How significant were the personalities of the contenders to succeed Lenin in accounting for Stalin?

How significant were the personalities of the contenders to succeed Lenin in accounting for Stalin’s defeat of his opponents in the years 1924-29

Lenin’s death in 1924 not only created a power vacuum but also a bitter struggle for supremacy between Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin as each tried to become the new leader of the communist party. Whilst I do think that the personalities of the combatants were noteworthy I believe that the other elements involved such as Stalin’s tactical skill, the debate over permanent Revolution and socialism in one country, and powerbases held by the aforementioned contenders all contributed equally to Stalin’s ultimate triumph . The personality of those involved in the power struggle should however not be disregarded as they played a role in Stalin’s ensuing victory. Stalin was known to some members of his party as the grey blur as supposedly there was nothing remarkable about him. His role in the October revolution and the Russian civil war was minimal however his true aptitude lay in administrative positions, his skill in the clerical field was so great that Lenin came to rely on Stalin’s administrative capability and loyalty.

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Even so when Lenin became ill Stalin began to oppose him. Lenin’s testament was highly critical of Stalin and encouraged that he be removed, however as the testament was never made public this was never carried out. The fact that Stalin was not seen as threat and was underestimated by his peers meant that he was able to gain authority without raising the suspicions of other party members. Trotsky however was the complete opposite to Stalin. He was popular, an orator and a talented theorist who stirred loyalty in his troops. His radical ideas made him well-liked with the young and idealistic members of the communist party. Lenin in his testament identified Trotsky as a “the most able in the present communist committee” he also remarked on Trotsky’s “too far reaching self-confidence” something that was seen by other as arrogance. It was this arrogance that led the other members of his party to fear a Bonaparte like dictatorship if Trotsky was ever to gain power. Bukharin was youngest of Lenin’s probable heirs. Like Trotsky he was a renowned thinker and orator unlike Trotsky he wasn’t arrogant that’s why he was recognised by Lenin as the favourite of the whole party.

So much so that a foreign visitor to Moscow claimed that Bukharin was “named in Russia as the eventual successor to Lenin”. However some of the older members of the committee thought Bukharin was too young to lead the Party, and radicals on the left wing were suspicious of the new economic policy that Bukharin was supporting. What is more, Lenin’s Testament criticised Bukharin’s theories as they were ‘not fully Marxist’. Zinoviev was one of Lenin’s closest collaborators. However he did disagree fiercely with Lenin on two key concerns and it is this disloyalty and lack of vision that Lenin remembered when writing his testament “I will only remind you that the October episode of Zinoviev and Kamenev was not, of course, accidental.”

Zinoviev was all that popular in his own party his vanity, blatant ambition and political shortcomings resulted in open disdain from members of the party. Kamenev also disagreed with Lenin on several issues, challenging the April Theses, the October revolution and an all communist government. However he too like Zinoviev enjoyed a pretty close relationship with Lenin and like Zinoviev Lenin recalled his earlier disloyalty when composing his testament. Kamenev had a reputation for compromise and giving up when challenged.

Stalin’s tactical skills and his shifting alliances enabled him to outmanoeuvre his opponents. One of such alliance was with Zinoviev and Kamenev when they formed a troika to prevent Lenin’s testament (which was critical of the three but more so of Stalin) being read out to the party. The trio also defeated Trotsky in the thirteenth congress as it was packed with Stalinist delegates as well as powerful blocks controlled by Zinoviev and Kamenev. Stalin’s tactical skills came into play when Zinoviev and Kamenev launched a campaign against Trotsky questioning his loyalty and mentioning his opposition to Lenin before 1917. Trotsky then retaliated by criticising the two and their reluctance to support Lenin in the 1917 revolution.

Stalin stayed in the wings during this showdown content to see the left ripping itself apart; he came across as the moderator, a peacemaker whose only goal was to maintain the unity in the party. Whilst the left was distracted with breaking each other down Stalin was able to bring in more of his supporters giving him the majority vote on committees and conferences. AfterTrotsky had been removed from several party positions Stalin then joined Bukharin and Rykov against Zinoviev and Kamenev, in 1927 during the 15th Party Congress Trotsky and Zinoviev were ousted from the party and Kamenev lost his seat on the Central Committee. Stalin soon turned against the “Right Opposition,” represented by his one – time allies, Bukharin and Rykov. One could argue that an important feature of Stalin’s rise to power was his skill in manipulating his opponents and playing them off against each other Stalin’s subterfuge definitely was effective, as in 5 short years he had taken control of Russia.

Stalin whilst not a gifted theorist like Lenin and Trotsky was able to appeal to the peasants he strongly opposed Trotsky’s idea of a permanent revolution which was that in order for the communist state to survive it needed “the victory of the proletariat in the West could protect Russia from bourgeois restoration and assure it the possibility of rounding out the establishment of socialism.” In 1924 Stalin had his own take on Marxism which he called “Socialism in One Country.” He claimed that success of Marxism in Russia was not dependant on a worldwide revolution which some members thought would begin sweeping the world shortly. He argued that the capitalist system would fall in time but they had to focus their attention on making Russia great. This position proved popular with the lower classes that saw that a Permanent revolution and attempt to spread Communism would lead to more wars and hardships. Stalin inspired nationalism and patriotism by saying they needed to become a major world power.

A final feature that aided in Stalin defeat of his opposition which I regard a being quite major was the positions that he held which allowed him to be able to essentially control the party. His roles although many were not in any way insignificant, he had control of party membership, this meant that he was able to get rid of the students and soldiers who were likely to support Trotsky. Stalin had supervised the Lenin Enrolment in 1924 and 1925 in which party membership almost doubled, the new members were young urban workers and poorly educated former peasants who were not interested in ideological debate and who were more probable to do what they were told to do.

Stalin also had control of the party organisation which meant that he could choose who was sent to the annual party congress where major policy issues were determined and the central committee was chosen, this gave him the ability to pack congress with his supporters. Stalin held position in the Orgburo and was the secretariat this gave him the power to control who was appointed to certain positions in the party, he was able to put his supporters in key positions. He was also the party secretary which enabled him to control what was discussed and what information other members received. The other contenders also had their own powerbases Trotsky was the leader of the Red army however this role commanded very little power and made him appear menacing to other members of the party. Zinoviev and Kamenev as heads of the Petrograd and Moscow parties respectively their positions gave them the support of a large section of the party whilst Bukharin’s standing as the editor of Pravda helped him to affect public opinion. Even so Stalin’s influence went so deep that he was able to undercut his opponents even within their own powerbases.

In conclusion I believe that whilst the personalities of the candidates were significant in accounting for Stalin’s defeat of his opponents they were not the most significant. I think that all of them were equally significant for example if Stalin still had the same personality but didn’t have the multitude of powerbases that he did have would he have still come out on top? The personality aspect allowed Stalin to use the other contenders in the way that he did. His powerbases gave him the means to do so in a subtle way. His tactical skills enabled him to outfox his opponents and his socialism in one country policy that was based upon the work of Lenin meant that he was able to gain popularity amongst the peasants.

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