Joseph Stalin became the center of the Communist Party as the 1930’s passed. Stalin had the short history of the Bolshevik party and the revolution re-written by a group of “objective” historians, to portray a history of the Communist Party and the Soviet State which was deeply rooted in the work and leadership of the one and only Joseph Stalin. It was published in October 1938. This new history of the rise of the Soviet Union, which made Stalin a central figure, became the basic text of Stalinism. It sold over forty million copies in Russia and throughout the world. Even Time Magazine made Joseph Stalin its Man of the Year for 1939.
Stalinism was the aura of the grandeur of Stalin and all that he did. He was depicted as flawless, a man of the people, and yet stronger, wiser, better. Stalin’s depiction was one of charisma, beyond even his political role. The mass media was fed a perception of dire need for vigorous leadership in Soviet society. Stalin was shown as that leader and more.
Stalin’s portrayal in the media left an impression of power, wisdom, and incredible leadership. He was compared to great Russian leaders of history to include Peter the Great, even though these leaders ideologies did not align with the communist agenda.
This video displays an interview with an acclaimed brick layer named Petr Semenovich Orlov, a vanguard of the Communist Party, who has just been rewarded for his great work by receiving the honor of meeting Stalin. In his interview he seems extremely enthused and pleased by his meeting. Orlov describes Stalin and explains what a great and inspirational person Stalin is and how this meeting has inspired him to work even harder. It is likely that this interview was coached, and even possible that Orlov never met Stalin at all but was made to give this interview to improve Stalin’s reputation. Regardless, this interview is just one example of the type of media which was used to increase the charisma, and cult of personality of Stalin. These types of media were used to paint a portrait of Stalin to the public as a kind, and benevolent leader, not just a strong and bold one.
This cult of personality which depicted Stalin as the Savior of Russia was mostly shared among the Soviets. Stalin’s control of the media prevented any other news or opinions on his character or actions from being shown. A climate of fear kept those who held other opinions in check. People began to self-censor from fear of what may happen to them if they didn’t. This only aided in the creation of the illusion of undisputed support for Stalin. This perceived support for Stalin further enhanced the cult of Stalinism for the Soviet populace. The fear of the public was justified and made clear during the Stalinist show trials of 1937 and 1938, where in Stalin purged many members of the Communist party whom were dissenters or viewed as Stalin’s opposition.
Leon Trotsky: Trotsky on Stalin (1937). From his Mexican exile, Trotsky provides his version of the history of the Comintern, reserving particular disdain for both Stalin and the Second International.
While in exile in Mexico, Trotsky was put on trial by the Stalinist Regime. This audio is from Trotsky’s statement in reaction to the trial. He defends himself and his family, but also accuses Stalin of betrayal to the ideals which he claims to have built the Soviet government on, and claims that instead of communism, Stalin has built a regime of “Stalinism” using fear and his secret police force to enforce the reign of his new government over those who would oppose him.
Stalin built a regime around his own inflated image, and maintain it through fear and control.
Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.