Introduction: stalinism and the barber's chair

Summer 2009

The cult of the leader was one of the distinguishing features of the Stalinised communist movement. By the time of High Stalinism in the late 1940s, strikingly similar cultic forms and practices can be traced in many different communist parties; and it has sometimes been assumed that these derive from centralised directives dating from the establishment of Stalin’s authority in the 1930s. This introductory survey shows that this was not the case. The Stalin cult developed more unevenly even in Russia than is sometimes recognised; internationally, disparate leadership resources and difficulties of co-ordination meant at first that there could be no easy transfer of such practices. There was also the issue of the ‘barber’s chair’: that the successful establishment of lesser leader cults might be seen as a challenge to the pre-eminence of Stalin himself. It was therefore only in the period of the Cold War, when Stalin’s authority seemed unassailable, that a clear, manifest and immutable hierarchy of communist leader cults was seemingly established.

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TCC 1 Communism and the leader cult