Main Political Differences Between Stalin & Trotsky

Main Political Differences Between Stalin & Trotsky

When revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin began to fall ill in the early years of Communist Russia, a power struggle began between two of his revolutionary allies, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Stalin eventually prevailed as Lenin's successor, with Trotsky being kicked out of the country and becoming a voice for what Communist Russia could have been. The conflict between these two men may have been largely a personal power struggle, but they were also known for their differences in political views.

1 Bureaucracy

A central concern of Trotsky's from the early days of Soviet Russia was the continued power, and even growth, of bureaucracy under the new Communist government. The revolutionaries had hoped, based on Marxist theory, that the revolution would put an end to the petty bureaucracy of old-fashioned government, and Trotsky never got over the fact that it didn't work out that. Stalin, on the other hand, was a master of bureaucracy, not only accepting it but expertly manipulating it for his own advancement. It was Stalin's greater command of the Communist Party bureaucracy that ultimately led to his victory over Trotsky.

2 The New Economic Policy

The radical state socialism instituted at the beginning of the Russian Revolution required government control of all industry and forced farmers to turn their produce over to the government for redistribution. This policy was unpopular among peasants and workers, and after Russia's economic collapse, Lenin began the New Economic Policy of limited state-controlled capitalism and only partial taxes on farmers' produce. Stalin and most party leaders supported the NEP, believing it necessary to strengthen the Soviet Union and protect the revolution. But Trotsky, though he was a close friend of Lenin's, was part of a minority who opposed the policy, feeling it was a step backward from the revolution's socialist goals and arguing that rapid state-led industrialization was needed instead.

3 World Revolution

Russia's Communist revolutionaries were part of a worldwide Marxist movement, allied with Communist parties in countries around the world that sought to institute global socialism. One of the highest-profile disagreements between Stalin and Trotsky, though maybe not the most important, was over this issue. Stalin supported "socialism in one country," looking to strengthen the Soviet Union so that communism could survive there even if it died in other countries. Trotsky believed that he focus should stay on world revolution and that once the rich countries of the world had also turned to communism, they could help to restore the Soviet Union's economy without the capitalist backtracking of the NEP.

4 Humane Communism

After being expelled from Russia, Trotsky became a prominent critic of Stalin's Soviet Union. Communists in other countries have often argued that if Trotsky had come to power instead of Stalin, state communism would have had a better chance to develop in a less bureaucratic and dictatorial way. Trotsky himself supported this idea, writing criticisms not only of Stalin's strategic blunders but also of the way Stalin had consolidated power and abolished all democracy within the Communist Party. But these claims appear a bit dishonest when considering that Trotsky himself had supported party unity and crackdowns on dissenters during his time in Russia.

Evan Centanni specializes in world cultures and human geography. He grew up in Oregon, but has since lived in two other countries and traveled to many more. Centanni is editor of Political Geography Now at He holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and linguistics from the University of Oregon.