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Following the death of Lenin on 22nd January 1924, Stalin, ‘man of steel’, rose to the top of the USSR through a combination of luck and by using his political skills. Therefore by Stalin’s fiftieth birthday he had now achieved for himself complete control over the USSR.
Stalin’s rise to power can be put down to his ruthlessness; he would not have gained power had it not been for his brutal nature, however there were many factors that contributed to Stalin’s success. Stalin had the characteristics of a dictator from childhood, in the sense that he was unable to cope with defeat or admit that he was wrong. This definitely assisted him in his quest to become ruler of the USSR.
Stalin first became noticed in 1905 after he first joined the communists and helped to raise funds by robbing banks and looting trains. During the civil war Stalin stayed loyal and during this time he forcibly seized grain from farmers in the South in order to feed the workers in the North. As a reward for this Lenin then made him responsible for the Red Army in the south during the Civil War. This brought him into conflict with Trotsky. This meant that already Stalin had made a name for himself and had been recognised by Lenin as someone who was reliable and who had impressive dictatorship skills, this is why Lenin gave him a job as Commander in Chief during the civil war.
Later on in 1922 Stalin then achieved promotion to General Secretary, this was a fairly boring job, however it was still within the politburo and it keep Stalin busy every day. As this was not really a position of authority using his manipulative skills Stalin makes the job have a greater political influence, which thus wins himself a good level of authority. Stalin wanted to do all of the poor organisations jobs that everyone else thought were boring, this was the first manipulative move that Stalin took and by having small jobs and by making them sound better Stalin was now becoming more noticed by the people and he was getting some respect, which he eventually used to help him rise to power.
If Stalin was to be leader of the USSR then this meant that Lenin would have to be out the way. Lenin suffered several strokes in 1922 and 1923 that left him paralysed and eventually in 1924 he died. If Stalin was to become leader he had to overcome his main opposition for power, which was Trotsky. The funeral of Lenin was organised by Stalin and he also lead the mourning. This was to create an image to the public that Stalin was close to the deceased however in hindsight we know that he only did this to boost his chance of becoming the next leader.
Trotsky was nowhere to be seen at Lenin’s funeral and had nothing to do with the preparations and many people saw this move by Trotsky as a sign of disrespect and the public now saw Stalin as the better of the two. However Stalin was thought to have told Trotsky the wrong date for the funeral and Trotsky said that he was away at his holiday home recovering from an illness. Whether this was true or not either way it was a strange move by Trotsky not to turn up, as that now put Stalin in the driving seat for the power of the USSR.
Before Lenin died, he wrote a letter to the Party Congress that outlined his ideas for the future. In this letter he also gave his opinions on the members of the Politburo including Stalin and Trotsky, the two main contenders for the leadership of the USSR. After Lenin had died, the letter became know as Lenin’s Testament. Had it been made public at the time it had the potential to destroy Stalin’s claim to power as this document showed exactly what Lenin thought of Stalin. At the time Lenin obviously felt that Trotsky was the most suitable successor for the reign as in his testament Lenin described Trotsky as ‘a man with outstanding ability’ and he also thought Trotsky was ‘perhaps the most capable man in the Central Committee’. Lenin saw Stalin as ‘too rude’ and he wanted Stalin to ‘be removed from his post as General Secretary’.
Meanwhile Stalin must have been shaken when he heard about what Lenin had to say about him. What Lenin thought of these two candidates was crucial, as the public would not want an enemy of Lenin’s to be the next leader. This is why Stalin appeared to be very close to Lenin and stand by him. However in spite of these comments the Testament was not made public. The Leftists – Zinoviev and Kanenev protested that it was out of date and so a visibly disturbed Stalin was rescued and the truth did not reach the Soviet people. Because the public did not know what Lenin really thought of Stalin, they still saw Stalin as a commendable replacement to Lenin. What Zinoviev and Kanenev did was an important part of Stalin’s pursuit to get to power because had the testament been released, the public would have disliked Stalin as they worshiped Lenin.
The two main contenders for the leadership of the USSR, Stalin and Trotsky were now involved in a feud with each other. This help Stalin claim power in the way that now the public were on his side and Trotsky now frightened many people in the USSR. Trotsky had the idea of spreading socialism across the world; he argued that the future security of the USSR lay in trying to spread permanent revolution across the world until the whole globe was Communist. Many people in the USSR believed that Trotsky would involve them in future wars and conflicts.
Stalin emerged as Lenin’s successor because of his policies, these were met with greater approval than Trotsky’s ideas, as Stalin argued that in future, the Party should try to establish Socialism in One Country rather than Trotsky’s idea which was to try to spread revolution worldwide, this was very popular. Socialism in one country was the idea that communism shouldn’t be spread across the world but that the politburo should concentrate on just having it in Russia. As the Soviet people were scared of years of war and revolution Stalin seemed to be the man who understood their feeling and did what the public wanted. In 1925, Trotsky gave up his only symbol of power when he resigned from his position as Commissar for War. He now had nothing and because the war was over, the future was looking bleaker for him. Stalin, because of this, was now the favourite to become the next controller of the USSR.
With Trotsky now out of the way, Stalin was now on course to take the leadership of the USSR, he uses his relationship and his positions of authority with other members of the Politburo extremely well. Stalin successfully played both the leftists and the rightist in the Politburo; he did this by using his friends who owed him favours. In 1927 Stalin first joined the rightists and attacked the left removing all the important members from the office, then a year later he joined the leftists and attacked the right, forcing out his opponents and bringing in some of his own allies who would support him. By doing this Stalin was now the most senior member of the Politburo. This was a huge step towards his aim and put him in pole position to become the next dictator.
In conclusion I believe that Stalin achieved total power over the USSR through a combination of political scheming, luck, the mistakes of his opponents and the clever way in which he built up his power base. Each event that leads up to Stalin’s dictatorship was just as important as the next; he got to power through a combination of all of these. If any of the steps to his reign had been missing, there is no doubt that he would not have been in control of the USSR and been able to cause the damage he did.