After the death of Lenin in 1924 there was no clear successor, this led to a lot of confusion within Russia. A collective leadership was formed compromising Stalin, Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev. At the time this was seen as a practical solution, with Russia being governed through the Politburo. Stalin used this to his advantage to gain power within the Communist Party and the government.
The main two contenders’ at this time were Stalin and Trotsky. Both men had different strengths and weaknesses; Stalin was seen as a ‘grey blur’, someone who had great administrational abilities but lacked personality. Stalin was seen as a more central figure within the Communist party whereas Trotsky was seen more left wing. This wasn’t Trotsky only disadvantage, unlike Stalin, Trotsky was brought up within a Jewish family and was a former Menshevik. This made Trotsky an easy target for his rivals. Trotsky however was the more popular of the two and took a more active role within debates where Stalin would stay away.
Stalin was clever in his tactics to become leader. Lenin was seen as the figure head of the Communist Party, Stalin used this to his advantage in winning over the Russia population. At Lenin’s funeral Stalin gave a speech creating the impression he was deeply upset at the passing of his former superior. Stalin’s main rival, Trotsky, didn’t even turn up to the funeral, stating that no one had informed him when the funeral was to take place. The funeral was an “occasion which demonstrated both the skills of Stalin in manipulating events and Trotsky’s lack of judgement  “. Trotsky was left isolated; many within the Bolshevik party saw Trotsky’s absence as an insult to Lenin’s memory. It also highlighted that Stalin wanted to continue Lenin’s work. He also created a triumvirate with Kamenev and Zinoviev. Stalin decided to have Lenin’s body embalmed so people could worship him, further increasing his popularity.
Another failing of Trotsky was his decision not to publish Lenin’s final testament. Along with Zinoviev, Trotsky decided against publishing his testament, the main reason behind this was that it criticised many other the other Politburo members. If this document would had been made public knowledge Stalin never would have gained the leadership as he was heavily criticised and Lenin recommended the removal of Stalin from within the Communist part.
Unfortunately Stalin had firmly established himself within the Bolshevik party. He was seen as a party man rather than an individualist. As Woods states “He had out manoeuvred his arch-rival on every possible front, not least through his skilful manipulation of the ‘cult of Leninism’  “. He had proven he was a clever politician and the gap between Stalin and Trotsky was widening which helped him secure power.
The structure of the Communist Party at the time was a great aid to Stalin. He held key positions, one of which was General Secretary, which he had held since 1922. This was a key position that enabled Stalin significant power as Stalin had access to thousands of personal documents on his fellow party members. With the introduction of the ‘Lenin Enrolment Plan’ in 1923 the job of General Secretary became even more advantageous. This plan was introduced in an effort to recruit more working class members. Stalin was now able to recruit new members of his choosing, mainly people who would be loyal to him. Stalin now had the power to out vote any opposition he encountered and could dictate orders to his rivals, as one historian states “all opposition of the 1920’s ended up with the same central grievance: the party had become ‘bureaucratized’, Stalin had killed tradition of internal party democracy.” 
Stalin now had the power to promote members to key positions within the party, mainly people who would support him against his rivals. Stalin began to isolate his rivals which led to the formation of the ‘United Opposition’ in 1926. This group included former Triumvirate members Kamanev and Zionviev, Trotsky was also a member. These members where often isolated at party conferences and as a result they became weaker while Stalin continued to gather support. It was Stalin’s ability to appoint members to positions rather them be elected which gave him the power to win elections and to steadily build up his power base.
Stalin now began launching personal attacks upon his rivals, often playing them off against each other. His main source of ammunition was the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the ideological differences. The NEP was introduced by Lenin to stop the Russian economy from collapsing, it allowed for some private profit business to be established. The ‘United Opposition’ believed that the NEP was to capitalist, however Stalin criticised this view, claiming that they opposed Lenin’s ideas and branded them traitors under the ‘Party Unity’ rule that banned members from creating parties within the party. Once Stalin had discredited the left wing to the point that they posed little threat to him he turned his attention to the right wing. This mainly compromised Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, with Bukharin being his main threat. Unlike the left wing, these members wanted the continuation of the NEP believing the survival of the communist state relied on it. Stalin claimed that by supporting the NEP they were undermining the revolution as it was a capitalist enterprise. Stalin was clever in his handling of these affairs, manipulating members against each other and they ultimately ousted each other from the party.
Stalin had other differences of opinion with the United Opposition, and in particular Trotsky. Stalin wanted a state of ‘Socialism in One Country, whereas Trotsky wanted a ‘Permanent Revolution’, however many Bolsheviks mistrusted Trotsky on this issue believing it was a Menshevik idea. With Trotsky’s history of being a member of the Mensheviks Stalin was easily able to discredit his rival and his ideas, portraying him as disloyal. Through his ‘Socialism in One Country’ Stalin was able to gather more support, showing himself as a patriot.
Stalin was also assisted by Trotsky himself when he produced ‘The Lessons of October’. This is due to the fact that ‘The lessons of October’ was used by Leon Trotsky to attack Kamenev and Zinoviev; this then led to them attacking him even more. As a result Trotsky had to step down as commissar of the army and therefore lost a lot of his political influence. Seeing as Trotsky was one of Stalin’s main political opponents this also helped Stalin in his rise to power.
It was often Stalin’s political opponents own weaknesses that helped his cause. For instance, Trotsky was an arrogant man, this helped Stalin. Of all the times Stalin manipulated Trotsky, like the incident at Lenin’s funeral, not once did Trotsky speak out and state what Stalin had been doing. This meant that no body really knew what Stalin was like behind the scenes. Surely if Trotsky spoke out and exposed Stalin then people would not have admired Stalin so much but on the contrary would have reviled him. Therefore Stalin may not have risen to power so easily. Another instance of the political powers showing weaknesses is the sucking in of Kamenev and Zinoviev by Stalin. They were both very naive. They were misled by Stalin and lied to for his own success. Also one of the main factors which show that the politicians were weak was the fact that many of the other politicians were very straight forward and stuck to their principles. This meant that they never really took a different approach even though Stalin did. Therefore Stalin constantly had the upper hand in political affairs. Also, many of the politicians underestimated Stalin due to the fact that he was very quiet and never participated in key debates; this led to him being described as a ‘grey blur’ by his political colleagues. As a consequence he was able to do many things, such as form a triumvirate with Kamenev and Zinoviev, and not get noticed.
Some Historians believe that Stalin’s rise was due to the structural changes that occurred within the government rather than Stalin’s personal qualities. As party administration began to replace the government, administration replaced politics. With this new system the majority of power fell into the hands of the party secretariat and general secretary, Stalin. It was though these positions that Stalin began to build a power base from; he began influencing major policies and to win votes off people he had personally appointed.
Although his personality could be seen as the most significant factor, it was other circumstances that aided his rise to power. Through a combination of his ruthlessness and determination, his attacks on his opposition and through their own flaws, he was able to take advantage of his position within the Communist Party. The economic and political confusion after Lenin’s death and also the civil war also helped him to gather support in both the Politburo and Central committee. All these factors gave him an edge over his rivals. Therefore by 1929 Stalin was able to convince the Communist Party that he was the best candidate to carry on Lenin’s work, and to control Russia. As one of his fellow party members stated, “He was a man whose aim was very clearaˆ¦he accomplished it in the most convincing wayaˆ¦and he allowed nothing to get in his way.”