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Grandpa Lenin and Uncle Stalin: Soviet Leader Cult for Little Children

  • Catriona Kelly

Abstract

A major innovation of the twentieth century, across many different types of political system — constitutional monarchies, republics with elected multiparty democracies, and one-party ‘totalitarian’, states — was the emergence of genres of political propaganda aimed explicitly at children.1 Children had a firm place in Soviet political propaganda from the start. ‘Ruler and child’ icons proliferated; model biographies were ubiquitous. Children learnt by heart songs and poems praising Lenin and Stalin; they were taught to ornament their essays with Lenin and Stalin quotations. They read, and commented upon, selected texts by the leaders, and paid eulogistic tribute to them in lessons. Exposure to such material was obviously crucial in shaping attitudes to the regime, both at the time when children were learning about the leaders and later on. Yet despite the centrality of the leader cult for children to the operation of the regime, and to the mentality of its growing citizens, it has received remarkably little attention in historiography. Existing treatments are largely iconological in character — that is, they deal with the content of representations rather than with how these were used and what impact they made upon children.2 Accordingly, this chapter, though paying some attention to icon types, will be more closely concerned with other issues: first, children’s specific experience of ruler cult practices: the rituals employing ruler icons that they experienced, the artworks and letters that they dedicated to leaders; and second, the extent to which the ruler cult was able to inspire belief and trust in the leaders among children, both in their youth and when they came to maturity.

Keywords

School Textbook Small Girl Ruler Cult Leader Cult Female Informant 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    N. Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, Mass. 1997), pp. 227–32, carries a brief discussion of Lenin imagery for children, based on a handful of mid-1920s sources only. My own essay, ‘Riding the Magic Carpet: The Stalin Cult for Little Children’, forthcoming in Slavic and East European Journal, 2004, concentrates on the content of texts rather than their uses.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Poem by a group 3 collective in N. Sats (ed.) Deti o Lenine (Moscow, 1925), p. 14. This very interesting anthology consists of poems and pictures by children, mostly aged about 12–14, from the L. B. Kamenev First Experimental School in Moscow.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
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  6. 15.
    Tumarkin, Lenin Lives, p. 129, quoting P. N. Lepeshinsky ‘Po sosedstvu s V. I.’ in D. Lebed’ (ed.) Lenin (Khar’kov, 1923), p. 76.Google Scholar
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    The fourth edition of Lenin’s Sochineniya, for instance, can muster only a handful of references: vol. 19 (Moscow, 1948), pp. 182–5 (children’s work in the peasant household); vol. 29 (Moscow, 1950) p. 303 (prospects for children in the socialist society of the future). Trotsky on several occasions did speak on this theme: ‘A revolution does not deserve its name if it does not take the greatest care possible of the children — the future race for whose benefit the revolution has been made.’ (‘The Struggle for Cultured Speech’ (1923), in L. D. Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life, trans. anon. (New York, 1973), p. 53.)Google Scholar
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    Jeffrey Brooks, Thank You, Comrade Stalin! (Princeton, NJ, 2000), p. xvi.Google Scholar
  17. 38.
    See the cover of Druzhnye rebyata for October 1936. For a later example, see e.g. the photograph of the Trekhgorka Factory’s summer dacha in E. I. Papkovskaya (ed.) Knizhka o malen’kikh trekhgortsakh (Moscow, 1948), p. 37. See also the carnival scenario — Detskii karnaval. Letnii prazdnik dlya detei srednego vozrasta (Moscow, 1939), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
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    C. Kelly, ‘Byt and Identity’, forthcoming in S. Franklin and E. Widdis (eds.) All the Russias Cambridge, 2004); id., ‘Shaping the ‘Future Race’: Regulating the Daily Life of Children in Early Soviet Russia’, in vol. edited by Eric Naiman (Christina Kiaer(as) Everyday Life in Revolutionary Russia (Indiana, 2005).Google Scholar
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    A. I. Ulyanova, Detstvo i otrochestvo V. I. Lenina (1955). In the post-Stalin era, too, it was customary to hold admissions to the Pioneers in Lenin museums and other such Lenin-commemorative places.Google Scholar
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    On Pavlik Morozov, see C. Kelly, Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero (London, 2004).Google Scholar
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  39. for a book about Soviet crack pilots’ devotion to Stalin, see G. Baidukov (Geroi Sovetskogo Soyuza), Vstrechi s tovarishchem Stalinym (Moscow and Leningrad, 1938).Google Scholar
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© Catriona Kelly 2004

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  • Catriona Kelly

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