Assess the factors contributing to Stalin’s success in assuming power in the Soviet Union in the period 1918 – 1928.


By 1918 Russia was a country going through a transition from the old ways of oppression and backward technology to the new ways of industrialisation and life under the Bolsheviks. After generations of hardship under Tsarist regime, the people had much to expect from the new management. Peasants rallied for reforms in land distribution, city workers for human rights and food, and the soldiers for a quick end to Russian involvement in the war. In the initial policies of the Bolsheviks most of these demands were met, but as Stalin’s power and influence increased, policies began to reflect his own interests and became less mindful of the needs of the people.


Stalin’s position within the party allowed for him to pick and choose members that would support and follow him, with enough support he was then able to arrange the numbers in committee meetings to overwhelm his opponents. After Lenin’s death Stalin allied himself with his philosophies and ideals to support his actions and condemn those of others. He was continually accusing members of factionalism and the deliberate undermining of the party, a theme Lenin had openly denounced. These strategies of rigging committees and spouting party lines Stalin employed were key factors contributing to his success in the Soviet Union.


Stalin’s involvement with the Bolsheviks began at an early stage; between his sentences in exile in Siberia he was an editor of the party paper Pravda, and even committed bank robberies to help fund the party. Before Lenin’s return in April, Stalin along with Lev Kamenev dominated party decisions in St Petersburg although he had a small role in the November events. Stalin became recognised as a down-to-earth man and one who would get things done, he was not an intellectual neither did he posses any great writing skills. (Key Features of Modern History...) In 1917 he was appointed Commissar for Nationalities. During the difficult first period of the civil war he, together with Trotsky, and Yakov Sverdlov helped Lenin decide all emergency issues. He strengthened his position by persistent organisational work and devotion to administrative tasks. He was commissar for state control in 1919-1923, and more importantly in 1922 he became secretary-general of the party. Through his organisational position he was able to “…turn administrative power into political power.”1 As party secretary he was in charge of appointing individuals into key positions and began surrounding himself with associates of similar interests and who were totally loyal to him. At every level of the party structure he placed his nominees. By this time regional officials were no longer locally elected but were recommended by the government in Moscow, this gave Stalin widespread influence over control within the soviets. On his post Trotsky commented: “In his position as General Secretary he became the dispenser of favour and fortune.”2


Lenin expressed his doubts about Stalin in his journal in December 1922, later known as his testament, he wrote: Stalin “has concentrated limitless power in his hands, and I am not sure he will always manage to use this power with sufficient caution.”3 However Stalin remained in the party because he was not viewed as a direct threat to anyone. At the reading of Lenin’s testimony Zinoviev and Kamenev “were able to neutralise the effect of the letter. Lenin’s opinion was declared to be mistaken…”4 Trotsky described Stalin as “the outstanding mediocrity of our party”5 and it was this quality that E.H Carr agrees contributed to his success. “He was readily promoted because his promotion threatened nobody.”6 Sukhanov’s verdict on Stalin’s activities in 1917 described him as a “grey blur, floating dimly across the scene and leaving no trace,” and Kamenev: “just a small town politician”7.



Stalin had risen in power to a member of the politburo. After Lenin’s death in 1924 the committee included Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky the most powerful men in the country, but without one sole leader to guide them they were in constant disagreement with each other. They had to decide on the future of Russia and the direction they would take to build up her strength as a world power. One of the main issues they faced was the