Lenin, the leader of Russia, died from ill health in 1924 without choosing a successor. But how did Stalin, one of the least likely people to take over, become the leader of the USSR?
His role as General Secretary was used to great advantage by Stalin. It allowed him to see all important documents flowing in and out of the party. This was fortunate for Stalin, as it included Lenin’s last testament, which stated Lenin’s desire for a dictatorship of the party, as well as the fact that Stalin should not rule. His role also allowed him to recruit people who were loyal to him, remove members who weren’t, and collect information on every party member.
After Lenin’s death, he waited, allowing other Politburo members to state their preferred policies. He then ganged up on groups of them, using his alliances and party contacts to destroy the opposition. He did this twice in the 1920s, destroying Trotsky and his supporters, and Zinoviev and Kamenev and their supporters.
Stalin’s character in the role also helped him to degrade other candidates’ reputations. This can be seen when Stalin tells Trotsky the wrong date for Lenin’s funeral. He also changed his allegiance. At first, he disagrees with the idea of NEP to disagree with Trotsky but later opts for it.
He became the disputed leader of the USSR in 1928. Once he was the undisputed leader – the Vozhd – he continued to use the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party to promote loyal supporters and demote or expel from the party those whom he could not be sure about. From the mid-1930s, he began to use show trials – public events where the accused had to follow a script, nearly always ending in a guilty verdict – and purges, expelling great numbers from the party and arresting people arbitrarily. Fear became one of the main weapons Stalin used against the Soviet people. Stalin also bugged the offices of the other members of the Politburo and collected information on them.
Stalin later implemented the use of fear, as well as a secret police force, to keep the people in check. He also banned factionalism and branded all opposition as traitorous. As a result, Stalin became the sole ruler of the USSR.