What is Cult of Personality?

Meaning of Cult of Personality

The expression “ personality cult ” was first used in 1956 by Nikita  Khrushchev during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev took over as general secretary of this party after the death of Joseph Stalin, he assumed leadership of the USSR until 1964.

He promoted reforms that began to dismantle the rigid structure of political and economic centralization of the totalitarian Stalinist state.

After Khrushchev’s pronouncement, the term was used to refer to political strategy . It was common to authoritarian regimes , exaggerated exaltation of state leaders, especially dictators.

The concept of personality cult refers to a form of propaganda that elevates the figure of political leaders to almost religious dimensions.

The speeches of this type of propaganda seek to exaggerate the merits and qualities of the leaders in question. Always hiding any criticism or flaw that may be part of his personality and history.

The cult of personality starts from the erroneous conception that history is not made by society itself, but only by the actions of great figures capable of expressing the general will.

This conception is not an accidental error, but a strategic way of legitimizing the dominance exercised by the leader, previously justifying his actions and creating an atmosphere of adoration and fear.

Examples of Cult of Personality

Especially during the 20th century, the use of the cult of personality as a power strategy can be observed in different parts of the world.

The exaltation of the figures of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler , both leaders of totalitarian regimes, was marked during the time they held power.

Each of them had a unique aesthetic of political propaganda responsible for representing and disseminating their ideologies and state programs.

Benito Mussolini in Italy and Mao Zedong in China are also examples of charismatic leaders who have adopted the cult of personality strategy with considerable success.

Characteristics of the Cult of Personality

From a material point of view, the cult of personality expresses itself in different ways. In China, for example, even today we find giant panels depicting the face of Mao Zedong in strategic public places .

In Spain, the figure of the dictator Francisco Franco was exalted through the repetition of songs, hymns and poetry that spoke of his supposed virtues and historical achievements in defense of the Spanish people.

In Nazi Germany, Hitler’s cult of personality was also expressed through gestures, rituals that we all now know, such as the outstretched arm.

The last years of Stalinism were marked by megalomaniac projects to build giant monuments and statues throughout the Soviet-influenced territory. Today they are visiting points that attract tourists interested in Cold War history.

In all these cases, the media help in the construction of these extremely biased narratives, drawing a heroic profile.

In general, the fall of dictatorial regimes that use the cult of personality is marked by historical scenes of depredation and burning of these symbols.

One of those episodes, which we were able to see a few years ago, was the toppling of the statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.


Today, North Korea is perhaps the country where the cult of personality of the head of state, Kim Jong-un, is most present. Although it is more relevant in dictatorial regimes.

The cult of personality is also present in democratic regimes . Being evident in the treatment that the media gives to some figures during political scenarios.

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