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Stalin, Trotsky and the struggle for power after Lenin’s death

Introduction

This activity was designed and used by Sally Burnham who teaches in Peterborough. It’s an excellent activity for a number of reasons and well-worth reading and thinking about even if you don’t teach Russian history. The principles are very transferable to other contexts.

I like this activity because:

  1. The chocolate biscuits (representing power) make the topic memorable. Sally says ‘Without chocolate biscuits it would not have the same impact. The kids talk about the biscuits for months after the lesson.’ This underlines the need to make topics memorable in order to help students learn more effectively. This isn’t a gimmick. Sally’s thinking about making learning effective.
  2. The layering of the activity allows students’ learning to build up gradually, from a class outline that’s then repeated in groups and then into reading and detailed follow-up. The initial activities will make the reading more efficient. Again this shows how to structure a sequence of activities to make learning effective, structuring around learning rather than just the content.

Now over to Sally’s description of the activity.

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Support

A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.

Useful resources are shown in the left hand column and (repeated) at the bottom of the page, click here

This activity is based on the ’Role Play ’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

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Objectives

This activity has been designed to help students recognise the key characters in the power struggle following Lenin’s death and to help them see the overview of events before studying these in more depth. The activity was designed for A Level students but could be adapted for GCSE students.

The key objectives are that by the end of the lesson pupils will be able to:

  1. Identify the key contenders in the power struggle
  2. Explain their power bases
  3. Describe the key events in the power struggle and begin to analyse why Stalin became leader.

Setting Up

This activity comes after pupils have studied Russia from 1900 and have looked at the Bolshevik revolution and what Russia needs in a new leader now Lenin is dead. They must be familiar with Lenin’s Last Will and Testament. Students need to have an understanding of the key issues in the power struggle – the nature of leadership (Lenin had suggested ‘Collective leadership’), the industrialisation debate and Permanent Revolution versus Socialism in One Country. From the beginning of the course I allocate pupils with key individuals (Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Bukharin etc etc) – this has become harder as the class sizes grow but sometimes they double up. For homework in the lesson prior to the activity I asked the following characters to research their power base to present to the rest of the class:

Character List

Stalin

Trotsky

Bukharin

Zinoviev

Kamenev

Rykov

Tomsky

Key Ideas

Basically I am looking for the following key ideas and pupils to be able to explain why they are strong contenders:

Stalin

1917 Commissar for Nationalities

1919 Liaison Officer between Politburo and Orgburo

1922 General Secretary

1923-1925 Lenin Enrolment

Trotsky

Support from Red Army and students

Bukharin

Economist

‘Golden Boy’ with Lenin therefore popular

Outstanding theorist

Zinoviev

Chairman of the Party in Leningrad (local power base)

Good orator but not popular or seen as an intellectual

Kamenev

Chairman of the Party in Moscow (local power base)

Well regarded

Rykov

NEP supporter

Tomsky

A ‘worker’ – Trade Union man

 

Resources needed

Tabards with character names,

Packet of chocolate digestive biscuits

Finger puppets (for an optional extra activity).

The Activity

As teacher you are the narrator and director. I find it works best to run through the whole activity once and then go again but this time with questioning and prompts to help students really get a grasp of the events and their significance.

  1. Get the contenders out to the front of the class (with tabards on) and get them to organise themselves on a left to right continuum.
  2. Each contender must then explain to the class their power base. The class as a whole then decides how many chocolate digestives the character should receive – the more power the more biscuits. As you go through the contenders they may return to previous contenders and alter the number of biscuits in light of new information. (Stalin usually has 6-7, Trotsky 5 etc) Reinforce that the chocolate biscuits represent power.
  3. Narration begins – characters have to move forwards when they are involved in events and may act out scenes if they wish! The narration guides us through the events, stopping at each stage for a debate on the allocation of chocolate digestives according to changes in power.

Basic script for the teacher as narrator/director

Step 1: Before we begin

Stalin’s positions in the Party administration gave him enormous power over both personnel and policy

The Ban on Factions 1921 is a potentially devastating weapon in the hands of the man who could control votes at party congresses.

Step 2: Stalin v Trotsky. (both stand forwards)

Stalin delivered two significant blows to Trotsky at Lenin’s funeral – Trotsky didn’t attend the funeral and Stalin took the opportunity to set himself up as Lenin’s disciple.

Pupils decide if there should be movement in the biscuits – ½ a biscuit per mistake? Or were the mistakes so big that it’s a biscuit per mistake?

Step 3: Stalin avoids crisis (Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky to the front)

Lenin’s Testament was given to the Politburo in May 1924. This could have meant the end to Stalin’s career but…

Zinoviev and Kamenev urge that Lenin’s Testament is not made general knowledge.

Ask pupils why this is – prior knowledge of Lenin’s Testament and events of Oct 1917 come in to play here. Key ideas you are looking for:

They didn’t want to draw attention to Oct 1917

They didn’t think Stalin was a major player in the power struggle and wanted his help in defeating Trotsky and they thought the Testament might help Trotsky.

Trotsky kept quiet – this can be seen as a mistake.

Pupils decide if there should be movement in the biscuits

Step 4: The Triumvirate (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin and Trotsky to the front)

In 1924 at the 13th Party Congress Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin had formed the Triumvirate and were leading the Party. Trotsky spoke out at the Congress saying that the Party had become too bureaucratic and less democratic than under Lenin. His speeches were brilliant but he was defeated easily in the vote as congress was packed with well instructed Stalin delegates. Trotsky could have appealed to his supporters … but he had approved of the ban on factions and was unwilling to split the Party.

Pupils decide if there should be movement in the biscuits.

Step 5: Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky and Stalin at the front

During 1924 Zinoviev and Kamenev mounted a vicious campaign against Trotsky and question his loyalty pre 1917

(Ask students what was Trotsky’s previous party and why was this a problem?)

Trotsky retaliated with an article “Lessons of October” in which he criticised Zinoviev and Kamenev for their lack of support in October 1917. Stalin stayed in the background watching the Left tear themselves apart while he continued to build his power base. He appeared the moderate peace-maker, anxious to maintain Party unity.

Ask questions about the importance of October 1917 to the Bolsheviks and discuss why this was such a thorny issue in the power struggle.

Pupils decide if there should be movement in the biscuits.

Step 6: Characters to bunch into their Left and Right factions. In 1925 Stalin joined the Right over Socialism in One Country (ask pupils to tell you the two different ideas – Socialism in One Country or Permanent Revolution). Zinoviev and Kamenev launched an attack on Stalin saying that the NEP should be ended but they lost every vote (ask pupils to explain the NEP and what the alternative was. Why did the Left prefer Primitive Socialist Accumulation?)

In 1926 Zinoviev and Kamenev joined Trotsky and formed the New Opposition. They tried to get the Party masses to support them by organising demonstrations but they were accused of factionalism and lost all positions of power before being expelled from the Party.

Pupils decide if there should be movement in the biscuits

Step 7: In 1928 Stalin turned against the Right by attacking NEP and advocating rapid industrialisation. Bukharin put up a strong defence but was outvoted. Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were removed from the Politburo.

Winner: Stalin. In December 1929 when he celebrated his 50th birthday he was the undisputed leader of the USSR.

All biscuits are now with Stalin.

Debriefing

Ask pupils what factors allowed Stalin to become leader of the Party? Which factor do they think was most important? (from what they have studied so far)

I usually repeat the role play and then allow Stalin to decide whether the biscuits should be shared out or whether Stalin should eat them all!

After some further questioning I give groups of pupils sets of finger puppets and get them to re-enact the story. (Finger puppets can be easily made using circles of foam with a picture of the individual stuck on and two holes made in the bottom to stick fingers through, as in the picture alongside).

Pupils refer back to the power base of chocolate biscuits throughout the following lessons as they consolidate and develop their understanding of the power struggle.

Reflections

  1. What contribution did the biscuits make to the activity?
  2. What are the advantages and problems of using this style of activity with A level students?
  3. How did tackling this topic through this activity affect students’ learning? e.g. was their retention of detail or understanding of the patterns of events deeper?
  4. What was the impact of this activity on motivation to read and effectiveness of reading? [discuss with students]

Resources

Modern History Review,

April 1994:

Gordon, R.

Stalin Vs Trotsky

 

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Feedback

Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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This Page

Introduction

Support

Objectives

Setting Up

The Activity

Debriefing

Reflections

Resources

Feedback

 

Resources

Modern History Review,

April 1994:

Gordon, R.

Stalin Vs Trotsky