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Stalin & the Soviet Union

Form of Authority
photo: gulag tower (5k)photos: Collectivism/Industialization(5k each)Marxism/Leninism functioned as a triumverate, with Marx as "spirit", Lenin as "father", and Stalin (and subsequent leaders) as "sons". The revolutionary Soviet regime used coercion, both to collectivize the peasants and to achieve rapid industrialization. Although there was widespread international disapproval and citizens lived in constant fear of being sent to brutal gulags, successive regimes gained loyalty by improving living standards, creating equality of opportunity, and positioning the Soviet people as the vanguard of history.

Death & Transition
photo: Outside Lenin mausoleum (4k)photo: Mummies of Stalin and Lenin (3k)Following Stalin's death in 1953, he was placed in the tomb alongside Lenin's mummy, before later being removed to his own grave. The Lenin mausoleum functioned as a shrine where followers worshipped the symbolic Father. Successive attempts to complete the burial of these leaders beginning with Khrushchev in 1957 failed, largely because Soviet authority could not exist without the image of the Father.

photo: head of Lenin statue (6k)photo: Boris Yeltsin (4k)Following Gorbachev's reforms of glasnost and perestroika, monuments to the past were dismantled. Sacrifices made for the cause of socialism and during World War II counted for little. After 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved into an array of smaller states, all representing themselves as formally democratic, but taking different historical trajectories. The Soviet habit of preserving fathers persists as Boris Yeltsin repeatedly rises from his sick bed to reassert his authority, appear at parties, and dance.

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Prepared by John Borneman, & Linda Fisher, January 1999