Why did Stalin rather than Trotsky emerge as the leader of the USSR in 1929?

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Why did Stalin rather than Trotsky emerge as the leader of the USSR in 1929?

At the time of Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin’s political future was hanging by a thread. He was, in the opinion of historian Stephen Lee, ‘the least impressive of all the candidates for succession’, and Leon Trotsky was regarded as the most likely emerging leader of the USSR. However, within five years, Stalin had outmanoeuvred a series of political opponents to become the absolute leader of the Soviet State, a feat accomplished by his unscrupulous politics and propagandist actions, his facade of moderateness and temporarily centrist stance on key issues like the NEP and the spread of the Revolution, as well as exploitation of the broad power base built up by Stalin throughout his political career to manipulate majorities. However he could not have succeeded in his quest for leadership without a series of misjudgements on Trotsky’s part, such as his failure to canvas support for himself amongst the Bolshevik elite, and most crucially his underestimation of the often pragmatic but distinctly un-idealistic ‘comrade card index’.

Despite not playing a key role in the October Revolution of 1917, Stalin had steadily built up his reputation in the Bolshevik party through his administrative work and holding of key positions, all enabling him to secure a strong power base with which he could successfully emerge as the next leader of the USSR. The most important of these positions was his appointment as General Secretary in 1922. This position, coupled with the fact that he was the only member of the party in both the Politburo and the Orgburo, enabled Stalin to control both the membership of the party and the appointment of key positions as well as what information other people received, and also by setting the agendas for party meetings, he was able to control what was discussed. These bureaucratic positions were designated to Stalin because he ‘posed as a moderate, often a centrist’, seemingly with no idealistic desires other than to follow Lenin, contrasting with other prominent members in the party, including theorists such as Trotsky and Bukharin. As a ‘skilful politician with a superb grasp of tactics’ according to M. McCauley, Stalin steadily promoted those who supported him into more prominent positions; therefore, by the time of Lenin’s death Stalin was ‘assured of his majority beforehand’ in important Politburo meetings and governmental business according to I. Deutscher.

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It was contrary to Lenin’s wishes that Stalin emerged as the leader of the USSR after his death; in his Last Testament, Lenin asserted that Stalin was ‘not capable of using authority with sufficient caution’ and suggested that ‘a way of removing Stalin’ should be found. However, the Testament was never to be published thanks to Stalin’s political skill and formation of a ‘Triumvirate’ with the left-wing Zinoviev and Kamenev, who then persuaded Lenin’s widow to maintain its confidentiality, for fear of strengthening Trotsky’s position with its publication. Trotsky was particularly disliked by many other Bolsheviks who suspected him of ...

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