Edexcel GCE History Unit 1: Stalins Russia 1924-1953Watch
“How significant were the personalities of the contenders to succeed Lenin in accounting for Stalin’s defeat of his opponents in the years 1924-1929?”
The main personalities for the so-called “struggle for power”, namely Bukharin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, played a significant role in the success of Stalin as the leader of the Communist Party. The main reasons, however, include Stalin’s political shrewdness, Stalin’s manipulation of the Party machine and Stalin’s exploitation of the internal divisions of the Party.
One reason as to why Stalin succeeded Lenin was his political shrewdness. He exercised his political shrewdness capitalising on the ‘Cult of Lenin’ through painting himself as a natural successor to Lenin. The ‘Cult of Lenin’ was the elevation of Lenin; his ideologies and his life. For instance, Lenin’s face could be found on many everyday objects including light bulbs. This was an intelligent creation; if Stalin could depict that he was closely aligned to an almost divine figure such as Lenin, then he would able to win the popularity of ordinary Russians who were, to an extent, indoctrinated via this method. Thus, Stalin was able to consolidate his power by being depicted as Lenin’s natural successor. In this sense, it wasn’t the political shortcomings of his opponents that allowed Stalin victory per se, rather the way in which he moulded and manipulated his powerbase.
The somewhat inherent internal divisions of the Communist Party during the 1920’s were due to the emergence of left and rightwing Communism. The leftwing, headed by Trotsky and his allies, were seen as radical and idealistic whereas the rightwing headed by Bukharin and his supporters were known to be "moderste". Stalin intelligently avoided taking extreme positions on any of the most divisive issues and was often seen as being “the voice of calm moderation”. This is in contrast to Trotsky, for example, who was often at the heart of heated debates regarding issues from New Economic Policy to the establishment of Socialism abroad. Therefore, Stalin’s success was down to his position in the party (the ideological centre) as opposed to the left and rightwing -which are in many respects inherent in any political system- positions of Trotsky and Bukharin.
Stalin was also intelligent to exploit these obvious divisions via “tactical manoeuvring” His positions as the ideological centre had meant that he could ally with both the left and right of the Party with ease. Stalin allied with the rightwing to form the Triumvirate (which consisted of Zinoviev, Stalin and Kamenev) to undermine the position of Trotsky. He did this by highlighting Trotsky’s disloyalty to Lenin (via the Lenin funeral incident) and painting Trotsky’s ideologies as alien to Leninism by creating the term “Trotskyism” Thus, in this case, it can be asserted that Stalin’s manipulative nature allowed him to gain power as opposed to the political shortcomings of Trotsky, and indeed “Trotskyism”
However, an underlying reason as to Stalin’s defeat of his opponents was indeed down to their political naivety. Trotsky was, in my opinion, the ideal Communist (ideologically speaking) He favoured the establishment of Communism abroad and was adamant to abolish a policy which hardline Bolsheviks such as himself saw as capitulating to capitalism (the New Economic Policy) But his demise was down to his idealistic and often arrogant approach to politics. This is demonstrated in Lenin’s Testament where he was described as over-confident. Despite having the Red Army which was, at the time, his main powerbase, he failed to appeal to the wider electorate. Perhaps this was down to his origins and the context of the power struggle. Firstly, Stalin played on his so-called humble origins which appealed to the ordinary Russian. Secondly, many of the policies Trotsky advocated where amidst the decline of the USSR. Many Russians wanted peace and thus the “Socialism at home” was much more appealing than Trotsky’s “World Revolution”. Trotsky’s misunderstanding of the nature of the power struggle had meant that many of his policies were perceived to be idealistic as opposed to pragmatic, at a time when Russia favoured pragmatism over idealism. Stalin’s success, therefore, can be attributed to his shrewd understanding of the needs of Russia in the period.
The main reasons as to why Stalin was successful in succeeding Lenin was his exploitation of the apparent ideological divisions within the Party. The fact that he was situated in the ideological centre of the party had meant that a) he could build alliances with ease and b) he could keep clear of controversial debates if he so wished. Though his opponent’s political failures (especially that of Trotsky) played a significant role in their respective demises and, subsequently, Stalin’s success, it was Stalin’s political shrewdness which enabled him to reign supreme over his enemies