Stalin Cult

In reply to my question about “going toward Hitler,” Plamper writes “Stalin, like the tsars, ensured himself a freedom one might say capriciousness of decision, which must have infused all of the institutions and officials seeking to please him. But that applied to most decision-making at the pinnacle of power in Stalin’s time—in a way, it is the universal definition of despotism.” I am not sure that that is a definition of despotism, though it certainly is a principal characteristic.  And perhaps it does not relate directly to the question of the Stalin cult.  But I was wondering about the modus operandi of Stalin particularly in regard to his image of modesty, and in comparison with other cults particularly Hitler’s ideologically proclaimed leader principle. (pp. 18-19)  In regard to the strategies of the artists or journalists to determine the images and shifts in imagery that Plamper shows so well, was this the result of a message communicated by figures close to Stalin, and/or a process of approximation awaiting higher approval like “going toward Stalin?”  I raise this question by way of clarification not of disagreement.  It may be that the manner of modesty was not only a way to avoid the ideological difficulties of personal rule in a Marxist framework, but also a means of generalizing uncertainty, the signs of approval even being less obvious than in Hitler’s open dictatorial rule.

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One Response to Stalin Cult

  1. Jan Plamper says:

    After reading this post I better understand the full implications of Richard Wortman’s previous post. The hypothesis that the modus operandi of the Stalin cult hinged on a similar formula as “working towards the Führer” (a quotation from a 1934 speech by Werner Willikens, a functionary at the Prussian Ministry for Agriculture, that Ian Kershaw discovered and then took as an emblem for the way in which the Nazi bureaucracy operated) is a powerful one. My only concern is that I don’t know how to test this hypothesis in the case of the Stalin cult because of the lacunae in the documentary record–lacunae that go back to the uneasy place of the Stalin cult in the Marxist framework. Kershaw, whose main interest was the genesis and bureaucratic functioning of the Holocaust, was able to decide that the Willikens quote captured the essence of the Nazi principle of rule on the basis of a much richer documentary base than I was ever able to find for the Stalin cult. But perhaps others will reexamine the same documents I looked at and/or excavate new ones and will come to the conclusion that Wortman’s hypothesis is correct. After all, historians had been studying the inner workings of Nazi rule for five decades until Kershaw came up with his formula, which is now widely accepted.

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