Causes of tension between Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky

Causes of tension between Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky


  • People viewed Stalin as practically gifted, with a strong will and persistence to carry out his aims, but politically restricted and primitive. Trotsky was viewed to be self obsessed and personally complicated with a lack of judgement, making himself his own worst enemy
  • The two men had very different backgrounds. Stalin grew up in Georgia and trained at a seminary where he was first exposed to Marx. He was kicked out of the seminary eventually and joined the party, funding his own travels to the conferences. He robbed banks to fund the bolsheviks and was also a labour agitator. Trotsky was born in the Ukraine to a Jewish family. He was originally a Menshevik and was head of the Petrograd Soviet and the Military Revolutionary Council. He was largely viewed as a planner, responsible for military strategy during the October Revolution and later the Russian Civil War
  • Stalin was supported by a large number of the party's rank and file members. Stalin was the reason many members had got their membership or job in the party when he was General Secretary. Trotsky was supported by a small bloc called the 'Group of 46' with Piatkov and Smirnov
  • Economically the two men were different. Although Stalin never outright criticised NEP, he held contempt for it and wanted to replace it with a system of 5 year plan's. Similarly, Trotsky wanted to replace NEP, but was vocal in his opposition and wanted to return to the unpopular War Communism system.
  • The two men had very different foreign policies. Trotsky wanted to export revolution to make the world more hospitable towards Communism through permanent revolution, whilst Stalin wanted to focus on Socialism in one County so that the country could be independent and self sufficient


  • The personality differences meant that people flocked to Stalin as they viewed him in a better light than Trotsky, as people felt that he had a self inflated importance and viewed himself as better than others
  • The backgrounds of the two men meant that both were viewed differently. Whilst both men were reviled for their input, it is arguable that Stalin was better preferred by most. Although both were not Russian, Stalin was more favoured because he was always a Bolshevik and wasn't Jewish. Trotsky was raised as a Jew and was originally a Menshevik member.
  • Stalin was more successful with the membership due to Lenin. He was largely viewed as retaining the support of Lenin's more right wing communist friends, whilst Trotsky was deemed to be in the wrong over his ignorance of the Factionalism ban by utilising his bloc.
  • By keeping quiet and not expressing a desire to return to War Communism, Stalin was able to out-manoeuvre Trotsky as he couldn't be accused of trying to subvert Leninism. By letting the system fail, Stalin showed it wouldn't work and got the support to replace it.
  • Stalin had more support within the party for his ideas on taking care of the country over exporting revolution into the world

Overall summary

Trotsky lost mainly due to the unpopularity of his ideas and the ability of Trotsky to exploit this and move around him quicker.


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