How far was Stalin's success due to his political ability as opposed to the weaknesses of his rivals?

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Eva Frauke Göhring


Mrs Simpson

How far was Stalin’s success due to his political ability as opposed to the weaknesses of his rivals?

Joseph Stalin, leader of communist Russia from 1928-1953, succeeded in his rise to power due to mainly two factors, his political ability, as well as the weaknesses of his rivals. However, most achievements Stalin did are due to his abilities and his skills to treat people and play them out against each other, but certainly also the mistakes made by his rivals play a big role. Without those his success wouldn’t have been possible.

After Lenin’s death in 1924, the question of his succession was unsolved. In his testament he criticised each of his closest colleagues. Trotsky was most likely to be Lenin’s successor, since he had been his right-hand and already played a big role in the first revolution, whereas Stalin only played a minor role. “Stalin on the other hand, was seen as an administrator and a rather dull personality.” However, clear was that he wanted to be succeeded not by a single person, but a leadership by the politburo. A power struggle for Lenin’s succession began.

Since all the close colleagues of Lenin were heavily criticized in his testament, they agreed not to publish it. This was especially to the benefit of Stalin, who Lenin accused “for not being able to use power with sufficient caution…and being too rude” and later suggested that he should lose his job as General Secretary. He was now able to present himself as the loyal right hand of Lenin, which gained him a lot of support. He was well aware of the advantages in being associated with Lenin’s name. Stalin managed to “root himself in the cult of Lenin and thus assume unimpeachable authority”. On Lenin’s funeral in January 1924, to which Trotsky did not attend and later claimed he was given a wrong date by Stalin, the latter held an impressive speech which presented himself as “the guardian and interpreter of the Lenin myth”. Through his abilities and because he knew what to do, he was seen as Lenin’s continuer. This got him a lot of advantages. In addition his posts within the party gave him a lot of power. Already before Lenin died Stalin assured an important role in the Party. He held the post as General Secretary, Commissar for Nationalities (only until 1923) and Commissar for State Control (also until 1923). The most important of these posts was the General Secretary, though, which he became in 1922.It, enabled Stalin to use his power of the position to gather important information. He recognised that the main focus of power actually was the Politburo and not the government itself. As General Secretary, he had his people who would report to him regularly and he had access to files of the more than 20,000 party members. The position also gave him the power to appoint and dismiss people. Therefore he was able to promote his own supporters in key positions. That is he brought these in to vote out more sophisticated intellectuals. Many of the party members owed loyalty to him. When the party grew, new party members who were poorly educated and politically naïve came in. These were easy to manipulate. Stalin, who had the same background as most of them, he was from a poor family, used this to make them identify with and therefore support him.

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When Stalin was about to change his opinion to whatever seemed best to be in a key position and not to lose support, he proved his political abilities and his skills to “play on the people’s fears and emotions”, once again. Initially Stalin was more for the right side and allied with Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov. They were for NEP, or private ownership and for “socialism in one country” rather than the left, who were for a widespread revolution and against NEP. Trotsky then openly attacked the economic policies. This criticism was unpopular in the Party and the chance was ...

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