Leadership Succession and Political Violence in the USSR Following Stalin’s Death

  • Mark Kramer


Robert Conquest is best known for his books on the Stalinist terror of the 1930s and the devastating famine in Soviet Ukraine, but he first made his name by analyzing leadership succession and political power in the Soviet Union. In his landmark book on Soviet high politics, Power and Policy in the USSR, Conquest explained how new political leaders emerged and consolidated their power against potential rivals.1 Because no formal arrangements for transferring power existed in the Soviet Union, changes of political leadership were carried out through furtive political struggles and cutthroat maneuvering, which occasionally produced unexpected results. The instability engendered by the lack of institutionalized processes of political succession became evident as early as January 1924 when the death of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Bolsheviks, created a political vacuum. Josif Stalin’s consolidation of power in Moscow through a series of violent moves against his rivals in the 1920s and 1930s, culminating in show trials and executions of former colleagues, underscored the potential role of violence in Soviet leadership struggles.


Communist Party State Security Soviet Government Union Republic Soviet Leader 
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© Paul Hollander 2008

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  • Mark Kramer

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