POL354 Lecture 6 – Understand Stalin’s Accession to Power
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Last week New Economic Policy
The tensions produced by state and society during the period of war communism led into a
major undertaking of Lenin’s modernization project – scrapped war communism:
NEP major concessions to what were deemed to be class enemies (a class on peasantry,
recognized some degree of control over land, re-establishment of a private sector producing
consumer goods, and opening up commerce thus introducing a market). The introduction of
the NEP was preceded by a set of resolutions by Lenin that made certain there would be
strong punishments for party enemies, and reinforced the idea that the party was the
dominant medium through which the rights of the workers were expressed. This formed a
political framework of unity within which the party is ready to make concessions to what it
deemed to be class enemies.
Lenin wanted to avoid a power struggle within the party and wanted to avoid debate and
criticism to the new economic system.
Stalin’s Rise to Power:
Need to understand the distribution of power/power structure throughout the Stalin years.
Power struggle is triggered in May of 1922 when Lenin suffers the first of a series of strokes
(dies in January of 1924). The power struggle emerges because Lenin had been the central
point of the party – acknowledged by everyone as the leader. Lenin exercised this power
through his personality/ability to persuade/ruthlessness in excluding individuals/groups
from the party.
There was no designated position for Lenin, who would replace him? Lenin only held one
major state position – head of the executive bodies of the government, which in itself was
important but not a designation of leadership. There was no regularized position and
therefore no method of choosing a successor. Lenin had failed to designate a successor.
There is one individual who is positioning himself to take over as Lenin’s successor – Stalin.
Until he has consolidated power, most competitors of Stalin do not even realize what is
taking place. Many of the leaders established their reputation by heading out to different
economic/territorial groups within the government. Stalin is described as a manager,
individual who takes on all of the jobs that nobody else wants. In this context a number of
developments are occurring – the party is undergoing a fundamental change from a
revolutionary organization to a ruling organization. There are 1.5 million party members by
1929 – development of a huge administrative apparatus. Secondly, the party congress
grows in size – in 1919 the congress totalled 403, by 1927 it’s up to 1600+ and in 1930 it
has 2000+ representatives. The congress therefore loses any potential as a body for
legislative debate. The central committee of the congress party has up to 106 members by
1925. The secretariat also grows enormously. The party drastically increases in size, and
this proves to be a very crucial component of understanding Stalin’s rise to power.
Stalin is put in charge of party benefits/affairs. In 1922, When Lenin becomes ill, Lenin
appoints Stalin as General Secretary of the Party (theoretically an administrative position) it becomes the most powerful position and is identified as the leadership position. In addition
he is temporarily head of the organizational bureau - gives him total control of the
assignment and election of officials of the members of the party. Also gives him virtually
total control over the appointment of key officials in the state structure. This is because the
General Secretary is responsible for the Nomenklatura – the list of individuals deemed
sufficiently loyal to the party to warrant appointment to key positions.
Even earlier Stalin had been appointed as chairman of Narkomnats – gave him direct control
over all the territories where the majority of inhabitants were not Russian. In a sense the
General Secretary who has control over personal is supervising himself as the chairman.
Stalin is also given the dull but important role as Komisar of Rabkrin. This position allows
him and his apparatus to go into any unit of state activity and demand to see its books,
review the work of its members, and undertake responses with regard to shifting
Stalin accumulated a number of important positions that give him effective control over
virtually every official within the party. He has virtually total control over decisions made
with regard to promotions/lateral transfers. Stalin also a member of the Politburo (one of
seven individuals) therefore was in a position where all of the information within the
Politburo came through his office – giving him a huge amount of power over Politburo. In
addition the Politburo had to go through the office of the General Secretary when making
decisions – Stalin has total control.
There was one individual who recognized that Stalin’s accumulation of power and his
personality combined was toxic – Lenin. Stalin had a number of run-ins with Lenin in which
he became increasingly aggressive towards Lenin. Lenin’s last testament is read to the
Politburo in the aftermath of his death – states that Stalin is too rude/savage and this fault is
unbearable in the office of the General Secretary, notes that Stalin had concentrated
enormous power and Lenin his fearful that Stalin will not use caution. Members of the
Politburo choose to ignore Lenin – believe that Lenin misjudged Stalin and that the
testament should be kept secret (kept secret until after Stalin’s death).
Secretariat of the Party and its Nomenklatura powers:
Has the power to appoint individuals within the party – this is arbitrary and cannot
be challenged. Theoretically members of the party are elected by the party, but the
elections are based on the nomination of a single individual by the secretariat
(nominate key party/state officials). As the congress expands in size individuals
who are appointed by the secretariat become the dominant component of the
Congress. Stalin’s clients/supporters (people who know how Stalin will act if they go
against him) become members of the Congress.
The congress elects its central committee – a much smaller group of individuals who
meet every 3-4 months to listen to the decisions made by the Politburo. Increasingly
a select group of Stalin’s supports make up the central committee.
The central committee elects the Politburo and the General Secretariat. Technically
the central committee elects the General Secretary.
Stalin as the general secretariat of the party has the ability to ensure his control over
the membership of the congress, central community and Politburo through his
ability to make nomenklatura appointments.
Stalin also head of Party Control Commission This power retains control of the state – circular flow of power.
Two Aspects of the power structure (1) circular flow of power and (2)
In 1922 we have (1) Lenin (2) Stalin (3) Trotsky (4) Zinoviev (5) Kamenev (6) Rykov and
(7) Tomsky There are the seven members of the Politburo. Each of them holds positions
outside of the Politburo.
At one point Trotsky launches an attack on Zinoviev and Kamenev on their ability to lead.
Both Zinoviev and Kamenev broke party ranks – went public with party information about
the coup. Lenin forgave them for this. Stalin aligns himself with Zinoviev and Kamenev,
mobilized Rykov and Tomsky and Trotsk