Stalins Russia, 1924-53 revision guide

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Unit 1D4: Stalin’s Russia, 1924-53

A: The Struggle for Power

  • Lenin was very ill for many months before his death in January 1924. During this time the Party elite continued running the country. There was no mechanism for replacing Lenin.

  • Stalin was given responsibility for supervising Lenin’s treatment by the Central Committee. No one visited Lenin as much as Stalin. However, Stalin offended Lenin by being rude to his wife.

  • Lenin and Stalin also disagreed about foreign trade, which Lenin wanted to keep in the hands of the government, but Stalin wanted to relax. Lenin also disagreed with Stalin’s treatment of the independence movement in Georgia, which had been suppressed.

  • Lenin died January 1924. The Politburo – Rykov, Tomsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Trotsky and Stalin announced their intention of ruling as a collective leadership.

  • Stalin put Trotsky at a disadvantage by appearing at Lenin’s funeral as chief mourner and delivering the oration. Trotsky later claimed that Stalin had given him the wrong date, so he did not attend the funeral.

  • This was the beginning of Stalin’s successful promotion of the ‘cult of Lenin’ and ‘Leninism’. Stalin successfully associated himself with the authority and philosophy of Lenin. He portrayed himself as Lenin’s disciple.

  • May 1924 Thirteenth Party Congress. The content of Lenin’s Political Testament was revealed secretly to representatives of the party at a closed meeting.

  • The Political Testament was very critical of Stalin and recommended that he be removed form his position as General Secretary of the Party. Stalin offered to resign but was defended by Zinoviev and Kamenev.

  • Zinoviev and Kamenev backed Stalin not because they supported him, but because they were afraid of Trotsky; Stalin was not seen as a threat in the way Trotsky was. This Triumvirate of these three leaders came together to keep Trotsky out of power.

Why was Trotsky unpopular?

  • Trotsky had a power base in the Red Army; many Bolsheviks were afraid that he would become a military dictator.

  • Trotsky was also personally unpopular; he was highly intellectual and had a reputation for arrogance. He did not make alliances with his colleagues.

  • Trotsky had been a Menshevik and his late conversion to Bolshevism counted against him.

  • He was violently opposed to the growth of the Party bureaucracy, which Stalin headed and gave many people comfortable jobs.

  • He also had ideas that appeared dangerous; he believed that the USSR should try to ferment revolution in other states because Russia could only be successful if supported by proletarian revolutions in the West.

  • He also advocated a radical solution to economic problems, opposed NEP and believed that the peasants should be treated more vigorously and forced to produce more.

  • Lenin’s political Testament was ‘shelved’; it was not made public and quietly ignored.

Why had Stalin amassed such power by 1924?

  • People’s Commissar for Nationalities 1917. This put Stalin in control of the regions of the former Russian Empire that contained minority national groups, half the population of the USSR.

  • Liaison Officer between Politburo and Orgburo 1919 This made Stalin the key connection between the ‘cabinet’ of the government (Politburo) and the highest organisation of the Party (Orgburo).

  • Head of Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate 1919. This was set up to supervise the civil service and expose inefficiency, corruption, red tape and abuses of power. It gave Stalin the right to intervene in any and every area of government.

  • General Secretary of the Communist Party 1922. This was the most important office he held and possibly the key to Stalin’s success in the power struggle. In spite of the ‘boring’ nature of this administrative post, its responsibilities were very wide.

  1. Responsibility for membership of the Party: membership grew rapidly, particularly after Lenin’s death with the ‘Lenin enrolment’. The new members at the end of the 1920s were mostly poorly educated but they were loyal to the leadership who had given them membership; i.e. Stalin. This explains Stalin’s success in getting the support of Party Conferences.

  1. The Secretariat prepared the agenda of the meeting and supplied documentation. It also transmitted the decisions to the lower parts of the Party. Potentially this gave Stalin considerable power as agendas and documentation could be used to shape decisions and those decisions had to be interpreted to the Party.

Why did Trotsky become more unpopular from 1924?

  • In 1924 Trotsky launched an attack on the lack of Party democracy. Centralisation had occurred during the Civil War, so Trotsky’s attack appeared to be an attack on something Lenin had sanctioned.

  • The central bureaucracy also provided jobs for many members, so Trotsky’s attack was not likely to be popular.

  • October 1924 Trotsky attacked Zinoviev and Kamenev in an essay, Lessons of October. It drew attention to the fact these two had opposed Lenin when the decision to launch the October Revolution was made.

  • This led to a war of words Kamenev pointed to Trotsky’s Menshevik past. Stalin remained aloof and watched his opponents destroying each other. Stalin appeared to be a moderate who was ‘above’ Party warfare.

The Ideological Struggle and the Defeat of the Left 1925

  • There was a great need to promote economic growth and industrialisation – no one disagreed about that. The USSR had to invest in industry and the only place this investment could come from was by a transfer of resources from agriculture to industry.

  • The Left Communists were against NEP. They argued that the peasants benefited at the expense of the proletariat. They were in favour of ending NEP immediately.

  • The Right accepted NEP as a pragmatic policy to be tolerated as long as it produced sufficient food supplies.

  • In December 1924 Stalin adopted the policy of ‘Socialism in One Country’ He argued that Russia could achieve socialism without the aid of revolution in other countries.

  • Trotsky saw industrialisation as less important than spreading the revolution. He wanted ‘Permanent Revolution’.

  • 1925 Party Congress: Stalin had many supporters at the congress as a result of his position as General Secretary. Kamenev was the Chairman of the Moscow branch of the Party, and Zinoviev of the Leningrad branch. All votes went against Trotsky.  He lost his position as Commissar for War.

  • Zinoviev and Kamenev did agree with Trotsky about economic matters. He wanted an end to NEP, and end to the food supplies being controlled by the peasants and moves to collectivisation.

  • Zinoviev and Kamenev thought rapid industrialisation could be achieved if the production of food was more efficient. They thought the USSR would have difficulty surviving indefinitely without revolutions in other countries. These were the views of the political ‘Left’ within the Party.

  • On the ‘Right’ Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky said that NEP should be allowed to continue for another 20 years.

  • At the 1925 Party Congress all the Left resolutions were defeated and the Party backed the Right. Even Kamenev and Zinoviev’s own supporters did not vote for them. Stalin sided with the Right.

  • 1926 Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky failed to get their view supported at the Party Congress. Kamenev and Zinoviev were dismissed from their positions as Party Chairmen. Stalin was able to place two of his men at the head of the Party organisations in Moscow and Leningrad.

  • 1927 The Left tried to make their case again at the Party Congress. They were denied the right to speak. Attempts to publicise their views failed – their presses were found and destroyed.  

  • The fact that they were opposing so openly meant that the charge of factionalism could be brought against them. The Left had been defeated. Kamenev and Zinoviev and Trotsky were expelled from the Party.

The defeat of the Right

  • Stalin had appeared to take the side of the Right in the struggle with the Left, but this was a tactical manoeuvre and did not necessarily reflect his ideological position.

  • 1927 poor harvest. January 1928 Stalin visited western Siberia. He was convinced that the kulaks were keeping grain from the market to keep up prices. Stalin had police officials with him and he ordered the confiscation of grain; he was abandoning NEP.

  • 1928 Party Congress; the Right argued against Stalin’s actions. They thought that the peasants would produce more if NEP continued and they had the opportunity to become prosperous.  

  • There was a ‘war-scare’ in the USSR in 1927/8. The Right’s policies offered only gradual industrialisation, but military strength has to be built on industrial strength. A more vigorous policy that would lead to rapid industrialisation therefore looked attractive

  • Stalin used his control of the Party organisation so the Rightr resolutions were defeated at the Party Congress.  Tomsky, Bukharin and Rykov were removed from their positions by Stalin.

Why did Stalin win?

  • Stalin had luck on his side. Had Lenin not died Stalin would probably have been sent to the provinces to work for the Party.

  • Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka, from its inception to his death in 1926 was never one of Stalin's fans.

  • The centralised nature of the Party made it relatively easy for Stalin as General secretary to control it through the Secretariat. This had begun under Lenin.

  • Stalin possessed the organisational skill to develop the Party secretariat into a major power base.

  • Stalin was the only member of the Politburo, as well as the Orgburo.

  • Stalin listened in to the private Kremlin telephone network and thus was well informed about what his colleagues thought.

  • Stalin was based in Moscow from 1921 onwards so he knew about everything that was that was going on.

  • Stalin always liked to play the role of mediator in the early phase of the revolution. He would listen to their arguments and then propose a compromise solution. In this way he came to be seen as a moderate, so not a threat.

  • Through his position as General Secretary, Stalin had the ability to recruit persons who wanted a career and preferred working in the Party apparatus to working in a factory. They owed the advantages of party membership to him and supported him.

  • Poorly educated new Party members were easy to dominate.

  • Stalin's control over personnel through the Party secretariat permitted him to sack those who sided with the opposition. Every time a leading politician lost, this would be followed by a purge of his supporters.

  • The central influence over local Party affairs resulted in delegates who supported Stalin's line being elected to Party Congresses and the Central Committee. Stalin was consistently able to win votes against his opposition at Party Congresses.

  • Lenin, at the 10th Party Congress (1921), had forced through the ban on factionalism. It was also agreed that if twothirds of the Central Committee agreed a comrade could be expelled from the CC. Stalin was able to use this and claim that he was carrying out Lenin's will.

  • The low level of culture in Russia, especially among Bolshevik supporters, made it easier to misrepresent opponents' points of view.

  • Stalin presented himself as the leading disciple of Lenin and in this way was able to present his analysis of Lenin's thought to the masses.

  • Stalin, although a Georgian by nationality, understood the advantage of promoting Russian nationalism.

  • Stalin never took on all his opponents at the same time: he preferred to challenge them one by one or in small groups.

  • Stalin was never totally committed to any policy. He was on the right against Trotsky and the left against Bukharin. This reveals that he was playing a tactical game.

  • Stalin was very skilled in spotting the weaknesses of his opponents and in devising tactics to outmanoeuvre them.

  • Stalin was aware that the successful mobilisation of the state during the Civil War provided many lessons for the future.

  • Many Party members desired radical change, it was easy to attack Bukharin and the NEP.

  • Stalin’s opponents made a major error in failing to publish Lenin’s Testament. Full revelation of Lenin’s condemnation of Stalin would probably have brought him down.

  • The other leaders underestimated Stalin and exaggerated the danger presented by Trotsky. Stalin did not look threatening; he was an administrator who did the boring work. He was not a good speaker.

  • Trotsky’s failure to turn up at Lenin’s funeral weakened his position from the beginning.

  • Trotsky’s personality was a handicap; he was highly intellectual and impatient of people of lesser ability. He was arrogant and as a result he was not liked.

  • Trotsky did not at first see the need to make alliances. When he did form the Left Opposition with Zinoviev and Kamenev they were charged with factionalism.

  • Trotsky had a power base in the army, but failed to use it. His slogan of ‘Permanent Revolution’ was not attractive.

Stalin was now dominant in the Party.

  • He had outmanoeuvred all potential leadership rivals. He controlled the Party apparatus, and had done so since 1922, so many people in the Party owed their positions to him.

  • The economy had been recovering well under the NEP, although there had been a major crisis over grain procurement in 1927-8.

  • The peasants were growing plenty of grain, but they were not selling it to the State at the low prices on offer.
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  • The main reason was that there were few goods available for the peasants to buy with their roubles. They preferred to stockpile their crops in case of a future poor harvest.

  • So-called Nepmen were making a lot of money and this was creating further disquiet in the ranks of the Party.

  • Electrification and investment in state-owned heavy industry was growing, but not as fast as many would like.

  • All Bolsheviks agreed on the need for an economy based on industry to ensure the maintenance of the world’s first socialist state.

  • The question that ...

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