Thursday, 10 May 2007

The Cult of the Individual

I’d never thought that I’d turn to Nikita Khrushchev for words to deal with the terrible turn that modern politics has taken and is no better illustrated in the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominations and the farce like slow-death of Blair and Bush.

On the 25th February 1956 Nikita Khrushchev delivered his ‘Secret Speech’ on the cult of the individual, it’s target was Stalin and his policies, it was as shocking to a nation still indoctrinated in by the Stalinist dogma, still living with the fear of it’s brutality; as two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre.

Many sections of the speech resonate with the current, personality first, policies second style of realpolitik; strong-arm, nasty, decision making hidden behind vacuous, media friendly 2D facades that try and position themselves as some kind of Godhead: “such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behaviour.”

Khrushchev’s description of Stalin’s leadership techniques could easily be transferred to many of our modern leaders at their worst moments:

“Stalin…acted not through persuasion but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people’. This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man be proven. It made it possible to use the cruellest repression against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin.”

The cult of the individual in politics is certainly a dangerous one; perhaps with the demise of Blair and Bush there is an opportunity to return political leadership to one of content and results, rather than manipulation and image.

We can but hope…


  1. I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!
    --Eliot Ness, The Untouchables.

    The Republican Party has become everything they used to claim was evil in the world, and they are content with themselves.


  2. I enjoyed reading this post. Politics in the U.S. is the same. Candidates are packaged and branded images. Voters are not electors but consumers. Their decisions at the polls are equivalent to their decisions at the grocery store. Bush or Kerry? Coke or Pepsi?

    Have you read Max Weber? In Theory of Social and Economic Organization, he explores how individuals set themselves apart from others through the powers or perceived powers of their personalities. The multitude endows the most charismatic individuals with superhuman, heroic powers, think, perhaps, Hitler or Gandhi. Charismatic leaders become like little (demi-)gods.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  3. Thanks Ortho, nice to have you by here, stop often!


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