How was Stalin able to emerge as leader of the Soviet Union by 1929?

Stalin was a quiet man for many years of his life and was not especially well known for a long period of time before he emerged as leader of the USSR in 1929. His political career began very young, being expelled at an early age for writing Marxist essays at the school he attended. This though did not deter Stalin however and he continued his ideas, writing Marxist essays for a Georgian newspaper. Stalin remained a faithful member of the Bolshevik party throughout the troubled times. Between 1902 and 1911 Stalin was arrested 5 times and exiled twice. He however came through all of this, with the amnesty being signed in 1917 he returned to Russia. All of this early life activity indicated that Stalin had a fruitful career ahead but up until this point no one had actually really noticed Stalin and his potential and a big question was would they notice him in the future years before it was too late?

I believe that I can categorise Stalin’s success into five main categories: politics, Stalin’s personal characteristics and political skills, weakness of opponents, importance of control of the party or was it simply that Stalin had an un-believable run of good luck.

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Stalin’s career was a long path, he had been a member of the central committee since 1912 but his first major break did not come until after the October revolution when he entered the soviet cabinet as people’s commissioner for nationalities. Stalin saw this as something to be proud of and he soon began to emerge as a leader of the new regime. The civil war was something else which further strengthened the position of Stalin. Both he and Trotsky showed great leadership skills, with Stalin holding strong the city of Tsaritsyn, preventing the white armies linking up and defeating them. This further shows how Stalin was growing, but whether the leaders of the Bolshevik party realised this was another matter.

Probably one of the most significant things that would come back to benefit Trotsky was the fact that he rested in the centre of the Bolshevik party. To the left was Trotsky and to the right Bukharin. This may not seem vitally important but when we consider that when Lenin died the race was on to become most popular, Bukharin and Trotsky limited themselves as they could not promote things that their sides disagreed with. Stalin on the other hand was able to produce very vague policies, enveloping most of the Russian population and so maximising his potential for votes, and therefore putting him ahead of the game in the chances of becoming the new leader of Russia. I believe we can consider this as Stalin’s personal characteristics as it was his own clever thinking of not leaning to the left or right that may well have had an influence on him being able to emerge as Russia’s leader.

The main differences between the members were surrounded around the NEP. The leftists disagreed with the NEP and thought Russia should become an industrial nation. They feared the NEP would leave the USSR weak and vulnerable to invasion, leading back to the days of war and possibly communism. On the other hand the rightists thought the NEP must continue for at least 20 years. Bukharin hoped it would encourage the peasants to grow more food. By selling the food, more profits would be made, more townspeople would get jobs in factories and this would lead to industrialisation. This would all lead to problems later for the power struggle and presented itself very quickly after Lenin’s death. Lenin wrote a testament before his death, outlining his ideas for the future. It presented Bukharin as Lenins natural successor, however he was never really a big threat. Lenin actually blamed Stalin and Trotsky for the rift in the party and doubted their abilities. This though seems a little strange when we consider that by 1924 Stalin was the general secretary of the politburo, once again though no-one had considered Stalin a real threat and just let him carry on as before. Stalin’s organisation and patience showed again when Stalin led Lenin’s mourning and ordered Lenin’s body to be embalmed. To many this showed the dedication of Stalin, especially when Trotsky did not turn up to the funeral. Trotsky did later claim that Stalin had told him the wrong date for the funeral, so was this cunning on Stalin’s part or neglect on Trotsky’s. I believe that this is a strong show of politics, several tactical decisions trying to change the face of several politicians. The result of this set of events was to show Trotsky in a bad light and conveniently place Stalin in a good one but it has never been proven that Stalin planned this and so it has to be up to the individual to decide. I think that both parties played a very clever game throughout the leadership struggle and so find it hard to determine who may have been at fault.

At this stage of the game it had become apparent that there were only two main contenders for the leadership battle: Lenin and Trotsky. Although Lenin, Kamenev and Zinoviev had formed a triumvirate against Trotsky it was obvious that only one out of the three would emerge to challenge Trotsky and that was Stalin. The two contenders wanted very different things out of leadership and there were several main leadership issues that were vital to their successes.