Lenin’s death in 1924 Essay
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12 marker: Explain why; at the time of Lenin’s death in 1924 there was no obvious successor to lead The USSR.
Lenin’s death came as a great shock to many Russians in 1924; he led the October Revolution in 1917 he was seen as father like role to Russians. He had built up a new government and allowed many of his fellow Bolsheviks roles positions in his new Soviet State, and these figures all thought that they have the power and influence to lead Russia.
Lenin knew that he was ill and that he would not be able to keep on making key decisions and attending committee and politburo meetings. He felt that the people in his government saw this as an opportunity to try and assert their power and then after his death have a good chance of becoming the leader of The USSR. He wrote a testament, damning five of the people that held high authority in his new government: Trotsky, Stalin, Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. If this were to be circulated in the party it would mean that people lower down in the party would be questioning these people too, they might feel that these individuals had too much power.
However, these were the leading communists and there did not seem to be any other Bolsheviks that were capable or ready to become a leader. Lenin called Trotsky ‘excessively self-assured’ Lenin thought that Trotsky focused too much on himself and not enough on the Russian people. Lenin also called Stalin the other main contender for the role of leader ‘too rude’ and stated that he has been placed with too much power within the part as Secretary-General; this has made him quite arrogant. Lenin calls for Russians to remember that although Zinoviev and Kamenev are quite underestimated, that they were not loyal to the October Revolution and therefore not the most trustworthy or loyal. Lenin feels that Bukharin is very intelligent, and would be good at the administration aspect of leadership but not a good enough orator to be seen as a strong leader by the masses.
This really set the cat among the pigeons; it showed that Lenin did not have confidence in one single successor, showing negative aspects of all of the possible candidates. Although this was suppressed by Kamenev and Zinoviev from being read at the 23rd party conference, Stalin had the most to lose if this had been read, being very critical of his personality and power. Ultimately, it showed that there was going to be a power struggle, and that there was no obvious successor.
Lenin’s Testament highlighted some major concerns of his, that there were five possible successors but none of them seemed obvious to go straight to the leadership position.
Trotsky was seen as an alternative main candidate, he had a lot of support from the working class in the two main cities, Moscow and Petrograd. He was educated and a brilliant orator, moving crowds of people that came to visit him speak. However, he had many personal weaknesses, he was not liked by a lot of the main decision makers under Lenin, and he needed their support for a leadership position. He did not understand that Russia was an agricultural country and he had to think of the country’s agriculture as much as its industry.
Stalin had many important roles within the communist party, commissar for nationalities, worker’s and peasant’s inspectorate and more. Although he had a vast amount of power within the party he was not seen as being consistent, something a leader should be. Also, he had a tough relationship with Lenin before his death.
Bukharin was seen as very clever, but not being Marxist enough, he had been appalled by the bloodshed of the civil war and supported the NEP that had allowed an emergence of a middle class, something the Revolution was against. Also Bukharin did not take any side in arguments within the party, showing Lenin that he maybe was not a committed communist.
Zinoviev and Kamenev had not been loyal to the October Revolution in 1917; showing that they would not be the leader that Lenin wanted. Lenin thought that they buckled under pressure and for these two reasons did not allow them on the Russian bureau of Central Committee.
These factors reinforce the uncertainty for the role of leader, there were candidates that seemed to be strong like Stalin or Trotsky but they had large weaknesses too.
Although, there was a lot of room for possible criticism and backstabbing due to the contenders having weaknesses of their own, in 1921 the ban on factionalism introduced by Lenin stopped the formation of groups within his party and stopped criticism of decisions made within the party. It was a way of trying to make the party seem loyal and was basically a ban on free-speech: Meaning that the candidates would not be able to run for leader by highlighting weaknesses to the party or masses. The five candidates would not be able to campaign. Also, because Lenin’s Testament was not published it did not allow the party to make a decision on the leadership, alongside the ban on factions meant that a candidate would just have to seem like a strong runner individually or resort to backstabbing.
In conclusion, I believe that by not publishing Lenin’s testament, this meant that his personal opinions were not voiced to the party, at the party conference, where hundreds of the most influential communists would have seen that all of the main five candidates had weaknesses and there was not one that Lenin felt was singly good enough to rule the party.
He was possibly hinting to a collective government with a coalition between all five, mixing their positive aspects to make a great USSR. Although the ban on factions was important, the Testament would have voiced the weaknesses of the five people in the running for leadership coming straight from Lenin his conclusion would have gained influence from the party that was loyal to him. Therefore, I believe that by not publishing Lenin’s testament meant that there was great uncertainty over the role of leader.