During the final days of Lenin, it was time for the bolshevik party to pick his replacement. because of the way Stalin used his position as secretary to put his followers in power, Stalin was allowed to go into power and he immediately focused on keeping this power.

Trotsky and Stalin couldn't have been more different, while they both believed in Communism, they had vastly different opinions on how to achieve it. Stalin had his own vision of communism, which focused on keeping it inside the borders of Russia, this was made to keep Stalin in power and not create conflict that would affect his power. Trotsky on the other hand thought more along the lines of Lenin. He believed that Communism could not have borders, that it must be a worldwide system.

If, as was planned, Trotsky had succeeded Lenin instead of Stalin, what would the Soviet Union have looked like? I am sure it eventually fall, Communism was not the stablest system around, but what would it look like by World War Two; What would they have looked like by the fall of our timelines Soviet Union? To be clear, I am only focused on what the Soviet Union would look like, I could care less about the rest of the world.

  • $\begingroup$ I can't answer now because I need to read about some events again (I'm at work), but you can expect some big differences. Trotsky and Stalin had completely different visions about what the communism was as an ideology. Great question! $\endgroup$
    – Radec
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ YouTube channel alternate history hub has a video that deals with this $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure shhh (I liked the concept, wanted more opinions) $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ Trotsky was kind of world-wide "revolution" dude - of course with force, unlike the stalin, who decided to build "national empire" in borders he gained, so the the behaviour could be much worse. $\endgroup$
    – user184868
    Commented May 13, 2022 at 0:32

3 Answers 3


First off, I dispute your assertion that Stalin 'was allowed' to go into power. It is more accurate to say that he schemed his way to power. First, Lenin himself used Stalin as a proxy in a power struggle with Stalin, using Stalin to build support with labor unions that Trotsky opposed, and getting Stalin appointed General Secretary. Then as Lenin grew ill and turned on Stalin, Stalin colluded with Lev Kaminev and Grigory Zinoviev to suppress Lenin's last testament (which was anti-Stalin and recommended removing him from power) until after Stalin was established in power. The Politburo was 7 people at the time. Stalin and allies (three) were opposed to one (Trotsky) and were able to recruit the last three Politburo members to their cause. The main argument was that Trotsky was a revolutionary at the core, while Stalin stood for order. After almost a decade of constant war and civil war, order sounded like a good deal. Also, it may have helped that Trostsky always kind of looked like a maniac, while Handsome Joe Stalin looked like a dude you could trust, or at least that you could cast in a new Netflix historical drama. Stalin took power by making a power play and convincing the other people that mattered to back him. Then he had them all exiled or executed, but that was later.

So that brings us to the big difference of Trotsky. He was all about the revolution, not about dealing with the consequences. From Stalin's ascension to 'person with the most power' in 1924, he was able to exile or remove from the party his enemies by 1927, and start a massive wave of purges in 1934. By pretty much any standard, Stalin moved swiftly and efficiently to consolidate power.

Trotsky, on the other hand, was never that interested in absolute power for its own sake. He was more interested in a collegial rule (i.e. ruling with a group of other intellectuals instead of killing them) and more interested in spreading the revolution elsewhere. This can be seen from his post-exile activities, which never really involved scheming to regain control of Russia, but spent much more time trying to establish united communist groups around the world, and supporting the communist movement in the United States.

So what if Lenin's will had come out, Stalin was ejected from the party, and Trotsky became General Secretary and undisputed champ in 1923?

While Stalin tried to isolate Russia and rebuild it to his liking, Trotsky would have tried to export revolution to Europe. Trotsky spent his exile time travelling Europe and America, absorbing foreign ideas. Stalin was exiled to Siberia. However, even though Stalin was inward looking, he still got invaded by Hitler, and even if Trotsky tried to export the revolution to the Europe, communism never really got a hold there, and he would have infuriated the fascist movements....and he would have gotten invaded by Hitler. Probably not much going on there. On the other hand, if Trotsky really had been trying to openly support communist revolutions in Great Britain and the US, its much more likely that neither Churchill or Roosevelt would have wanted anything to do with him.

So that leads us to the big historical difference. Trotsky's desire to export revolution would have lead the Allies to see him as not much better than Hitler. After Hitler invaded, the Allies would not have been so eager to send tanks and airplanes his way. The Russian resistance would have been weakened, and WWII would have been extended by a few years. In 1945, the Russians would be just turning the tide against the occupying Germans, who would have held Moscow for 4 years at this point. But the Germans really had no hope of winning the war due to another development that occured on August 9, 1945....

Thats right, if Trotsky had won in Russia, Truman would have had no choice but to nuke Hitler into unconditional surrender. Maybe Stalin was the lesser of two evils....

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    $\begingroup$ I doubt whether the USSR could even have lasted until WWII without someone who suppressed opposition as ruthlessly as Stalin at the helm. So if Stalin was purged (probably terminally) either Trotsky would have to take on the characteristics of Stalin to stay in power, or he'd be overthrown. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Then write your own answer! All things are possible with alternate history. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion: Possible. But: With Trotzky, maybe the soviet generals were not killed in the 1930s, so the red army would be working in 1939. Then who knows how a German/Polish war in 1939 without a German/Soviet pact would have ended? Heck, who knows if Hitler would have risen to power in 1933 if the KPD would have fought him and not the Weimar republic? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSchröder Then write your own answer! I want to hear about it. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer, interesting reading. Just wondering if the ruthlessness with which the defense of Stalin^H^H^H^H^H^HTrotskygrad was conducted would have been there if Trotsky was in power, or would the city have fallen? $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 7:34

The biggest difference (as a person who is familiar with only the basics of the early history of the USSR) is that the purges would probably not have been as bad.

The officer corps purge almost certainly made life easier for the Wehrmacht, and so the Soviets' share of the butcher's bill would have been smaller without it.


It depends. There would have been less purges, but Trotsky believed in the idea of 'Permanent Revolution' socialism where the bureaucracy of the state is eliminated once the common workers take charge and try to overwhelm capitalism with a series of worker's revolutions across the globe. This version of socialism could potentially work if you get enough revolutionaries on board and come up with a good enough alternative to state bureaucracy. However, there is a chance a lot of revolutions might fail and capitalists could have a good counter-offensive. Stalin was brutal and tyrannical, but there was some method to his madness: Stalin was trying the dictatorship of the proletariat method of socialism, a form of the state where members of the working class take control of the state and nationalize the means of production in order to make everything publicly owned and improve the standing of the current community. Here, the state is supposed be a means to an end where the state is used as a tool by the proletariat to protect against capitalist counterrevolution and attacks in the journey to reach the final stage of communism. As Friedrich Engels put it:

The proletariat needs the state, not in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist.

So, while less tyrannical and more inviting and less purges, it might be easier for capitalists and those opposing the socialist revolution to infiltrate Trotsky's USSR and try to tear it apart from the inside out. The United States and other western forces fought on behalf of the White Army & tried to get into the USSR during the Russian Revolution to stop Bolshevism. This and other attempts by Western powers in the past to invade/influence Russia as well as a fear that the proletariat state releasing its grip too soon would lead to Russia "being controlled by the most reactionary elements of their community" was kind of the logic Stalin and his allies were running on when they engaged in their reign of terror.

So basically, the USSR would be looser, more democratic, and more focus on spreading freer socialist revolutions across Europe and other parts of the world. This could help Trotsky's revolution spread, but the lack of centralized unity, bureaucracy, and strong 'state' to prevent counterrevolution and groups like U.S. intelligence from attempting to infiltrate socialist revolutions the same way the CIA invaded Guatemala when they tried to establish a democratic socialist nation could lead to the revolution going a variety of different ways:

  • Worst case: The revolution is torn apart or weaken from the inside. The United States and other nations stop socialist revolutions from spreading and tear apart socialist nations allied with Russian reactionary forces. Many socialist allies are removed from the picture like socialist Guatemala, the Paris Commune, and the Gotha Programme of the past.
  • The socialist revolution is able to quickly overwhelm some capitalist nations, but is able to be kept at bay by capitalist forces. While it spreads less than the USSR in our timeline, it is able to be a freer nation than in our timeline & still be able to at least be a Great Power in Eastern Europe with links to other nations on the continent. -Best case: the revolution does not completely take down capitalism, but it does establish a good foothold in Europe as more workers look to joining the socialist revolution. This superpower competes with the United States and worker's unity as well as other methods less brutal than the real-life USSR allow this looser socialist Russia to still compete with capitalist powers of the world. After that, the timeline would be pretty different from what we have currently.

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