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After the death of Lenin in 1924, the USSR has reached a major challenge of deciding who was to take charge over the country. The main power struggle prevailed amid Stalin and Trotsky, two committed members of the Bolshevik party. The power was eventually seized and secured by Joseph Stalin in 1929. Stalin overcame his competitor due to numerous factors, specifically his background, political acumen, his ideology and the circumstances, whilst Trotsky did not have public support and wasn’t trusted within the party.
Lenin’s death worried the members of the party; they had to stick together in order to transform the unwilling population into good socialists and complete the Bolshevik revolution. They primarily did not want a leader who would cause division amongst the party. Party member feared, that if power were passed down to Trotsky he would emerge as a “dictator”, as he was the commander of the Red Army during the civil war, hence was in the position to crash opposition. Even though, Trotsky was the “brain behind the revolution”, the members of the party feared that Trotsky could cause division within the party, as he was perceived as not a loyal Bolshevik, having joined their circle only in 1917, being a Menshevik before that. Stalin, on the other hand became part of the party at its early stages, joining revolutionaries and committing to Marxism in his youth (since 1903). Stalin had a grown reputation amid the Bolsheviks, making his way up from being an editor of Pravda, a Bolshevik newspaper, to becoming the head of Workers and Peasants’ organization, to being put in charge of Politburo in 1919 to becoming the party’s General Secretary in 1922. Stalin, initially, was greatly liked by Lenin, and through adapting his ideologies into a “Cult of Leninism” he maintained his essential principles, such as the one party government and the internal party unity.
Stalin came from a relatively subtle background, while Trotsky emerged out of a noble and educated background. Stalin was Georgian, his mother was a daughter of the serfs and his father was a shoemaker. At one point of his life, Stalin was pursuing the career as a priest. Stalin’s humble background and his image of a ‘common worker’ helped him obtain the mass’ and the Bolsheviks support. In contrast, Trotsky came from an educated Jewish family, and received high quality education. He was Bolsheviks best orator, however his intellectualism made it difficult for him to relate to the peasants and the workers’ class. “Trotsky was not a natural ‘comrade’” (Figes), even his visual appearance was very Jewish and abnormal for a Russian. His character was not a liked one either. His dismissiveness of other Bolsheviks, his arrogance and his aloofness, undermined his credibility. Despite him being committed to the party and wanting what is best in its interests, his harsh approach undermined his credibility. Furthermore, Trotsky was not suitable for an office job, and did not like the business of political fighting – that made him vulnerable.
Another factor that played a key role in Stalin’s success was timing and luck, natural factors which were not under his control. Luck played against Trotsky. Primarily, for three years from late 1923, Trotsky suffered attacks of an undiagnosed fever. His sickness caused him to be absent during crucial votes in the Politburo, even during Lenin’s death. His absence was perceived by some as a disregard of the former soviet leader, hence undermined his reliability and loyalty. On the other hand, luck benefitted Stalin, specifically since Lenin’s last will and testament never got released. If it were, Stalin would have potentially never obtained power, as it advised the fellow Bolsheviks to “think about a way to remove Stalin”. Stalin was craftily able to keep this warning from the eyes of his fellow communists.
In conclusion, Stalin was successfully able to overcome his competitors for numerous reasons. Mainly his success can be attributed to his background, strong political abilities, ideologies and luck. His image of a common worker made him more trustworthy than Trotsky when it came to leading a country such as Russia. His early involvement in Bolshevik Party made him more reliable than Trotsky, and his quick advancement within the party showed his skills of a leader, at least in the eyes of those who still didn’t see him as a threat. Lastly, the death of Lenin and Trotsky’s sickness couldn’t have been timed any better than they did. Because of these actions and traits, Stalin became Lenin’s successor and the dictator of USSR for the next 24 years.
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