The Power Struggle For Leadership: Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin

Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky
Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky


Key points of the power struggle:
  • The Roots of Trotsky
  • The Roots of Stalin
  • The Roots of Lenin
  • March Revolution/Overthrowing of the Romanov Empire: Paving the way for new government In Russia
  • Bolsheviks Vs. Mensheviks: Where do Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin lie?
  • Where in the world was Leon Trotsky? And What in the world was he doing?
  • Where the Provisional Government went wrong and where Lenin and Trotsky went right
  • Trotsky and Lenin plan to take over
  • Lenin's New Laws and Trotsky's New Job
  • Trotsky: Comissar of War and the Red Army
  • Lenin is No Longer the Top Dog
  • Stalin's Rise to Power
  • Trotsky Versus Stalin
  • Stalin is Now the Top Dog
  • Lenin and Trotsky Versus Stalin
  • The Death of Lenin
  • Trotsky Versus Stalin: Who Will Rule the Communist Party?
  • A Clash of Ideals Between Stalin and Trotsky
  • The Exile of Trotsky
  • Stalin Becomes More Power Hungry
  • Stalin Fears Trotsky Even Though He Is In Mexico
  • Stalin's Revenge on Trotsky
  • Question One: In your opinion, who had a more effective leadership style? Stalin or Trotsky?
  • Question Two: If Lenin's wishes had been realized, how would Trotsky lead differently than Stalin?
  • Bibliography

The Roots of Trotsky Trotsky got his ideas of Marxism in Nikolayev after being transferred there from Odessa where he was educated. He spent four years in exile in Siberia at the age of 18 for helping to organize the South Russian Worker's Union. In October 1906 Trotsky was once again sentenced to exile. While deprived of all his civil rights for two years he developed the concept of permanent revolution. He then escaped to Vienna and began writing an influential journal called Pravda. It was here that Lenin knew he wanted Trotsky to be a part of the Bolsheviks.
Source: The Roots of Stalin Stalin was born into a very poor and unhealthy Russian family. He gained his schooling through scholarship at Tiflis Theological Seminary. Here he joined a secret organization where he was introduced to the ideas of Karl Marx.
The Roots of Lenin

Lenin started learning at a very young age. He was deeply influenced by his older brother who introduced him to the Marx school of thought. His brother was also executed for trying to bring down the Tsar, something which Lenin himself would help to do later. When he was seventeen, he read the Utopian novel What is to be done? The people who most influenced Lenin’s thoughts were Chernyshevsky, Ulyanov, and Marx.

Source: March Revolution/Overthrowing of the Romanov Empire: Paving the way for new government In Russia In March of 1917 there was a revolution to overthrow the Romanov empire that had been ruling for 300 years prior. This was called the February/March Revolution of 1917. The Tsar was overthrown and a democratic provisional government was established.

Bolsheviks Vs. Mensheviks: Where do Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin lie?

The Bolsheviks started as a minority party that wanted to overthrow the Tsar and did not want to have to deal with the wealthy middle class or the Bourgeoisie. They were opposed to the Mensheviks who claimed to be after the same aims as the Bolsheviks but they wanted the help of the Bourgeoisie. Both parties were supposedly following the policies of Karl Marx. Lenin and Stalin started out as Bolsheviks. Trotsky was originally a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries and then crossed over to the Bolshevik party.
When Lenin was in exile, the Bolsheviks were lead by Joseph Stalin who supported the Provisional government which was at the time a constitutional democracy. The first thoughts that Lenin shared as soon as he was on Russian soil again was that the Bolsheviks needed to overthrow the provisional government, end the war, and hand land over to the peasants.
Stalin, who had been publicly supporting the Provisional Government through Pravda, the journal that he was editor of, was now in a sticky situation. In the end, he chose to support Lenin, and go back on all of the things he had previously said.

Where in the world was Leon Trotsky? And What in the world was he doing?

In late 1917, Leon Trotsky came into the picture. He had been on the run for a while for the fact that he was opposed to the Great War. At this time he had been in America writing a revolutionary paper called Novy Mir.
He was originally a member of the Social Democrat Party in 1903 because he was opposed to the way that Stalin was running the Bolshevik Party. Once Lenin had regained control of the Bolsheviks, Trotsky began to see eye to eye with their theories. He liked the fact that the Bolsheviks did not support the Provisional Government. Lenin had known of Trotsky and wanted him to join the Bolsheviks ever since he had seen his work in the journal known as Pravda. Trotsky eventually agreed with what Lenin saw as the best way to bring about a Russian revolution and the two joined forces. Lenin was very pleased at having a man such as Leon Trotsky in his party.

Author: Unknown

Where the Provisional Government Went Wrong and Where Lenin and Trotsky Went Right

The leader of the Provisional Government was Kerensky. Soon the provisional government started making mistakes. They had promised the peasants that they would get land, but then kept stalling actually giving the land to the peasants. They assumed that the Russian people would have a sense of pride at their new found democracy but Kerensky was wrong. They continued their fight in the war with hopes that the new Russia would rally even stronger, but the number of men who were retreating grew instead. Trotsky and Lenin were the ones who saw what the Russian people really wanted. As Trotsky put it -simply and brilliantly- the Russian people wanted, “Peace, Land, and Bread.” Trotsky and Lenin had become a major threat in the eyes of Kerensky and the Provisional Government.

Trotsky's Famous Slogan
Trotsky's Famous Slogan

At the beginning of September, The Bolsheviks gained even more popularity when they saved Kerensky's government from General Kornilov who was marching on Petrograd to cleanse the country of Socialists. Kerensky reluctantly released Trotsky (who he had previously arrested) and he then rallied 25 000 Bolshevik Red Guards to defended the city and cause Kornilov's army to fizzle out. This was considered one of Trotsky’s great feats.
At the end of September, the Bolsheviks were restored to full power and won a majority with both the Moscow and Petrograd Soviets (Councils). Trotsky and Lenin knew that the time had finally come to strike out against Kerensky and the Provisional Government.

Trotsky and Lenin Plan to Take Over

On October 20, 1917 Lenin called for a seizure of power. He was supported by the Bolsheviks and it became Trotsky's job to figure out the details of the take over. Trotsky was now Chairman of the Soviet. Trotsky planned the revolution for the night of November 6-7. All of the delegates from all of the cities and villages in Russia were present when the Red Guards (Bolsheviks) seized control of the stations, telegraph office, bridges, and government buildings. The Provisional Government had been overthrown and the Bolsheviks now had control of the heartland of Russia (Petrograd and Moscow) but not much else.

Lenin's New Laws and Trotsky's New Job
As soon as Lenin was in power, he instated radical new laws. He called for a peace offer and wanted to immediately start negotiations to end the war and he gave all 540 million acres of land to Russia's peasants. Lenin then instated Trotsky as the people's commissar for foreign affairs. This meant that Trotsky was in charge of ending Russia's participation in the Great War. He began working on the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Germans and the Austrians. He wanted the peace and the only way that the Germans and Austrians would give Russia that is if they gave over the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland. Trotsky used delay tactics for nine weeks to avoid signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, hoping that Socialist revolution would spread before he had to sign the treaty. This was not so and on March 3, 1918 the Germans marched on Russia and Trotsky had to sign the Treaty.

Lenin giving a speech advocating for revolution
Lenin giving a speech advocating for revolution


Trotsky: Comissar of War and the Red Army

Trotsky was then appointed Comissar of War to the army that Lenin had decided was now necessary for the Communist Party. This army was called the Red Army. This army was instrumental in the civil war versus the White Army which was lead by Kerensky and was fighting to reinstate Menshevik policies.

Trotsky's Red Army
Trotsky's Red Army

Lenin is No Longer the Top Dog

Another policy that Lenin introduced was the New Economic Policy. This policy was very controversial and on August 30, 1918 Lenin was shot by Dora Kaplan, a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries. From that point on Lenin began to grow tired and weak. He would get severe headaches and could barely sleep. He became fatigued and thought that it was time to get extra help in controlling the Communist Party. His first choice was Joseph Stalin. In April 1922 Stalin was appointed as the General Secretary. No one thought much of Stalin’s new post because it was considered a figure head job. All Stalin had to do was be the mouth of Lenin.

Stalin's Rise to Power

Soon, Lenin became paralyzed and lost the ability to speak and now the post of the General Secretary held much more importance and significance. Stalin held huge influence in the Communist Party.

Lenin and Stalin. Stalin is now Secretary General
Lenin and Stalin. Stalin is now Secretary General

Trotsky vs. Stalin

Trotsky and Stalin became rivals. Both wanted control of the Communist Party and both had different ideas of how it was to be run. When he was appointed as the General Secretary, Stalin was granted the power to expel unsatisfactory party members. He began to expel thousdands of Trotsky's supporters and bring in new members that he was sure would support him. If they would not support Stalin, he would have them removed and they all knew this.

Stalin is Now the Top Dog

Stalin was now pretty much the leader of the Communist Party. He gained the support of two very powerful men named Kamenev and Zinoviev. Stalin soon became over confident and made a decision against Lenin's foreign trade policy. This upset Lenin and he wrote Trotsky for help. The next day, Trotsky ensured the reversal of the decision. Lenin wrote to Trotsky thanking him and saying that they should work together against Stalin who was becoming too power hungry. Stalin's wife found this letter and showed it to him. Stalin was enraged and called Lenin's wife and threatened her.

Lenin and Trotsky Versus Stalin

From that point on, Lenin knew that Stalin was the complete wrong choice to take the position of leader of the Communist Party. Lenin wrote in his will, "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."

The Death of Lenin

Lenin was dead before any action to remove Stalin was taken. He died from a third stroke on the 21st January, 1924. Trotsky began to rapidly lose support due to his lack of ability to compromise and due to the fact that he had only joined the Bolshevik party in 1917. Stalin used these points against him and joined up with two other powerful men to take down Trotsky.

Trotsky Vs. Stalin: Who will Rule the Communist Party?

Trotsky had many supporters in the Communist party but Stalin held one clear advantage. He had the power to expel those supporters. He was also backed up very strongly by Kamenev and Zinoviev. When Trotsky accused Stalin of being undemocratic, Stalin and his supporters accused Trotsky of trying to create divisions in the party.
Trotsky’s last hope to gain power was the reading of Lenin’s will that clearly stated that Stalin was the wrong choice to lead the party. Lenin's will was not read to the council or the public due to the many Stalin supporters that voted against it. Stalin seized the opportunity to expel Trotsky from power. Trotsky was no longer a part of the party. His supporters wanted him to rally against Stalin with the Red army that he created because he was commissar of war. Trotsky refused to rally and resigned from his post because he knew that Stalin already had too many supporters that would overwhelm him.

A Clash of Ideals between Trotsky and Stalin

Trotsky and Stalin's ideas clashed in that Trotsky wanted a social revolution for the world and Stalin only wanted revolution for Russia. Trotsky saw that a Communist revolution would only be successful if it was supported by the rest of the world.

The Exile of Trotsky

In 1929, Stalin ordered Trotsky to leave the Soviet Union. Because of his ideas of world revolution, no countries would take him. Finally, Turkey agreed to take him. Even though Trotsky was gone, Stalin still wanted to send him a clear message that he was not welcome back. Trotsky's daughter died under mysterious circumstances in Berlin after he arrived in Turkey. In July of 1933, Trotsky moved to France. Fascists and Stalinists then put intense pressure onto France to exile him. Once again, nowhere would accept him for about two years. Finally, Norway accepted him. As soon as this happened, Stalin wanted Norway to expel Trotsky to Mexico. This happened in December 1936. Stalin charged Trotsky of treason and he was to be tried in New York for his crimes. He was found innocent and eleven months later his son was murdered by the GPU in Paris.

Stalin Becomes More Power Hungry

Now that Trotsky was out of the picture, Stalin felt that he had no true rivals left so he eliminated his long tim right hand men Kamenev and Zinoviev by stating his policy that he no longer believed in world revolution. Kamenev and Zinoviev had been long time believers in this policy. When they started attacking Stalin’s policy, Stalin said that they were creating disunity in the party and forced them to sign an agreement of silence or be banished.

Propaganda by Stalin at the height of his power
Propaganda by Stalin at the height of his power
Stalin Still Fears Trotsky Even Though He is in Mexico

Any supporters who voiced their support for Trotsky were now put on trial and most likely executed. Stalin assumed that they were part of a secret plot led by Trotsky to take down the Soviet Union. Stalin arrested and executed many under this pretense.

Stalin's Revenge on Trotsky

Even though Trotsky was on a different continent to Russia, that was still not enough for Stalin. He wanted Trotsky dead. During his exile, Trotsky had been writing books about his life, the Russian Revolution, and worst of all Stalin. All of his books painted Stalin in an extremely negative light so Stalin hired an assassin and on August 20, 1940 Trotsky was murdered by Ramon Mercader with an ice pick in Mexico City. The power struggle was over. Stalin was now the unopposed leader of Soviet Russia.
Question One: In your opinion, who had a more effective leadership style? Stalin or Trotsky?
Both Trotsky and Stalin had two totally different leadership styles. While Trotsky tried to act strongly while still trying to please the citizens, he was never resilient enough. Stalin on the other hand was ruthless. He used radical force which could be argued as being to extreme, yet on the other hand it was effective. Stalin strategically placed supporters into key political positions that made
his "transition" into rule smooth sailing. Once in power, he used questionable methods to maintain order. This consisted of fingering out opposed political left wing leaders. This ironically included Trotsky as one of Stalin's enemies who was a close friend of Lenin as well. While Stalin's methods were more harsh and radical, resulting in millions of civil casualties, he ruled more firmly and efficiently than Trotsky.

Question Two: If Lenin's wishes had been realized, how would Trotsky lead differently than Stalin? Lenin's dying wish was for Stalin to be removed from power. He wanted someone who was, "more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades." An obvious choice for this new leader was Trotsky. He was close with Lenin and was more closely aligned with Lenin's style of ruling. Firstly, Lenin would have had a much greater respect and value for human life. With Stalin in power, tens of millions of lives were ended due to his strict and unjust regimes like the killing of the Kulaks. Trotsky also would have run a more democratic party, allowing delegates who were opposed to him to speak their minds. If someone spoke their mind and it happened to be against Stalin, that person would be executed under a trivial charge of something like treason. Trotsky would have also wanted to expand the Communist regime beyond Russia. This was where the two of them differed the most in political ideologies. Trotsky believed that for the Communist revolution to be truly successful, it must become the economic model for the world. Instead of being a Fascist dictator to cause much bloodshed of the Russian people, Trotsky may have been the Communist leader to give the Soviet people, "peace, land, and bread." Bibliography
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