How did Stalin emerge As the Sole Leader of Russia?
1. The Main Contenders:
1) After the October revolution, Stalin was made Commissar for Nationalities in the new government.
2) He became close to Lenin, and gained his trust as a Bolshevik operator.
3) Luck favoured Stalin more than Trotsky.
4) He was appointed head of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Union.
5) He was put in charge of the Orgburo by Lenin, which controlled aspects of the party organization.
6) He was also elected to the Politburo, which was the main organ of power, and he was elected General Secretary of the party in 1922.
7) His appointment to these positions shows how his power had grown, and how much Lenin trusted him.
1) He was almost equal to Lenin in intellect and in his writings on Marxist theory.
2) Good orator
3) Popular with younger more radical elements in the party.
4) He was the one who had persuaded Lenin to wait till the end of October to carry out the Revolution.
5) His organization of the Red army had helped win the civil war.
6) His position as Commissar for War gave him a strong base in the army.
Factors working against him-
1) He was arrogant and he treated other leading Bolsheviks with lack of respect.
2) People felt his uncompromising views might lead to splits in the party.
3) He was regarded as an outsider because he had joined the party only in 1917. They were not convinced of his loyalty but in reality he was much too loyal and accepted decisions that he did not agree with because he did not want to damage the party.
4) He suffered from fever and could not deal with the political attacks mounted on him by his enemies. He was also absent for crucial votes in the Politburo.
* Gregory Zinoviev
He had been active in the party since 1903. He opposed the armed uprising in October and fell out with Lenin about the construction of the new government as he favoured socialist coalition. He was not given a major post in the Sovnarkom but was made party secretary in Leningrad. This was an important position allowing him to build a strong power base. He was made chairman of the Cominterm. He was a good orator but not an intellectual. He was not that popular.
* Lev Kamenev
He was an active Bolshevik and full time revolutionary since 1905. He was a close collaborator with Lenin abroad. Lenin regarded him as able and reliable. He opposed Lenin’s April Theses on ideological grounds, and along with Zinoviev, they opposed the armed uprising of October 1917, wanting a socialist coalition government which lost him influence in the party. He was Party Secretary in Moscow and later Commissar for Foreign Trade, bringing him into the Politburo and in a position to challenge for the leadership. He was moderate, liked and well regarded, but he was too soft to become a real leader.
* Nikolai Bukharin
He was a younger generation Bolshevik, nearly a decade younger than Stalin. He was an important theorist and a major figure in the party before 1917. He led the left wing opposition to the signing of the treaty of Brest – Litovsk, and criticized Trotsky and Lenin in the ‘trade union’ controversy. He was not a full member of the Politburo until 1922. He was intellectually inquisitive, and liked by the whole party. Lenin called him the “golden boy”, but he was not a saint. He could argue his points fiercely, especially on the NEP. He was not politically cunning as was Stalin.
* Alexei Rykov
He succeeded Lenin as chairperson of the Sovnarkom, having been his deputy since 1921. He was outspoken, frank, and direct, not endearing himself to his colleagues. He strongly supported NEP, and opposed any return to War Communism. He was statesmanlike, but a notorious drinker.
* Mikhail Tomsky
He was an important figure in the trade union movement, and an active member of the metalworkers’ union before 1917. He was one of the few genuine workers in the party leadership; fighting hard for trade union rights and he opposed Lenin in the trade union debate of 1920.
2. Main Issues in the Leadership Struggle
1) The nature of the leadership.
Some party members wanted collective leadership or rule by committee. They feared a dictator could emerge to take control of the centralized state which had developed by 1924. They feared Trotsky as he was in a powerful position as commander of the Red Army. After Lenin’s death they were concerned about the unity of the party, as unity was needed to turn the population into socialists. They therefore could not afford a leader who might cause splits amongst the party and it was Trotsky who they feared might do this.
2) The NEP and industrialization debate.
The issue that was debated was how the economy should be run. They agreed that by industrialization they would create a large class of proletarian workers which would help the road to socialism. The NEP was hindering the progress to socialism as it was intensifying the difference between rich and poor as well as leading to gambling and prostitution. Also after 1925 there were serious problems. They could not agree from where the resources to carry on industry which had reached its pre- 1913 level would come from. There was unemployment amongst workers. Their wages did not keep pace with the rising prices of consumer goods. Food shortages began to reappear. All the party members had only accepted the NEP as a temporary system but the debate was when and how it should be ended.
The left wing led by Trotsky wanted to end it immediately. They wanted rapid industrialization with militarisation of labour, and also they wanted to break the strangehold the peasants had on the economy and squeeze more grain from them which would help in industrialization.
The right wing which was led by Bukharin wanted to continue the NEP so that the peasants would earn more money which they would spend on consumer goods which because of the increase in demand would lead to the growth of the manufacturing industry. They believed that keeping the NEP going would in fact help industrialization.
3) A very important issue was the policy that the party should adopt.
Trotsky believed in permanent revolution. Trotsky thought that the economy was too under developed and the working class too small for a revolution to take place. He believed Russia needed the support of the working classes in the more developed countries and believed that they should help them stage their own revolutions which would lead to a world revolution and in turn a revolution in Russia. Trotsky believed that measures such as compulsory labour units organized along military lines and forcing peasants into collective farms might be necessary to squeeze out old attitudes and create the economic base on which a socialist society could be built.
Stalin believed in socialism in one country. He said that world revolution was unlikely to take place in the near future and Russia should build a socialist state without help from outside.
3. Struggle over power, rather than struggle for power
Each of the contenders were anxious to prevent their rivals from coming into power and pursuing policies with which they did not agree, doing so by building up a strong power base. Stalin’s position in all the key party organizations – in the Politburo, the Orgburo, and the Secretariat, and as General Secretary – that gave him control of the party organization and membership, as well as a tremendous amount of power, whereas the other contenders had power bases but did not build up their support in the way Stalin did; mistakenly underestimating him.
4. On the whole, the party members supported Stalin’s changes of policy line. They supported Socialism in One Country and his line on the peasants at the end of the 1920’s, as it attracted the members of the right wing of the party because it seemed to fit in with the NEP – their own route to socialism.
5. Stalin’s control of the party machine was so complete, that Zinoviev and Kamenev had a lot of trouble when they called for a Vote of No Confidence in him, the end of the NEP and a tough line against the peasants. In the end they joined an alliance with Trotsky to form a ‘United Opposition’, because of which they could be accused of ‘factionalism’, a long abolished party trait, which led to all three losing their positions of power, and were expelled from the party.
6. Stalin was a skilful politician, and could easily outmaneuver his opponents, along with being lucky, as it was pure luck that Lenin’s testament was not read out, and Trotsky was ill for most of the power struggle. Also, Trotsky did not go out of the way to develop or build up his power base, and therefore Stalin was able to erode the one he had already built up. Like all the other contenders, he too underestimated Stalin, and therefore was easily outsmarted by him, since he was perceived as dull and mediocre, therefore no one saw him as a great threat until it was too late, when he was determined to protect his power base, and make sure he was not ousted.
7. Trotsky’s weaknesses and errors of judgment were crucial in his defeat, since he was not witnessed as a loyal member of the party, having joined only in 1917; many thought he may try to become a dictator. Also, he was high minded and arrogant, dismissive of his colleagues. He was respected, but he did not engender affection or personal loyalty. He was perceived as the one most likely to cause splits in the party. Also, he did not like getting involved in the ‘drudgery of politics’. He was not good at political intrigue, making alliances and trade-offs.
8. Stalin was vastly underestimated by his opponents, seen as only a ‘grey blur’, so by the time they realized what a great threat he was, it was too late. He had already established himself as a contender, one of the most dangerous ones as well as most likely to succeed, in the power struggle.