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The Cult of Personality: Stalin Edition

Joseph Stalin, pictured above, was leader of the Soviet Union from the mid 1920s until his death in 1953.

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.

Sources Used:

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

10 replies on “The Cult of Personality: Stalin Edition”

Isaiah, good article but to remain in power, Stalin had to depend on violence just as the Bolsheviks depended on violence to gain power initially. Stalin’s mass executions were the source of the power that he used to remain in power. His ‘cult of personality’ evaporated upon his death.

Hey Tom, yeah even though Stalin’s cult of personality did slowly deteriorate after his death due to Khrushchev taking power, I wanted to look at how Stalin was able to create this in order to properly secure his rule over the Soviet Union. Thanks for your comment!

Props for consulting the “Short Course” to show how Stalin dissed Trotsky! And for foreshadowing the (significant) work Khrushchev will have to do to dismantle the “cult of personality” after the vozhd’ dies. There’s terrific material on the 17moments site that could give you post more context — and I’m wondering how you see Stalin’s personality cult in terms of the key questions for this unit?

Hey thanks for your comment! Yeah, I wanted to include a few different aspects that Stalin used to secure his rule. I thought including Trotsky would show how far Stalin was willing to go to deal with his political enemies. Overall, I think that Stalin was a very necessary evil for the Soviet Union because while millions of his own people died during his reign, he mostly industrialized the country and transformed it into a global superpower.

Isaiah, I see the direction you’re heading in when describing Stalin’s creation of a ‘cult of personality.’ Since he was an absolute ruler over all of Russia, it is no surprise he was able to enact these policies that affected a large majority of the population. Stalin’s manipulative mindset and collectivizing tactics were unquestionably brutal, and those within his cabinet were part of creating this cult of personality.

Hey, Max yeah I totally agree with what you’re saying because while Stalin was often brutal, he had a large amount of cunning to him that helped him out immensely throughout his career. I wasn’t able to touch on this as much as wanted to in the post but like you said, his inner circle had a huge part in creating this personality cult with people such as Lavrentiy Beria.

Hi Isaiah! Great blog post. I would have never thought to compare the actions of Stalin as a “cult of personality.” It was interesting to read that he went to such great lengths to discredit his opponent by writing a book about Trotsky. I also wrote how Stalin manipulated children to develop loyalty at a young age.

Hey Siria, yeah I read your post about Stalin’s use of children and I thought it was great! I kinda wish I had used some of that in my post because it all connected together to make Stalin seem this almost omnipotent figure in the Soviet Union. All of these factors combined to keep Stalin comfortably in power, where he could rule the Soviet Union with an iron fist.

Hi Isaiah!
I really enjoyed reading your post! I love the title and how it ties into your post. I think it’s important for us to remember how the personality or individual beliefs of a nation’s leader can have serious ramifications on the rest of the population. Your last paragraph is especially striking, and it speaks to the means people are willing to go to have and maintain power, and how hard it is to undo the effects of that power.

Hey Kendall, thanks for your comment I really appreciated it! I mainly wanted to focus on how Stalin was able to create all of this and what I discovered was that he was willing to go to incredible lengths in order to achieve the power that he wanted in the end.

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