Russia after the War: Hopes, Illusions, and Disappointments, 1945-1957

By Elena Zubkova; Hugh Ragsdale | Go to book overview

Chapter 18
The Decision on the Cult of Personality and Its Social Impact

It remains mysterious to whom belongs the dubious idea of reckoning the political accounts of whole decades under the rubric of the "cult of personality." What we know for certain is that this new term in the authorities' lexicon in no sense signified the propagation of a new theory. Its use was clearly tentative, an effort to put into words the refusal of the new leaders to engage in ritual reverence of the deceased leader.

The question was raised at the first meeting of the Central Committee Presidium ( 10 March 1953) after Stalin's funeral, when G.M. Malenkov spoke critically of the national press. "We consider it necessary to put an end to the politics of the cult of personality."1 Secretary P.N. Pospelov was charged with overseeing this issue in the media, and N.S. Khrushchev was given the more specific responsibility for dealing with comments devoted to the memory of Stalin. 2 Thus in the beginning the whole question of overcoming the tradition of apotheosis consisted merely of revising propaganda.

There was evidently a strong inclination in the Central Committee to limit the Stalinist cult, as Malenkov elaborated on the issue several months later in the July 1953 plenum. "It is not only a question of propaganda. The question of the cult of personality is directly related to the question of collective leadership."3 Thus one more step was taken in the direction of changing the bases of party life. "You should know, comrades," Malenkov said at the plenum, "that Comrade Stalin's cult of personality acquired pathological forms and dimensions in the everyday practice of leadership. The methods of collec

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