In the lead up to Lenin’s death and the years that followed, it would seem Stalin was in a weaker position than several of his opponents, as many doubted his role in the Revolution and, therefore, his role as a leader of the Party. Several factors played a role in allowing Stalin to be victorious, however, comparatively they hold varying significance.
Despite the odds appearing to be stacked against him, Stalin’s ruthless personality and devious strategies allowed him to tactfully defeat his opponents, by manipulating his position within the Party, without having any real party appeal or Government powerbase and he ultimately emerged as leader of the Party in 1929, ending the leadership struggle. The personalities of each individual contender played a role in establishing their position and reputation within the Party, which ultimately would strengthen or weaken their chances of becoming leader.
Trotsky was a passionate member of the party and had the strongest Revolutionary record amongst all of his opponents. His leadership of the Red Army allowed the communists to seize power in the October Revolution, enhancing his reputation, despite being labeled a traitor when he sided with the Mensheviks in 1903. However, he was noted as ‘arrogant’ in Lenin’s testament and managed to gain many enemies within the party as he felt there was no need to endear himself to his colleagues and he therefore displayed little respect towards them.
This made him very unpopular and a tyrant to compromise with as he believed in debate as a way of solving issues and adopted other western ideas, tainting his image. Similarly, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Rykov allowed their unfavorable personalities to ruin their appeal within the party and all were criticised in Lenin’s testament, further diminishing their chances of success. Stalin also allowed his personality to be his downfall, meaning he was disregarded by senior members of the party.
Lenin’s testament also heavily criticised him and even stated he specifically did not want Stalin as the leader and senior members should seek to remove him. Bukharin on the other hand, had a reputation for honesty, fairness and incorruptibility, all desired traits for a leader, and was admired by Lenin. As a result, he was regarded well amongst senior members of the party and many communists; therefore it was unsurprising that Lenin stated in his testament that Bukharin was the favourite of the entire party.
Yet, as we know, Stalin emerged as the leader eventually, despite Bukharin being the general preference for leader, therefore, regardless of his arrogant reputation, he was able to defeat opponents. In this sense we can assume that, although they did have some significance, the personalities of the contenders to succeed Lenin were not the deciding factor in Stalin’s victory, or we could assume that Bukharin would have emerged as leader in 1929. An additional factor in the leadership struggle that put Stalin in a stronger position for success was the varying Party powerbases of his opponents in comparison to his own.
Although some contenders held positions of authority within the party, such as Zinoviev and Kamenev being Heads of Petrograd and Moscow Parties, Lenin appointed Stalin General Secretary of the party, as he was seen to be the most able administrator. Furthermore, his two most threatening rivals, Trotsky and Bukharin, had the least party appeal of all the contenders, as Bukharin was not given a vote in the politburo and Trotsky only had a powerbase within Government as Head of the Red Army.
This was not significant to Stalin as he was fighting for leadership of the Party and was not concerned with what Government powerbase he, or others, held. Luckily for Stalin, no other senior member of the party was willing to take up the job of General Secretary and the responsibility that came with it because they saw it as a burden that would get in the way of their leadership campaign. However, Stalin saw this as the perfect opportunity to enhance his position by promoting followers and communists that shared his ideology.
This position was a key factor in his route to success, more so than the personalities of his rivals, as it was ultimately the job that secured him victory. However it was the way in which Stalin manipulated his role over the years during the leadership struggle that allowed him the all-important position as leader of the Party. Stalin’s surreptitious personality meant he was perfect for the job as General Secretary as he used it to manipulate positions within the party to his advantage.
In this way he was able to promote and move around officials within the party in a way that suited him, and chose to remove those officials that opposed him and were a threat to his scheme. As well as manipulation in this way, Stalin also showed his expertise of the ability by gradually working with different senior members in the party and playing them off one another, managing to remove his opponents in steady succession. By forming alliances with his most threatening rivals, he could easily shift between policies and adopt different attitudes in order to seem loyal, only then to turn on those he formed political agreements with.
He was an unprincipled political opportunist in the way that he used policies of the Right to defeat the Left and then shifted, adopting policies of the Left to defeat the Right. Eventually he created a large opening for himself to fill and his steps to defeating the final hurdle, Bukharin, were somewhat effortless. To those in the party his methods were disloyal, shameful and sly, however, he was still tolerated by the Russian people as he presented himself as a representative of a middle ground and leader of the majority, with his simple formulations of Leninism drawing in support of the mass.
Moreover he used methods of propaganda to portray himself as Lenin’s disciple and to present his opponents as traitors of communism, weakening their positions in the struggle. These are some examples of the way in which Stalin used manipulation and duplicitous tactics in order to place himself as the front-runner, and this was a highly significant factor in how he defeated his rivals.
His position as General Secretary, was of course an important stepping stone he used in his scheme, however, it was the way in which he went about his role in the party that allowed him to emerge victorious.
In conclusion, it is clear that Stalin faced problems initially in the power struggle, as his reputation was tainted in the months following Lenin’s death because of how he was portrayed in the testament, scarring his appeal within the party.
If the path to leadership was down to the personalities of the contenders, we can assume that Bukharin would have been the winner, therefore we can draw from this that this was not the most significant factor in aiding Stalin’s triumph. Ultimately the most significant factor was the way in which he carefully manipulated his position as General Secretary to create a clear route to leadership success, as well as his manipulation of his opponents and the use of propaganda to strengthen his image.