Personality cult

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Personality cult describes the excessive veneration and glorification of a person who is usually still alive and who has an alleged or actual role model function. It occurs in all areas of society, very often in politics , the entertainment industry , sports and culture . In its modern form, it is similar to the star cult , with the difference that lower moral demands are made on a star or a celebrity. Related terms are charismatic rule , worship of saints , cult of the dead and worship of heroes .

Portrait of Mao Zedong at the entrance to the Forbidden City

Since the personality cult can be instrumentalized for propaganda purposes, it is a characteristic of many dictatorships .


Ferdinand Lassalle (1825–1864) was worshiped in parts of the German labor movement.

The term was coined by Karl Marx . In a letter to the Social Democrat Wilhelm Blos on November 10, 1877, he wrote that he had “an aversion to all personality cults”, just like Friedrich Engels that he “did not give a damn for popularity”. The background to this attitude was Marx's view of history , historical materialism , which at best gives the individual personality a subordinate role in the historical process. He and Engels had already polemicized against the cult that was practiced in the social democracy around the founder of the General German Workers' Association, Ferdinand Lassalle . After his early death in 1864, the historian Hans-Josef Steinberg believed that his veneration had taken on grotesque features. In the later years of the 19th century, however, the rejection of any personality cult dominated the SPD. In an article for the magazine Der Sozialdemokrat , Wilhelm Liebknecht wrote on April 6, 1889 that “idolatry and the cult of personality” were alien to social democracy.

The Soviet politician Nikita Sergejewitsch Khrushchev referred to this tradition in February 1956 in his secret speech on the personality cult and its consequences on the XX. Party congress of the CPSU. In it he condemned Stalinism with the crimes committed in his name and thus the personality cult around Stalin . The accusation of the personality cult thus became a catchphrase known worldwide in the context of de-Stalinization .

“We have to deal with the very important question for the party now and in the future, how the cult with the person of Stalin could gradually develop, this cult, which in a very specific, concrete phase became the source of a series of extremely serious and grave falsifications of party principles, internal party democracy and revolutionary legalism. "

The term is mostly used pejoratively . An exception is the French Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou (* 1937), who considers Khrushchev's condemnation of the Stalinist personality cult to be inappropriate. She announced "under the guise of democracy the decline of the idea of communism ".

Connection with rule and charismatization

The concept of the personality cult and Max Weber's “charismatic rule” are related concepts. One difference is that, according to Weber, charismatic rule shows a tendency towards legalization, i.e. rule over time is legitimized less by the exceptional personality of the ruler, which must always be proven, but rather by impersonal legal procedures and instances. In the personality cult, on the other hand, this transition from personal forms of rule to legal rule is withdrawn; here the willingness to obey of the ruled is predominantly based on the bond with the person of the ruler.

Since in the cult of personality (especially in history from the pharaohs to secularization) a political ruler is often glorified, who often bases his rule on the proximity to the divine ( divine grace ), the cult of personality shows itself phenomenologically in quasi-religious rituals. This was partially deliberate in history and was used to reduce the influence of churches or other religious organizations. For example, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist movement wanted to push back the influence of the Protestant and Catholic Church in Germany (see also “ Church struggle ”).

The cult of personality can be linked to specific characteristics of a person in public life and / or result from holding a high office, for example with emperors or the British queen . It is crucial that charismatization takes place. Max Weber (1864–1920) distinguished from personal charism the official charism and the hereditary charism. There is a personality cult with “hereditary charisma” in North Korea.

1935: Shops close so that a speech by Hitler can be heard

Personality cult was and is facilitated by the mass media . Even the constant presence in the media can cause charismatization because it gives the person concerned the appearance of great importance. In the early days of radio and film, many listeners and viewers believed what they had heard or seen and did not question the truth. The Volksempfänger (introduced in August 1933) increased the number of propaganda recipients in Germany . The four in Germany until 1940 the private sector produced competing newsreels were from from June 1940 Nazi centralized rulers and brought into line : from then on it was only by the UFA produced " German newsreel " in the cinemas of the German Reich .


The historian Reinhard Löhmann names three characteristics of personality cults:

  • Exaggeration of an individual, relationships are personalized through the glorification of a personality, i.e. H. the construction of a system is represented not as the merit of an epoch but of a person
  • Monumentalization of the political leader , who as a genius supposedly achieves achievements that no one else is capable of
  • Mythization of the Führer as omniscient, immortal and omnipresent, which is shown in public space in statues, monuments, portraits, street names, etc.

States and systems with personality cult

In dictatorships, the ruling person is generally used. With this, all achievements are attributed to the ruling person. This status can lead to religious elevation.

Fascism and National Socialism

Equestrian statue of Franco in Santander

As in fascist regimes and Nazism , the leadership principle is of fundamental importance, it also comes here to distinct persons cults, appropriate cults were fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini , in Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and to a lesser extent in Spain under Francisco Franco operated .

The British historian Ian Kershaw explained in his two-part Hitler biography (1998; 2000) Hitler's rise with Max Weber's model of “charismatic rule” essentially from the “Führer myth”. This established Hitler's popularity - due to the social conditions after the First World War and his later initial successes. Hitler's power was based on the fact that his supporters and large sections of German society were ready and committed to "work against him in the interests of the Führer", as NSDAP official Werner Willikens put it in 1934 , even without direct orders .

Real socialism

Josef Stalin, GDR postage stamp from 1953 issued on the occasion of his death

In the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953, the personality cult around Josef Stalin was driven to excess. All achievements that had been achieved after Lenin's death were solely attributed to Stalin's alleged genius . On his 50th birthday in 1929, he was officially awarded the honorary title of " Führer " (Russian: вождь , Vožd ' ). The successful operations of the Red Army after the Battle of Stalingrad have been attributed to him as " the ten Stalinist blows ". Even history was rewritten in his favor, claiming that Stalin's role during the October Revolution was equivalent to Lenin's. Stalin's works were now considered as significant as Lenin's, and it became customary to refer to him at every opportunity. In the factories, counterplans were drawn up in which Stalin exceeded the five-year plan, and the Kremlin received letters of thanks from the population. In particular after the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II in 1945, numerous monuments to Stalin were erected in the Soviet Union and soon also in the states under its control , streets and cities were named after him, and hymns were sung about him. In the schools of the GDR there was the obligatory “Stalin corner”, a table mostly designed like an altar with a photo of Stalin on which the students deposited their gifts of gratitude.

This personality cult, which was diametrically opposed to the Marxist understanding of history, had its cause, according to Herbert Marcuse and Werner Hofmann, in the structural situation of the Soviet Union: the increasing threat from outside and the immense difficulties of industrializing a backward country with an illiteracy rate of 50% would have it The leader's independence is favored compared to a poorly developed social base. In addition, in Lenin's concept of a cadre party made up of professional revolutionaries, the personality of the leading cadres (and not least Lenin himself) was given greater weight, so that from the moment it solidified into the ideology of legitimation of a ruling group, the move to the personality cult was obvious.

Personality cult around Kim Il-sung

Under similar internal and external structural conditions, the People's Republic of China also developed a personality cult around Mao Zedong in the years after 1949 . Likewise, a very pronounced personality cult arose around Kim Il-sung in North Korea , which was never interrupted and was also passed on to his son and grandson, who were the only ones in the socialist sphere of power to establish a family-dynastic succession to the throne (and the only one except Ceaușescu - with his son Nicu - tried).

Modeled after the glorification of Stalin, which was compulsory in the Soviet Union and throughout the early Eastern Bloc, a more or less pronounced personality cult marked at times other real socialist dictatorships of the "world socialist system," the Czechoslovakia under Klement Gottwald , Poland under Boleslaw Bierut , the GDR under Walter Ulbricht (the approaches to the personality cult also referred to Wilhelm Pieck , who was not particularly powerful in reality ), Hungary under Mátyás Rákosi , Romania under Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and the Mongolian People's Republic under Chorloogiin Tschoibalsan .

Soviet stamp pad from 1977, example of the Brezhnev personality cult

After Stalin's death in March 1953, people slowly abandoned the personality cult around Stalin during the thaw . It was not until the beginning of 1956 that his successor Khrushchev criticized the XX. CPSU party congress in 1956 - in a "secret speech" on February 25th - the personality cult around Stalin and his crimes. From then on, the Soviet leadership initiated a fundamental change in social and economic policy that became known as de-Stalinization . The personality cult revived in the Soviet Union around Leonid Brezhnev - he was party leader of the CPSU from 1964 to 1982 (about 18 years).

Mountain in southern Albania with
Enver Hoxhas propaganda inscription

In contrast, in old Stalinist Albania around Enver Hoxha , an extreme personality cult was practiced until his death in April 1985. The ENVER lettering adorned entire mountain slopes in Albania.

Likewise, Nicolae Ceaușescu introduced a personality cult around himself in Romania in the early 1970s, which was applied to China and North Korea. He allowed himself to be venerated as a conducător (German leader ) and glorified by poets loyal to the regime such as Corneliu Vadim Tudor or Adrian Păunescu with titles such as Titan of the Titans, glorious oak from Scorniceşti , genius of the Carpathians or our earthly god . Ceaușescu's wife Elena was also celebrated as the “loving mother of the nation”, and she also had a bogus doctorate in technical chemistry, although she had already finished school at the age of 14.

In Yugoslavia , Marshal Josip Broz Tito was celebrated as a hero. May 25, on which he narrowly escaped the attack of German paratroopers in 1944, was celebrated in Titoism as the symbolic birthday of the marshal, as a day of victory for the partisans and as a day of youth in a highly ritualized form. On Tito's symbolic 70th birthday, he was given the Museum of May 25th , which is now part of the Museum of the History of Yugoslavia .

In Cuba , a certain personality cult is practiced around the revolutionary and founder of the socialist state, Fidel Castro , you can see his portrait and some of his political principles mostly in connection with Ernesto Che Guevara or José Martí on many house facades and billboards. See also Castroism . A much more pronounced personality cult is practiced among communists, socialists and sympathizers in the western world around Castro's colleague Ernesto Che Guevara.

North Korea

North Korea is the last country where a personality cult on a Stalinist scale can be observed. The personality cult around the founder of the state, which continues to this day, was expanded to include his son and, since 2010, his grandson. This created a dynasty .

Since the 1960s, a personality cult had developed around the state founder and "Eternal President" Kim Il-sung . His writings, which are collected in 79 volumes, enjoy a religious-like veneration. They have to be studied in schools and universities and parts of them have to be memorized. Statues and memorials were also erected across the country, glorifying the "Great Leader". The personality cult was also passed on to his son Kim Jong-il , who was given the title of "Beloved Leader", but no statues of his person were erected. Until June 2009, his son Kim Jong-un was hardly known, then rumors arose that he would be the successor. After the death of his father Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un became head of state in December 2011. The personality cult passed on to him seamlessly, with his father and grandfather still being worshiped.

Arab dictatorships

In Arab dictatorships such as Libya ( Muammar al-Gaddafi ), the term personality cult is problematic, as the strict monotheism and the ban on images of Islam set limits to an overly pronounced personality cult. Nevertheless, there was a form of personality cult in Iraq and Syria under the dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Hafiz al-Assad , which emerged from secular pan-Arabism ( Baathism ).


In Iran , a special kind of personality cult was practiced around the Islamic revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini , which seems unbroken to this day. He enjoys sacred veneration and is even mentioned in the first article of the Iranian constitution. Among other things, he was referred to as "Our Holy Imam" or as the "soul" who "made the Iranian people free" .


Saparmyrat Nyýazov's personality cult on a Turkmenistan banknote from 1996

In Turkmenistan , a pronounced personality cult was practiced around its president Saparmyrat Nyýazow , who died in 2006 and who had given himself the nickname Turkmenbaşy ("Leader of all Turkmen"). After Nyýazow u. a. named the city of Türkmenbaşy , schools and airports, and he is glorified in the national anthem . Pictures and statues (some of them gold) of the President can be found all over Turkmenistan. His image was emblazoned on banknotes, on the lapel of officials and as a station logo on state television. Even the months and days of the week have been renamed in honor of Nyýazov. The month of January was renamed “Türkmenbaşy”, and April after the name of his mother. This decision was reversed in 2008, two years after Turkmenbasy died. The book Ruhnama , allegedly written by Nyýazow, was compulsory reading for educational institutions in Turkmenistan until the end of 2006 and was displayed in mosques next to the Koran . Civil servants had to read the book every Saturday and the relevant content was even asked for for the driver's license test. After President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow came to power , the bizarre personality cult was changed and partially transferred to the new president.

African dictatorships

In Somalia , a personality cult based on real socialist guidelines developed around the then President Siad Barre in the 1970s . "Centers of order" were set up all over the country, which were supposed to keep the enthusiasm for the Barres socialist revolution alive and which largely determined public life. His “achievement” for world communism was particularly emphasized, so he was usually portrayed in a row with Marx and Lenin .

In Uganda and the former Zaire ( Democratic Republic of the Congo ) Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko staged a distinctive personality cult, for example Amin renamed Lake Eduard Lake Idi Amin Dada Lake , and Mobutu changed the name of Lake Albert to Mobutu Sese Seko Lake .

In Zimbabwe , Robert Mugabe had a personality cult based on African traditions around himself. His origin was traced back to the kings of Great Zimbabwe , among other things, which is why he was also dubbed Our King . Poems and hymns of praise that had to be learned in schools praised his services to the country and his heroic deeds during the war of liberation. He was also awarded numerous honorary titles that the kings of the Shona had worn in earlier times . This should consolidate his claim to power in the country.

Post-mortem personality cult

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi

General arises in many national states , a cult of the ancestors of the nation, that is its founder. Examples are the cult around 1900 around the Reich Chancellor Bismarck , around Lenin in the Eastern Bloc countries, in Vietnam around Ho Chi Minh and in Turkey around Ataturk , as well as around Hlinka in the First Slovak Republic . They often become national heroes , as in the pre-war cult of Nogi Maresuke in Japan. In Cuba there is a cult around the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara . Guevara is always placed next to Castro in schools, public offices and universities. This reached its climax when in 1997 the bones of Guevara were transferred from Bolivia to Cuba and a mausoleum with a statue was built in Santa Clara especially for this purpose .

The dead are cherished in all cultures. An exceptional level of post-death devotion can be part of a personality cult. The general cult of the dead, however, has nothing to do with the cult of personality.

See also

List of personality cults


Web links

Wiktionary: personality cult  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Letter from Karl Marx to Wilhelm Blos on , accessed April 15, 2017.
  2. ^ Hans-Josef Steinberg: personality cult . In: Soviet system and democratic society. A comparative encyclopedia . Vol. V: Cult of personality to social psychology . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1972, p. 2.
  3. ^ Hans-Josef Steinberg: personality cult . In: Soviet system and democratic society. A comparative encyclopedia . Vol. V: Cult of personality to social psychology . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1972, p. 2.
  4. Full text of the speech
  5. Reiner Tostorff: Khrushchev's revelation. 50 years ago, the First Secretary settled the crimes of Josef Stalin . Deutschlandradio Kultur , calendar sheet from February 25, 2006, accessed on December 17, 2016.
  6. ^ Alain Badiou : The Communist Hypothesis (=  International Merve Discourse 349 = Morale provisoire 2). Merve, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-88396-287-0 , cit. according to Johannes Thumfart: The iron Maoist. In: taz , August 1, 2011, p. 15.
  7. ^ Roland Czada: Institutional Theories of Politics. In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics, Volume 1: Political Terms. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 208.
  8. ^ Max Weber: Economy and society concerned by Johannes Winckelmann . Outline of understanding sociology. 5th, revised edition, study edition. Mohr, Tübingen 1980, ISBN 3-16-538521-1 , p. 144.
  9. Reinhard Löhmann : The Stalin myth. Studies on the social history of the personality cult in the Soviet Union (1929–1935) , LIT, Münster 1990, ISBN 3-88660-596-5 , p. 10 ff.
  10. Ian Kershaw : Hitler. 1889-1936. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-421-05131-3 , p. 663.
  11. ^ Hans-Josef Steinberg: personality cult . In: Soviet system and democratic society. A comparative encyclopedia . Vol. V: Cult of personality to social psychology . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1972, p. 4.
  12. Manfred Hildermeier : The Soviet Union 1917-1991 (Oldenbourg outline of the story). Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, p. 53.
  13. Dimitri Volkogonow : Stalin. Triumph and tragedy. Econ, Munich 1993, pp. 286 f., 669-673 and others; Personality cult . LeMO of the German Historical Museum , accessed on April 15, 2017.
  14. Stefan Trinks: The dictator roars in the zoo. Offerings for the altar of the great Führer: An exhibition in Hohenschönhausen illuminates the Stalin cult in Germany. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of February 6, 2018, p. 12.
  15. ^ Herbert Marcuse: Soviet-Marxism. A critical analysis. Columbia University Press, New York 1958; Werner Hofmann: Stalinism and Anti-Communism. On the sociology of the East-West conflict. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1967; both reported according to Hans-Josef Steinberg: personality cult . In: Soviet system and democratic society. A comparative encyclopedia . Vol. V: Cult of personality to social psychology . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1972, p. 3.
  16. Klaus Roth : Communism. In: In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics, Volume 1: Political Terms. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 253.
  17. ^ Hans-Josef Steinberg: personality cult . In: Soviet system and democratic society. A comparative encyclopedia . Vol. V: Cult of personality to social psychology . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1972, p. 3.
  18. Manfred Hildermeier : The Soviet Union 1917–1991 (= Oldenbourg ground plan of history ), Vol. 31st 3rd edition, Oldenbourg, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-486-85554-8 , p. 85 (accessed via De Gruyter Online ).
  19. ^ Rainer Mayerhofer: Albania before the turning point. In: Adolph Stiller (Ed.): Tirana. Plan, build, live (=  architecture in the Ringturm , vol. 22). Müry Salzmann, Salzburg [a. a.] 2010, ISBN 978-3-99014-030-7 , pp. 58-64.
  20. Elmir Camic: Tito as a political hero. In: Peter Tepe, Thorsten Bachmann u. a. (Ed.): Political Myths (=  Myth 2). Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2006, ISBN 3-8260-3242-X , pp. 194-213.
  21. Pyongyang Times , February 28, 2009, ZDB -ID 300659-1 , p. 3.
  22. cf. Article on the death of Nyýazow, BBC, December 21, 2006 (English)