1. Stalin's two next successors, Malenkov and Khrushchev, were both ousted.

Why wasn't Stalin? Note that the cult of personality around Stalin was not so much directly tied to the man and his vanity, but various state projects.

  1. So how did Stalin manage to control USSR so absolutely, even when total loyalty to him was never rewarded long term?

User "kieslowskifan" wrote on r/AskHistorians

But being on the Team always carried with it an element of risk. Displeasing Stalin or creating some sort of pretext for removal was an ever-present threat during the Purges. Genrikh Yagoda's fall exemplified that no one was immune from the process. Yagoda, as head of the NKVD, was notoriously corrupt and inefficient and enemies within the Team and the NKVD used this against him. His successor, the much younger Nikolai Yezhov, conducted his duties with far greater probity and thoroughness than the venal Yagoda. But although Yezhov was a more efficient executor, that very status painted a target on Yezhov's back. Like many intelligence chiefs, Yezhov actively sought out intelligence on his political rivals. Such files were dangerous in the collective paranoia of the Great Purges as trivial biographical details and missteps could become treason. Stalin's habit of simultaneously delegating and then micromanaging the Team gave Yezhov plenty of evidence on the Teams' activities that could be spun into a charge. Not surprisingly, Yezhov was the most powerful member of the inner circle to be purged. Even here, the purging process was quite different and staged with a gradual stripping of his power before his arrest, show-trial, and execution. A similar fate befell Yezhov's successor Beria after Stalin's death, illustrating the occupational hazards of being Stalin's chief of secret police.

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    Does the Wikipedia article on Stalin's cult of personality answer your question? Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 0:57
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    This question has been asked before.What legal or moral mechanism ensured Stalin's grip on power? and What mechanisms made Stalinism triumphant in Russia?. Closed both times.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 1:04
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    Volumes have been written on this topic. There were attempts to depose him but he outsmarted (and killed) all his opponents. I don't think you will obtain a reasonable answer to this question within the format of this site. (Why was not Mao deposed?)
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 1:32
  • @alex: volumes has been written on the two world wars and Vietnam, and that hasn't stopped people asking questions about it. I'd be interested if the archives of the Politburo would be more revealing. I assume they keep them. The question is, if and when historians are given access. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 3:04
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    I wonder if these types of questions could be brought out of the opinion sphere if they were rephrased along the lines of "Did any contemporary political leaders from the '20s forecast the future deposition of Stalin?" or along those lines. Maybe not, maybe... That would again give us a contemporary base to answer from which seems to be the key in moving further from our opinion to historical resources.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 13:45