In this essay, I will be answering the question “how and why did Stalin rise to power?” I will be explaining this by using a variety of sources and my own knowledge. I will be looking at the positions held by Stalin, Lenin’s testament, Lenin’s funeral, and Stalin’s relationship with other members of the politburo and his rivalry with Trotsky At the end of the essay I will include the most important reasons on how and why Stalin raised to power. Most of the positions held by Joseph Stalin were very crucial to his power. The first one was in 1917 when he was appointed the commissar of nationalities; this made Stalin responsible for 65 million Russians these included Ukrainians, Georgians and Byelorussians. To help him gain power Stalin tried to persuade those to become Bolsheviks this got him respect and notoriety by the people outside of Moscow.
Then a few months later Stalin was given an important military role he was in command of some of the red army, he fought beside them in battle thus giving him more status and popularity amongst his followers. In 1922 Stalin became general secretary of the communist party because he was liked by Lenin and Lenin needed someone he could trust as the secretary so he chose Stalin. Being the secretary allowed him to control the members of the party. He could decide who could join and who couldn’t join effectively being the gatekeeper to the party. Later on, Stalin became the first post editor of the newspaper called the Pravda, this helped him to get his ideas to the other Bolsheviks. Late into 1922, he became a member of the Orgburo which helped him gain power and more respect from other members. Stalin’s’ position was better than Trotsky’s because he had more respect and his positions were based around the buro and party.
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When Lenin fell ill he knew he was stuck, so in 1922 he wrote a letter to the party congress, stating his ideas for the future and giving his opinions about members of the Politburo. In the letter, after his death known as his testament, Lenin wrote that the main damage facing the party was a split. He thought that Trotsky and Stalin were to blame for this. He also wrote about them in his testament: ‘Comrade Stalin, having become secretary of (of the communist party) has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution. Comrade Trotsky, on the other hand……is distinguished not only by his outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present CC (Central committee)’
Then 10 days later in January 1923, Lenin added a script to the letter explaining the faults of Stalin. ‘Stalin is too rude and this defect….is intolerable in a secretary-general. That is why I suggest that comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from his post and pointing another man instead who is more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerable to his comrades.’ Now in1924, something happened which made Stalin’s position look suddenly very weak, Lenin’s testament was read out in the central committee spreading anger and shock throughout. One eyewitness stated: ‘Terrible embarrassment paralyzed all those present…Stalin sitting on the steps of the restroom looked small. I studied him closely, in spite of his self-control and show of calm. It was clearly evident his fate was at stake.’
Zinoviev and Kamenev saved Stalin by trying to avoid the embarrassment of Stalin by not publishing the letter in the Russian papers, so most of the Russians never got to know what Lenin really thought. Lenin’s funeral was an opportunity for Stalin to gain power and respect. Lenin died in 1924 on the 21st of January. Stalin turned up at Lenin’s funeral and made various speeches and mourning letting people know of his loyalty to Lenin’s ideas. He also had Lenin’s body put in a marble tomb on display in red square and dressed in smart clothing. Meanwhile, Trotsky was in the south of Russia on sick leave after a case of fever came upon him, Trotsky later claimed Stalin told him the wrong day. Stalin did this to just make him appear the only one who wanted to turn up to the funeral, this gave the impression he was Lenin’s most loyal supporter. Stalin used the funeral to advance his case further towards power.
In 1924 the Politburo still continued to argue about the future of the Soviet economy. Stalin and Trotsky had the worst argument; their argument was over Trotsky’s idea of a permanent revolution. Trotsky argued that west capitalist countries feared communism and would try to destroy it, so it is necessary to spread communism through Europe by using a permanent revolution method. Stalin’s idea to counteract this was to make socialism in one country. He said the USSR would always come forward in plans given by the government and the rest of the world take second place and that communism should stay on build up in the USSR’s economy and not spending money on overseas revolutions. This would prevent capitalist countries from attacking the USSR. Trotsky’s ideas weren’t liked by people in the USSR because the Russian had already set up an organization to help revolutionaries. Trotsky being the commissar for was did not use the red army to defeat Stalin and gain power because it would turn into civil war causing the USSR to turn against him. So in 1925 Trotsky resigned as commissar.
Stalin was a very cunning man. He supported the rightists who were led by Bukharin and believed that the government must continue Lenin’s new economic policy should go on for another 20 years. But against them were the left opposition led by Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev. They wanted communism in all industrial countries. In the argument with Trotsky, Stalin took the side of the rightists, not because he agreed with NEP because he wanted help to get Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev out of the Politburo. But with the rightist, he always made sure Trotsky was outvoted. He even made his supporters boo at him in public meetings. Then at the end of 1925 Stalin’s position in the politburo was increased when the party congress voted three of his friend in place of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev. So in 1927 Trotsky and his supporters resigned from the Politburo.
Trotsky now gone Stalin in 1928 argued against NEP and the rightists. Now his supporters had overpowered them and Bukharin and Rykov resigned meanwhile Stalin was exiled from Russia and was now the Leader of the USSR. The most important reason for Stalin’s rise to power was his being a general secretary because he used his authority to over through Trotsky and everyone else to become the leader of the USSR. Also, the funeral of Lenin gained him the respect and loyalty of the public of Russia to improve his power even more. Stalin could have lost his chances if the testament was published but lucky for him he was put back on track by Zinoviev and Kamenev, giving him his last chance of becoming a leader.
- J. Brooman – Stalin and the Soviet Union
- B. Walsh – Modern world history
- J. Nichol and K. Shepard – Russia
- Class notes – how and why did Stalin gain power?
- Stalin’s biography (national archives learning centre)