEP. Trotsky then openly attacked the economic policies. This criticism was unpopular in the Party and the chance was there to accuse Trotsky of factionalism, which banned the formation of any factions in the party and ensured party solidarity. Stalin didn’t hesitate and took the opportunity.After also having moved against Zinoviev and Kamenev, they and Trotsky formed the ‘United Opposition’ that again Stalin was able to defeat through his previous actions and abilities, their attempt to fight back was too late. They were removed from all positions of power. However, since Stalin really was appealed to a rapid industrialisation, he changed direction after the defeat of the Left. He criticised NEP, as most of the Party members. He then managed to outvote the Right, since none of them was in a position to really resist Stalin. Stalin knew how to play the game. John Reed said about him “He’s not even particularly well informed, but he knows what he wants. He’s got willpower, and he’s going to be on the top of the pile some day.”6 This is exactly what happened.Although Stalin did a lot to gain power and support and was able to use effective strategies, which show his political abilities, his rivals’ weaknesses were important too. Trotsky was much more likely to become Lenin’s successor, he was not only a “brilliant thinker, speaker and organiser”; he was also much closer to Lenin and his right-hand-man. However, he missed important opportunities to weaken Stalin and strengthen his own power. For example, when Lenin asked him to hold a speech in his position he refused and Stalin dominated. Later he stated if he ha held this speech he would have been victorious. But the historian I. Deutscher claimed in The Prophet Unarmed; Trotsky “The truth is that Trotsky refrained from attacking Stalin because he felt secure…It seemed to Trotsky almost a bad joke that Stalin…the man in the background, should be his rival.”7 Also not having appeared on Lenin’s funeral, although he later claimed not to have had the right date, made him appear as having a lack of respect for Lenin. In addition since he had been a Menshevik till the summer of 1917 his late conversion to the party was then seen as evidence of a lack of commitment to the party. He was almost seen as a danger to the revolution and “someone who might betray for his own ends.”8 The next great mistake he made was not to take any opportunities to stop or weaken Stalin. He did not debate Stalin and didn’t even try to compete. He never made an attempt to respond to criticism. Trotsky often did not attend to important party meetings, due to illnesses. He did little to built up support and therefore had no support were it counted.Another important point in Stalin’s success that was due to his rival’s weaknesses was that Lenin’s Testament was not published. This could have cost Stalin his job. But Zinoviev etc. were more concerned about Trotsky and since the testament damaged them all they agreed not to publish it. Trotsky again did not speak. And Lenin’s fears about Stalin weren’t paid attention to.In conclusion, Stalin’s abilities as well as the weaknesses of his rivals were important in the power struggle and Stalin’s success. The Politburo underestimated him and allowed themselves to appear as the opposition. Therefore they were in danger of factionalism and could easily be played and voted out. Stalin managed to appear as a moderator between the Left and the Right and knew how to appeal to people and could therefore play them out against each other.

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