Host: Welcome to today’s program, “How popular was Stalin?” Oh look, we have our first caller, a History student. Hello!

Student: So did Stalin use any other methods to control the Soviet population, other than terror and force? And was he successful in these other methods?

Host: Stalin used propaganda to make people believe in the achievements of socialism and of the Soviet government, which weren’t always the same. The development of a cult of personality made it very clear that Stalin was using propaganda as an instrument of the leadership rather than of the needs of socialism. The Soviet government developed two cults of personality. The first one was in the 1920s, right after Lenin died, where Lenin was hailed as the hero of the revolution to motivate people to stay as committed to the revolution as Lenin had been.

Student: What does Lenin’s cult of personality have to do with Stalin?

Host: Lenin’s cult was very useful to Stalin, because Stalin promoted himself as the worthy continuer of Lenin’s work, like when he promoted the slogan “Stalin is the Lenin of today”, which developed the second cult of personality in the Soviet government—that of Stalin himself.

Student: You said cult of personality was just one of the methods-

Host: Yes, the Soviet government realized that the attitudes of the young were easier to influence, so they took control over education by removing teachers disloyal to socialism in the Cultural Revolution and passing the Education Law of 1935, which reasserted discipline in schools and government direction over the curriculum. Textbooks were chosen and sometimes written by the government so that there would always be propaganda in support of the Soviets. The government also started youth organizations like the Pioneers (under 14) and Komsomol (14-28). Komsomol helped the Cultural Revolution in the 1930s because it was used to attack elements of bourgeois culture and class enemies.

Student: What about the rest of the population?

Host: The government also controlled the newspapers, radio, art and popular culture. Information given to the population was limited and had to align with the government’s views—sometimes they were even used for propaganda. Writers emphasized on heroes connected to the party built on the traditions of Russian folk heroes, for instance. Socialist Realism, idealized images of life in the USSR, was rooted into the people.

Student: Wow, even the arts were controlled!

Host: There was a lighter mood after 1932, but in 1936 the government restricted Jazz music because it was accused of promoting homosexuality, drugs, and promiscuity. They had strict control on what people could see and hear.

Student: I bet people were restricted from talking about politics freely too, then.

Host: Yes, the government used carefully controlled public debate to mobilize people and encourage participation, like on the Soviet Constitution of 1936 and the ban on abortions. The government also used show trials as political rituals during the Great Terror to mobilize people against the class enemy.

Student: That sounds pretty scary… Did people have any fun at all?

Host: The Soviet government also utilized public celebrations to mobilize the population, like the celebration of the Pushkin centennial of 1937 and the celebrations of the anniversary of the October Revolution. Other achievements, like ones of Five-Year Plans, were also celebrated through public events. All organized leisure was also run by the state.

Student: Wow, Stalin and his government really did use a lot of methods to get the population’s support… and all my classmates thought they just used terror and force! Thank you!

Host: Thank you for calling. We have new callers!

Russian citizen: I just want to say that I’m so grateful for Gorbachev’s glasnostMy granddad was a historian during Stalin’s reign, but was forced to emphasis the important role of Stalin in directing the revolution and present him as some kind of genius! The government churned out hagiography—Stalin’s official biography by Alexandrov is a perfect example of that! Even after 1953, when Khrushchev took over and encouraged some criticism of aspects of Stalinism, destalinization had only just begun. Thankfully, Gorbachev encouraged glasnost in 1985 and allowed historians like my granddad to tell everyone the truth, like how Stalin used terror to control the Soviet people! I’ve never experienced it myself, but it was terrible, from what I’ve heard.

Liberal historian: Stalinism was definitely terrible. I’ve always been against the revolution, especially since I come from the West, where our liberal democracy guarantees freedom of expression, which Stalin did not allow at all. He had ruthless policies, I tell you, ruthless! That’s why political scientists here started to apply the concept of totalitarianism to the USSR, and it definitely highlighted the negative attributes of the Soviet system.

Intentionalist historian: Ah, but totalitarianism is not a popular term anymore. We do still use the underlying principles of totalitarianism established by the liberal school—of power imposed by a leadership against the will of people—but we see Stalin the individual as being the most important in the process of promoting historical change. Our view was popular during the Cold War period, and now we have fewer supporters, but we still have Conquest and Bullock!

Revisionist historian: Hm, you two historians say that it was a totalitarian regime, but have you considered the role of social groups in influencing decision-making? It’s so old-school to think of terror and propaganda as the only methods of the government to mobilize support.

Liberal historian: What do you mean?

Structuralist historian: We need to look at the structures and organizations within the Communist Party to highlight the interaction between local and central bodies.

Revisionist historian: Exactly. Because the government was acting from a position of weakness! There was hesitation on the part of the leadership, and we can’t just assume that official statements were obeyed! My friends have explained this idea further in their works. Viola, for example, has shown that there was genuine enthusiasm for Stalin’s economic policies among party members. Fitzpatrick highlighted the importance of attitudes among the rank and file party membership in actively supporting the regime. They provided the solid base of support and showed their commitment to the revolutionary cause because they wanted the status, privileges and authority associated with promotion within the party!

Intentionalist historian: Are you actually saying that Stalin’s a puppet of wider social forces?

Revisionist historian: Perhaps it was more complex than the totalitarian approach. Even Soviet citizens who fled the country showed support for the welfare policies, the strong government, and a sense of pride. And they were the ones who had left the country!