Jan Plamper


On his book The Stalin Cult: A Study in the Alchemy of Power

Cover Interview of February 14, 2012

The wide angle

The Stalin Cult crosses disciplinary boundaries: it is both history and art history and it speaks to the fields of symbolic politics, the high politics of Stalinism, socialist realist visual studies, and dictator biography. I hope the book wears its theory lightly, but, undeniably, I was influenced by the new cultural history, by practice studies in the vein of Pierre Bourdieu, and by the social history of art.  I also hope that the book’s empirical core will stand the test of time—this is the first book to reconstruct how the Stalin cult was made.

Soviet citizens encountered not Stalin, the person, but Stalin, the cult product. Consider this story that Artyom Sergeev, Stalin’s adopted son, was fond of telling. He recalled a fight between Stalin and his biological son Vasily. After Stalin found out that Vasily had used his famous last name to escape punishment for one of his drunken debauches, Stalin screamed at him. “‘But I’m a Stalin too,’ retorted Vasily. ‘No, you’re not,’ said Stalin. ‘You’re not Stalin and I’m not Stalin. Stalin is Soviet power. Stalin is what he is in the newspapers and the portraits, not you, not even me!’”