The Cult of Personality

As we talk about the communist revolution in China and compare it to that of Russia, one of the topics that is most striking is the cult of personality that both Stalin and Mao created. When we studied Stalin, we saw posters of him being presented as the father of the country and the man that all Russians should adore. When we looked at Mao, we saw countless paintings where his seemingly inescapable portrait adorned the wall behind happy chinese people. In Mao’s china, we also saw badges with his picture on them that he distributed to the population. We saw millions of loudspeakers deployed to spread his voice across the country. Like Stalin, he was creating an atmosphere of veneration towards himself. He saw himself as safer. Russia and China are not alone in creating this cult of personality; today, we most obviously see it in North Korea. What all these countries have had in common is that they deployed this propaganda as a response to their government’s failures. For each country, that meant millions of people dieing of starvation and famine, such as the great leap forward in China. I think, then, that the cult of personality is a way of distracting from the government. If the citizens of a country are conditioned to have unwavering faith in their godlike leader, they will not spend any time questioning the government policies that he implements. When we look at these posters, we see it immediately as ridiculous; but in a country where the regime is so effective at implementing this propaganda and eliminating all means of criticism simultaneously, this cult of personality can take hold.

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6 Responses to The Cult of Personality

  1. Madeleine says:

    This comment reminds me of something that has happened recently in North Korea. The missile that were going to launch, failed seconds after take off. This was a massive blow to North Korea. This missile was functioning in many different ways for the government. It was a way to say to the world that they are powerful and should not be underestimated, a way for new leader Kim Jong Un to prove what a strong leader he is after his father Kim Jong Il’s death, and it was also launched in celebration of their “glorious first leader”. The rockets failure did not accomplish any of these goals. Even more importantly, it did not become the source of propaganda the country was planning to use it for. They were planning to show the rockets success to the population as an example of what amazing leaders they had, and with it’s failure, there is suddenly a weakness in their normally strong propaganda. Propaganda is an essential factor in getting people to live happily under a dictatorship, which we can see in the Russian and Chinese revolutions, and so this missile failure could be very bad for North Korea.

  2. Sheena says:

    It think with most dictators who take control during the countries fragile time, led to their countries cult of personality. Most occur after a revolution that splits the country apart, and the dictator pieces the country back together. In class we looked at the picture of Chairman Mao as the sun, and this represented how he natured his people. I can remember a similar poster that we saw while we were learning about the Russian Revolution, which depicted Stalin as the great leader. This cult of personality is also present in North Korea as Madeleine stated. Again you see this cult of personality in Cuba, where Castro was the “ideal” leader of their country. Propaganda is key to ensuring that the country prospers as a result of the dictator. And the cult of personality that develops comes hand in hand with propaganda.

  3. Nick says:

    I would agree with you that it is very interesting that propaganda is really only prevalent among dictatorships. It seems to me that this is because the merits of the government itself are not enough to keep the people happy; it is instead necessary for mass propaganda to be distributed in the hopes that the people will be brainwashed by this and not see the obvious flaws that exist in any dictatorship. On the other hand, most nations, such as the United States, have no need for such deception. They can rest assured that, at least most of the time, the people will be satisfied simply by the fact that they are running the country effectively. Naturally, this leads to a question I have for you all: do you believe that it is possible for a dictatorship to be just as successful as a democracy? Or does the simple fact that a democracy can never truly represent the wishes of all people of a society instantly make it inferior? This is my personal belief, as i think that despite what most dictators and monarchs constantly say (that they themselves know what is best for their entire country), it is truly impossible for one person to effectively know and address the concerns of an entire country. What is your feeling on this?

  4. S.Turk says:

    While I do agree that Dictators are shown as “ideal” leaders for their country, I believe that it is often the people that shape the leader. What I mean to say is that a dictators control over the people is as much as they are willing to give him. This often directly correlates to the disasters or wars or oppression that the people were previously under. Russia and China were under terrible living conditions for some of its lower class. This allowed the soon to be dictators to rule over the people very effectively because they believed that they were being liberated from their oppressive past lives. It is only when the people begin to doubt their new leader that they must begin all of these propaganda campaigns. They begin to make the people go back to when they believed that the leader was the “greatest thing since sliced bread” because they realize that having an angry populace is exactly what put them into power in the first place. It is only through the eyes of a third party that we are able to see the truth behind the posters and broadcast. And in North Korea’s case, the people there are unable to see from this third party view. Because of the restrictive nature of the government the people cannot know anything else but their oppression and think that that is paradise.

  5. Dr. K says:

    Nick,

    I’m not sure democracies are immune to propaganda. One of the famous examples in the US is propaganda used by the US government to promote support for World War I (via the so-called Creel Committee).

    Your question about dictatorships and democracies is very topical. I suspect that there are lots of people in the world who see, on the one hand, a dysfunctional government in the US which can’t seem to get much done and whose leaders can’t seem to agree on anything, and, on the other hand, a dictatorial government in China that seems to “get things done,” and they wonder what democracy is good for. In fact, there was an op-ed piece to that effect in the New York Times, just recently. You can read it here. I would be interested to hear what others have to say.

  6. Pho says:

    I found the article in the New York Times to be very interesting in that it questioned the reason why many people believe that a democratic government is the most successful and the most ideological. The article starts by explaining the two fundamental principles of The Enlightenment: that the individual is rational and is granted inalienable rights. These two concepts eventually formed the basis of democracy. On the other hand, China sees rights of the individual as privileges to be compromised based on the state of the nation. Whereas the United States puts its people first, the Chinese agree to put their country first, ahead of their own rights as citizens. I think the biggest difference between these two countries is the willingness of the government to adapt and change. China is willing to allow greater participation in political decisions if it is beneficial to economic growth. In contrast, China will reduce those freedoms if the needs of the country change. Yet the United States seems unable to become less democratic because they view their form of government as the pinnacle. They won’t alter their form of government even if the condition of their country depends on it. I do believe that Americans see the United States government as the best political system but I wonder if that way of thinking will lead to consequences further down the road.

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