A one-page reply to the statement “Stalin won leadership of the Communist Party due to his own cleverness”
It is undoubtedly true that Stalin possessed a great cunning. He rose through the ranks of the Bolshevik Party (from General Secretary to undisputed leader of the Soviet Union in under a decade) using a series of devious but ingenious tricks. Though not especially intelligent or eloquent compared to Trotsky, Lenin or Bukharin, he certainly knew how to manipulate large groups of people. He used an apparently unimportant position to slowly build up support in the Communist Party ranks by populating them solely with his own followers, and then used what could be considered mind control techniques to turn the Soviet people against his enemies. By removing party candidates who might have become Trotskyites, and then turning the remainder against each other, he managed to destroy all potential opposition without having to directly challenge them all. The important part of his plan was to play on the people’s common fears about Leon Trotsky. Many at the time believed that Trotsky was too powerful, and that he could become an extremist, totalitarian dictator, thus turning them to pull away from him and vote for Stalin instead (ironically). By use of the propaganda tricks, revisionist history and exploitation of fear which would later become synonymous with his era, Stalin could encourage a frenzy of hatred against his political enemies. Also, with his tricking of Trotsky at Lenin’s funeral, and his cashing in on the cult of Lenin in general, he made himself appear to be Lenin’s closest friend (or rather the Soviet Messiah), and thus elevate himself to divine status.
There is, however, some weight to the argument that Stalin’s rise to power was not purely down to his own brilliance. Looking at the situation prior to his coup, we can see that he was blessed with several strokes of luck. Foremost among these is the fact that Lenin appointed him General Secretary to begin with. Clearly, the old Bolsheviks overlooked the power of this position and underestimated Josef’s lust for power. He was also lucky that Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev were so quick to quarrel with each other, thus providing an opportunity for him to attack. He also had a very narrow escape when the other party members decided not to publish Lenin’s last will and testament, for though it also criticised his enemies (including Trotsky), it was he of whom Lenin appeared to be most cautious.
Overall, it is true that Stalin was deviously cunning and did possess some tactical brilliance, but it was only due to several lucky breaks that he was ever able to put it to use.