I know that Stalin was only one of several successors to Lenin (and not a favored one at that) when Lenin died. However, Stalin was able to quickly forge alliances within the Party to oust his most powerful rivals (Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev) and establish control of the USSR. Even Bukharin - a former ally - was expelled in 1929. Stalin banned Party factions, removing official voices of dissent.

And yet he still felt the need to have all his disgraced and defeated opponents put on trial and murdered. He then proceeded to purge other prominent Communists (as well as many ordinary people).

Did Stalin face any resistance to the Purge politically? Was there anyone powerful enough left after Stalin's rise to power but before the Purge began, or was Stalin completely "punching down"? I am interested in the political figures, so while "such and such general controlled so many million troops" is potentially interesting, the general would also need to be somewhat politically active to merit a mention.

4 Answers 4


Yes, by 1936 Stalin was firmly in control. In fact, any non-underground opposition was officially finished by the XVII Congress of the CPSU in 1934 - there, all the leaders of the former opposition (like Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev) basically submitted to Stalin, all their speeches can be briefly summed up as "We were wrong, Great Leader, please don't kill us". Since then, any official opposition was impossible. That very year Zinoviev and Kamenev were arrested (on a most likely fabricated charge linked to the murder of Kirov), and by 1936 most of their former supporters were purged from the Party. All in all, over 70% of the members of the Central Committee elected in 1934 were dead by 1938. Note that arrest of one of the Committee members required approval of the arrest by the majority of the Committee members, so to pull this off, Stalin had to get that approval every time, and get it he did - pretty clear demonstration of who controlled the government at the moment.


The last member of the Politburo who had real potential to replace Stalin as leader was Kirov. He and Stalin were friends - or at least pretended to be friends! - but one incident made it clear to Stalin that Kirov was a threat to his power. The Central Committee had a tradition of occasionally allowing members to cast anonymous ballots against the figures in the Politburo. On one occasion, that process resulted in 200 ballots being cast against Stalin but only 3 were cast against Kirov. Robert Conquest argued that this was the justification Stalin used to have Kirov killed in 1934. Conquest has an entire book describing the evidence for this plot. I have to say it is compelling, although I have not seen any of the counter-arguments for disbelieving it. By Conquest's reckoning, Stalin worried about being displaced so set up a plot to kill Kirov with a dupe, then kill everyone associated with the plot (except himself of course), including the investigators of the assassination, then kill everyone who investigated THOSE deaths, just to ensure that no hint of his own involvement ever leaked out. According to Conquest, the liquidation of Kirov evolved into the Great Purge to remove everyone who might be a threat to Stalin's power.


While other answers have been formalistic: no, Stalin did not have "complete control" over the government. Substantively much of Soviet governance was beneath Stalin's interest, and here there was a great deal of trust reposed in lower party figures who would implement the general programme of five year plans and purges. Additionally party members anticipated the Stalin line in areas lacking clarity: there was sufficient ideological publication for anticipated policy behaviour to be successfully estimated. Thirdly, the chief organs operated on a cabinet, ie a collective responsibility, basis. These organs tended to have the most junior speakers speak first, allowing senior members to adjudicate.

Finally, this question is methodologically wrong as it purports a great man theory. Stalinism didn't work because of the force of Stalin's character, but because it was actively desired and supported by a large plurality of the population and a super majority of the party. Stalin didn't fall from the moon.

See Fitzpatrick, Sheila's extensive work published to critical acclaim in the scholarly press based on archival work on the actual history of stalinism rather than fantasies.

  • 1
    You must mean that "complete control" cannot exist. But as far as complete control goes, Stalin's was the farthest out there. The fact that he didn't have to push arbitrarily every day for measures that nobody thought of because they all lived according to the same ideological scheme is not an argument against his power, on the contrary. - If control is just a word, so is "shared power", Stalinism is a way of sharing power that ensures for one man maximum control over the society.
    – cipricus
    Apr 28, 2023 at 13:19

Stalin was under Molotov and Kaganovich shadow until 1941. Stalin was the head of the communist party (General Secretary- which determine party membership). Stalin used this position to create Yes men to support his position. Stalin's political power during 1936 would be similar to Vice President of the U.S. Molotov was the Premier aka Council of Ministers (Head of Government and State). Kaganovich was the Secretariat (was responsible for the central administration of the party). Stalin did not have quite full power in 1936. If he wanted to arrest or execute his enemies, he had to gain Molotov and Kaganovich approval.

Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar explains your answer better.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.