Stalin: The Rising Dictator

Stalin, even before the death of Lenin, was not Mr. Nobody. Foreigners like John Reed (author of Ten Days That Shook the World) commented: "He's not an intellectual like the other people you will meet. He's not even particularly well informed, but he knows what he wants. He's got will-power, and he's going to be on top of the pile some day." And people of the American Relief Administration spoke of him as "closer to Lenin than anyone else". On 4 April 1922 Stalin, on Lenin's recommendation, was appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee. On 25 May of the same year Lenin had his first stroke. On 10 March 1923 he had a last, incapacitating stroke and died on 21 January 1924.

Lenin's Testament and Death

After his second stroke on 22 December 1922 Lenin wrote a Letter to the Party Congress to which he added a postscript on Stalin on 4 January 1923. In the Letter Lenin praised Trotsky as "perhaps the most capable man in the present CC" but criticized him for his "excessive self-assurance". On Trotsky's rival he wrote: Stalin, "having become General Secretary, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution". The postscript then went a step further: "Stalin is too rude, and this defect, though quite tolerable in our midst and in dealings among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a General Secretary. This is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way to remove Stalin from that post and appoint another man who in all respects differs from Comrade Stalin in his superiority, that is, more loyal, more courteous, and more considerate of comrades, less capricious, etc." The Testament was handed to Krupskaya, Lenin's wife, in a sealed envelope. In case of Lenin's death it should be forwarded to the party.

Lenin's death had several consequences:


When Kamenev read the Testament to the Central Committee, "painful embarrassment paralysed the whole gathering. Stalin, who sat on one of the benches of the presidium's rostrum, felt small and miserable. Despite his self-control and forced calm, one could clearly read in his face the fact that his fate was being decided" (Kamenev's secretary). Zinoviev saved Stalin by saying: "on one point, we are happy to say, Lenin's fears have proved groundless. I am speaking of the question of our General Secretary. All of you have witnessed our harmonious cooperation during the last months, and all of you, like me, have had the satisfaction of seeing that what Lenin feared has not taken place." Kamenev too supported Stalin who duly submitted his resignation, which was unanimously rejected. The Testament should remain unpublished.

The Struggle for Power

Lenin's death left a power vacuum which Stalin managed to fill in the course of the following five years by defeating his rivals faction by faction:

Bukharin characterized the coming dictator with the following words:" Stalin is a Genghis Khan, an unscrupulous intriguer, who sacrifices everything else to the preservation of power. ... He changes his theories according to whom he needs to get rid of next."

"The party's most eminent mediocrity" (Trotsky about Stalin) had won the struggle for power because


The first Five Year Plan, launched in 1928, initialized the modernization of the Soviet Union. Sacrifices were immense, victims numerous, and success moderate.