Joseph Stalin

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Stalin Propaganda

How did Joseph Stalin use propaganda to manipulate people?

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Stalin took the personality cult of Lenin a huge step further. Though personally embarrassed at the cult that had grown around him, Lenin understood its enormous propaganda value and so didn't actively try to discourage it. However, no such modesty attached to Stalin. With the willing assistance of his fawning acolytes, he actively promoted himself as a God-like genius who could do no wrong.

Stalin's portraits were just about everywhere in the Soviet Union, watching intently over an enslaved population. This cruel, murderous tyrant was presented as a benevolent ruler who only had the interests of the people at heart. Even in the depths of the worst repression—the purges of the 1930s—many people still believed that, somehow, Stalin wasn't responsible for the terror engulfing the Soviet Union. Many blamed the terror, instead, on wicked advisers and underlings. It says something about the effectiveness of Stalin's personality cult that even inmates of the notorious gulags, or concentration camps, wept when news of his death was announced.

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As a young man, Joseph Stalin had been a student at an Orthodox Seminary. Although he quickly disavowed Orthodox teaching as well as any form of religion in favor of atheism, he skillfully relied on the religious nature of the Russian (and other Soviet) people to create an image of himself closely akin to an Orthodox Saint. He did this by having images of himself displayed in many public places, often as statues. He created a false image of his childhood to make himself appear as a Christlike figure, born to lead his people. Operas and movies were made to show him in a heroic atmosphere. (One such creation, Ivan the Terrible by Sergei Eisenstein created a problem as the image was a little to close to Ivan's barbarity for Stalin's comfort.) Additionally, his name was kept constantly in the presence of the Soviet people. Said one writer:

You only have to listen to the radio programme about our achievements, and every fifth or tenth word will be the name of Comrade Stalin.

Stalin further created falsified historical accounts by portraying himself as Lenin's favorite and chosen successor, when in fact Lenin did not trust him. He sponsored literature which glorified his presumed humble origins, so much so that the small bungalow in which he was born was encased in glass and surrounded by marble columns.

Stalin was quick to paint those who challenged or even disagreed with him as "enemies of the revolution." Witnesses were paid to offer false testimony, after which the witnesses themselves were quieted. With zero dissent and his image constantly before the Soviet People, Stalin was able to work his will with deftness and efficiency.

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Stalin's propaganda was characterized by what is sometimes called a Personality Cult, or Cult of Personality.  Although Stalin insisted that he was modest, and valued modesty, his method was to bombard the people with his name, titles, pictures, and images of himself appearing in literature, poetry, film, music and dance.  The Stalin Peace Prize and the proclamation that he was the Father of Nations (one of the titles bestowed on him) were part of Stalin's propaganda machine, as well as many geographical locations, which were renamed for him. He had Soviet history rewritten to depict himself as having played a bigger role in the revolution of 1917 than he actually did, and the Soviet national anthem was rewritten to include his name. The Stalin cult reached an all time high during World War II, as one might expect.

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