Stalin might have been a ruthless dictator with the blood of millions on his hands, but that wasn’t the image he wanted to project to the people. Soviet propaganda portrayed Stalin as a powerful yet benevolent father figure, a genius who devoted his life in service to the Soviet Union and the protection of its people.

He only rarely appeared in public, but his portrait adorned the wall of every office, factory, classroom, and most people’s homes. Radio and newspapers hailed his genius; schools taught a rewritten version of history, which wildly exaggerated his importance in the momentous events of the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Anybody who spoke of Stalin in anything less than terms of gushing praise was ruthlessly silenced.

Unlike dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini, Stalin was a poor public speaker. But when Stalin finished speaking, the crowds erupted in applause. His audience understood that the NKVD would be watching, and being the first person to stop clapping could be a death sentence.

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