Big Shoes to Fill

Aleksandr Samokhvalov: Long Live the Worldwide Socialist Revolution

Even before the death of Lenin, the clear leader of the Communist Party and the Russian people’s idol, the struggle for succession began.  The battle was clearly to be between Trotsky and Stalin.  Trotsky was the favored candidate in many peoples minds, however only two months before Lenin suffered the first of three strokes  in May of 1922, which eventually killed him, he appointed Stalin the General Secretary for the Communist Party.  This not particularly glamorous or impressive position in fact gave Stalin a great amount of influence over the party as a whole.  This allowed him to compete against Trotsky for control of the party.

While Lenin empowered Stalin by making him the General Secretary, it does not seem likely that he had chosen Stalin to be his successor.  Lenin, in more than one comment dictated to his secretary, derided Stalin referencing his, “hastiness and administrative impulsiveness,” Lenin also stated, “Stalin is too rude, and this fault … becomes unbearable in the office of General Secretary.” Lenin then advocated Stalin’s removal from the position of General Secretary.  This evidence suggests that Lenin did not favor Stalin as his successor by any means, but rather he saw him most likely as a somewhat incompetent nuisance.  This however, does not seem to be indicative of Lenin’s support for Trotsky either.  Lenin derided Trotsky’s, “Excessive self-assurance” and “excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of affairs.”  It would appear that Lenin did not throw his support behind any candidate as his own successor, which is one reason why the succession of Lenin became such a heated and even violent conflict.

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

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


Lenin died January 21, 1924.  The people of Russia were crushed by the loss of their greatest leader.  In this time when reform was still so new and the ground on which they stood was still so shaky, the people of Russia feared what might come after Lenin.  The following video is from Lenin’s funeral procession.  The number of statesmen, and Russian common people that came to walk in Lenin’s funeral procession is only glimpsed in this video, but none the less it is clear that this was a pivotal moment in the history of Russia.

Stalin, in order to secure more power to resist and stop what appeared to be a rapid takeover by Trotsky, formed a Triumvirate with Zinoviev and Kamenev.  Their goal was first to sidetrack the issue of succession at the Thirteenth Party Congress later that month.  They were successful, and as they began to draw power away from Trotsky, they turned on each-other.  Trotsky remained the Politbiuro for nearly another three years after Lenin’s death.  In January of 1925, Trotsky was removed from his position as president of the Revolutionary Military Council.  This was a position of extreme power, and a large blow to Trotsky.  As Trotsky lost power and influence, the triumvirate collapsed.  By 1925 Zinoviev and Kamenev were openly criticizing Stalin’s pretensions to leadership.  Stalin took his revenge on them in 1926.  In 1928 he took actions to crush the “rightist deviation” of his former ally, Nikolai Bukharin.  Stalin began to eliminate all of his oppositions and threats, even those who had been his allies.  Trotsky fled to Mexico where he lived for two years before being suspiciously murdered with an ice ax.  Stalin secured his control of Russia with extreme prejudice.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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11 Responses to Big Shoes to Fill

  1. Love the video of Lenin’s funeral! And check out Anna’s similar post (….she included some links to various helpful sources on the topic of Lenin’s succession as well.

  2. Really like the video of Lenin’s funeral. Although it is not long, it shows that many Russians truly were endeared to Lenin and his leadership. One cannot be surprised at the factionization within the party following his death. Lenin was a great politician and a realist. He held the party together, and no one following him held the same respect.

  3. What a great and informative post! You went into great detail about the succession problem that was evident even before Lenin’s death. The video was a great touch and really adds to your post. I also appreciated the summary in your last paragraph about Trotsky and the Triumvirate, as I know have a better grasp of that event than I did after I read the Freeze section on it. Stalin was actually known for doctoring photographs to help support his cause. The picture of Lenin and Stalin is actually doctored, most likely because Stalin wanted to give the appearance that Lenin approved of Stalin as a successor, though we know that was not the case. Therefore, the picture helps support your post as Stalin doctored it to make himself appear as an appropriate successor.

    • Wow, I did not know that about the picture of Lenin and Stalin being doctored. Thank you for pointing that out, it really helps to back up everything else we see in this situation.

  4. Great incorporation of various sources to this intriguing topic. I often wonder what could have happened if Stalin had not taken control of Russia. Also…. murdered with an ice axe?

  5. This post was extremely informative and I loved the inclusion of the video. Additionally, I like how you cited the comments Lenin made against any particular person for his successor. I agree that I don’t think he had a particular person in mind to take over.

  6. As everyone said, the video was a great touch. Very informative also. Lenin and stalin were definately on different pages. Probably why it didnt take long for lenins NEP to fall through the cracks.

  7. Stalin doctored photos quite often. I made mention of that same photo in my own blog. He also had people removed from photos to erase them from history. There’s plenty of photos where people considered enemies of the state (such as Trotsky) were removed.

  8. Great post! I particularly liked the video and quotations you used, in addition to the rest of your sources. I find it curious that Trotsky fled to Mexico and was murdered with an ice ax. Very suspicious circumstances, indeed. The explanation of Stalin’s Triumvirate with Zinoviev and Kamenev really helped to clear things up for me. Overall, very well done!

  9. I agree — fine post on the politics of the succession. Now think about how the politics of the individuals vying for the succession intersected with competing plans for the country’s economic development….

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