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date: 19 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The article discusses characteristics and relevance of leader cults and symbolic politics within state socialism. After defining distinctive features of modern personality cults, the article traces trajectories of major cults over time and highlights interconnections, similarities, and differences between them. Cults served to centre emotions and loyalties in a personalized symbol and were part of a wider cosmos of symbolic politics, which played an important role in communicating party policies and social hierarchies. However, a purely instrumentalist understanding fails to account for the manifold popular expressions of the cults, especially within local contexts. The article argues that both official and non-officially ascribed meanings should be taken seriously, and further explores state–society interactions in fostering and sustaining leader cults.

Keywords: personality cult, symbolic politics, rituals, communication, Stalin, Mao Zedong, North Korea

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