Don’t Drink the Kool-aid, Comrade

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This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

An expressionist piece depicting Stalin in an armchair.

An expressionist piece depicting Stalin in an armchair.

Stalin’s Cult of Personality:

By the end of the 1930s, the cultural war against bourgeouis culture was still in full flower. The Writers’ Congress in 1936 set a new style for literature. Although the Congress allowed professional writers to be part of this new movement as opposed to the party line worker-writers, there was still widespread censorship and government control.

The Party controlled who could write, what they would write, and what they would publish through the Writers’ Union. Later on, an Artists’ Union, would also be created. The entire goal of the Party was to encourage a new style in art and literature. This style was called Socialist Realism, and it encouraged the “realistic” depiction of the revolution, and the evolving society. However, since the government would censor anything that did not adhere to the Party’s optimistic version of reality, this effectively meant that the literature and artwork became overly optimistic too.

The restraints on writers and artists left them little room to choose their material. One of the safest things that people could discuss was Stalin. I know this sounds far-fetched, after all, if the man with the mustache did not like the way you depicted him then you were sure to end up somewhere bad, probably in a ditch somewhere. However, as long as you adhered to the Party line, it was fairly easy to get your work published.

This led to a slew of artwork and literature with Stalin as the subject. In fact, by the end of the 1930s, the famous Cult of Stalin had developed. This included not only party propaganda, but also histories that were rewritten to show Stalin and socialism at the forefront. getimage-idx (1)

This poster shows Marx, Engels, and Lenin next to Stalin, emphasizing his connection to the Party. In this picture, the order of the people shows that Stalin is only the latest in a long line of venerated men taking up the Communist vision. By connecting himself to history and claiming the inheritance left to him by these other men, Stalin became much like the Tsar had been in imperial Russia: a loving father figure of the communist revolution.

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Other pictures, like this one, showed Stalin with his two children. The image of Stalin as a father was a powerful one because it furthered his reputation as the caretaker of the people of the USSR. It also shows the glory of the Revolution, by emphasizing the children’s role in the new world.

There was dissent within the literary community, however, it was heavily censored. Osip Mandelshtam’s Ode to Stalin is heavily critical of the dictator, saying that “each execution for him is raspberry sweet”. Mandelshtam only read this piece to a small circle of friends, but it still led to his arrest and exile from the USSR in the next year.

Overall, the cult of Stalin developed because of the overwhelming censorship of anything negative about Stalin and the amount of propaganda glorifying him.


Stalin in Armchair

Political Poster

Stalin’s family


4 thoughts on “Don’t Drink the Kool-aid, Comrade

  1. That is quite a magnificent… armchair. It’s interesting to read the extent of Stalin and the Soviet’s control over every day life, from education, literature, and even food (champagne and caviar). It reminds me of what’s going on today in North Korea.

  2. I agree with kathaskew’s comment that Stalin’s censorship and control of the country’s everyday life and the many aspects of it bring North Korea to mind. I think it’s dangerous and scary how the country’s history was rewritten. I suppose, as you point out, that writers and artists didn’t have much choice if they wanted to stay alive. Good sources throughout your post!

  3. Hey Grace! Nice post this week! Since you are interested in this topic of dissident artists being punished by regime officials under Stalin, I would suggest taking a look at how artists were treated under previous regimes/how they ended up being treated in future ones. You might also be interested in looking into how these punishments affected the works of different artists (Dostoyevsky comes to mind as an interesting example!)

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