Joseph Stalin’s rise to total power in the USSR

Joseph Stalin’s rise to total power in the USSR

Joseph Stalin’s

Joseph Stalin’s rise to total power in the USSR. Born of a shoemaker and a cleaner, Joseph Stalin became the unlikely leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Vladimir Lenin. He became the absolute leader of the USSR in a period characterized as the reign of terror. During his time at the top, millions lost their lives, and he established his political system; Stalinism. So how did one of the bloodiest tyrants in the world rise to power in the Soviet Union?

Early life  

Joseph Stalin was born on December 18, 1878, to a Georgian cobbler in Gori’s small, impoverished village. Stalin’s mother left his father due to alcoholism and domestic abuse. She had a wandering life as she moved around in different homes with her son. Stalin left school at an early age and joined the seminary but did not study theology or the Bible but he rather opted to embrace Marxism. At this time, Marxism was on the rise in Georgia as it was a socialist movement opposed to the tsarist regime. He later joined the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, where he edited the party’s newspaper and helped raise funds for the Bolshevik faction.

Stalin became a follower of Vladimir Lenin and soon became part of the Bolshevik revolution. As an active member of the movement, he participated in violent attacks against the tsarist government and was a notorious bank robber. The robberies were approaches used to subvert the government while also getting the funds needed for the revolution. He was part of the Tiflis bank robbery where 40 people lost their lives, and the event elevated his status in the Bolshevik leadership.

What role did Joseph Stalin play in the Russian revolution?

Joseph Stalin’s rise to total power in the USSR

The Bolshevik revolution and civil war

In 1917, the Bolsheviks were gaining popularity by promising peace and land to the peasants who were already starving due to years of war. With their popularity rising, the Bolsheviks stormed the winter palace and declared the Russian empire the Soviet Union in February. During this time, Stalin served his final months of exile and was in st. Petersburg when the revolution took place. After the revolution, Stalin became the Bolshevik representative to the executive committee of Petrograd Soviet. The senior standing of Stalin was evident in the Bolshevik elections of April 1917, where he came third after Lenin and Zinoviev.

Stalin was part of the central committee that directed the Bolshevik coup in the October revolution. Although his role in the coup was a subject of discussion by his opponents, he played a significant role in the buildup of the revolution.

With Lenin in power, the armies rallied against the Bolsheviks leading to the Russian civil war. Although Stalin had been appointed the political commissar to the generals, he later gained military command. The brutal nature of Stalin that would characterize his leadership was evident during the civil war as he repressed the bandits and white counter-revolutionaries. Stalin’s terror and state violence were greater than what other Bolshevik leaders approved.


Stalin’s rise to power

Joseph Stalin’s rise to total power in the USSR

By 1921, Stalin had become the General Secretary of the Communist Party, and this gave him more power as he created a network of supporters. At this time, Lenin was beginning to mistrust him due to his brutality. As the relationship between Lenin and Stalin weakened, Lenin called for his removal as general secretary through a testament that he dictated. Before the testament became public, Lenin suffered a heart attack, and Stalin intercepted it. The publishing of the testament would have been catastrophic to Stalin’s career.

With the death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin was the de-facto leader but had to share power with others, including Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. Despite being the party leader, Stalin was underestimated for his lack of education. The control of the Soviet Union became a personal contest between Stalin and Trotsky as they both had radically different views of the communist future.

In consolidating his power, Stalin appointed loyalists to the party and focused on peasants and workers. The party would later marginalize Trotsky, who could not follow through with protests due to the orders of maintaining party unity. Another factor that aided Stalin’s ascent to power was that Trotsky had a Jewish heritage when antisemitism was prevalent in the soviet union. By 1927, Stalin became the unquestioned leader of the soviet union.

To further consolidate power and define his reign of terror, Stalin had his opponents murdered. Those who opposed Stalin, including Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, faced execution. Lenin’s widow also died in mysterious circumstances. Stalin was a ruthless, tactical, and persuasive leader, and this played a major role in his rise to total power.

According to Paul Gregory, a professor at the University of Houston, only the most ruthless contender would win power struggles during this period in the Soviet Union. Stalin invariably rose to the top and used his brutality to maintain power under a dictatorship rule until he died in 1952. The brutality evidenced in his early days in the Bolshevik remained a part of his leadership style and reduced the level of opposition to his rule.