The Spike or Victoria College Review 1941
Stalin-Worship: is it a Communist Cult ?
Stalin-Worship: is it a Communist Cult ?
Thunderous ovation. All rise. Shouts from all parts of the hall: "Long live Comrade Stalin!" All stand and sing the "Internationale," after which the ovation is resumed. Shouts of "Long live our leader, Comrade Stalin, hurrah!"'
It must be admitted that passages like this, occurring in reports of meetings of high Soviet Governmental bodies, are a little dampening to the enthusiasm of would-be supporters of Soviet Russia. And when we see the photographs of demonstrations in Russia, with their numerous enormous banners depicting the singularly unattractive Bust of Lenin and Stalin; when we read even scientific reports studded with somewhat Fulsome praises of Stalin; when we study some of the remarkable speeches in favour of The Soviet leaders at public functions—every person with any taste at all must be a Little discomfited.
This question of Stalin-worship isn't funny, as it might seem at first sight. If it is really the result of 'the deliberate exploitation by the governing junta of the emotion of hero-worship' (S. & B. Webb), if it is an expression of cringing servility such as characterised the worship of the 'Little Father,' if Stalin and Lenin have in fact been deified to take the place of God which Marxist theory is busy demolishing— then we are justified in doubting whether the Soviet system is really such a fine thing as the daily papers, with suspicious suddenness, are making out. For servility implies a hierarchy and exploitation, and an inculcated hero-worship implies a lack of other emotional outlets.
A Parallel Nearer Home
Walking up the main street of the smallish town in which I live, I counted the number of pictures of Mr Winston Churchill in shop windows. There were twenty-one. In bookshops, Mr Churchill's likeness stared at me from almost every periodical and a number of books. I asked an assistant in one book shop how many pictures of Mr Churchill she sold daily. 'At least half a dozen,' she said. While I was talking, a lady came in and bought a pencil drawing of General Freyberg.
And one remembers, of course, the Coronation . . . .
And outside the shop, I met a friend who, singularly unfortunate in his Bolshevik acquaintances, believed that the Soviet creed was that there was no God, but if there were, Lenin and Stalin, like Caligula, had undergone apotheosis in his lifetime. I mentioned the result of my modest researches.
'Entirely different,' snorted my friend, remaining curiously sane, 'Britain's got a Job to do, and Churchill's at the head of the Government that's doing it. He's a page 14 good man, and is doing the job well, It's only natural that the people should be thankful for what he's done. Now if Chamberlain had remained in power . . . .'
My friend did not admire Mr Chamberlain, but I omit his irrelevant (and irreverent) remarks.
'Just because people buy Churchill's picture, it doesn't mean that he's being worshipped personally. Can't you see"—"he's just a symbol"—"a sort of personification of the British spirit of endurance and perseverance?'
My friend was right, and I admitted it. 'Now.' I said,' substitute "Russia" for "England," and "Stalin" for "Churchill," and your remarks sum up the Soviet situation exactly.
The Cult of Stalin
In the light of my friend's words, the immoderate and often vulgar idolisation of Stalin begins to become intelligible. From a position of indescribable degradation, the Soviet people have arisen, through intense suffering and hardship, to a decent standard of living, and have brought about a flowering of culture, art, and science as has never before been achieved in such a short period. There is nothing artificial in their gratitude for this new life; it has grown up spontaneously with the growth of the Soviet state. Side by side with pictures and busts of Stalin, can be seen representations of Marx and Engels, who laid down the socialist theory which guides the new State, and Lenin, whose genius was largely instrumental in bringing the new society into being. There is not the slightest evidence that the homage of the Russian people is directed towards the actual persons of these individuals, or that they ascribe divine qualities to them. No, they are symbols of socialism, and very great men; in the same way, Mr Churchill is a symbol of the British spirit, and a great man. In the words of Lion Feuchtwanger:
'When the people say "Stalin," they have in the back of their minds increasing prosperity and increasing culture. When the people say "we love Stalin," it is because this is the simplest and most natural form of expression they can give to their willing acceptance of their economic circumstances, of Socialism, and of the regime.'
And there is good reason for their identification of Stalin with the socialist regime. Stalin's achievements are not negligible. The Soviet State, as Hitler is now finding to his cost, isn't a thing to be sniffed at.
The Degree of Adulation
All this may be conceded. But why, it may be asked, does the identification of Stalin with the successes of socialism take such a lavish and ill-expresses form? Praise Stalin if you wish"—" we admit he may be worthy of it"—"but for Heaven's sake do it with moderation! Your excesses merely nauseate us cold-blooded English!
Pat Sloan, in his book 'Soviet Democracy,' confesses that he 'was often unfavourably impressed by the lavish way in which love and praise of Stalin was expressed! But one day, he happened to see a letter from a young Russian worker to his brother, which began 'Honoured beloved brother.' Sloan suggested to the worker that he should simply write 'Dear brother,' and the worker was literally shocked. Doubts gave way to a clearer understanding.
Inaccurate translations, deliberate misinterpretations, and the failure of translators to grasp the Russian idiom are at the bottom of many of the popular misconcep page 15 tions as to 'Stalin-worship.' The languages of the Russian peoples are what we call 'flowery,' like all Eastern languages. The Russian is naturally exuberant in his choice of words. So were the authors of the New Testament.
Consider the quite irrational wording of everyday commercial correspondence in English-speaking countries. We write 'Dear So-and-so' to our deadliest enemy, and receive 'esteemed favours' from business rivals, without a qualm. These forms of expression are woven into our language. They do not imply servility or absence of equality; a lawyer's 'learned friend' and a politician, respectively an ignoramus and a rogue, yet such expressions are not considered unethical. In a similar way, but with full sincerity, the words 'great and beloved' are naturally linked with 'Stalin' in the Soviet Union. And, it may be added, with a great deal more reason than swayed the English House of Commons during their curious fit of hysterics at the time of Munich.
How Does Stalin Take It?
And how does the 'great and beloved Stalin' himself react to this zealous attention on the part of the Soviet people?
It is well-known that Stalin is perhaps the most unassuming and unpretentious of all the great leaders in the world today. He needs no military uniform, swaggering bearing, or autocratic manner—nor, it may be uncharitably added, any umbrella or cigar. His domestic relations are shrouded in obscurity; he will not allow his birthday to be celebrated publicly; he constantly emphasises in public that the people's praises must be construed as applying to his policy and not to his person.
Apparently the only occasion on which Stalin discussed 'Stalin-worship' with a Foreigner in an interview was when Lion Feuchtwanger visited Moscow in 1937.
Listen to portion of Feuchtwanger's report of the interview, taken from his fine And impartial book, Moscow, 1937:
'He shrugs his shoulders at the vulgarity of the immoderate worship of his person. He excuses his peasants and workers on the grounds that they have too much to do to be able to acquire good taste as well, and laughs a little at the hundreds of thousands of enormously enlarged portraits of a man with a moustache which dance before his eyes at demonstrations. I pointed out to him that in the end even men of unimpeachable taste have set up busts and portraits of him, of more than doubtful artistic merit, in places to which they do not belong, as, for example, the Rembrandt Exhibition. Here he became serious. He supposed that there lay behind such extravagances the zeal of men who had only lately espoused the regime and were now doing everything within their power to prove their loyalty. He thinks it is possible even that the "wreckers" may be behind it in an endeavour to discredit him. "A servile fool," he said irritable, "does more harm than a hundred enemies." If he tolerates all the cheering, he explained, it is because he knows the naïve joy the uproar of the festivities affords those who organise them, and is conscious that it is not intended for him personally, but for the representative of the principle that the establishment of Socialist economy in the Soviet Union is more important than the permanent revolution.'
Not with standing this, the Russian Communist Party is well aware of the dangers page 16 Attendant on 'Stalin-worship,' and resolutions have been passed condemining 'the misguided practice of unnecessary and meaningless salutation of the Party leaders.'
When Stalin Toasted Himself
Feuchtwanger relates a little story in this connection, which in my mind sums up the whole situation admirably. The story goes that Stalin gave a little dinner on New Year's Day to a circle of intimate friends. He raised his glass, and said: 'I drink to The health of the incomparable leader of the peoples, of the great genius, Comrade Stalin. There, friends; and that is the last time I shall be toasted here this year.'