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1924 01 Lenin’s Death and Stalin’s rise to Power
Despite a slight improvement in health, which took place at the end of 1923, Lenin died on January 21, 1924, at the age of 53. He became a legendary figure and was probably really popular among Soviet citizens for a long time before paying him homage like a deity became a duty.
For four days, the citizens of Moscow worshiped Lenin’s body in the coffin at the trade union headquarters. Then on January 26, the All-Union Congress of Soviets decreed that on January 21 it would be commemorated as the day of mourning. He also decided that Lenin would not be buried but embalmed and placed in a mausoleum and that a new edition of his works would be published. From now on Petrograd, the city of the revolution, would be named Leningrad.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov creator of the Soviet Union, since the end of the civil war in Russia, played a smaller and smaller role in the state. However, this was not due to his own decision. The key reason was his poor health, which served as a pretext for his political competitors to push the leader away from real power.
These circumstances were used by Stalin. Progression of Lenin’s illness allowed him to size more and more power for himself and for those who were loyal to him. In 1922, he was appointed the secretary general of the Russian Social Democratic Party (Bolsheviks). The position was only formal, but Stalin used it to gradually increase the scope of his power. In the same year, the politician became chairman of the party’s secretariat and appointed his old friend and protégé Vyacheslav Molotov as his deputy.
After Lenin’s death, remaining Bolsheviks started a race for power.
Lenin, who never cared for appearances and did not have time for the ceremonies, would not appreciate the way in which his body was treated by those who followed him, the triumvirate of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, united by a common desire to prevent the function of the leader being taken by their biggest rival - Trotsky.
Feliks Dzierżyński (Felix Dzerzhinsky) the creator and the head of All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) followed by successor organs GPU and OGPU, a man close to Lenin. He expressed reluctance to take part in the struggle for power, at least for himself. Both Trotsky and Stalin, however, sought his support, which he finally gave to the latter.
For a brief moment, it seemed that there was a real chance that Lenin’s last will would threaten Stalin’s political ambitions. In his testament, Lenin spoke against Stalin’s taking power, pointing to his excessive brutality and lack of good manners. The contents of Lenin’s letter were read in May 1924 at the XIII Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), delegates decided (fortunately for Stalin) that Lenin’s fears were unjustified. There was no need to remove Stalin. It was one of the few situations when he could lose his power. Later, Stalin forbade the publication of a will under severe penalties and never agreed to publish it.
Stalin used Zinoviev and Kamenev for his own political game - when they offered to exclude Trotsky from the party, he protested against it, showing that he was open to dialogue inside the party. In practice, he gradually deprived Trotsky of functions in the state, beginning with withdrawing his position in 1925 as chairman of the Military-Revolutionary Council.
In mid-1925, Zinoviev and Kamenev became increasingly distant from Stalin. They both discovered that even in private life, each party member must show Stalin’s loyalty. The workers in Leningrad were not satisfied with the NEP and the concessions made to richer peasants.
Zinoviev and Kamenev found an ally in the widow of Lenin, Krupska. She did not approve of what had been done to the body of her deceased husband, and the fact that the party had not considered it appropriate to fulfill his suggestions to remove Stalin from the position of general secretary. Living in Leningrad, Krupska approached Zinoviev, the head of the municipal party organization; She asked him that the Central Committee would discuss the idea of building socialism in one country. Stalin, however, was in such a strong position that no debate on this subject occurred. At the 14th Party Congress, held between 18 and 31 December 1925, the opposition clearly stated its position, and many of its members expected that Trotsky would support them, but Trotsky again did not want to get involved in a matter as mundane as the struggle for power and kept silence.
The decisive event in the process of dealing with the United Opposition took place at the Fifteenth Party Congress when Trotsky and Zinoviev were excluded from the Central Committee for continuing to oppose party politics. They were also accused of counter-revolutionary activity and founding an illegal printing house.
Ufff. it really took me more time than I expected. I could go into more detail as I skipped many things, but it would make it too long. In fact, it’s probably way too long already.
It only occurred to me that I probably “overstepped” by covering events that happened after 1924. I got carried away I guess. If you want I can write more detailed text focusing just on the events of 1924.
One thing that the current post is missing is the description of Soviet political/goverment system at the time of Lenin’s death. I myself have a very vague understanding of it.
A minor nitpick: Krupskaya is probably the correct way to spell it, since she was russian and that is how her last name is spelled in russian(and in the english sources that I checked)
Also a note about Lenin’s last will: he really gave sick burns to everyone in Bolshevik leadership, not just Stalin
Yeah, you’re right. I left it wrriten the Polish way by accident.
@Veles the episode was recorded this week and the research you provided here was essential to making it happen. We ended up taking a somewhat different approach than going into the events that followed Lenin’s death as we need to explain the conflict between Stalin and Lenin and how Stalin’s rise to power impacted outbreak of war in 1939. So although many of the details of the research didn’t end up in the script they were essential for us to create the subtext of the episode. Thank you for your great contribution as always!
I’m happy that I could help. I’ll try to post more research for episodes in near future. I had quite a lot of work on the farm lately and got pretty depressed because of the Mundial. Time to catch up.