Special Sub-Topic: Stalin's Rise to Power
|Since the October Revolution in 1917 Lenin had been supreme ruler of the USSR. He was wounded in two unsuccessful assassination attempts and also suffered a series of strokes. His health was failing, and when he died debate began as to who would replace him. In what year did Lenin die? |
1924. Lenin's second stroke caused him to resign from active politics and after a third stroke in 1923 he would never speak again.
It has been said that in the period directly before Lenin's death, Stalin made several personal visits to his house, attempting to secure his position in the Bolshevik party if Lenin were to die.
It was also reported that Stalin had been extremely rude to Lenin's wife, Krupskaya, who of course told Lenin, resulting in an even harsher reference to Stalin in an already critical section of Lenin's last testament.
|One of the strongest contenders for the leadership was Leon Trotsky, due to his high level of intelligence, his skills as an brilliant orator and the key role he had played in the Russian Civil War (1918-1921) as People's Commissar for War. However, many were scared of him. What was the *main* reason for this fear of Trotsky? |
They believed he would create a military dictatorship. Trotsky was a powerful man. He had a strong military base (being people's commissariat of war) as well as the founder and commander of the Red Army. He deserved much praise for his role in organising the October Revolution and in the victory in the Russian Civil War.
As well as opposition from the people due to the fear of a military dictatorship, Trotsky can be seen as lacking political cunning. In the "war of tactics" between leading Bolsheviks that followed the death of Lenin, Trotsky often refused to become involved. So while Stalin employed such tactics as "tricking" Trotsky into not attending Lenin's funeral, the reputation of Trotsky within the party diminished.
Furthermore, Trotsky was seen by many in the party as an outsider, having only joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. He was also seen as vulnerable, suffering from undiagnosed fever and so was often away from work.
At that time, the Bolshevik leadership was *not* antisemitic. In fact, in the early years a high proportion of the most senior posts were held by people of Jewish origin.
|There was also competition from the right of the Bolshevik party in the shape of the young Bukharin. Bukharin's likable personality and popularity within the party led to him gaining which nickname? |
The Golden Boy. The name "Golden Boy" came from Lenin himself, and being popular with and respected by almost all party members Bukharin seemed a likely candidate to become leader. So what happened?
As with all leading party members during the "war of tactics", Bukharin's past "mistakes" were brought up in order to discredit him. Having criticised Lenin over several issues in the past such as the trade union crisis, this could be done easily. Also, Bukharin was accused of not being a "true Marxist" as he supported the quasi capitalist New Economic Policy (NEP).
|Gregory Zinoviev was one of the "Old Bolsheviks" having been an active member since 1903 and having held many powerful positions. However, what action in 1917 meant that Zinoviev would have found it very difficult to become leader of the party? |
He opposed the October Revolution. Although trying to kill Lenin or having relations with his wife probably would have warranted the same outcome, Zinoviev did neither of these.
Zinoviev had much influence in the party, holding positions such as Party Secretary of Leningrad, Chairman of the Commintern and a member of the Politburo.
However, inevitably it would always be used against Zinoviev that he tried to prevent the act which saw the rise of the Bolshevik Party and so he could never be accepted by the other members as leader of the party. It is also true that Zinoviev's personal attributes could have made him an unsuitable leader, as he was seen as weak and cowardly.
|A fourth person in the race for the role as leader of the party was another leftist Bolshevik. Which man, active since 1905 and often seen as "Zinoviev's political twin", was this fourth contender? |
Lev Kamenev. Kamenev was seen as a more honourable member of the Bolshevik party and so complimented Zinoviev's character well.
Like Zinoviev, Kamenev held many high up positions in the party, including Party Secretary in Moscow and Commissar of Foreign Trade.
Although being a formidable team made them stronger candidates for the leader's title, Kamenev too had opposed the October Revolution and so both he and Zinoviev had been labelled traitors.
|Perhaps the most fatal flaw on the part of all the leaders of the Bolshevik party was to underestimate Stalin. Which position, held by Stalin from 1922 till his death in 1953, allowed him to appoint many of his own supporters into high up positions while other leaders quarrelled? |
Party General Secretary. The position of General Secretary gave Stalin the "power of patronage". Stalin was allowed to bring his own supporters into the government while Kamenev and Zinoviev argued publicly with Trotsky.
It is the underestimation of Stalin that allowed him to build a strong political power base largely unnoticed. Stalin was often described by other leaders as "Comrade Card-Index", a "paper-pusher", the "grey blur" and the "outstanding mediocrity". Most failed to see that he was gradually transforming the role of General Secretary of the Bolshevik Party into the key post in the Soviet Union.
Lenin did realise the power Stalin could potentially have and, as well as the offensive words Stalin said to Lenin's wife, this was a major reason for the very critical evaluation of Stalin in Lenin's last testament.
|Lenin did not want one man to become the Bolshevik leader and so criticised all potential successors (not just Stalin) in his final testament. Although sent to the Central Committee to be delivered upon Lenin's death, Stalin prevented its reading. Who, in alliance with Stalin, also prevented its reading to the Central Committee? |
Kamenev and Zinoviev. Another example of the importance of the underestimation of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev thought that by making an alliance with the Georgian they could take down Trotsky, who they saw as the real threat.
Trotsky's refusal to force the reading of the testament can be seen as a crucial mistake. Although he too was criticised, the weight of criticisms placed on Stalin would have been permanently damaging.
Eventually, Stalin was forced to allow its reading, but only to a small select group. Even though the group was far too small to have prevent Stalin's rise to power, it is reported that Stalin was furious at hearing Lenin's harsh words.
|At the 13th Party Congress in 1924 Trotsky criticised the party policy put forward by Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev. In accordance with the 1921 ban on factions, what then happened to Trotsky? |
He was expelled from the Party. The combination of clever usage of the ban on factions and his "power of patronage" allowed Stalin to manipulate the party machine to make and break alliances as he pleased.
After removing Trotsky form the Party Stalin then allied himself (temporarily) with Bukharin and the right of the Party. This was seen as a betrayal by Kamenev and Zinoviev who then criticised Stalin, thus become the next victims of the 1921 ban on factions.
Both Kamenev and Zinoviev later made a public apology and were allowed to rejoin the party. Trotsky's pride did not allow him to do this and he set about producing many articles abroad, telling others of Stalin's tyranny whilst trying to incite socialist rebellions.
|Stalin's move to the right of the Bolshevik party came in 1925 after he gained support for his own theory of how socialism should progress. What name was given to this theory? |
Socialism in One Country. Socialism in One Country was based around the growth of industry (therefore and industrial working class) and the acceptance that a worldwide revolution would not happen. This was popular with the people due to its nationalist appeal. It also meant that time and effort would not be spent on helping other countries with their socialist revolutions, but devoted instead to the Soviet Union.
In reality any change was welcomed as many had become tired with the corruption of the "NEPmen" (private traders) and the growing divide between social classes that the New Economic Policy caused. The NEP provided necessary breathing space for the economy to recover after the Civil War but many believed that more action was needed to make their country the "Communist America".
|In order to take down his rivals on the right of the Bolshevik Party, Stalin now made his "left turn" and advocated rapid, brutal industrialisation. With the majority of his own supporters in seats of power he had little opposition. As well as the "left turn" what was this action also known as? |
The Great Turn. This "great turn" showed that Stalin now wanted to industrialise by force rather than to let it happen naturally, not least because he thought war was looming. The tactic of switching sides also meant that when Stalin returned to the left he was the most dominant leader, with Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev having lost much of their power.
This new aggressive economic policy was seen in collectivisation, where farmland was merged and farmed communally. This would allow machines to be used more effectively, meaning that many farmers could then drift into the cities to become industrial workers. However the vast quantities of grain needed for export far exceeded the amount that these collectivised farms could produce, causing millions to starve. The pace of industrialization was also forced very hard in the Five Year Plans from 1928 onwards.
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