In 1924, Russia was in a great state of confusion with the eventual demise of Lenin. A sudden sense of void was felt at the time, a vast following was then swiftly formed straight after, and Lenin was now presented as a “cult hero”. This iconic status was actually created partly by Stalin himself. He was able to build this fantastic atmosphere around Lenin’s death, using Lenin’s name to move forward in the party.
Stalin was already ranked with potential of becoming a powerful politician.
Stalin was part of the collective leadership, the Triumvirate that consisted of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin himself. The Triumvirate had its differences between them, but were united with their hostility towards Trotsky.
“On the face of it Trotsky was in a strong position. One of his supporters said to him that, having Lenin’s explicit support, he was now sure to have a preponderant role. Trotsky answered that, on the contrary, it would unite all his rivals against him”.
(Stalin breaker of nations, Robert Conquest)
Lenin held trust in Trotsky’s ability and loyalty. Many Bolshevik members began to envy him as powerful politicians began to realise, Trotsky was an obvious replacement to Lenin. Trotsky was popular with the people also, especially after the victory of the civil war. Many however did not see Trotsky as an out and out leader, know one could argue with his loyalty and bravery in the battlefield, however his leadership skills were severely doubted. This could come down to the fact he was previously a Menshevik, and therefore they believed untrustworthy.
On the contrary to Trotsky’s popularity, Stalin’s rivals did not really consider him a serious threat, they underestimated his ability as a leader, or as a tactful politician.
“He was not a charismatic figure, a fine orator, or a distinguished Marxist theoretician like Lenin or Trotsky. He was not a war hero, an upstanding son of the working class, or even much of an intellectual.” (Sheila Fitzpatrick, Russian Revolution.)
However many believe it was his personality traits that put him far above the rest. Stalin was shrewd and understood how to take advantage of the situations that took place, a skill that his opponents, including the organised and popular Trotsky could never perfect.
An example of this was Lenin’s funeral. Stalin’s attendance was seen by the nation as a very caring and sincere show of respect for their “saviour”, Lenin. Stalin was portrayed as the caring peoples politician, and faithful Lenin devotee. When In fact Lenin had revealed in his last testament he was extremely suspicious of Stalin. However Stalin suppressed this document.
“Fulfil what the dying Ilyich commanded of us. Well, not quite everything, for on one point, we are happy to say, Lenin’s fears have proved groundless. I am speaking of the question of our general secretary.” (from Zinoviev, Russian Revolution Sheila Fitzpatrick).
The political advantage Stalin was able to gain, from the event was invaluable already attaining both trust and support of the country, and also gaining an important political advantage over his main rival, Trotsky.
Although, personality can be seen as factor, clearly there were also a number of structural changes to the Bolshevik party and Stalin’s own position, which helped Stalin’s progress.
Stalin had become general secretary of the Bolshevik party, which enabled him to use his power and position to make important decisions and outcomes of debates, more importantly though the power to create the positions of those surrounding him.
Stalin took full advantage of Lenin’s enrolment plan. The plan set up by Lenin was to employ more members into the party, Stalin employed many new predominantly uneducated and politically naï¿½ve members to represent the Bolshevik party. Stalin gained a lot of support from these new eager to please politicians their incentive was a higher more significant position in the party.
Just as Stalin tried to portray himself as the heir to Lenin as leader, he similarly tried to elevate himself as the only orthodox Leninist when it came to political debates. When Lenin introduced the NEP in 1922, it was never to last. Lenin however was very unclear about an actual date it would all end. Proposed as a financial incentive to try boosting the economy in Russia, it was only temporary as it was an aspect of capitalism. It was never a policy to be retained.
“Lenin had uttered contradictorily remarks about the NEP, not making it clear whether it was only meant to provide breathing space or whether it would continue for a long time. In any case the NEP became both impractical and politically unacceptable.”
(Stalin, Harold Shukman)
The fact no date was mentioned, it added incredibly to the ambiguity of the situation where Stalin took full advantage.
The NEP, created a huge conflict between the Left and Right.
Bukharin (Right) believed the NEP should remain, as it was a runaway success, as it created jobs, and economic stability. Trotsky who represented the Left wanted it to end as soon as possible, he was not against the policy as it already had been a success it should now end.
Trotsky could imagine the rise of the NEPmen, and the bureaucracy emerging as a new class. The system the Bolsheviks were always against was taking over they looked at the N.E.P as ‘betrayal of revolution’. This policy was a direct introduction to capitalism as it encouraged profit.
Stalin remained very quiet in this argument. Some may say Stalin was still trying to weighing over his position on the argument, or others may argue, such as E.H. Carr he was shrewdly calculating where he could gain most political advantage.
As soon as Zinoviev and Kaminev joined forces with Trotsky and the Left, Stalin soon joined in the debate, in agreeance with Bukharin and the Right. Claiming to go against N.E.P was to go against Lenin and his legacy. This of course was never the case.
”He (Lenin) was a revolutionary by temperament, and NEP was by no means a realisation of his revolutionary objectives in economic and social terms.” (Russian Revolution, Sheila Fitzpatrick)
When Stalin defeated the Left accompanied with Lenin to back his argument, Stalin swiftly changed his whole ideology on the N.E.P. Stalin revealed he now thought that N.E.P did not need to carry on further as it was a completed policy and then went on to defeat the Right by using the Left argument.
Although some may interpret this as a change of ideas, some may see Stalin had planned this all along to gain supreme power and eventually defeating both Left and Right.
The ideological issue over the call for permanent revolution was the next opportunity for Trotsky and Stalin to lock horns once more. Stalin’s stance on permanent revolution could be seen as the decisive factor over which Stalin was able to cast Trotsky out as a contender altogether, and importantly gain full leadership.
Trotsky called for permanent worldwide revolution, as he believed for Russia to carry on as a Socialist country, it would need the support of the rest of the world, to survive.
This call was proposed by Lenin himself, who had previously made it clear permanent revolution was vital.#
Stalin’s opposing argument was for “Socialism in one country”. Stalin’s stance was that of Russia remaining as the only Socialist country. He believed a call for permanent revolution was not required, he felt its relevance was limited, as the USSR was already a Socialist country and could do well as an autarky. Stalin justified this argument, by stating it unfair to carry on fighting for something that Russia had already achieved. He believed Trotsky was being unrealistic in trying to conquer the world, Stalin saw the country was exhausted , they could not go through more famines, deaths and poverty just to achieve something that seemed too far away.
This is where Stalin’s working class background helped Stalin gain almost absolute support from the party.
“Most of them came like Stalin himself, from very humble back grounds and have received little formal education. Mistrusting intellectuals such as Trotsky, they preferred to place their trust in Stalin’s wisdom… when it came to matters of ideology.”(Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy, The Russian Revolution 1891 -1924)
Stalin succeeded in the Ideological debate, this could be seen as both Stalin’s strength as a politician or even challenge the whole ideal of Permanent revolution.
Stalin won the ideological debate claiming he believed in the concept of “Socialism in one country” beyond doubt. Fitzpatrick confirms this as she states “Stalin, by contrast, took the position that was simultaneously patriotic and practical: the Soviet Union had no desire to beg favours from the Capitalist West.”
The historian Brezezinski however contradicts this view, he is not concerned about the figures involved, he believes it was the whole outlook of permanent revolution which was flawed from the very beginning, “Trotsky offended the instinct for self-preservation of the newly entrenched party bureaucrats, who were not prepared to risk all on the altar of a premature world revolution.”