Before Lenin died, already there were two contenders for his place - the brilliant Leon Trotsky and the cunning Joseph Stalin. The most obvious choice would have been Trotsky, with his quick mind and intelligent speeches. His military skill during the civil war had gained him a lot of support as well. Stalin on the other hand, had been quite an insignificant figure during that time, being only the editor of the propaganda newspaper Pravda. He did, however, make many wise moves, by getting to know the more outstanding people in the party and getting to know them better.
The sick, ailing Lenin knew he was dying soon. After suffering two strokes, it was time to decide on a new leader for the country. He had more faith in Trotsky than in Stalin, describing Stalin's motives as evil, and wanting Trotsky to carry on. He wrote a letter saying that Trotsky should be named as his successor, while Stalin should be gotten rid of. Stalin naturally hid this letter from the parliament to protect himself, but feared that Trotsky might show it to them at the next meeting, where he would be powerless to stop him. Luckily, Trotsky did not have enough time and Stalin's position was consolidated.
In the meantime, the power struggle was still going on between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky was gathering a lot of support with his fluent and brilliant speeches while Stalin was scheming plots to defame his opponents and bring himself to power. Trotsky was succeeding with his seemingly limitless energy and superb oratorical skills, while Stalin's public appearances were strong but not as lasting. Trotsky was skilled in the areas of theories and policies, while Stalin was clearly lacking in these areas. Trotsky seemed to be heading towards an undeniable victory.
However, things started to change. Stalin teamed up with Politburo members Kamenev and Zinoviev. They began to slam Trotsky, picking up all minor faults of his and raking up his past. They emphasised clearly on his Menshevik past and how he was but a newcomer to the party.
This section relives the furious verbal battle between Stalin and Trotsky, the main contenders for the leadership of Russia after Lenin.
Part I : Stalin with Zinoniev and Kamenev
Stalin decided not to be too obvious in his attack on Trotsky, leaving his partners Zinoniev and Kamenev to do the sliming. He maintained a normal, if not warm, relationship with Trotsky.
Trotsky was seen as a main contender, with Zinoniev and Kamenev being his rivals. Stalin seemed out of the picture at that time, and was not considered to be the most eminent of the three. He was also not seen as a contender for Lenin's position as he was not a theorist, which a Communist leader had to be.
Trotsky reemphasised on his old theory of "permanent revolution", which was basically his stand that communism should spread beyond Russia and that a quick swift proletariat revolution should take place from the bourgeois to the socialist stage. He said that "October" had been the crucial stage in Party history, as it had been the time when Lenin accepted his theory of permanent revolution and held his revolution.
However, Trotsky's emphasis on October meant that he exposed another of his weak points. As Zinoniev pointed out, Trotsky had actually disagreed a number of times with Lenin's plan to begin the revolution prior to 1917. Stalin, on the other hand, appeared neutral and pointed out, seemingly without bias, that Trotsky was, after all, just a newcomer to Party ranks.
Stalin then proposed a plan of his own - Socialism in one Country. What this basically meant was that Russia should industrialise fully before embarking on a "Spread Communism to the World" policy. However, this theory was overshadowed by the struggle between Trotsky and the duo of Zinoniev and Kamenev.
In January 1925, the Central Committee removed Trotsky from the War Commissariat, even though he remained in possession of a seat in the Politburo. Although not totally crushed, Trotsky receded into the background. Any other man would have used the Red Army to defeat his opponents, but his loyalty to the party was paramount, and he accepted the decision without argument.
Part II : Stalin with the Right-Wing
Trotsky may have been defeated, but Zinoniev and Kamenev soon realised they had not won the war. Stalin departed from the trio and joined his new allies Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, all three right-wing members championing Lenin's New Economic Policy. Stalin still remained in the background, preferring to be seen as a mediator more than a power-hungry individual. He claimed that "collective" leadership would be the only way to run the party.
Stalin's theory of "Socialism in One Country" was accepted in the Fourteenth Conference of the Party. Zinoniev and Kamenev paid little attention at first, but realised soon after that Stalin was their enemy now. Too late, they attacked the theory and severed all ties with him.
Rykov was named the chairman of the Council of People's Commissars. Tomsky was the leader of Soviet trade unions. Bukharin, originally the "Left" Communist of 1918 was now, like Rykov and Tomsky, allied with the right, and the leader of those who believed in Lenin's NEP being continued. Zinoniev and Kamenev opposed the continuation of the NEP, but had been thrust sudenly into the minority.
Zinoniev and Kamenev recognised that Stalin was the man they most had to fear. At the XIV Party Congress, they spoke sharply in criticism of Stalin. Sadly, their efforts completely miscarried. Zinoniev was punished by demotion from full member to candidate member of the Politburo. As reconstituted after the Congress, the Politburo had three new full members: Molotov, Voroshilov and Kalinin, all loyal henchmen of Stalin's. Stalin also added several supporters to the list of candidate members of the Politburo and the newly enlarged Central Committee.
Very little resistance was left after that, with only Zinoniev in Leningrad posing the main threat to Lenin's power. Stalin wrapped up his victory at the XIV Congress, sending in Sergei Kirov to take over from Zinoniev as Party leader in the city.
When the supporters of Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoniev had scattered, the three made a common cause with each other. Just a few months earlier they had been nitterly attacking each other - now they had united against Stalin, and to fight for their opposition to the continuance of the NEP and the "alliance with the middle peasantry". The right-wing, on the other hand, championed the NEP and all that it implied.
Stalin was not so concerned with policies and such as he was with getting rid of his former left-wing colleagues. A supporter of Zinoniev was found guilty of organising oppositionist groups within the Red Army and was dismissed, expelling Zinoniev for supposedly masterminding this at the same time. On October 4 all the major opposition leaders replied with a statement admitting violation of Party statutes and pledging disbandment of the opposition, but they could not refrain from repeating their policy criticisms of the Politburo majority.
Trotsky was then removed from the Politburo and Zinoniev's post as the president of the Comintern was removed from him. Trotsky submitted an article that called all people to change the government, which was basically a clear act of treason. Trotsky and Zinoniev were expelled from the Central Committee and, when they held street demonstrations, they were completely expelled from the party.
Stalin's actions should have, by right, united all his opposition. Instead, they were split up. Trotsky refused to accept the Congress decision and was exiled to Central Asia. Zinoniev and Kamenev submitted and renounced their earlier-stated views, and they were allowed to crawl back into the party.
Part III : Trotsky Permanently Defeated
As far as the Comintern was concerned, Trotsky had been defeated and Stalin had won. Followers of Trotsky left the party to build up parties of their own. This Stalin-Trotsky dispute shook the world and divided communist parties everywhere.
Stalin then turned his sights on defeating all other possible rivals he might have to his power. He turned on his allies Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, and by sheer political maneouvering, employing the same skills as he had used before against Trotsky, Zinoniev and Kamenev, he got rid all his other rivals and established a fascist dictatorship in Russia.
Trotsky and his compatriots had given up all hope of stopping Stalin's ascendancy to power. They claimed that a bureaucracy had formed within the party and that it must be eliminated. However, they could not prove so, as Marx's theory was based on the Oriental way of life, and they shudered at the thought of employing it against Stalin. Thus, they took the stand of the pre-war Social Democrats, opposing any and every government that took power except themselves. This stand naturally failed everywhere.
The Communists in the world had little chance to observe the personal differences and antagonisms between Stalin and Trotsky, and supported one or the other on the basis of his theoretical position. Here are the main ideological differences between the two.
Trotsky : It is impossible to build socialism in Russia. THe peasants do not want it as collective farming and such are detrimental to their pockets. It is only possible to do so if the workers of the West, in America, revolted, as they would stand to gain more. He was right in this aspect.
Stalin : It is impossible to wait for the workers of the West to revolt. They will never do so in the near future and their government has too strong a hold over them. Socialism must be built in Russia and only by using the peasantry can it be achieved. He was right too.
However, in the end, Trotsky could not ascertain that the Western workers were Communist, only claiming that they would be soon. Stalin could not admit that the Russian peasants were Communist either, but he sure could compel them to be. As a result, Trotsky retreated into utopianism, while Stalin proceeded to establish a minority dictatorship built on terror.
Russia under Stalin