Stalin on the Stalin cult

Did Stalin believe all the hype about him? Apparently not. He was smart enough to see the economic and cultural value of the ‘Stalin cult’ (given that it was a crucial piece of extra-economic compulsion), but he was always careful to demarcate ‘Stalin’ from Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. As he once told his son, Vasilii, who was trying to take advantage of the family name:

You’re not Stalin and I’m not Stalin. Stalin is Soviet power. Stalin is what he is the newspapers and the portraits, not you, not even me!


3 thoughts on “Stalin on the Stalin cult

  1. Here’s something from “Stalin as symbol: a case study of the personality cult and its construction” by David Brandenberger, a chapter in the (still evincing petty bourgeois prejudice, but not too bad) book “Stalin: A New History” (from Cambridge):

    In 1938, for instance, Stalin sharply rebuked Detizdat, the Children’s Publishing House, for a book demonstrating a clearly ‘Socialist-Revolutionary tone’:

    I am decisively opposed to the publication of “Stories of Stalin’s Childhood”.
    The little book is filled with a mass of factual errors, distortions, exaggerations and undeserved praise. The author has been misled by fairy tale enthusiasts, liars (perhaps ‘honest’ liars) and sycophants. A pity for the author, but facts are facts.
    But that is not most important. Most important is that the book has a tendency to inculcate in the consciousness of Soviet children (and people in general) a cult of personalities, great leaders [vozhdei] and infallible heroes. That is dangerous and harmful. The theory of the ‘heroes’ and the ‘mob’ is not a Bolshevik theory but an SR one. The SRs say that ‘Heroes make a people, transform a mob into a people.’ ‘The people make their heroes,’ say the Bolsheviks. This little book will assist the SRs. Every such book will contribute to the SRs and will harm our general Bolshevik cause.
    I advise you to burn the book.
    I. Stalin.
    16/II 1938.

  2. And again from the same:

    Although Party propaganda and agitation waned amid the exigencies of war, it returned to the fore after 1945. In particular, efforts were made to balance the russocentrism of the wartime period with other sorts of sloganeering–an impulse that quickly returned the cult to centre stage. As a part of this campaign, IMEL launched its long-planned publication of Stalin’s collected works and decided to update the biography as well. As Stalin’s sixty-seventh birthday approached in 1946, a second edition of the IMEL biography was prepared, boasting two new chapters and a rewritten conclusion. Stalin, however, refused to authorise the manuscript’s publication, poring over its proofs for several weeks before calling Pospelov on the day after his birthday to complain about its shortcomings. Stalin concluded this conversation by summoning the entire editorial brigade to the Kremlin for a collective dressing-down. ‘There’s some idiocy in the biography draft’, he noted. ‘And it is [Agitprop chief] Aleksandrov who is responsible for this idiocy’.
    The next day, 23 December 1946, Pospelov, Aleksandrov, and eight other leading ideologists assembled in Stalin’s office. According to Pospelov’s handwritten notes, the session began with Stalin explaining that his biography was to play an introductory role in Soviet indoctrinational efforts. After all, ‘the toiling masses and simple people cannot begin the study of Marxism-Leninism with Lenin’s and Stalin’s writings. They should start with the biography. The biography is a very serious issue–it has enormous meaning for the Marxist enlightenment of the simple people.’
    Digressing, Stalin turned to the subject of Lenin’s biography. Attacking several books by the now deceased Iaroslavskii and P. M. Kerzhentsev that had long enjoyed canonical status, Stalin declared them to have lapsed into obsolescence. When Aleksandrov interjected that IMEL had developed a short Lenin biography to match their work on Stalin, the General Secretary responded curtly that ‘we need a detailed biography–not a short one’. Asserting that such books were ‘a proven way of helping the simple people begin their study of Marx[ism]’, he then commanded Agitprop to ‘prepare a good, responsible biography of Lenin’.
    Having already hinted at his dissatisfaction with IMEL’s work on his own biography, Stalin attacked the manuscript head-on. His chief complaint was that the biography was ‘SRish’, echoing objections that he had raised before the war about “Stories of Stalin’s childhood”, By ‘SRish’, he apparently meant that too much of the book focused solely on his accomplishments as leader without connecting his feats to those of the Party and society as a whole. A number of the biography’s subsections were particularly weak in this regard, ranging from the historical origins of the Russian revolutionary movement to commentary concerning collectivisation, industrialisation, state-building, and ‘the victory of communism in one country’.
    Irritated with the obsequiousness of the manuscript, he sneered that it ‘attributes to Stalin many teachings, up to 10 teachings’. Similar shortcomings marred the treatment of historical events in the narrative. On the subject of the Transcaucasian underground, for example, he demanded that the authors ‘add more leading figures in Baku. It’s as if [Stalin] arrived and did evertything of his own. There were many people and they ought to have been listed. There were both Russians and Muslims. These people should have been included.’ Skipping ahead, he noted that ‘you don’t make any mention of people like Dzerzhinskii, Frunze and Kuibyshev after Lenin’s death. There should be a discussion of those who took up Lenin’s banner.’ A more diverse cast of characters was to be added to the chapter on the war as well, specifically those who ‘gathered around the Supr[eme] Command’. He also noted as an afterthought [sic] that ‘something should have been added about the role of women’. These suggestions reflected Stalin’s belief that his “Short Biography” was to function as a beginners’ course in Soviet social studies and that expanding the book’s pantheon of heroes [sic] would not only strengthen readers’ familiarity with the Soviet elite, but ultimately make the text more accessible and persuasive as well.

    Brandenberger concludes: “This case study has demonstrated that the cult [sic] was much more of a populist effort than it was an exercise in self-aggrandisement.”

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