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Stalin's cult of personality

A celebration of Stalin's 70th birthday in the People's Republic of China.

Joseph Stalin's cult of personality became a prominent part of Soviet culture in December 1929, after a lavish celebration for Stalin's 50th birthday.[1] For the rest of Stalin's rule, the Soviet press presented Stalin as an all-powerful, all-knowing leader, and Stalin's name and image became omnipresent. From 1936 the Soviet journalism started to refer to Joseph Stalin as the Father of Nations.[2]

Contents

Stalin's image in propaganda and the mass mediaEdit

 
Female members of the FDJ carry Stalin's pictures in the 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students in East Berlin.

The Soviet press constantly praised Stalin, describing him as "Great", "Beloved", "Bold", "Wise", "Inspirer", and "Genius".[3] It portrayed him as a caring yet strong father figure, with the Soviet populace as his "children".[4] Interactions between Stalin and children became a key element of the personality cult. Stalin often engaged in publicized gift giving exchanges with Soviet children from a range of different ethnic backgrounds. Beginning in 1935, the phrase, "Thank You Dear Comrade Stalin for a Happy Childhood!" appeared above doorways at nurseries, orphanages, and schools; children also chanted this slogan at festivals.[5]

Speeches described the dictator as "Our Best Collective Farm Worker", "Our Shockworker, Our Best of Best", and "Our Darling, Our Guiding Star".[3] The image of Stalin as a father was one way in which Soviet propagandists aimed to incorporate traditional religious symbols and language into the cult of personality; the title of "father" now first and foremost belonged to Stalin, as opposed to the Russian Orthodox priests. The cult of personality also adopted the Christian traditions of procession and devotion to icons through the use of Stalinist parades and effigies. By reapplying various aspects of religion to the cult of personality, the press hoped to shift devotion away from the church and towards Stalin.[6]

Initially, the press also aimed to demonstrate a direct link between Stalin and the common people; newspapers often published collective letters from farm or industrial workers praising the leader,[7] as well as accounts and poems about meeting Stalin. However, these sorts of accounts declined after World War II; Stalin drew back from public life, and the press instead began to focus on remote contact (i.e. accounts of receiving a telegram from Stalin or seeing the leader from afar).[8]

Another prominent part of Stalin's image in the mass media was his close association with Vladimir Lenin. The Soviet press maintained that Stalin had been Lenin's constant companion while the latter was alive, and that as such, Stalin closely followed Lenin's teachings and could continue the Bolshevik legacy after Lenin's death.[9] Stalin fiercely defended the correctness of Lenin's views in public, and in doing so Stalin implied that, as a faithful follower of Leninism, his own leadership was similarly faultless.[10]

He did not completely succeed in suppressing Lenin's statements criticizing him and suggesting that others remove Stalin from his position as leader of the Communist party. However some such as historian Peter Kotkin have argued that these statements of Lenin were actually forgeries, they were not written or signed by Lenin but were allegedly spoken by him and taken down. According to V. Sakharov the dates on these allegedly forged portions also contradict the dates in the diaries of Lenin's secretaries and doctors.[11] Kotkin argues that the leaders of the party, both Stalin and his opponents knew these segments were forged and for this reason they didn't have much impact and Stalin wasn't removed from his post even though he offered to step down.[12] Interestingly Stalin didn't contest the validity of the forged segment but turned it into a propaganda weapon against his enemies. The allegedly forged section called him "too rude", in answer Stalin admitted and apologized for his rudeness, but said he can't help being rude to those who harm the party.[13] Lenin's sister Maria also defended Stalin against his opponents regarding his friendship with Lenin.[14] Later even Lenin's wife N. Krupskaya came to Stalin's defense, despite earlier being a supporter of Zinoviev.[15]

After Lenin's death 500,000 copies of a photograph of the Lenin and Stalin apparently chatting as friends on a bench appeared throughout the Soviet Union.[3] Before 1932, most Soviet propaganda posters showed Lenin and Stalin together.[16] However, eventually the two figures merged in the Soviet press; Stalin became the embodiment of Lenin. Initially, the press attributed any and all success within the Soviet Union to the wise leadership of both Lenin and Stalin, but eventually Stalin alone became the professed cause of Soviet well-being.[17]

Other displays of devotionEdit

Stalin became the focus of literature, poetry, music, paintings and film that exhibited fawning devotion. An example was A. V. Avidenko's "Hymn to Stalin":

Thank you, Stalin. Thank you because I am joyful. Thank you because I am well. No matter how old I become, I shall never forget how we received Stalin two days ago. Centuries will pass, and the generations still to come will regard us as the happiest of mortals, as the most fortunate of men, because we lived in the century of centuries, because we were privileged to see Stalin, our inspired leader ... Everything belongs to thee, chief of our great country. And when the woman I love presents me with a child the first word it shall utter will be : Stalin ...[18]

Numerous pictures and statues of Stalin adorned public places. Statues of Stalin depicted him at a height and build approximating the very tall Tsar Alexander III, but photographic evidence suggests he was between 5 ft 5 in and 5 ft 6 in (165–168 cm). Stalin-themed art appeared privately, as well: starting in the early 1930s, many private homes included "Stalin rooms" dedicated to the leader and featuring his portrait.[19] Although it was not an official uniform, party leaders throughout the Soviet Union emulated the dictator's usual outfit of dark green jacket, riding breeches, boots, and cap to prove their devotion.[3]

The advent of the cult also led to a renaming craze: numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader. The Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were also named in his honor, and he accepted several grandiloquent titles (e.g., "Father of Nations", "Builder of Socialism", "Architect of Communism", "Leader of Progressive Humanity" and others).

The cult reached new levels during World War II, with Stalin's name included in the new Soviet national anthem.

Illusion of unanimous supportEdit

The cult of personality primarily existed among the Soviet masses; there was no explicit manifestation of the cult among the members of the Politburo and other high-ranking Party officials. However, the fear of being marginalized made oppositionists sometimes hesitant to honestly express their viewpoints. This atmosphere of self-censorship created the illusion of undisputed government support for Stalin, and this perceived support further fueled the cult for the Soviet populace. The politburo and comintern secretariat (E.C.C.I.) also gave the impression of being unanimous in its decisions although this was often not the case. Many top ranking leaders in the politburo such as Zhdanov and Kaganovich sometimes disagreed with Stalin. Stalin also didn't always get his proposals passed, but this was not made known to people outside the party leadership. The party leadership discussed and debated various alternatives but always presented themselves as monolithic to the outside world to appear stronger, more credible and unified. Among the leadership this was also considered correct Leninist practice, since the Leninist organizational principle of democratic centralism provided "freedom of debate" but required "unity of action" after a decision had been reached. The minority felt it their duty to submit to the will of the majority and Stalin himself practiced this when losing a vote.[20]

Stalin's opinion of his cultEdit

What Stalin thought of the cult surrounding him is unclear. Like Lenin, Stalin acted modestly and unassumingly in public. John Gunther wrote in 1936 that "He is the only dictator who is serene", citing Stalin's politeness and good manners to visitors.[3] In the 1930s Stalin made several speeches that diminished the importance of individual leaders and disparaged the cult forming around him, painting such a cult as un-Bolshevik; instead, he emphasized the importance of broader social forces. Stalin's public actions seemed to support his professed disdain of the cult: Stalin often edited reports of Kremlin receptions, cutting applause and praise aimed at him and adding applause for other Soviet leaders.[21] Walter Duranty stated that Stalin edited a phrase in a draft of an interview by him of the dictator from "inheritor of the mantle of Lenin" to "faithful servant of Lenin".[3] Additionally, in 1936, Stalin banned renaming places after him.[22] Gunther noted, however, that he sometimes spoke of himself in the third person.[3]

To some degree, Stalin accepted the Soviet people's dedication to him as an embodiment of the Party, but he discouraged all interest in his private and family life, and divulged only limited personal information.[22] He rarely appeared in public, by the mid-1930s had met only seven foreign journalists for formal interviews, and during the first five-year plan made no speeches or public appearances for 18 months.[3] The Finnish communist Arvo Tuominen reports a sarcastic toast proposed by Stalin at a New Year Party in 1935 in which he said, "Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism [he rattled off all the appellations applied to him in those days] – Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening."[23]

Stories of the childhood of StalinEdit

The "Stories of the Childhood Stalin", was a book of stories supposedly of Stalin's childhood life. On 16 February 1938, within days of its release on bookshelves, Stalin wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the All Union Komsomol to tell them of his disdain for the book they promoted:

I am absolutely against the publication of "Stories of the childhood of Stalin". The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, of alterations, of exaggerations and of unmerited praise. Some amateur writers, scribblers, (perhaps honest scribblers) and some adulators have led the author astray. It is a shame for the author, but a fact remains a fact. But this is not the important thing. The important thing resides in the fact that the book has a tendency to engrave on the minds of Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of "heroes" and the "crowd" is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory. The heroes make the people, transform them from a crowd into people, thus say the Social-Revolutionaries. The people make the heroes, thus reply the Bolsheviks to the Social-Revolutionaries. The book carries water to the windmill of the Social-Revolutionaries. No matter which book it is that brings the water to the windmill of the Social-Revolutionaries, this book is going to drown in our common, Bolshevik cause. I suggest we burn this book.[24]

End of the cult and de-StalinizationEdit

 
O kulcie jednostki i jego następstwach, Warsaw, March 1956, first edition of the Secret Speech, published for the inner use in the PUWP.

After Stalin's death, Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 "Secret Speech" to the Twentieth Party Congress famously denounced Stalin's cult of personality, saying, "It is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god."[25] The "Secret Speech" initiated a political reform known as "the overcoming/exposure of the cult of personality",[26] later called de-Stalinization, that sought to eradicate Stalin's influence on the Soviet society.

Mao Tse-Tung along with some other communist leaders, while initially supporting the struggle against the "cult of the individual" criticized Khrushchev as an opportunist who merely sought to attack Stalin's leadership and policies in order to implement new different policies, that in the Stalin-era would have been considered anti-Marxist Revisionism.[27]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Graeme Gill, "The Soviet Leader Cult: Reflections on the Structure of Leadership in the Soviet Union", British Journal of Political Science 10 (1980): 167.
  2. ^ Father of Nations at the Encyclopedic dictionary of catchy words and phrases.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Gunther, John (1936). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers. pp. 404–405, 418–420, 422. 
  4. ^ Gill, "The Soviet Leader Cult", 171.
  5. ^ Catriona Kelly, "Riding the Magic Carpet: Children and the Leader Cult in the Stalin Era", The Slavic and East European Journal 49 (2005): 206–207.
  6. ^ Victoria E. Bonnell, The Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 165.
  7. ^ Benno Ennker, "The Stalin Cult, Bolshevik Rule and Kremlin Interactions in the 1930s", in The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorship: Stalin and the Eastern Bloc, ed. Balázs Apor et al. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 85.
  8. ^ Kelly, "Riding the Magic Carpet", 208.
  9. ^ Gill, "The Soviet Leader Cult", 168.
  10. ^ Robert Tucker, Stalin in Power: the Revolution From Above, 1929–1941 (New York: Norton, 1990), 154.
  11. ^ "The Forgery of the 'Lenin Testament'". 
  12. ^ "Uncommon Knowledge: Part 1: Stephen Kotkin on Stalin's Rise to Power". 
  13. ^ "The Trotskyist Opposition Before and Now". 
  14. ^ "On the Relations between Lenin and Stalin". 
  15. ^ "Reminiscences of Lenin". 
  16. ^ Bonnell, The Iconography of Power, 158.
  17. ^ Gill, "The Soviet Leader Cult", 169.
  18. ^ Avidenko, A. O. Halsall, Paul, ed. "Hymn to Stalin". Internet Modern History Sourcebook. Fordham University, 1997. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  19. ^ Catriona Kelly, "Riding the Magic Carpet", 202.
  20. ^ Arvo Tuominen. Sirpin ja Vasaran Tie. 
  21. ^ Sarah Davies, "Stalin and the Making of the Leader Cult in the 1930s", in The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorship: Stalin and the Eastern Bloc, ed. Balázs Apor et al. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 30–31.
  22. ^ a b Davies, "Making of the Leader Cult", 41.
  23. ^ Arvo Tuominen, The Bells of the Kremlin, ed. Piltti Heiskanen, trans. Lily Leino (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1983), 162.
  24. ^ Voprosy Istorii(Questions of History)No. 11, 1953
  25. ^ Lilya Kaganovsky, How the Soviet Man Was Unmade (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008), 146.
  26. ^ Polly Jones (7 April 2006). The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization: Negotiating Cultural and Social Change in the Khrushchev Era. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-134-28347-7. 
  27. ^ "Mao Tse Tung, On Khrushchov's Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World".