Why Was Stalin, and Not One of His Rivals, Successful in the Struggle for Power 1924-9?

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Why Was Stalin, and Not One of his Rivals, Successful in the Struggle for Power 1924-9? When Lenin died in 1924, the position was opened up for the head of the Communist Party to five candidates; Bukharin, Trotsky, Kamanev, Minoviev and Stalin. Before his death, Lenin’s Testament criticised each of these and there was no clear favour for who he wished to succeed him. Stalin, arguably the least favourable candidate in 1924 after he had insulted Lenin’s wife, was able to outmanoeuvre his opponents by strengthening his ideological prestige whilst using his role as General Secretary to gain support.

The ban on factions allowed him to expel his opponents in turn. It was Stalin’s switch on his stance on the NEP which disgraced Bukharin (then his last opponent) and succeed Lenin against all odds. Arguably the main reason for Stalin’s succession to Lenin was due to his role as General Secretary and the advantages it brought with it. Stalin was responsible for deciding candidates for promotions and so was able to develop a large support base. This was illustrated at the 14th Party Congress when the Duumvirate won against the New Opposition by 559-65 votes, despite their theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’, which strayed from true Leninism.

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Stalin was also able to avoid disgrace by using his role to postpone the 12th Party Congress where Lenin’s Testament was deemed to be read. The testament criticised most senior Communists and damned Stalin as ‘too rude’ and ‘intolerable… [as] secretary-general’. By postponing the Testament, this allowed time for his associates, Zinoviev and Kamanev (Triumvirate) to have the testament severely censored. Stalin’s popularity and control which eventually lead to his Succession was primarily down to his support base which he developed during his time as General Secretary.

Lenin’s 1921 ban on factions put Stalin’s rivals at a disadvantage for gaining support in the power struggle. The ban on factions stopped debate and open favourites for fear of being accused as it’s was a severe offence which completely undermined Lenin’s word. As General Secretary, Stalin was the only member of the central committee able to increase his power base. Trotsky even attempted to oppose Stalin in 1924 but was disgraced and accused of factions, dramatically decreasing his already meagre popularity.

The main reason Kamanev, Minoviev and Trotsky failed to overcome Stalin in the struggle for power was because as the United Opposition they were accused of forming a faction and disgraced, losing all authority among the party. The ban on factions is the main reason for the failure of Stalin’s rivals (excluding Bukharin) in the power struggle to become Lenin’s successor. Another reason for Stalin’s succession is the weakness of his biggest rival in the power struggle: Trotsky. As Head of the Red Army, Trotsky was disliked by other party members for fear he was establishing a private army, to create his own dictatorship.

Trotsky visited soldiers with inspirational speeches for which they favoured him greatly. As Trotsky was forced to resign as Head of the Red Army in 1926, with it he lost his greatest power base. Trotsky also had frequent bouts of illness to which he missed politburo meetings so he was vulnerable to attack from other politicians. Unlike Stalin, Trotsky refused to play the party machine, avoiding alliances and attempting to stand only on his success as a politician, this eventually led to his exile in 1928.

This weakened Trotsky compared to Stalin who was progressively manipulating in support and disgracing those who opposed him or posed a threat to his power. Lenin’s funeral highlights Stalin’s manipulation but also particularly Trotsky’s mistakes which disabled him from succeeding Lenin. Under Stalin’s influence, Kamanev and Minoviev emphasised Trotsky’s Menshevik past, the opposite to Bolshevik ideology. Trotsky lost favour as party members were reminded of his disagreements with Lenin in 1903 and 1917. When Lenin died on 21st January 1924, Trotsky was out the country.

Trotsky failed to attend the funeral after Stalin lied to him over the date, this was a major blow to Trotsky’s reputation as it was assumed he must not have cared about Lenin. Stalin was able to succeed the power struggle through the flaws of his biggest opposition, Trotsky. Stalin’s growth in ideological prestige increased his popularity and strengthened his image as the true Lenin heir. Stalin’s Lenin enrolment between 1923-25 brought in thousands of mainly proletariat ‘sheep’ open to be swayed and become the power base for the most influential person.

Recruits were required to read Stalin’s ‘The Foundations of Leninism’ which emphasised disagreements between Lenin and the members of the Central Committee, particularly Bukharin who was known to be the best theorist and Stalin’s main opponent in gaining ideological prestige. After Stalin rejected the NEP in 1928, respect for Bukharin diminished as the NEP began to break down, and so Stalin became the image of true Marxism-Leninism. Stalin’s tactical stances on the New Economic Policy allowed him to oppose a defeat his biggest threat at the time.

The NEP promoted private business and therefore wasn’t pure communism however as it was sanctioned by Lenin, Stalin thought it was important to support it. In 1927, the NEP encountered problems as industry had failed to keep up with agriculture which had thrived from the introduction of the NEP in 1921, peasants reacted by refusing to sell grain and consequently, there were mass famines in cities. Although the NEP had become obviously flawed, it was important to stand against Trotsky.

Once Trotsky was exiled there was no one representing ‘Pure Communism’, by switching opinions and rejecting the NEP he gained favour from the many communists ideologically opposed to the capitalist approach for growth. By 1928, Bukharin was left shamed for his political errors by supporting the failed NEP and was later expelled from the politburo. Stalin’s switched stance regarding the NEP allowed him to increase his power base and defeat his last political opponent; Bukharin. It was this final act that allowed him become Lenin’s true successor.

It was Stalin’s devious skills of manipulation that allowed him to conquer equally able, arguably some better, candidates however they were vulnerable to the Stalin as General Secretary. Stalin had control of important officials among the party and over time, the party was dominated by Stalin supporters. The flaws of the his rivals were an advantage to Stalin to which he exploited to his own ends. Stalin knew how to portray himself as the true Lenin disciple, which he fought his way to become, even if his methods were unorthodox.

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Why Was Stalin, and Not One of His Rivals, Successful in the Struggle for Power 1924-9?. (2016, Sep 16). Retrieved from


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