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How And Why Was Stalin Able To

Gain Power? Essay, Research Paper

There are different interpretations of ?how and why Stalin was able to gain power?, either concentrating on his own actions and abilities, or the situation at the time and the failure of his opponents. It would appear that the success of Stalin was due to both his own strengths and actions in the political arena and the weaknesses displayed by his opponents, in relation to the prevailing circumstances of the time. Stalin was, by opportunism or careful planning, able to gain control of the party machine and use it to his advantage, and use his own political skills to out manoeuvre his opponents, while they often displayed lackluster tactics in a vain attempt to win the support of a party loyal to Stalin.

The political positions to which Stalin was elevated within the Communist Party were undoubtedly of major importance in his successful campaign to establish himself as the leader of the USSR. Before the death of Lenin it was evident that Stalin had huge power within the party machine, as Lenin himself expressed in his ?Testament?, and Lynch explains the accumulation of this power in reference to the nature of Soviet government from 1917 onwards, as the lack of precedent and guidelines led to the creation of individual advancement which would, ordinarily, not exist. The acquisition by Stalin of his political offices from 1917 to 1922 increased his power over the party machine immensely, as he found himself with more authority over both personnel and policy. Most importantly, his appointment to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922 put him in the position of being the ?vital link-man? with access to personal files of all party members and the responsibility for recording and conveying party policy. The power of patronage, which also came along with this position, though not Lenin?s intention, gave Stalin the power to place supporters in key positions and the power to ?hire and fire?, thus creating a party owing their membership and loyalty to him. Stalin could therefore rely on their support to outvote and out manoeuvre opponents.

?No other contender came anywhere near matching Stalin in his hold on the party machine? Lynch

Lenin?s Enrolment further increased this power over the party machine as the new members, numbering three hundred thousand, were loyal to Stalin since he had the power to fire them, thus increasing Stalin?s grip on party votes. The attack on factionalism would provide Stalin with the ability to resist challenges to his new authority. Stalin was able to exercise such powers in the decisive votes against the proposals of Trotsky and the left and to defeat their proposals and eventually remove Trotsky from his position as Commissar for War in 1925. Stalin?s also defeated the subsequent challenge by the ?United Opposition? through his control of the party machine, and was thus able to rid the party of the opposition which they had formed by relieving Kamenev and Zinoviev of their positions as Soviet Chairmen, and having Trotsky removed from the party.

Stalin?s political skills were influential in his rise to power as he used them to great effect at key stages throughout the leadership battle. Stalin, quite astutely, began to take on the ?legacy of Lenin? after the former leader had died in an attempt to show himself as the natural successor to the leadership of the country. He was able to gain the initial advantage by delivering the speech at Lenin?s funeral and apparently tricking Trotsky, so that he would not be in attendance. According to Deutchser it was:

?A political error of the first magnitude and dealt a fatal blow to Trotsky?s prestige?

Bullock points out that the apparent commitment of Stalin to collective leadership after the death of Lenin was another astute move to show his dedication to the former leader, claiming that no one could take Lenin?s place and using the ambition of others to brand them as anti-Leninist and factionalist. Stalin throughout the leadership campaign could not play on the cult of the personality if he was to succeed as this, according to Bullock, would prove counter productive in the closed world of the CPSU. He also used the ?legacy of Lenin? to his advantage in defense of the NEP and the commitment to ?Socialism In One Country?, creating the image of Trotsky as anti-Leninist, a policy that helped distance Trotsky from support within the party. Stalin?s ability to appear as a moderate in the policy debates between the left and the right were crucial to his eventual success in the leadership challenge, as he was able to expel Trotsky and his allies from the party, then turn his attentions to defeating his former allies on the right, using his failure to fully commit to an economic policy to great effect. Lee believes that this policy of moderation increased the likelihood of his opponents underestimating him, failing to realize the power of his challenge until it was mounted on them.

?He was a very skilful politician who had a superb grasp of tactics, could predict behavior extremely well and had an eye for personal weakness? McCauley

Trotsky, though considered the most capable and most likely successor to Lenin, had numerous flaws and made several vital errors, which were to be of great significance to Stalin?s eventual rise to power. According to Lee, Trotsky?s intellectual character and as EH Carr points out, his ?European pseudo-Marxism?, were counter-productive as they led to his being distrusted by party colleagues, more sympathetic towards the pro-Slavic line advanced by Stalin. Trotsky was regarded as an intruder for his Menshevik past, and his apparent ambition prompted the formation of a triumvirate in 1924 within the politburo against him, which relied on the unpopularity of Trotsky amongst the party rank and file to ostracize him. According to Lynch:

?The prevailing view of Party members towards Trotsky is an important part of any explanation of Trotsky?s political failure and Stalin?s success?

Trotsky?s failure to take the appropriate action at key moments, as he himself pointed out to Lenin, allowed for Stalin?s power within the party to grow unchecked. He was unable to take advantage of Stalin?s mishandling of the Georgian situation, declining to attack and again missing a vital opportunity when he voted against the publication of Lenin?s ?Testament?. Lynch highlights this moment as vital to Stalin?s eventual success, as the Testament?s publication would have had disastrous implications for Stalin?s leadership bid. Lee supports this view, stressing that the publication would have removed Stalin from high office, since the sentiments expressed were those of Lenin. Trotsky?s poor judgment was also evident when he took action, his condemnation of party bureaucracy at the Party Congress, Central Committee, Politburo meetings, and in numerous essays. He made this attack, likely directed at Stalin and his Secretariat, but overlooked the attitudes of the party rank and file, who had a vested interest in the continuation of the bureaucracy for their own benefit, and it was viewed as an attack on the form of government which Lenin had sanctioned from 1917 until his death. He had, according to Lynch, given Stalin the freedom to take the initiative. While the debate over the NEP was raging, Trotsky again made a vital error of judgment, forwarding the Menshevik policy of ?Permanent Revolution?, which would be detrimental to the USSR?s progress as an industrialized nation, a point which was easily used by Stalin, in the light of a fear of foreign invasion, to portray Trotsky as an enemy of the state. EH Carr and Deutscher believe that this was a crucial stage in the campaign as it allowed Stalin to rally support by taking on the role as a patriot, and silence Trotsky as an effective political opponent.

The failure of Communism in the West has also been advanced as an explanation for the success of Stalin in his rise to power, a view given much support from Lee and Colletti, who give much emphasis to the failure of the German Revolution is strengthening the position and policy of Stalin. Stalin was able to promote the policy of ?Socialism In One Country? and Russian self-reliance as an alternative to the theories expressed by Trotsky, namely ?Permanent Revolution?. Lee believes that this saved Stalin from his intellectual inferiority, as he had not cultivated links with Europe. Trotsky, by comparison, witnessed a major strength of his made redundant and his policies finding little support at home from a party swayed by Stalin?s pro-Slav approach. It was this Slavic background, according to Lee, which gave him:

??the best qualification to move Russia away from any ideological or economic dependence on the West?

Colletti goes further, to claim that the reactionary wave which swept across Europe in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution, helped to create the situation where Stalin could use patriotism to appeal for support. The threat of war, however ill founded, was influential in Stalin?s future policies to ensure Russian survival.

It would appear an amazing feat that Stalin, the least impressive of the likely successors to Lenin, would become leader of the USSR. Though totally eclipsed by Trotsky in the October Revolution and distrusted by Lenin, he had skills that were to prove useful in a situation were ?the set of objective conditions benefited mediocrity over brilliance.? (Lee) The success of Stalin in gaining power was it would appear, the result of a number of factors, both of his own making and out of his control. The system of Soviet government had made it possible for Stalin to gain the influence in the party, which would be vital in crushing any opposition towards him. EH Carr and Deutscher claim that Stalin had not carefully planned this rise to prominence within the party machinery, rather he was an opportunist, willing to seize the moment, and thus finding power within his grasp. This power would be vital in his rise to power as it restricted any real challenge to the ?vital link-man? of the party, since he could always rely on loyalty from his appointees. It would appear that Stalin?s opponents had serious flaws, which prevented them from effectively challenging him; Trotsky in particular, had squandered vital opportunities to change the course of the leadership race, and made serious errors that effectively ruined his own bid. Stalin though seemed to adapt well to a situation, which Lee believes suited his style, mediocrity rather than brilliance. He effectively adopted a centrist approach in the party debates, enabling him to move from one policy to the next with relative ease in order to eliminate his opponents, a policy made easier by the apparent threat to Russian survival from the West.