Game of Thrones: Lenin’s Succession

This post received the "red star" award from the editorial team

This post received the “red star” award from the editorial team

There is nothing higher than the title of member of the party whose founder and leader was Comrade Lenin…

…He always looked on it as an essential link for strengthening the revolutionary movement in the countries of the West and the East, an essential link for facilitating the victory of the working people of the whole world over capitalism”. 

Great is the Grief, Greater Still is the Heritage Poster 1924

Great is the Grief, Greater Still is the Heritage
Poster 1924 Honoring Lenin

After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Iosif (Joseph) Stalin expressed these sweet sentiments in speech while simultaneously promoting himself as the worthy leader to finish Lenin’s work and lead Russia through the transition from revolution to socialism. But behind his warm words and closed doors, Stalin was exploiting a national tragedy and quietly making power grabs within the Party.

Lenin and Stalin in Gornaia Summer 1922, Lenin recovering from his first stroke

“Summer 1922, Lenin recovering from his first stroke” (Doctored photograph)

However, Stalin was the not the only Communist leader seeking power. During Lenin’s health decline in 1922, which was caused by a series of strokes, several members of the Politburo lusted to replace the Father of the Bolshevik Revolution. Within this small assembly of Party executives, Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev formed a triumvirate alliance against Leon Trotsky to oppose his claim as Lenin’s natural heir.

Trotsky was regarded as Lenin’s right hand man due to his aid in the “October coup and management of the Red Army in the Civil War“. Despite his commitment and service to the Party, Trotsky did not join the Communist Party until 1917, and was attacked by the triumvirate for not being an “Old Bolshevik” . Trotsky responded by publishing the essay “The Lessons of October”, condemning Zinoviev and Kamenev for not supporting Lenin’s October insurrection.


Trotsky and Left Opposition 1929

Trotsky and Left Opposition 1929

After squashing Trotsky’s influence in the Party and eliminating him as a threat to his power, Stalin turned on his allies, Zinoviev and Kamenev, when they began to voice criticisms of his leadership. Stalin created a new partnership with Nickolai Bukharin, recently promoted in the Politburo, and continued to isolate Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Trotsky until they were rejected from the Central Committee in October 1927, and eventually expelled from the Party. Though Kamenev and Zionoviev were later readmitted after publicly reading letters of apology, Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929.

Stalin and Allies at 14th Congress

Stalin and Allies at 14th Congress

After Lenin’s death, Stalin used a campaign of nationalism and idealism to appeal to the public, while politically isolated and crippling any potential threat within the Communist Party. He even buried Lenin’s Testament, which criticized the members of the Politburo as generally flawed and unfit to lead, until the document’s influence could not change Stalin’s course of action. Capitalizing on the death of a nationally adored figure, Stalin preyed on the country’s tender emotional state and used Party factions and instability to assert his own dominance and tear down all opposition.

Works Cited:


  7 comments for “Game of Thrones: Lenin’s Succession

  1. snagy54
    September 22, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Great article. I was waiting for someone to write an article that mentioned Leon Trotsky, since I visited an exhibit on him while I was in Russia for a study abroad program. It was really eye opening since you mainly just hear about Stalin and Lenin even though Trotsky did a lot for the Bolsheviks. I also never knew that Stalin buried Lenin’s Testament, and it is very interesting to find out that Lenin did not approve of the members of the Politburo.

  2. September 22, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    First of all, I LOVE the title of this post. Thanks for highlighting the main contours of Stalin’s rise to power and the complicated factional politics involved. You might want to correct some of the dates in this otherwise solid narrative. Steve, you should read Lenin’s Testament, which is on the 17 moments site. It is quite powerful and specific re: Stalin’s shortcomings. Also, someone needs to tell me more about the Trotsky exhibit in Moscow!

  3. September 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Check out James’ use of Lenin’s testament here:

  4. annapope
    September 23, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Thanks, Dr. Nelson. Sorry for the typos, I corrected the dates.

  5. annapope
    September 23, 2014 at 11:35 am

    I found Trotsky really interesting, and almost dedicated the whole post to him.
    Lenin’s Testament was hidden by the triumvirate for two years until May 1924 because of its harsh honesty on the Politburo members. Lenin described Stalin as rude, capricious, disloyal and inattentive to his comrades, and also referred to Trotsky as excessively self confident.

  6. gracehemmingson
    September 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    It would be interesting to know more about how Stalin actually forced the other contenders out of power, and how his political opinions differed from Trotsky and the others. Especially since he eventually wiped Trotsky out of the public photographs. Great post!

  7. katiewells9
    September 28, 2014 at 10:20 am

    This was a very interesting post. I really like how you focused the attention on Stalin, but I agree with the others, I wish you had mentioned more about how he forced the other three out of power.

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