In his Letter to the Bolshevik Party Congress, written in Winter 1922/1923, and afterwards known as his “Last Testament”, Lenin wrote about Stalin:
“ Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution.“ (on 24th December 1922)
Lenin in 1923
He had already criticised Stalin for his “Great-Russian chauvinism” and disdain towards the right to self-determination of the peoples in the Soviet Union, but this political struggle became much more personal: Only few days before Lenin wrote the passage I quoted above, and unknown to him at that time, Stalin had become abusive towards Lenin’s wife and close political companion Nadezhda Krupskaya. Krupskaya wrote to an old comrade, Lev Kamenev, on 23rd December 1922:
Because of a short letter which I had written in words dictated to me by Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin] by permission of the doctors, Stalin allowed himself yesterday an unusually rude outburst directed at me.
This is not my first day in the Party. During all these 30 years I have never heard one word of rudeness from any comrade. The Party’s and Ilyich’s business is no less dear to me than to Stalin. I need maximum self-control right now. What one can and what one cannot discuss with Ilyich I know better than any doctor, because I know what makes him nervous and what does not. In any case I know [it] better than Stalin. I am turning to you and to Grigory [Zinoviev] as much closer comrades of V[ladimir] I[lyich]. I beg you to protect me from rude interference with my private life and from vile invectives and threats. I have no doubt what the Control Commission’s unanimous decision [in this matter], with which Stalin sees fit to threaten me, will be. However I have neither strength nor time to waste on this foolish quarrel. And I am a human being and my nerves are strained to the utmost.
Kamenev, Lenin and Zinoviev in 1922
Lenin may have known about the conflict when he added to his Letter, on 4th January 1923:
“ Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc”
However, it may be that this addition is unrelated to Stalin’s outburst against Krupskaya, and Lenin learned about the incident only some months later, for it was only on 5th March 1923 that he wrote a very angry personal letter to Stalin about that matter:
“Top secret Personal Copy to Comrades Kamenev and Zinoviev
Dear Comrade Stalin:
Lenin and Krupskaya, 1922
You have been so rude as to summon my wife to the telephone and use bad language. Although she had told you that she was prepared to forget this, the fact nevertheless became known through her to Zinoviev and Kamenev. I have no intention of forgetting so easily what has been done against me, and it goes without saying that what has been done against my wife I consider having been done against me as well. I ask you, therefore, to think it over whether you are prepared to withdraw what you have said and to make your apologies, or whether you prefer that relations between us should be broken off.
Respectfully yours, Lenin
March 5, 1923″
A few days after this letter, Lenin suffered another stroke that left him unable to work and to speak. He died in January 1924. His comrades, Stalin as well as Kamenev, Zinoviev and Trotsky, but against Krupskaya’s protest, decided not to publish his “Last Testament”. It was only published in 1956, during De-Stalinisation, as well as the personal letters by Krupskaya and Lenin.