Why did Stalin rather than Trotsky emerge as the leader of the USSR in 1929?
A power struggle for control of the Bolshevik party began after Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924. Among the several contenders, two of the most important names in this struggle were Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Ultimately, Stalin was able to secure power and vote out Trotsky. In the following essay I will discuss the reasons why Stalin rather than Trotsky emerged as the leader of the USSR in 1929.
First of all, Stalin was lucky. Trotsky remained ill for most of the power struggle and Lenin died at an opportune time. Indeed, had Lenin lived, Stalin would probably have been sent to the provinces to work for the party. Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka and political adversary to Stalin, also died fortuitously in 1926. His death facilitated the infiltration of Stalin’s supporters into the political police which Stalin eventually used against his opponents. It was also fortunate for Stalin that Lenin’s testament was not publicized. If Lenin’s negative views on Stalin succeeding him had been aired, there would have been no possibility for Stalin’s victory.
Another reason for Stalin’s victory was his influence over the party machine through his key positions in the Politburo and Orgburo and as General Secretary. This power allowed Stalin to appoint his supporters to key positions in the party. He also controlled the membership of the party by admitting members likely to support him and expelling those members likely to support Trotsky. Stalin’s control of appointments and membership also made him a valuable ally to other contenders who needed his ability to deliver votes in the congresses.
... that Trotsky and Stalin were most likely to precipitate such a split. Lenin even argued Stalin should be removed from his position of power as party ... downfall. After the initial defeat of Trotsky, the second phase of the 1920s power struggle opened. Stalin turned on his former allies Kamenev and ...
Stalin was also politically skillful and cunning. In the Politburo, when matters of high policy were being discussed, Stalin never imposed his views on his colleagues. He carefully followed the course of the debate and invariably voted with the majority. To the party audiences he appeared devoid of personal grudge and rancour and even seemed to be a detached Leninist, a guardian of the doctrine who criticized others only for the sake of the cause. Stalin always adopted policies that were broadly approved by the majority of the Communist party. Hence, using his political dexterity, he maintained a good reputation within the party. Stalin also made full use of Lenin’s funeral to advance his position. He tricked Trotsky into not attending the funeral by letting him know that he would never make it on time (of course this was not true).
He gave a speech at the funeral, tactfully taking on the mantle of Leninism and thereby transferring Lenin’s prestige to himself.
Stalin’s personal characteristics and qualities also helped him become leader of the party. Stalin was perceived as dull and mediocre – the ‘grey blur’. None of the contenders saw him as a threat until it was too late. He was tough-minded and ruthless. He was determined to defend his power base and make sure that he was not removed. Stalin was also a very loyal party member who was one of the few leaders from the lower class. As such, he was less high-minded and more down to earth than the other leading Bolsheviks; Stalin was ideally suited to managing the bureaucratic and centralised party that had developed.
Trotsky, on the other hand, was responsible for his own downfall. Trotsky did not go out of his way to develop or build up his power base in the party and allowed Stalin to erode the one he already had. Just like the other contenders, he underestimated Stalin and was outmanoeuvred by him.
He was high-minded, arrogant, and dismissive of his colleagues which made party members suspicious that he would cause splits in the party. These weaknesses enabled Stalin to defeat him easily.
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In conclusion, the main reasons for Joseph Stalin’s victory were his luck, political power, political ability, personal characteristics, and of course the weaknesses of his opponents. However, there is no doubt that the most important reason for Stalin’s victory was his luck and more specifically the fact that Lenin’s testament was not exposed. If Stalin had not been lucky, his chances for victory would have been severely reduced.