Lenin's Legacy


Problems the Bolsheviks had to overcome

Vladimir Lenin was a difficult act to follow. He had ed the Bolsheviks to power in 1917 and he had successfully defended the revolution during the Civil War. But Lenin's death left some tough problems that needed to be solved.

When the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, they weren't in a strong position.

1) The Socialist Revolutionary Party was much bigger than the Bolsheviks. It was the most popular party among the peasants, who made up approximately 80% of the population.

2) Most of the Bolsheviks' supprt came from the proletariat (industrial working class) but in 1917 Russia's industry was small and the proletariat made up only a small percentage of the population.

3) The Bolsheviks' domestic and foreign enemies tried to overthrow them in the Civil War.

4) But by 1922, after years of war, the Bolsheviks were victorious. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georggia, Armenia and Azerbaijan joined to form the USSR. The Bolsheviks renamed themselves the Communist Party.

1 of 11

Lenin's Testament

Lenin's Testament was critical of all the leading party members. Shortly before Lenin died, he dictated his Testament in which he made comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the main figures in the party. Importantly, he didn't single out anyone as his replacement.

  • Lenin was worried that as General Secretary of the party, Stalin had "unlimited authority concentrated in his hands" and he doubted that Stalin was "capable of using that authority with sufficient caution." He then added that Stalin was too rude to be General Secretary and recommended that he be replaced.
  • He argued that Leon Trotsky wwas the most capable man amongst the main figures in the party, but that he was too self-confident.
  • He highlighted Lev Kamenev's and Gregory Zinoviev's failure to support the armed uprising in October 1917.
  • He praised Nikolai Bukharin for his intellectual capability, and noted his popularity in the party. But he also added that Bukharin's theoretical views weren't truely Marxist. This was a problem because it was believed that a corrrect understanding of Marxism was essential to the success of the revolution. 

The Communist Party's Central Committee voted that the Testament shouldn't be widely circulated and that Stalin should be kept as General Secretary of the Party.

2 of 11

The Candidates to Succeed Lenin

Lenin died in January 1924, leaving the USSR with some big questions. The most pressing of these was who would succeed Lenin as the new leader of the Communist Party. There were five leader contenders. 

Lev Kamenev (1883-1936)

Kamenev was the son of a railway worker, and he joined the Bolsheviks as a teenager. In February 1927, he returned to Petrograd from exile in Sibera and became and important member of the party.

Strengths of Kamenev:

  • Kamenev led the Moscow Soviet and developed a secure power base in the City.
  • He was very intelligent

Weaknesses of Kamanev:

  • He often disagreed with Kenin on many aspect of party policy, This was a problem because perceived loyalty to Lenin became increasingly important after his death.
  • He was one of only two members of the Central Committee to vote against an armed uprising in October 1917.
3 of 11

The Candidates to Succeed Lenin

Gregory Zinoviev (1883-1936)

Zinoviev's parents were dairy farmers and like Kamenev, he joined the Bolsheviks at a young age. He spent some of his time with Lenin in Switzerland, and he returned to Petrograd in Apil 1917.

Strengths of Zinoviev:

  • In 1918, Zinoviev was appointed as head of the Petrgrad State.
  • He was a close associate of Lenin.

Weaknesses of Zinoviev:

  • Zinoviev, like Kamenev, had voted against the armed uprising in October 1917.
  • He was very ambitious and made many enemies

Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938)

Unlike some of the other leading contenders, Bukharin had oten travelled abroad before 1917. He was with Trotsky in New York when the Tsar was overthrown and he quickly returned to Russia.

Strengths of Bukharin:

  • After the October Revolution, Bukharin was appointed as editor of Pravda, the party newspaper.
  • Lenin once called him the 'darling of the party'.
  • He was very popular, and his easy-to-read introduction to communism had sold many copies.

Weaknesses of Bukharin:

  • Bukharin had headed up the first communist opposition group, th Let Cmmunists, who critiised Lenin's decision to make peace with Germany in 1918.
  • He wasn't a very shrewed or skilful politican.
4 of 11

The Candidates to Succeed Lenin

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

Leon Trotsky was one of the favourites to succeed Lenin. Trotsky had organised the October Revolution and led the Red Army to victory in the Civil War. He was the obvious choice as the next leader, but he wasn't very popular.

1) After the October Revolution, Trotsky was made Commissar or Foreign Affairs. He led the negotiations with Germany.

2) Trotsky earned some popularity for negotiating peace with Germany. But he was also strongly critised for losing vast areas of the western part o the former Russian Empire to Germany.

3) When the Civil War broke out, Trotsky became Commissar for War- he was responsible for the new Red Army. He imposed ruthless discipline on his troops and made the Red Army into an effective fighting force.

4) During the war, Trotsky travelled across Russia in his armoured train to visit the soliders on the front line. He gave inspirational speeches to the troops to keep up their morale.

5 of 11

Trotsky's Support was Limited

Russia had a long history of aniti-Semitism- Trotsky's Jewish background made him unpopular.

The Peasants

  • Trotsky was unpopular with the peasants because he had organised the grain requistion squads during the Civil War.
  • The squads used force to seize grain from farms to feed the army.

The Proletariat

  • Trotsky was intelligent and cultured, but this didn't impress the proleteriat.
  • The Proletariat favoured leaders such as Stalin, who was modest and had a humble background.

The Red Army

  • Trotsky's main support came from the Red Army. He had created the Red Army and led it to victory which meant he was very popular with the officers and soldiers.
6 of 11

Trotsky's Support was Limited

The Communist Party

  • Trotsky only joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. Many party members belived that because of his background as a Menshevik he wasn't devoted to the Party and its policies.
  • He was popilar with young and radical members of the Party,
  • He wasn't a politician by instinct. He never tried to gain loyal supporters of the Party,
  • Party members feared Trotsky would use his popularity with the Red Army to set himself up as a military dictator, as Napoleon had done after the French Revolution.
7 of 11

Stalin Gradually Increased his Personal Power

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)

Stalin was born in Georgia. His father was a bootmaker and his mother was a washerwoman. Stalin was in exile in Siberia when the February Revolution broke out, but he quickly returned to Petrograf. He played a minor role in the October 1917 Revolution, but his Georgian origins helped him to become the Commissar for Nationalities in 1917.

Stalin wasn't an important figure in the Civil War, but h helped to defend Georgia against the Red Armie's enemies. However, in 1922, Stalin rose to prominence whn he was appointed General Secretary of the Communitst Party. Stalin used his posistion to increase his personal power and influence.

  • As General Secretary, Stalin had complete control over the inner workings of the Communist Party.
  • He used his posistion to promote his supporters and remove or sideline his opponents.
  • He had access to secret files on party members that he received from the Cheka.
  • He also used the Lenin Enrolment to create a large group of supporters of the Party.
8 of 11

The Lenin Enrolment

  • The Party decided to honour Lenin by increasing party membership, especially among the proletariat.
  • Party membership nearly doubled between 1922 and 1925. The Party changed from being dominated by intellectuals into a party mostly made up of peasants and the proletariat.
  • Most new members weren't interested in politics. They joined to improve their personal prospects and gain promotions at work.
  • These new memebers were grateful to Stalin, who supervised the Lenin Enrolment, and they became his loyal supporters.
9 of 11

Stalin had the Common Touch

  • Unlike most leaders in the Party, Stalin had risen from very humble origins.
  • Many of the new members of the Party, brought in by the Lenin Enrolment had more in common with the down-to-earth Stalin than the more intellectual and cultured leaders like Trotsky and Bukharin.
  • However, Stalin's personality got him into trouble. He was very rude to Lenin's wife, and Lenin wanted to remove Stalin from his posistion as General Secretary, but he didn't achieve this before he died.
10 of 11

Stalin Promoted the Cult of Lenin

After Lenin's death, Stalin portrayed the former leader as a god-like figure and himself as Lenin's natural successor.

  • At Lenin's funeral, Stalin gave a speech in which he promised to peserve Lenin's work and reputation.
  • Trotsky wasn't present and Lenin's funeral. When Lenin died, Trotsky was in Georgiaa recovering from an illness. He wanted to return to Moscow for the funeral, but Stalin told him he couldn't return in time.
  • Trotsky's absence from the funeral made it look like he was snubbing his former leader.
  • Lenin's body was embalmed and put on displa in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square.
  • Stalin also glorified Lenin's memory by writing 'Foundations of Leninism' in 1924 and he lectured on Lenin at Moscow University
  • Petrograd was renamed Leningrad.

Stalin had a tighter grip on the Communist Party than his rivals realised, and it was decisive in deciding who would suceed Lenin. Stalin's control of the Party meant that he could fill key posts with his own supporters and remove those who disagreed with him.

11 of 11


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The Impact of Stalin’s Leadership in the USSR, 1924–1941 resources »