This essay will analyze Stalin’s rise to power through the study of four main elements, which can be denominated as situation in the USSR, Stalin’s personal strength, the weaknesses of Stalin’s enemies and the role of luck and opportunities. Thanks to all four of them it was possible for Stalin to reach to the power of one leader of a single party. The tradition of autocratic rule gave the advantage of the situation to Stalin, as soviet people were not accustomed to choose their leaders therefore he did not had to gain support of the people to reach power.
Moreover, Stalin always adopted the role of accessible, working class party boss, while other leaders were considered as middle class or rich, therefore he used this as a personal strength, as population felt represented by someone of their own society, who could understand them. Furthermore Stalin’s rivals were divided through the period of his rise to power, and he never had to face them all together, therefore, weaknesses of enemies also helped Stalin to reach the position of leader.
Finally, regarding luck and opportunities, power to struggle occurred within the CPSU, in this way Stalin did not need to make great speeches, only careful organization was required for achieving success. Russia had been controlled by tsars since its very existence, where society was based on a feudal system, and there was a huge polarization between the high and lower classes.
After world war one Russia was completely devastated, cities were destroyed, and the population had enormous casualties, they a change was needed and under the proposal of Marx’s ideas, Russian civilians opted by the communist option, tired of the autocracy and indifference imposed by the tsars. In 1917 revolution started, and the autocracy which Russians lived for years was changed by a democracy, were people could choose their leaders. When Lenin was in power, he suffered several strokes from 1922-1923 which removed him from politics until he finally died on the 24th of January in 1924.
There were many Communist leaders who wanted to seize power, but only Stalin was able to achieve this. Before the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, the situation in Russia was chaotic. The country was ruled by Nicholas II, an autocrat who did not allow democracy and therefore most of the peasants, which were the majority of the population (85%), were against him. The situation in Russia got worse when Russia joined the First World War, and this was the key factor for the February Revolution in 1917.
An important factor that helped Stalin, as named above was the situation in USSR as destruction of world war one and civil war allowed Stalin to appeal strong desires for peace and consolidation from soviet people. Approximately two million, men woman and children died in the First World War and ten million during civil war (1917-1921), by 1923 Russia’s population was thirty million less than what was expected. Moreover the redouble had collapsed and workers were paid in goods, not money; this went to such a point that barter became the only means of exchange.
The civil war came close to wiping out all the gains made since 1861, and even worse the civil war affected the proletariat more than any other group. Workers were only 2% of the population before 1914, but Moscow los half of them and Petrograd two thirds. It is estimated that around fifty percent of workers were lost, either by dying fighting for the red army or returning to their villages. The soviet regime depended on the workers to carry outs it’s programme and this were looking forward to Stalin as a great man.
Therefore situation in USSR helped Stalin reach power, as he knew how to take advantage of this opportunity of chaos were nationalistic and patriotic ideas were presented by him knowing that people would follow the best and idealistic idea after hard times. Also Stalin, with his idea of “socialism in one country” which aimed to the national fortification of communist ideas, leaving aside the internationals affairs was able to defeat Leon Trotsky, who in the other hand presented “world revolution” which consisted in spreading communism around the world.
Stalin used this as he was presenting a much nationalistic project, basing only in the Russian society and don’t worrying about foreign, and in this way demonstrating his concerns for Russia, and its future development. More, the tradition of autocratic rule was also an important factor, as Russia came from a long lineage of Tsars, were civilians had no opinion or way of changing things; they were obliged to be loyal to their authority, and accept things as they were.
Therefore, this helped Stalin to reach power as society was enthusiastic about this new tendency, as soviet people were not accustomed to choose their leaders, and as in comparison to the western nations of Europe, Russia was way long behind in terms of technology and production as they had and economy based on agriculture which was similar to a 18/1700’s system. In this way Stalin did not had to win their support to gain power.
Moreover soviet society was uneducated and had very few revolutionary ideas as they never had been in a democratic system therefore, it was easier for Stalin to present this new ideas as people had waited for a long time for a leader who could defeat autocracy and be loyal to its own country, therefore as Stalin was the perfect stereotype for this, he was easily chosen by the Russian population. Furthermore, a key factor that helped Stalin rise to power was the new economic policy introduced by Lenin in 1921.
Civil war was ending and a change in policy was needed, by this way, Lenin stepped away from communism and started instead to allow some private ownership of goods in the economy. There was an abolition of forced requisition and peasants were free to sell any surplus. This showed a huge capitalist face of Lenin, as also small private factories returned to their owners and even foreign firms were invited to invest in Russia. Lenin said, “we have gone too far on the road to nationalism trade and industry… we know that only an agree with the peasantry can save the socialist revolution”.
However, these policies weren’t successful and already 10 year gone since the civil war, therefore this was a key factor that helped Stalin rise to power as communists were looking forward to more radical changes. Thanks to this, Stalin was able to use Trotsky’s policies of collectivization and industrialization which were highly welcomed by the soviet population. Meaning, Stalin was able to show his abilities as an outstanding leader who was able to reproduce and establish Russia’s economy through the right path.
He demonstrated once more, his characteristics as a communist militant which was what people wanted, as he could take advantage of the situation by showing that the capitalist representation was not successful, and replacing it by a socialist/communist one. However, although situation in USSR was an important factor for Stalin rise to power, his personal strengths could also be categorized as important due to the following reasons. In 1917 Stalin begins to build his power base with his first post as “people’s commissar for nationalities”.
Stalin was Georgian, and so Lenin gave him the job of liasing with the many national groups in Russia, this was critical as during that time sixty percent of the Russian population was no Russian. During civil war Stalin was used as a trouble shooter, to be sent to fix important situations, in this way by 1918-19 Stalin had already showed leadership and had achieved great results, by the use of harsh methods as the execution without trial.
This period had great influence on Stalin as he was sent to Tsarityn in 1918 to ensure continued food supplies to Petrograd and Moscow, successfully he fixed the problems and the city later voted to call it for itself Stalingrad. By 1919 Stalin was already a member of both the “politburo”, who controlled the communist party and the “Orgburo” which was the organizational bureau. Also he controlled the “worker’s and peasant’s inspectorate “, this agency had control over some of the government departments.
In March 1919, during the 8th party congress Stalin’s name was on every delegate’s list to be a member of the central committee. Moreover, Lenin considered Stalin to be a loyal ally, and when he got problems with Trotsky and other politicians, he decided to give Stalin more power. With the help of Lev Kamenev, Lenin had Stalin appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922. This post enabled Stalin to appoint many of his allies to government positions. Therefore Stalin personal strength were of great help for reaching power as he was proved to be useful, effective and hard working.
He gained the Lenin’s trust, as he appreciated the fact that Stalin would accept any task, and the way in which he exerted pressure. Therefore, Stalin used Lenin as he was a powerful man and was the one who could give him the most important posts. Also the fact that Stalin had the power of patronage was of huge importance as in this way he was able to obtain new allies, but at the same time threaten them. Thanks to this he gain support as people followed him due to the important charges he had, the fact that he “created” jobs was critical, as he could make to be sure that anyone who get a job would be loyal to him.
By 1924 Stalin had oversaw the appointment of 10000 party officials making sure that they were loyal to him. Furthermore Stalin also used his powers as general secretary to give important posts to his allies. by the same token, party officials were supposedly elected, but were really recommended by Stalin’s secretariat in Moscow. This men, who were the apparatchiki had survived the civil war, were tough and determined to fight their way to the top, therefore they depended on Stalin for their jobs and for the promise of further advancement.
Therefore they needed Stalin and wanted him to gain more power. In this way we can see that “The reliability of the apparatchiki was his own greatest asset in any struggle for power which might develop”. More, Stalin being part of the politburo had great power and influence; therefore he was in a position which enabled him to choose important decisions which would be favorable to him. Finally, the post as “people’s commissar for nationalities” gave him a great deal of contact with communist organizations all over Russia. Conjointly, Stalin was never distracted from the real issue, which was power.
Stalin carefully studied Lenin’s writings and speeches, so he could quote from them to support his arguments. He even wrote a book called the “foundations of Leninism”. Although Stalin “did not confide his innermost thoughts to anybody, only very rarely did he share his ideas and impressions with his closest associates. He possessed in a high degree the gift of silence, and in this respect he was unique in a country where everybody talked far too much”, as said by Bazanov, this was one of the main characteristics as he was never suspected as thirsty for power.
Stalin was an extremely clever person in using his power within the communist party. As I’ve said before he took on many boring but important jobs such as commissar for nationalities and, of course General Secretary. He was absolutely ruthless in picking off his rivals one by one. Stalin appeared to be a straight forward Georgian peasant and not as many of his intellectual rivals. Therefore, we can see this as an important characteristic, which helped Stalin reach powers as he was perseverant, firm and in fatigable until he achieved his aims.
Through the hard work done through this campaign of rise, Stalin shoes how determinant he is, and that he will reach power, no matter consequences. His determinacy and harsh methods made him succeed against his enemies. The fact that he was silent through his rise to power was also of main importance as during this period he was not seen as a menace for the other leaders, and it was only before dying that Lenin realized that Stalin already had much power, but thanks to this “silence”, he had already created his power base and had many supporters.
Likewise Stalin always tried to adopt the political middle ground, representing the voice of the common sense of moderation, against the extremists on the left and right. Stalin the usually accused his enemies of factionalism, the “blackest crime in the communist book”. Stalin was very shrewd. He used the ban on factions and another piece of “temporary” legislation brought in during the Civil War – Democratic Centralism to isolate, silence and ultimately destroy his opponents.
Factionalism worked n a way that Stalin could suggest that two or more of his rivals had formed a “deviation” and used the Politburo to isolate them. Democratic Centralism was the policy that ideas could be discussed until the Politburo decided upon the correct decision. Therefore the use of factionalism helped Stalin to reach power as Stalin used this policy to suggest that members of the various “deviations” were breaking party rules and discipline to further their “anti-revolutionary aims” by this way anyone who would disagree, debate or discuss the details of the policy, could be fined, harassed or exiled.
This was a successful method, as Stalin could impose over his enemies any policy or ideas, and if they didn’t agree they would be charged with factionalism. It was also useful, as with the power of factionalism, Stalin had now the capacity of moving the party line, to any place where he would be benefited. Even more, Stalin was able to get rid not only of those who weren’t angry with him, but also with those who supported the same ideas but were seen by Stalin as a threat his rise to power.
Finally, Stalin’s background was also important as he adopted the role of the accessible, working class party boss. He was born in 1879 in Georgia, a mountainous area in the south of Russia. In 1888 Stalin was sent he was sent to a little church school. He spent five years there and was a bright student, and then he was transferred to a Georgian orthodox church, but it was that moment when he became interested in the illegal revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx. It was then, how in 1898 he joined a secret Marxist revolutionary group.
During these years Stalin was many times arrested, jailed and exiled to Siberia for his revolutionary activities. Thanks to Stalin’s background he was able of gaining massive support from the working and lower classes. In comparison to the other leaders who came from a middle class or rich sectors, soviet workers felt identified with a leader like Stalin who had lived a hard life as theirs. In this way people saw Stalin as a leader who could understand them and that would be favorable for them.
Therefore, this was an important factor as it permitted Stalin achieve a majority of support, by the simple fact that society was positioned in the same way as him during his early life. Although Stalin’s personal strength were a key factor in his rise to power, weaknesses of enemies could also be considered of great importance. The fact that rivals didn’t realize how Stalin was getting stronger through his advancement in the different posts he achieved.
Also, Stalin’s enemies did no realize the magnitude and importance of the charge of general secretary as this was the post he would use so intelligently to build up a power base inside the communist party, although at the time no one could foresee this. Therefore, By this way it is demonstrated the innocence and lack of sense of his enemies as they weren’t able of identifying how Stalin was growing each time stronger. As a consequence Stalin was able to create a huge power base in the communist party, so big, that at the time enemies had taken conscious of his power it was already too late.
Moreover, rivals did not realize how the party had changed from its earlier days. Clearly the 1921 resolution against factionalism had changed. This resolution said that the instructions of the politburo had to be obeyed; any disobedience would be charge as factionalism and would be punished by expulsion from the party. However, Stalin changed it for his personal use, and during his days anyone who would disagree and had “deviations” from the party line, were breaking party rules and discipline to further their “anti-revolutionary aims”.
Therefore this helped Stalin to reach power as enemies were completely unaware of this power, which was intelligently used by Stalin to defeat those who did not follow him. It also demonstrates how Stalin enemies were not capable enough as he was, to realize that the resolution could be clearly used for gaining power in the party. Furthermore, the fact that Trotsky was characterized as a Bonapartist, which is as comparison with Napoleon Bonaparte, who destroyed the French revolution, and appointing himself as only and autocrat leader.
The spread of this idea was of great help for Stalin, as this meant a violation of the communist ideas presented by Marx where each individual of the society was equal, thanks to this, soviet people and communist leaders started to see him as a main danger and started to reject Trotsky’s ideas. This was useful a Stalin could defeat Trotsky from inside the party, even more, this gave the opportunity to Stalin for defeating this enemy, as he was able of using the argument of “Bonapartist”.