Josef Stalin was one of the most important members of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union succeed the Russian empire in 1922 and lasted until 1991. Stalin shaped the country in the 1930s and continued to help it thrive to victory helping to win the Second World War against Nazi Germany. I am going to concentrate on the myths surrounding Stalin during the Stalin era (1928-1941) and after his death in 1953. After Stalin’s death in 1953 there was no clear successor for his role in the Soviet Union. The competitors for Stalin’s position were Laverntii Beria (1899-1953), Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), Georgi Malenkov (1902-88) and Vyacheslav Molotov (1890-1986), however, Beria was executed as a traitor within two months of Stalin’s death and Malenkov was forced to resign by 1955. Molotov, Stalin’s veteran Foreign Minister, remained to have a large following of the ‘old guard’ which was a clear threat to Khrushchev as many of them may have been influenced by nostalgia from the Stalin era.
Khrushchev, therefore, had to detach himself from any affiliation with Stalin and he did so in the speech made to congress in 1956 in which he set out to denounce Stalin. In the speech made in 1956 to congress, Khrushchev sympathises with the decisions Lenin made stating “Lenin used sever methods only in the most necessary cases”. In the same speech Stalin is said to have “used extreme methods and mass repression at a time when the revolution was already victorious”. While these two previous quotes are not particularly conflicting, there was a continuation form Lenin’s actions to enable Stalin’s, Lenin is considered by many historians to have paved the way for Stalin to become the leader he was. The controversies that occurred during the Stalin era are key to the reputation held by Stalin and the myths surrounding him. A ‘cult of personality’ was created in the late 1920s and by the beginning of the 1930s, as historian Moshe Lewin puts it, ‘Stalin actually became the system’ (Lewin, 1997. P. 120.).
Ordinary soviet citizens didn’t view Stalin as an extraordinary man, but a man whose ideas were traditional and appropriate of a leader, seen by many ‘as a father-like defender of the people’ (Davies, 1997, p. 166). Khrushchev says in his speech that Stalin “Ceased to consider either the central committee or the party”, however, the public still romanticised the idea of a good leader that Stalin was. A certificate of participation was presented to representatives of the Soviet Union who marched in Moscow’s Red Square to mark the victory and end of World War II in 1945; this can be taken as evidence that the Stalin myth was strengthened by this victory.
The positive myths that grew from this remained after Stalin’s death and Khrushchev set out to denounce them, this was a clear path for him to receive status amongst the party members and to have a pathway to success within the Soviet Union. In conclusion, the myths surrounding Stalin have prevailed trough time, after his death and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev directs all responsibility to Stalin for the negative outcomes from the Stalin era, although he played the main role in mass genocide and was mainly responsible for the great purges, it is more complicated than Khrushchev’s interpretation suggests. Positive and negative myths have played a fundamental role in creation the reputation of Stalin.
Source: from the congressional record: Proceedings and Debates of the 84th Congress, 2nd session (May 22, 1956-June 11, 1956), C11, Part 7 (June 4, 1956) pp. 9389-403, in Modern History Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1956khruschchev-secret1.html). Davies, S.(1997) Popular Opinion in Stalin’s Russia: Terror, Propaganda and Dissent, 1934-1941, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press. Lewin, M (1997) ‘Stalin in the mirror of the other’ in Kershaw, I. and Lewin, M. (eds) Stalinism and Nazism. Dictatorships in Comparison, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, pp. 120
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