When Feuchtwanger told Stalin how he found some manifestations of
the cult tasteless and excessive, Stalin agreed, but said that he only
answered one or two of the hundreds of greetings he received and did not allow most to be printed, especially the most excessive. He claimed that he did not seek to justify the practice, but to explain it: evidently the workers and peasant masses were simply delighted to be freed from exploitation, and they attributed this to one individual: ‘of course that’s wrong, what can one person do – they see in me a unifying concept, and create foolish raptures around me.’
Feuchtwanger then asked a very legitimate question: why could he not stop the most excessive forms of rapture? Stalin responded that he had tried several times but that it was pointless as people assumed he was just doing so out of false modesty. For example, he had been criticised for preventing celebrations of his 55th birthday. According to Stalin, the veneration of the leader was the result of cultural backwardness and would pass with time. It was difficult to prevent people expressing their joy, and to take strict measures against workers and peasants. Feuchtwanger responded that what concerned him was not so much the feelings of workers and peasants, but the erection of busts and so on. Echoing some of his comments (above) about the abuse of the cult, Stalin answered that bureaucrats were afraid that if they did not put up a bust of Stalin, they would be criticised by their superiors. Putting up a bust was a form of careerism ‘a specific form of the ‘self-defence’ of bureaucrats: so that they are left alone, they put up a bust’….
His interventions often reveal a concern to tone down, or to be seen to be toning down, some of the excesses of the cult… There are many examples of this. While a draft report for Pravda described a reception of a delegation of kolkhozniki of Odessa province in November 1933 as a reception by Stalin, Stalin himself added the names of Kalinin, Molotov and Kaganovich. He also criticised the writer A. Afinogenov for highlighting the ‘vozhd’ [leader] rather than the collective leadership of the Central Committee in his play Lozh’. When the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute (IMEL) produced a history of 30 years of the party in 1933, he removed some references to himself….
Stalin continued to pay close attention to the editing of reports of Kremlin receptions for publication in Pravda. He would sometimes (but not always) cut out or tone down the references to the endless clapping which accompanied these quintessentially cultic occasions. He also tried to reduce the language of adulation, or to distribute it more equally with other colleagues….
While some members of the Politburo approved the renaming [of a electromechanical factory after Stalin in 1936], others proposed a discussion of the issue. However Stalin declared emphatically that he was not in favour, writing ‘I am against. I advise that it should take the name of Kalinin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Kosior, Postyshev or another of the leading comrades.’ Nevertheless, despite Stalin’s objections, on 25 March the Politburo went on to approve the attaching of Stalin’s name to the factory.