Lenin - after Lenin

after Lenin

After Lenin

After Lenin's passing, the possibility of international revolu­tion kept receding and the "international proletarian revolu­tion" envisaged by him did not come about. Despite initial success one revolution after the other was defeated; the German Revolution of 1918 lasted only for one year and in Hungary and Italy too revolution was short lived. The revolutionary wave caused by the Russian Revolution of 1917, lasted only till 1923.

Trotsky, who was a key figure in the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, second only to Vladimir Lenin in the early stages of Soviet Communist rule, had long been seen as Lenin's obvious successor. A communist theorist, a prolific writer, and leader in the 1917 Russian Revolution, he was the people's Commissar for foreign affairs under Lenin (1917-1918), and then head of the Red Army as the people's Commissar of army and navy affairs (1918-1924). He has been described as a stirring public speaker, an efficient administrator and an untiring worker.

However, in April 1922, Stalin who had been till then largely in the background, though in the inner circle of the party since 1917, came to the forefront. He was a strong supporter of Lenin, and just a month before his first stroke Lenin created a post for Stalin, making him General Secretary of the Communist Party. This position gave Stalin control over party appointments and hence tremendous influ­ence among the party members. During Lenin's absence, due to his

after Lenin

after Lenin

illness, Stalin used his position to appoint his supporters as officials. Lenin, though he was still officially head of the government, was disabled and hence began a power struggle.

... The two main contenders in the struggle for succes­sion were the charismatic Trotsky and the apparently dull and pedestrian Stalin. Unlike Trotsky, Stalin was a bureaucrat rather than a thinker or a man of action... But he was a master of intrigue, a quality which, com­bined with immense patience, had gained him the post of general secretary of the Communist party.

Stalin's influence served him well and:

... the central committee duly elected him as a member of the temporary triumvirate that would steer Russia through Lenin's illness. Under the guidance of the tri­umvirate ... bureaucracy flourished, as Stalin spread the tentacles of his influence through the party machine; and early in 1923, regional minorities, who had managed to gain a measure of independence during the civil war, were heavy-handedly forced to join Russia in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.1

When Lenin regained enough strength and returned to work, he became aware for the first time of Stalin's real character and the degree of his ambition. He saw that:

... the state had become a mass of red tape and incom­petence; furthermore the increased centralization had robbed regional and representative bodies of their power. He reserved his strongest criticism for Stalin, claiming he was too crude to lead the revolution into the future, and urging the party to remove him from office.2

  1. The World in Arms, History of the World, Time-Life Series, p. 75.
  2. Ibid., p. 75.
after Lenin

after Lenin

From Lenin's Testament it is clear that he considered Trotsky by far the most capable to succeed him; the Testament was Lenin's secret document to be presented at the forthcoming Party Congress. Lenin's third stroke took away his power of speech, and Stalin becoming aware of the document and its contents had it suppressed with the collusion of the leading party members. It was banned from the media.

After Lenin's death, Stalin set about the process of removing all his potential rivals. This he did by first allying himself with them against political opponents and then suddenly shifting his allegiance isolating his former supporters and thus giving himself the opportu­nity to charge them with political divisiveness. This tactic was used by Stalin to dispose of Trotsky. There ensued a struggle between Stalin's group and the Left Opposition led by Trotsky. This was a struggle between the genuine representatives ofthe working class and the 'bureaucratic elite'; the bureaucracy in order to establish control felt compelled to eliminate the genuine traditions of Bolshevism. Trotsky's struggle against Stalin's policies and methods failed and he was removed from power, and expelled from the party in 1927. The brilliant Trotsky was outmaneuvered by Stalin who was not gifted by any great intelligence; Trotsky was a poor politician and Stalin the master of politics emerged the victor.

Trotsky's supporters urged him to organize a military coup, which as Commissar of War he was in a good position to do. Trotsky rejected this idea and resigned his post. He was expelled from the Soviet Union by Stalin and large numbers of his supporters were thrown into Stalin's camps from where they never returned. He con­tinued to write and to criticize Stalin. Trotsky was brutally assas­sinated in 1940, on orders from Stalin, while living in Mexico.

The dictatorship became not so much the dictatorship of a Party as of an individual, working through a huge bureaucracy and "dedicated to the use of force, a Moloch to whom the majority of Lenin's original companions have been sacrificed."1 In a few years the nature of the Party changed tremendously from what it had been in Lenin's time.

1. Political Thought, C. L. Wayper, p. 235.

after Lenin

after Lenin

The growth of Stalin's dictatorship can be seen in the changing nature of the Party. The Communist Party, while Lenin lived, enjoyed a considerable measure of freedom of discussion and even of action. It debated, at great length and with greater virulence, the policy to be adopted towards the German peace terms offered at Brest-Litovsk. Then, when a weak Russia was involved in a life-and-death crisis, a group of Communist leaders — Radek, Kollontai, Orinsky — published a daily paper in Moscow expressly to defeat Lenin's policy. Then, too, considerable discretion was left to Trotsky in his negotiations with the Germans. Trotsky's pre-revolution quarrels with Lenin, indeed, seemed no bar to their intimate collaboration after it. Lenin, who loved theoretical disputations, could conduct the fiercest of polemics with Bukharin and yet remain friendly with him. Pravda, the organ of the Party, ran a special dis­cussion page to which Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev never hesitated to contribute articles highly critical of adopted policy.1

The difference was obvious now, when no Party member dare proclaim himself an "oppositionist" and ask for the right to criti­cise the policies of the Government. Lenin's New Economic Policy which permitted small-scale enterprise was abandoned by Stalin, in 1928 and a forced "collectivization" of small peasant plots was put into place. All possible sources of resistance disappeared from both town and country with the growth of dictatorship. Resistance from peasants was suppressed by herding them into collective farms and those resisting were meted out the same treatment as other national­ists, religious leaders, internal opponents within the Party, critical intellectuals and in particular the Bolsheviks, — all were arrested and imprisoned, deported to labour camps or executed. In a cam­paign starting in 1934 and reaching its peak in 1937-38, called the

1. Political Thought, C. L. Wayper, p. 235.

after Lenin

after Lenin

Great Terror or the Great Purge, all political opposition was crushed; starting with Stalin's closest party colleagues and by the end, all the prominent Bolsheviks who had taken a leading role in the 1917 Revolution, were executed.

Everywhere it has become obvious that, in spite of its grandiose title, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Soviet has no independent existence in Russia today.1

Stalin was the absolute ruler and under him Russia grew into a totalitarian State. He emerged as one of the most formidable dicta­tors that the world has known and the Russians had to endure a greater tyranny under him than they had under the Tsars.

Whatever the Western communists came to know of Lenin and Leninism was only that which had the approval of Stalin; the Lenin projected by Stalin was his friend who had chosen him as successor. All opponents of the official version of the past were either killed or sent to the forced labour camps. It was, however, only in 1953 after Stalin's death that the communist world came to know that there had been differences between Lenin and Stalin. Lenin's Testament would only be revealed in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev, causing a sensation not only in the USSR but also among Western commu­nists. It was only then, through Khrushchev, that it became known that Stalin had been guilty of mass murders in the 1930s.

Rapid industrialization was ordered by Stalin and as soon as the Soviet Union industrialized, particularly after World War II, it became a great power. With highly advanced military technology it then transformed itself into a superpower. The Soviet Union maintained its status as one of the world's two superpowers for four decades. However, in the following decade, its economic and polit­ical structures began visibly crumbling resulting in the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991. Russia was then recognized internationally as the Soviet Union's legal successor.

1. Ibid., C. L. Wayper, p. 236.

after Lenin

Back to Content