Joseph Stalin, born in modern day Georgia, was and still is one of the most influential people of the entire 20th century for his role as leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin is also seen as the embodiment of a totalitarian dictator, whose iron fist crushed any dissent in the country and kept a very watchful eye on his citizens. However, none of this would be possible if Stalin had not made himself this revered figure nor could he have ruled as long as he did without it. In this post, I will be looking at how Stalin, a man whose actions in his rule are very questionable at best, cultivated a cult of personality in the Soviet Union that people in Russia even today revere.
Stalin’s official position was called General Secretary of the Soviet Union and he was able to use this position within the government to be able to consolidate his power after Lenin’s death. His main rival for leadership of the Soviet Union was Leon Trotsky, who was the founder and commander of the Red Army, and Stalin would seek to discredit him and his beliefs in a book known as the “Short Course.” ” Instances of Trotsky’s “practices” were cited at the congress. For example, he had attempted to shoot a number of prominent army Communists serving at the front, just because they had incurred his displeasure”(Stalin Short Course). In this book, Stalin also states that, “Either we create a real worker and peasant-primarily a peasant- army, strictly disciplined army, and defend the Republic, or we perish”(Stalin Short Course). All of this serves to prop up Stalin as a hero of the early Soviet Union and to show that Trotsky, was a cruel and vain villain who did not care much about the Revolution.
The reality of it all was that Stalin needed a cult of personality because of the policies of collectivization in the early 1930s. “The industrialization drive itself was suffused with military metaphors, but collectivization was the real thing, a genuine war against the peasants”(Freeze 347). These policies would make Stalin generally unpopular with the peasants as they were losing all of their land and possessions, with some even losing more. “But collectivization and the resistance it provoked among the peasants cost vastly more in lives than the October Revolution or even the ensuing civil war”(Freeze 348).
In closing, Joseph Stalin, while never in real danger of being overthrown, wanted to be able to wield absolute power in the Soviet Union and was prepared to use all available resources in order to make that a reality. The men around him also helped in creating the cult, with Robert Tucker noting, “The one indispensable quality shared by all of the glorifiers, high and low, was pliability. In very many ways the aggrandizement of Stalin required the twisting of truth and the falsification of historical fact”(Tucker 363). Stalin’s use of mass media and propaganda was so pervasive that after he died, his successor Nikita Khrushchev would begin a process known as De-Stalinization in order to bring a sense of normalcy back to the Soviet Union.
Russia A History by Gregory L. Freeze
History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union(Bolsheviks), Short Course by the Central Committee; edited by Joseph Stalin
The Rise of Stalin’s Personality Cult by Robert C. Tucker