Stalin's Rise to Power, Ideology and Aims

This theme asks you to look at the rise to power of Stalin as an authoritarian single-party leader. You need to consider the circumstances in which his rise to power took place, and the methods used by Stalin to make this successful bid for control of the Communist party.


You can use Stalin as an example of a of the rise to power of a LEADER of a SPS, but you can NOT use Stalin in a question that talks about the "establishment of a single-party state"! If the questions asks you to consider the emergence of a single-party state then you must consider LENIN, as it was he (and not Stalin) who was chiefly responsible for the establishment of single-party Communist rule in Russia from 1917 to 1924.

Past Questions:

Paper 2
  • Analyse the conditions that enabled one left-wing leader to become the ruler of a single-party state. (May 2010)
  • Assess the importance of economic distress and ideological appeal in the rise to power of one left-wing and one right-wing single-party ruler. (Nov 2009)
  • Analyse the methods used and the conditions which helped in the rise to power of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2007, May 2005)
  • “It was personality and not circumstances that brought rulers of single-party states to power.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (Nov 2006)
  • Analyse the methods used and the conditions which helped in the rise to power of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2005)

General SPS questions
  • To what extent was the rise to power of x or y due to personal appeal and ability?
  • To what extent was ideology an important factor in the rise to power of x?
  • Analyse the rise to power of Stalin.


Key dates:
1922 - Appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party
1924 - Death of Lenin
1925 - Stalin opposes the Left Opposition
1926 - Stalin opposes the United Opposition
1927 - Introduces the Five Year Plan and collectivization
1929 - Emerging leader of the USSR

What circumstances aided Stalin in his successful rise to power? (pp. 101 - 109)
  • Moshe Lewin argues that Lenin's ill-health was crucial for Stalin's readiness to challenge him and without it, Stalin would not have dared scheme against him too openly. As General Secretary of the Party, Stalin was able to supervise Lenin's medical treatment. This kept him closely informed about Lenin's health.

  • Stalin gave the oration at Lenin's funeral, but also gave Trotsky the wrong date for the ceremony. Trotsky therefore committed the cardinal mistake of missing Lenin's funeral, which portrayed him as disrespectful and irresponsible!

Lenin's death in 1924 enabled him to pursue his rise to power!!!

Eventhough Trotsky was most likely to succeed Lenin and take on the lead as Party Leader, yet he was very much unpopular by the public and lost mass support when he did not show up for Lenin's funeral (which was set up by Stalin!!!) The people interpreted his non presence as a sign of great disrespect to Lenin, and thereby Trotsky was on his way to become less and less popular.

What methods did Stalin employ to overcome his rivals in the leadership struggle? (pp. 101 - 109)

  • Stalin portrayed himself as Lenin's follower in Soviet propaganda in an effort to justify his efforts to take power - Lenin was widely revered by the Russian working class and class-conscious workers world wide, particularly those in the communist parties of Europe.
  • His theory of Socialism in One Country rather than Permanent Revolution was in stark contrast to the principled socialist stand of Lenin and his internationalist outlook.
  • Stalin played one side against the other to take power: First, he allied with Zinoviev and Kamenev to cover up Lenin’s Will and to get Trotsky dismissed (1925). Trotsky went into exile (1928). Then, he advocated ‘Socialism in one country’ (he said that the USSR should first become strong, then try to bring world revolution) and allied with the Rightists to get Zinoviev and Kamenev dismissed (1927). Stalin put his supporters into the Politburo. Finally, he argued that the NEP was uncommunist, and got Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky dismissed (1929).

What was the nature of Stalin's ideology? (p. 127)

"Socialism in one country" (1924) -

The USSR followed the left-wing ideology of communism, although this was adapted by Stalin according to what they perceived to be the needs of the state. According to Marxsim, the proleteriat were meant to rule, but in the Soviet Union this can hardly be said to have been the true when the Communist Party had so much control. The reason for the dictatorship of the party was due to Russia's backwardness and that the dictatorship of the proletariat could not take place until people had been educated to have correct values.

What were Stalin's aims? (p. 121-22)

Stalin wanted to strengthen Russia by moderniztion and industrialization, in order for her to compete with the big powers!

pp. 101 - 109, 121-122, 127
pp. 101 - 109, 121-122, 127