“How far do Trotsky’s own misjudgments account for his failure in the power struggle which followed Lenin’s death?”
Following Lenin’s death in 1924, a power vacuum appeared for the leadership of the Communist Party in Russia. A collective leadership was proclaimed, however competition for individual authority between Trotsky, Stalin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky led to a fierce struggle for power, ending in Stalin’s triumph and the beginning of his tenure as the leader of the Communist Party. The strongest contenders in the power struggle were Stalin and Trotsky, however a number of unfortunate decisions and lack of support on Trotsky’s part, coupled with Stalin’s tactics and power base, led to Trotsky’s defeat and exile. It was the latter of the two factors that contributed more to Trotsky’s ultimate failure, due to the fact that Stalin’s initial position was stronger, and his opportunism allowed him to take advantage of Trotsky’s misjudgments, thereby allowing him to take power. However, it is worth noting that the term ‘misjudgments’ is relative to the historian, since a number of Trotsky’s unsuccessful decisions were deliberately made to avoid certain outcomes, therefore cannot accurately be termed ‘misjudgments’.
Trotsky, although he had a limited power base made up of mostly radicals and students, was in a position of adequate leverage immediately following Lenin’s death. He had Lenin’s support, as shown in Lenin’s testament, “Comrade Trotsky… is distinguished not only by his outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present Central Committee.” Although Lenin did present a criticism of Trotsky, “he has displayed excessive self-assurance,” he was praised much more than the other candidates for leadership. Trotsky was also the Commissar for War, and was therefore in control of the Red Army. He had proved himself to be a skilled military commander in the Civil War, and had the support of his troops. Trotsky was also a skilled intellectual, colleague Anatoli Lunacharsky said of him, “Trotsky had remarkable gifts as an orator and a writer. In my opinion he is the greatest orator of our time…In some respects Trotsky is greater than Lenin: he is more brilliant, clearer, more active.”