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

  • Catriona Kelly


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.


School Textbook Small Girl Ruler Cult Leader Cult Female Informant 
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© Catriona Kelly 2004

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  • Catriona Kelly

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