Life in the USSR and the struggle for power after the death of Vladimir Lenin
Creator and first head of the Soviet state and government, Vladimir Lenin, died in 18 hours 50 minutes 21 January 1924. For the Soviet Union, which then counted only 13 months, this death was the first political shock, and the body of the deceased became the first Soviet shrine.
What was our country at that time? And how did the death of the leader of the Bolshevik party influence its further fate?
Russia after Lenin's death
By the time of the death of Vladimir Ulyanov, a new state was located on the site of the former Russian Empire - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the battles of the Civil War, the Bolshevik party inherited almost the entire territory of Tsarist Russia, with the exception of Poland and Finland, as well as small pieces on the outskirts - in Bessarabia and Sakhalin, which were still occupied by the Romanians and the Japanese.
As of January 1924, the population of our country after all the losses of the world and civil wars was about 145 million, of whom only 25 million lived in cities, and the rest were villagers. That is, Soviet Russia was still a peasant country, and the industry destroyed in 1917 – 1921 only recovered and barely caught up with the prewar level of 1913 of the year.
The internal enemies of the Soviet government — various white movements, marginal nationalists and separatists, peasant rebels — had already been defeated in open armed struggle, but still had a lot of sympathizers both inside the country and in the form of numerous foreign emigration, who had not yet come to terms with their defeat and actively preparing for a possible revenge. This danger was complemented by the lack of unity within the ruling party itself, where the heirs of Lenin had already begun to share leadership posts and influence.
Although Vladimir Lenin was rightly considered the undisputed leader of the Communist Party and the whole country, formally he was only the head of the Soviet government - the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. The nominal head of the Soviet state under the then constitution was another person - Mikhail Kalinin, head of the USSR Central Executive Committee, the highest state body combining the functions of legislative and executive power (the Bolshevik Party did not fundamentally recognize the "bourgeois" theory of "separation of powers").
Even in the Bolshevik Party, which remained the only legal and ruling party by 1924, there was no formal sole leader. The party was headed by a collective body - the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b). At the time of Lenin's death, in addition to Vladimir Ulyanov himself, the supreme body of the party included six others: Joseph Stalin, Lev Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexey Rykov. At least three of them - Trotsky, Stalin and Zinoviev - had the desire and the ability to claim leadership in the party after Lenin and were headed by influential groups of their supporters among the party-state officials.
At the time of Lenin’s death, Stalin had been elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party for a year and a half, but this post was still not perceived as the main one and was considered “technical”. From January 1924, it will take almost four more years of inner-party struggle before Joseph Dzhugashvili becomes the sole leader of the ruling party in the USSR. It is Lenin’s death that will push this power struggle, which, starting with quite comradely discussions and disputes, will take on bloody terror in 13 years.
The difficult internal situation of the country at the time of Lenin's death was complicated by considerable foreign policy difficulties. Our country was still in international isolation. At the same time, the last year of the life of the first Soviet leader was for the leaders of the USSR, in anticipation of not international diplomatic recognition, but a speedy socialist revolution in Germany.
The government of the Bolsheviks, realizing the economic and technical backwardness of Russia, then sincerely hoped for the victory of the German Communists, which would open access to the technologies and industrial capacities of Germany. Indeed, the entire 1923 year, Germany was shaken by economic and political crises. In Hamburg, Saxony and Thuringia, the German communists were more than ever close to the seizure of power, the Soviet secret services even sent their military experts to them. But the general communist uprising and the socialist revolution in Germany did not happen, the USSR was left alone with the capitalist environment in Europe and Asia.
The capitalist elites of that world still perceived the government of the Bolsheviks and the entire USSR as dangerous and unpredictable extremists. Therefore, by January 1924, only seven states recognized the new Soviet country. In Europe there were only three of them - Germany, Finland and Poland; in Asia, four - Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Mongolia (however, the latter also was not recognized by anyone in the world except the USSR, and Germany then defeated in World War I was considered the same outcast country as Soviet Russia).
But with all the differences in political regimes and ideologies, it was difficult to completely ignore such a large country as Russia in politics and economics. The breakthrough happened shortly after Lenin's death - during 1924, the USSR recognized the most powerful countries of that time, that is, Great Britain, France and Japan, as well as a dozen other less influential, but noticeable countries on the world map, including China. By 1925, of the major states, only the USA still did not have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The rest of the largest countries gritting their teeth were forced to recognize the government of Lenin's heirs.
Mausoleum and mummification of Lenin
Lenin died in Gorki, not far from Moscow, in a manor that before the revolution belonged to the Moscow mayor. Here the first leader of the Communist Party due to illness spent the last year of his life. In addition to the local doctors, the best medical specialists from Germany were invited to it. But the efforts of the doctors did not help - Lenin died in the 53 year of life. A severe injury to 1918 of the year, when the bullets broke the blood circulation of the brain, had an effect.
According to Trotsky, a few months before Lenin’s death, Stalin had the idea of preserving the body of the first leader of a Soviet country. Trotsky recounts Stalin's words in this way: “Lenin is a Russian man, and he should be buried in Russian. In Russian, according to the canons of the Russian Orthodox Church, saints were made relics ... ".
Mausoleum VI Lenin. Photo: Vladimir Savostyanov / TASS photo chronicle
Initially, most party leaders did not support the idea of preserving the body of a dying leader. But immediately after the death of Lenin, no one persistently objected to this idea. As Stalin explained in January 1924: “After a while, you will see pilgrimages of millions of working people at the tomb of Comrade Lenin ... Modern science has the ability, through embalming, to preserve the body of the deceased for a long time, at least long enough to allow our consciousness to get used to the thought that Lenin is still not among us. ”
Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Soviet state security, became the chairman of the commission for the burial of Lenin. 23 January 1924, the coffin of Lenin was brought by train to Moscow. After four days, the coffin with the body was placed in a wooden mausoleum hastily built on Red Square. The architect of the Lenin Mausoleum was the architect Alexei Shchusev, who before the revolution served in the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and specialized in the construction of Orthodox churches.
The coffin with the body of the leader in the mausoleum on their shoulders made four: Stalin, Molotov, Kalinin and Dzerzhinsky. Winter 1924 of the year stood out cold, there was a strong frost, which for several weeks ensured the safety of the body of the deceased.
The experience of embalming and long-term storage of human bodies then was not yet. Therefore, the first project of a permanent, rather than a temporary mausoleum, proposed by the old Bolshevik and People's Commissar (Minister) of foreign trade, Leonid Krasin, was associated precisely with the freezing of the body. In fact, it was proposed to install a glass refrigerator in the mausoleum, which would provide deep freezing and preservation of the corpse. In the spring of 1924, for this purpose, they even began to search for the most advanced refrigeration equipment at that time in Germany.
However, an experienced chemist Boris Zbarsky was able to prove to Felix Dzerzhinsky that deep freezing at low temperatures is suitable for storing products, but not suitable for preserving the body of the deceased, since it breaks the cells and over time significantly changes the appearance of the frozen body. A darkened ice corpse will scare rather than contribute to the commemoration of the memory of the first Soviet leader. It was necessary to look for other ways and means of preserving the body of Lenin exhibited at the mausoleum.
It was Zbarsky who indicated to the Bolshevik leaders the most experienced Russian anatomist, Vladimir Vorobyov. 48-year-old Vladimir Petrovich Vorobiev taught at the Department of Anatomy of Kharkov University, in particular, he has been engaged in the preservation and storage of anatomical preparations (separate human organs) and animal mummies for more than a decade.
True, Vorobiev himself initially refused the proposal to preserve the body of the Soviet leader. The fact is that he had some "sins" before the Bolshevik party - in 1919, during the capture of Kharkov by white troops, he worked in the commission for the exhumation of the corpses of the Kharkov Cheka, and only recently returned to the USSR from emigration. Therefore, the anatomist Vorobiev reacted to Zbarsky's first sentence to do the preservation of Lenin's body: “In no case will I go to such an obviously risky and hopeless business, and it is unacceptable for me to be ridiculous among scientists. On the other hand, you forget my past, which the Bolsheviks will remember, if there is a failure ... ".
Vladimir Petrovich Vorobev. Photo: wikipedia.org
However, soon the scientific interest won out - the task that had arisen was too complicated and unusual, and Vladimir Vorobyev, as a true fanatic of science, could not shun the attempt to solve it. 26 March 1924, the Vorobiev began work on the preservation of Lenin's body.
The embalming process took four months. First of all, the body was saturated with formalin — a chemical solution that not only killed all microorganisms, fungi, and possible mold, but actually turned the proteins of a once-living body into polymers that can be stored for an arbitrarily long time.
Then, with the help of hydrogen peroxide, Vorobiev and his assistants discolored frostbite spots that appeared on Lenin’s body and face after two months of storage in the icy winter crypt of the first mausoleum. At the final stage, the body of the deceased leader was soaked with aqueous solutions of glycerol and potassium acetate, so that the tissues did not lose moisture and were protected from drying out and changes in the lifetime form.
Exactly four months later, on July 26, 1924, the embalming process was successfully completed. By that time, the architect Shchusev on the site of the first wooden mausoleum built a second, already more capital and substantial mausoleum. Built also of wood, it will stand on Red Square for more than five years, before the construction of the mausoleum of granite and marble.
At noon 26 on July 1924, the mausoleum with Lenin's embalmed body was visited by a selection committee headed by Dzerzhinsky, Molotov and Voroshilov. They were supposed to evaluate the results of the work of Vladimir Vorobiev. The results were impressive - the touched Dzerzhinsky even embraced the former employee of the White Guards and the recent emigrant Vorobyov.
The conclusion of the government commission on the preservation of Lenin’s body said: “The activities undertaken for embalming rest on solid scientific foundations, giving the right to count on Vladimir Ilyich’s body for a long time in a condition that allows him to be seen in a closed glass coffin subject to the necessary conditions humidity and temperature ... The overall appearance has improved significantly compared to what was observed before embalming, and is approaching to a large extent recently the dead. "
So the body of Lenin, thanks to the scientific work of his namesake Vladimir Vorobiev, was in the glass coffin of the Mausoleum, in which it rests for over 90 years. The Communist Party and the government of the USSR generously thanked the anatomist Vorobyov - he became not only an academician and the only in our country holder of the title “Honored Professor”, but also a very rich man even by the standards of capitalist countries. By a special order of the authorities, Vorobyov was awarded a prize in 40 of thousands of gold chervonets (about 10 million dollars in prices of the beginning of the XXI century).
Power struggle after Lenin
While the scientist anatomist Vorobiev worked to preserve Lenin’s body, a struggle for power developed in the country and the Bolshevik Party. At the beginning of 1924, the ruling party actually had three main leaders - Trotsky, Zinoviev and Stalin. At the same time, the first two were considered the most influential and authoritative, and not the still ambitious “General Secretary of the Central Committee” Stalin.
45-year-old Leon Trotsky was the recognized creator of the Red Army, who won the heavy civil war. At the time of Lenin's death, he held the posts of Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs and the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council (RVS), that is, he was the head of all the armed forces of the USSR. At that time, a significant part of the army and the Bolshevik party were guided by this charismatic leader.
41-year-old Grigory Zinoviev for many years was a personal secretary and Lenin's closest aide. At the time of the death of the first leader of the USSR, Zinoviev headed the city of Petrograd (then the largest metropolis of our country) and the largest among the Bolsheviks Petrograd branch of the party. In addition, Zinoviev served as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Communist International - an international association of all the communist parties on the planet. At that time, the Comintern in the USSR was formally considered a higher authority even for the Bolshevik Party. On this basis, it was Gregory Zinoviev who was perceived by many in the country and abroad as the very first among all the leaders of the USSR after Lenin.
All year after the death of Ulyanov-Lenin, the situation in the Bolshevik party will be determined by the rivalry between Trotsky and Zinoviev. It is curious that these two Soviet leaders were compatriots and countrymen — both were born in Jewish families in the Elisavetgrad district of the Kherson province of the Russian Empire. However, during Lenin’s lifetime, they were almost open rivals and opponents, and only the generally recognized Leninist authority forced them to work together.
Against the background of Trotsky and Zinoviev, 45-year-old Stalin initially seemed much more modest, taking the post of secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) and being considered only the head of the party’s technical apparatus. But it was this modest "apparatchik" who turned out to be the winner in the inner-party struggle.
From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Alexey Rykov, Grigory Zinoviev and Nikolai Bukharin, 1928 year / TASS photo chronicle
Initially, all other leaders and authorities of the Bolshevik party immediately after Lenin’s death united against Trotsky. This is not surprising - after all, all other members of the Politburo and the Central Committee were activists of the Bolshevik faction with pre-revolutionary experience. Whereas, before the revolution, Trotsky was an ideological opponent and rival of the Bolshevik trend in the social democratic movement, joining Lenin only in the summer of 1917.
Exactly one year after the death of Lenin, at the end of January 1925, the united supporters of Zinoviev and Stalin at a meeting of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party actually "overthrow" Trotsky from the heights of power, depriving him of the posts of people's commissar (minister) for military affairs and the head of the Revolutionary Military Council. From now on, Trotsky remains without access to the mechanisms of real power, and his supporters in the party-state apparatus are gradually losing their posts and influence.
But Zinoviev’s open struggle with the Trotskyists pushes away many party activists from him - in their eyes Gregory Zinoviev, too rushing for leaders, looks too much like a narcissist intruder, too busy with questions of personal power. Against his background, the shadowy Stalin seems much more moderate and balanced. For example, in January 1925, when discussing the question of Trotsky’s resignation, Zinoviev calls for him to be excluded from the party altogether, while Stalin publicly acts as a conciliator, proposing a compromise: leaving Trotsky in the party and even as a member of the Central Committee, to limit himself to eliminating him from military posts.
It is this moderate position that attracts the sympathy of many Bolshevik middle managers to Stalin. And in December of the 1925 of the year at the next, XIV Congress of the Communist Party, most of the delegates will support Stalin, when his open rivalry with Zinoviev begins.
His post as head of the Comintern will also have a negative effect on Zinoviev’s authority, since it is the Communist International and its leader who, in the eyes of the party masses, will have to bear responsibility for the failure of the socialist revolution in Germany, which the Bolsheviks waited with the hopes of the first half of the 20s with such hopes. Stalin, on the contrary, concentrating on “routine” internal affairs, increasingly appeared before the party members not only as a balanced leader, not prone to splits, but also as a real workaholic, busy with real work, and not loud slogans.
As a result, two years after Lenin’s death, two of his three closest associates — Trotsky and Zinoviev — would lose their former influence, and Stalin would come very close to being the sole leader in the country and the party.