CCEA AS History Unit 2 Option 5, Russia 1903-41. Essay on Why Stalin succeeded Lenin? Watch
"Why Stalin, Not Trotsky?
If one assesses history to simply be the study of great men, the leadership of the Soviet Union in wake of Lenin’s death in January 1924 is not only a remarkable exception, but how the popular view amongst members of the Bolshevik Party in the true Marxist fashion was subverted is an exception in the leadership struggle of 1924-28. We are left to assess why the much favoured and more suited candidate in whom the younger members of the party affectionately called “Uncle Leo” was not elevated to power instead of who many viewed as the diligent bureaucrat in “Comrade Card Index”.
Our initial attention must be to assessing the impact of each member based on their personality traits and to us looking in we cannot look past the fact that Trotsky had the clear and decisive cult of personality. Trotsky was noted for being a fantastic orator, he had galvanised the Bolshevik base in the build up to October 1917 with speeches which exploited the “bony hand of hunger” which the Provisional Government had created. As a result of this Trotsky had enshrined himself as a figure of respect due to his effective and decisive leadership in the Red Army. He had a clear powerbase in the party youth and the rank and file of the military. Trotsky however had as both one of his biggest strengths and weakness a problem which is evident in men as able as Trotsky, he had a mind which could only rival Lenin’s and he was vital for providing guidance in the build up to the revolution. But this instilled what could be viewed earned right to be a narcissist. He had the air of arrogance that gave him a personality which was not desirable for one seeking the highest office of a party. This natural talent and ability had intrinsically reduced his appeal too many and through little ability of his to correct his persona; Trotsky had made himself a person who one would want to see anyone but him succeed Lenin had they not been on his side, reducing his likelihood to succeed Lenin.
Stalin on the other hand to this exhibited a serious lack of decisive qualities and though in most contests this could not be more of a troubling thought, Stalin frankly did not need to exhibit a bold character. Stalin had been portrayed as dull and grey. The fact he could not make the eloquent speeches of a Trotsky was obvious, Stalin being Georgian did not even speak Russian as his primary language. Compared with the public appearance and reputation of Trotsky, it was hard not to make the assessment that Stalin was the height of mediocrity. He frankly could not be perceived as a threat, as it was viewed that Stalin was simply an efficient bureaucrat and the master of his element in the party machinery. By appearing as a power broker and peacemaker he was able to manoeuvre his way to power. This façade of the uncharismatic bureaucrat masked a cunning politician, worthy of the Machiavellian tag. Stalin though not leader of men that Trotsky evidently was, but the leader of party machine was the clear choice. But this was not enough on its own; Stalin would need to find a way to put this machine into full effect to defeat Trotsky.
Trotsky though having the public personality which he had developed as one of the surviving leaders of the 1905 Revolution could not establish himself in the party for one key reason. Trotsky had only become a Bolshevik in August 1917. Prior to this Trotsky had been Menshevik, his defection so close to the revolution could have been construed as mere populism. He had flipped on his ideology, abandoning the ideas that Russia was not yet ready for the permanent revolution and committed to the Leninist idea that bringing Russia straight to the Proletariat Uprising. Long term Bolsheviks noted this and held it against Trotsky during his rapid rise through the party hierarchy. Trotsky found it hard to build alliances with those who were closest to his Political Ideology in Zinoviev and Kamenev. It took a blundered attempt in 1926 to form a ‘United Opposition’ for these three to reconcile. But by this time it was all too late as Stalin could simply use a section of Lenin’s legacy by claiming they were forming a faction, Stalin could simply expel them. Trotsky from this view simply had his base in populism, but this could not translate into the Bolshevik party structure.
Outside of Tomsky, Stalin had the distinguishable fact that he was one of few Bolsheviks, who were not captivated alone by the ideals of Marx, but had endured the upbringing of the Proletariat and declined the opportunity to enter the Bourgeois realm of the Orthodox Church. Stalin had climbed his way to the top of the Party based on his merits and how his peers appreciated his potential to manage the party under the doctrine of ‘democratic centralisation’ where his ability to run a bureaucratic party was showcased. Stalin had elevated himself into key positions having been a member of Sonvarkom since 1917, Politburo and Orgburo since 1919 and before arriving at the position he would use to greatest effect to manoeuvre as the General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922. As part of this position, Stalin had complete control of the appointments and memberships of the party. He was able to place his supporters into strategically important positions and this was seen no clearer than the rapid advancement of followers such as Molotov who Stalin was able to appoint to the Politburo in 1926. But the underestimation of the power of the bureaucracy could not be seen any more obviously when the Bolshevik Party Congress was called. This could be potently seen at the 14th and 17th Congresses where Stalin was able to shepherd his supporters into outvoting those of Trotsky and Bukharin. To get a measure to pass Stalin had positioned himself as the key power broker, Stalin could form alliances not out of necessity, but because his power in the party demanded that he be involved, something which Trotsky could only aspire to.
Stalin therefore had positioned himself within the party as a bureaucrat, a man who was perceived to have had no thoughts outside of what he had been told to do. Stalin had no overwhelming ideological convictions. He was able to position himself as being the candidate of no ideological baggage. In the Politburo, Stalin seldom broke with the majority view over divisive issues such as NEP. However he had put himself at odds with Lenin over the nationalities question, Stalin as the Commissar for Nationalities had proposed that all Republics should be controlled by Moscow whilst Lenin proposed a union of Federal Soviet Republics. Stalin having violently subdued his fellow Georgians into the USSR had earned Stalin the image of a maverick, being deemed the “Great Russian Chauvinist” by Lenin. Stalin was able to overcome these questions to his leadership with the policy of ‘Socialism in One Country’ which defined Stalin as one who was interested in preserving the revolution at home. With his aforementioned ability to formulate alliances, Stalin was able to unite with Bukharin and outmanoeuvre Trotsky. This skill proved vital in defeating Trotsky as Stalin was able to provide the political justification to the hierarchy of the party, as well as whip the rank and file of the Bolsheviks.
Trotsky on the other hand to this had formulated his Politics using what came to be his kryptonite, his intelligence and his commitment to pure Marxist theory. Trotsky had wanted to pursue the abandonment of the NEP and the move towards Rapid Industrialisation which though in accordance with Zinoviev and Kamenev’s ideology, Trotsky went one step further with his desire to enforce a policy of ‘Militarisation’ of Labour. This put Trotsky at odds with the Bolsheviks who remained committed to NEP in Tomsky and Bukharin. Although many politicians in Trotsky’s Position would have been willing to negotiate and find a common ground, Trotsky refused to participate could not formulate an alliance until it was too late. Trotsky insisted on his introduction of Marxist theory which could not be applied, and was not viable. The idea of ‘Permanent Revolution’ proposed by Trotsky outlined the need of the USSR as the beacon of communism to stimulate proletariat uprisings globally, so the Marxist ideal of the communal society could be formed globally. But for Bolsheviks aware of the fact that Russia had endured seven year of war and civil war that their power and position was far from concrete. Stalin proposing a policy which could maintain and enshrine their position of power in Russia was far more popular. Trotsky ultimately was hindered by this unwillingness to concede his commitment to idealism, showing us only how Trotsky had only positioned himself to be a martyr for Marx, rather than leader of the USSSR.
Our final issue which confronts us is the control of circumstances and here we are almost drawn instantly to the poor fortune of Trotsky. From 1923, Trotsky had suffered attacks of an undiagnosed fever which had shattered his strength and undoubtedly played a role on his psychological capacity to fully fight Stalin. Trotsky’s ill health could not have cost him dearer in the wake of Lenin’s funeral. Trotsky was deceived into not attending. Whilst Trotsky rested in the South of Russia, his reputation and prestige melted away in Petrograd as he was portrayed as absent and not a true Bolshevik. The role of this in tarnishing Trotsky’s appeal to the Bolshevik rank and file is indisputable, the man who was once perceived as being second only to Lenin in the hierarchy of Bolshevism not even attending his friend, and leader’s funeral. The consequence can only be described as catastrophic as the image sounds. If only there could be someone to fill the notable void of Trotsky and replace the image of him at Lenin’s side.
As luck could not have been worse to Trotsky, it is hard not to observe how it could have been better to Stalin. Having been in the party since its infancy, Stalin had ample time to formulate rivalries and distain from those above him in the batting order. Most notably Stalin struggled to gain the support of Lenin and Sverdlov, with both dying at an opportune time for Stalin in 1924 and 1919 respectively; Stalin had received the first of what would be many gifts from Lady Luck. If the void of Trotsky at the funeral of Lenin was most notable, the only more defined factor of the event was that of Stalin’s attempts to twist and construe the event for his own political purpose. Stalin was able to propagandise himself as a loyal and obedient disciple of Leninism, capable of carrying the torch in wake of the tragedy of his death. Stalin purposefully broke Lenin’s dying wishes; Stalin saw that Lenin’s body was embalmed and he had a state funeral befitting the grandeur of Bolshevik Propaganda.
But Stalin could not have been luckier on the issue of the dealing of the document that would have been incendiary to his political career. In Lenin’s final testament Stalin had been brandished and given the image of a megalomaniac. Stalin was a liability with power and was the most likely to hoard it not release it back, which to Lenin merited him to be a risk to the revolution. However this document was never released to the whole Party Congress, Stalin was able to maintain the support of Zinoviev and Kamanev in the cynical mentality that they did not want any form of document which could aid Trotsky in his pursuit of the leadership of the party. With Trotsky himself approving of the testament not being released it was clear that he had made another in the sequence of all too many blunders and political miscalculations.
We were told by Plato that “failure to participate in Politics leads to us being governed by our inferiors” and in the leadership struggle of the Soviet Union this could not be more apparent. The fact that Trotsky was a more than able and more fitting successor to Lenin is hard not to see. But Trotsky had refused to pay respect to the machine of the Bolshevik Bureaucracy and it can hardly be surprising us in conclusion that the great man that was Trotsky, was swallowed up by the great operator that was Stalin."