The personality cult is a concept coined by Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party, in 1956, and refers to the systematic adulation of a leader, especially a head of state, who ends up becoming a dictator or autocrat.
Khrushchev then delivered his speech on the Cult of Personality and its Consequences from which he exposed the crimes of Josef Stalin, whom they called “Father of the peoples”, and whom he himself accompanied throughout his long history of cruelties and murders towards the population.
This secret report, read together with Stalin’s will, shook the foundations of the Kremlin at the height of the cold War. It is a key moment for Russian Revolution, Stalin’s regime had been in power for 20 years and had been buried three years earlier.
Nikita Khrushchev coined the term Cult of Personality in reference to the systematic adulation of a leader.
Although this speech marks the creation of the term, the history of humanity estimates that this type of personalities has existed and has developed since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs and the Roman Empire (46 BC), in the personality of Caesar (46 BC), for example.
Nikita Khrushchev told the party committee, among other things: “… it is about how the cult of the person of Stalin gradually grew; that cult that at a certain point became the source of a whole series of unanimously grave and serious perversions of the party’s principles, of the party’s democracy… ”.
The cult of personality in context
The cult of personality occurs in the field of politics. He was born in the 20th century and took lives under communism, fascism, Stalinism, and Nazism. In recent years, several democracies have seen him reborn among their leaders.
Considered a complex social phenomenon, it is said that it is also evidenced in the public exaggeration of the real attributes of some authority and borders on becoming a deity or a fetish.
One of the theoretical foundations of the concept is evidenced in the way in which history highlights, in its most idealistic vision, that its paths are determined by the will of people considered important, ideologues or caudillos, and generally military.
This approach allows us to separate it from Marxism-Leninism and socialism, currents that are considered close to the masses, to the people, although in their ranks, we can find characters who have been the object of the cult of personality, like Stalin himself.
One of the premises that lends itself to ambiguity when talking about the cult of personality in a particular head of state is whether he promotes it himself or if, on the contrary, his closest collaborators promote it, as a way of discrediting him.
Stalin’s defenders argued that it was his enemies who had taken control of the party and made it appear that it was Stalin who made decisions about his image and, worse still, about the assassinations even within the party itself.
They argued that Stalin was a person of simple tastes and that he rejected honors and decorations, and that, for his part, it was Khrushchev who coined the term Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist to describe his constitution; the truth is that due to the crimes, nomenclatures aside, it was a time of terror for the inhabitants of the Russian empire.
How to recognize if there is a cult of personality?
Characteristics of the cult of personality
- The leader becomes a reference for a secular religion.
- The culprit of what happens is always “an other”.
- Those false culprits are persecuted.
- The leader is generally charismatic.
- All achievements or advances are personally attributed to the leader.
- Complete devotion to the leader is required, it is nullified and the critics are persecuted.
- The propaganda of the leader, with his image and thought, occupies all public spheres.
- The system created around the image of the leader seeks universality.
- Other leaders of leadership or authority disappear from the public scene.
Measures that reinforce the cult of personality
- Omnipresent photographs of the leader in: billboards, government offices, schools, hospital institutes, airports, streets, public works, etc.
- Museums about his figure, history or his relatives.
- Statues, paintings, murals and other artistic representations.
- Biographies and books written in life of the leader, to praise him.
- Titles that exalt and magnify the person: eternal commander, duke, supreme leader, father of the peoples, etc.
- Movies, videos and exaltations of his personality presented to crowds.
Figures associated with the cult of personality
- Josef Stalin (1878-1953): Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). He acted with the support of the communist party of the USSR.
- Benito Mussolini (1883-1845): Italy. He acted hand in hand with the Fascist Republican party.
- Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980): Yugoslavia, current Croatia. He acted with the permission of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia.
- Adolfo Hitler (1899-1945): Germany. He acted with the support of the parties of the German Workers’ Party (DAP), later called the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP).
- Kim il sung (1912 – 1994): North Korea. He served as head of the Korean Labor Party.
- Nicolas Ceasescu (1918 – 1989): Romania. He acted with the Romanian Communist Party.
- Robert Mugabe (1924): Zimbabwe. He acted with the support of his Zimbabwean African National Union party and the Patriotic Front (ZANU).
- Fidel Castro (1926 – 2016): Cuba. He acted at the head of the Communist Party of Cuba.
- Hosni Mubarak (1928): Egypt. He acted with the support of the National Democratic Party.
- Saddam Hussein (1937 – 2006): Iraq. He acted from the Baath Arab Socialist party in Iraq.
- Muammar El Gaddafi (1942 – 2011): Libya. He acted with the support of the Libyan Arab Socialist Union.
- Daniel Ortega (1945): Nicaragua. It acts with the support of the Sandinista National Liberation Front party.
- Hugo Chavez (1954 – 2013): Venezuela. He acted from the machinery of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
- Evo Morales (1959): Bolivia. He acts from his party, Movement to Socialism (MAS).
Books on the cult of personality
The following documents are considered essential texts for the study of the subject: