How far do you agree that the Struggle for Power following Lenin’s death in 1924 was caused by the ideological differences between the contenders for power? After the revolution in 1917 Lenin led Russia. However, in 1922 he began to suffer strokes later resulting in his death in 1924. As he didn’t see him self passing away so early he had left no clear set of plans as to who should take over from him or how the country should be run. This was the first time such an event had happened as the hierarchy of the Tsars before him was clear.
His death created a huge power vacuum at the top of Soviet politics between: Trotsky, Stalin, Bukarin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who all tried to take over the leadership of the Communist party. Different ideological plans were significant in the Struggle for power, but so were personality factors, institutional factors and tactical manoeuvring. A great deal untied the five contenders for power. These being; that they all believed the changes made due to the revolution had to be preserved, they had a common desire to build a modern socialist society, and they all thought that one day the revolution would spread through Europe.
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Despite all this, they were split on how this vision would be achieved so to win the Party over they had to convince them that their strategy would protect the revolution and build socialism in Russia. Trotsky represented the left(radical) interpretation of Leninism, Bukharin represented the right(moderate) and Stalin was in the centre, which allowed him to adopt and change certain ideological standpoints at crucial points during the struggle. Kamenev and Zinovev began on the right side but later switched to left in 1925, this lost them credibility within the Party as people saw them as unreliable and unable to make a decision.
The three main debates they had were: industrialisation, world revolution, and the future of the revolution. The industrialisation debate came around because Lenin’s view that the NEP would ‘last a long time, but not forever’ was interpreted very differently by the people on the right and the people on the left. When the communists took over Russia, Lenin attempted to solve the problem of Russia’s economy by introducing the NEP. The radicals on the left believed that the NEP was ideologically misguided as it favoured peasants and returned power to capalists at the expense of the working class.
The NEP was failing to deliver industrial growth and employment, therefore Yevgeni Preobrazhensky proposed ‘squeezing’ the peasants through heavy taxes and using the profits to invest in industry. This would accelerate industrialisation, which is what the people from the left wanted to do. In contrast, the right wing people believed economic stability took procedure over industrialisation. They favoured the NEP because it was based on the alliance of workers and peasants. Bukharin believed that socialism would be achieved ‘at a snail’s pace’, suggesting it would last for almost twenty years.
As Stalin was in the centre he was able to pick and choose ideas he liked in order to win over the Russian people who would help him gain power. During the 1920s he agreed with Bukharin, however he was always more interested in industrialisation, but would not form an alliance with the left wing because that would mean forming an alliance with Trotsky. When the NEP started to fail Stalin abandoned it. Lenin’s view of would revolution was unclear. At first he claimed that the revolution could only survive with the help of revolutionaries in other countries.
However, he also seemed to suggest that Russia might survive on its own. The first view was adopted by the left wing, and the second view by the right. Trotsky believed that no socialist society could exist alone, especially Russia as it didn’t have the economic resources or technological sophistication to complete the transition to socialism on its own. He hoped for a revolution in western Europe, hoping it would provide Russia with the resources it needed. The right wing, made up of Stalin and Bukharin, slated Trotsky’s ideas as pessimistic and defeatist, in the attempt to loss support for Trotsky.
They claimed that, in direct opposition to Trotsky, the unique character of the Russian revolution would allow the general victory of socialism in Russia. They allowed people to believe that this was the view of Lenin, so that all supporters of Lenin would follow them. Stalin and Bukharin claimed that receiving foreign aid would damage Russian nationalism. As Lenin’s views of world revolution were unclear, so were his views on the future of the revolution. Trotsky and the left wing took up Lenin’s bureaucratic degeneration, which they solved with greater openness and democracy within the party.
Where as, Stalin and his allies shared Lenin’s fear of the Russian revolution becoming like the French revolution in the 18th century, where the revolution degenerates and becomes a dictatorship. They saw Trotsky as a potential dictator, due to his previous experience as leader of the Red Army, which they used against him. Stalin emphasised the danger of a revolution being hijacked by a military dictator, which made many in the Party fear Trotsky as Stalin had got them to believe that Trotsky would use the Red Army to become military dictator.
Trotsky’s statement in 1927 saying he would become dictator if Russia was attacked did nothing to ally these fears. All the ideological battles proved an importance in the struggle for power as contenders had to prove that they were an ideological heavyweight and a true Leninst. They used it to attack each other ideas and show the Party weaknesses of each contender. It also allowed contenders to win support through their ideas. Another way of winning support was through the contender’s personality.
Stalin was a seemingly simple character, who had an aptitude for administrative tasks, and this led many to refer to him as the ‘grey blur’. Consequently this led to Stalin being underestimated, and so he could manipulate other contenders without notice. Where as, Trotsky was arrogant, popular and Jewish; all factors that Stalin manipulated to have him removed from the Party. Also some people feared that he might use the Red Army to make himself a military dictator like Napoleon had done in France. All the other Communist leaders were indecisive and weak.
This was proved with Zinoviev and Kamenev who had both been against the October revolution and had also moved from the right wing part of the Party to the left side, in 1925. As Stalin had avoided taking extreme positions in the Party he could not be classed as indecisive. Bukharin was seen as gullible because he sided with Stalin for Stalin to later manipulate him into doing as he pleased. All the contenders personality factors led to Stalin being able to manipulate his opponents and gain support for himself. Stalin also used his positions within the party to gain support, as did the other contenders.
Stalin’s role during the October revolution was simply a committee member. He mostly followed orders rather then taking initiative, which led people to believe he was not a threat in the struggle for power. Nonetheless, he saw himself as a military tactician and refused to accept Trotsky’s authority. In spite of not being a revolutionary hero, by 1921, his presence on many senior committees secured him a position at the highest level of government. Here he was able to control the Party and ultimately secure his success in the struggle for power.
However, Lenin was highly critical in his Testament, particularly following a disagreement between Stalin and Lenin’s wife. He expressed concern that Stalin had ‘concentrated an enormous power in his hand’ and did not always use it wisely. As a result, he demanded that the other senior members of the Party think about a way of removing Stalin. Fortunately, Lenin’s Testament was never read because it also included negative judgements of many other Party leaders and they all knew that if the people heard Lenin’s opinion of them they would agree with him, therefore, they would all lose support.
Stalin also held other roles of great importance, such as General Secretary and Head of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, which enabled him to promote his supporters or remove his opponents. This meant that at Congress meetings or elections to the Politburo, Stalin could ensure that he would have a majority and consequently be supported on crucial decisions. Many Communists owed their careers to Stalin so they supported him on crucial votes. This power significantly contributed towards his removal of the other contenders as he was able to manipulate party members and get support for himself.
On the other hand, Trotsky was leader of Red Army, which enabled him to gain support through them. He was the mastermind behind the Communist seizure of power and leading figure in the 1905 revolution. He was able to gain support for the communist Party, this suggested he would be able to gain support for himself when he needed to. However, he had many enemies within the Party. He was the most western and urban, which resulted in people alienating him. Also, before joining the Bolsheviks in 1917, he was part of the Mensheviks because he disagreed with many of Lenin’s strategies, despite being very close to Lenin.
This meant people resented him. Another important factor in the struggle for power was tactical manoeuvring: shifting alliances in order to gain power. Stalin used this concept of tactical manoeuvring to defeat his opponents. This began when Stalin allied with Zinoviev and Kamenev in the triumvirate. In the position Stalin was able to prevent Lenin’s Testament being shown to the Party, as Zinoviev and Kamenev claimed that Stalin had changed. The triumvirate also defeated Trotsky and his opposition by emphasising Trotsky’s disagreements with Lenin and undermining his position in the party.
Trotsky was subsequently removed from several party positions. Stalin later allied with Bukharin in the duumvirate in order to remove Kamenev and Zinoviev after the breakdown of the triumvirate. In a similar way to the removal of Trotsky, Stalin’s alliance resulted in the defeat of his opponents. In conclusion, ideological differences between the contenders were quite significant in the struggle for power, as they allowed each other to express ideas and gain support through their ideas.
However, there are other factors that also played a huge part in the struggle for power, these being personality factors, tactical manoeuvring, and institutional factors. People saw Stalin as a ‘grey blur’ because of his personality, which allowed him to manipulate other contenders by tactical manoeuvring, which I believe to be the most important factor in the struggle for power. By using tactical manoeuvring Stalin was able to get rid of competition and gradually increase his support and expand his power base, which was crucial in communist Party decisions.