Although the cult of personality certainly owed something to Stalin’s affinity for self-aggrandisement, modern social science literature suggests that it was designed to perform an entirely different ideological function. Personality cults promoting charismatic leadership are typically found in developing societies where ruling cliques aspire to cultivate a sense of popular legitimacy.2 Scholars since Max Weber have observed that charismatic leadership plays a particularly crucial role in societies that are either poorly integrated or lack regularised administrative institutions. In such situations, loyalty to an inspiring leader can induce even the most fragmented polities to acknowledge the authority of the central state despite the absence of a greater sense of patriotism, community, or rule of law.3 The cult performed precisely such a function in the USSR during the interwar years, serving—in the words of one commentator—as an unifying mechanism at a timer when ‘most of the components of civil society or of the modern state were missing: a reliable bureaucracy, a unitary consistent notion of citizenship or polity…or even a sense of psychological inclusion’.4

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