- L’Homme que nous aimons le plusFrench Intellectuals Celebrate Stalin’s 70th Birthday
Joseph Stalin’s birthday holds a special place in the creation and perpetuation of his cult of personality. According to Jan Plamper, the celebration of Stalin’s 50th on 21 December 1929 marked the inaugural moment of the cult itself (29). Plamper notes that in that year, laudatory articles and praise of Stalin (as the mastermind of industrialization, the prominent theoretician of Leninism, and so on) were at first restricted to the major Moscow daily Pravda. Soon other periodicals began to follow suit, featuring similar greetings, praise, and visual depictions of the General Secretary “suggesting that the beginning of the Stalin cult was orchestrated and centralized” (Plamper 29). Twenty years later, those Russian celebrations of Stalin’s 50th birthday were dwarfed by the massive festivities for his 70th, a commemoration that reverberated well beyond Soviet borders. As Roy Medvedev writes, Stalin’s 70th birthday “was celebrated with unbelievable pomp” (819). Alan Wood notes that the celebration in the ussr involved “extravagant outpourings of official encomia, obsequious greetings, exhibitions, publications, poetry and even prayers” (65). The marking of 21 December 1949 was an international celebration—events were held in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and France (Plamper 75)—that culminated in a huge jubilee in Moscow. The official French Communist Party (pcf) daily L’Humanité described the event in glowing terms: “Toute la ville était en liesse. Les immeubles étaient surmontés de petits drapeaux rouges … Dans la soirée, une cérémonie solenelle a eu lieu au Grand Théâtre en présence de Staline.”1 For nearly two years Pravda had a feature called “A Torrent of Greetings,” which included congratulatory telegrams and letters from all over the ussr (Plamper 78). France had its own heavily orchestrated torrent of greetings that reached an apex at a gathering in Paris at la Mutualité on Stalin’s birthday. An event parallel to the Moscow jubilee, [End Page 47] that assembly was promoted in part by a blaring headline on the front page of L’Humanité touting the role of the local cult hero and pcf General Secretary: “la vie militante de Staline sera exaltée par Maurice Thorez.”2
This article will explore how the pcf celebrated Stalin’s 70th birthday, with particular emphasis on a short film produced for the celebration, titled L’Homme que nous aimons le plus, a work that is emblematic of Stalinist propaganda produced and/or disseminated in France in the Cominform era (1947–1956). Described in the film’s opening credits as a gift made by technicians, intellectuals, and workers from the French film industry in homage to the Soviet leader, L’Homme que nous aimons le plus played a unique role in the marking of the pcf’s observation of Stalin’s birthday. Build-up to the event was initiated in L’Humanité on 24 September 1949, and it continued relentlessly in that newspaper through a daily flow of articles, promotions, and reprinted letters from enamored readers. Much of the promotional material in L’Humanité indeed focused on gifts to the man known as Le Maréchal, le Généralissime, le bon papa, l’Oncle Joseph, and le Grand Frère among other affectionate monikers. Alongside the media campaign, 500,000 tracts and 30,000 posters were produced.3 Ten trucks decorated with banners promoting the event collected gifts around the country, covering just under 4,500 miles. The approximately 4,000 gifts for Stalin came from many quarters, from war widows, to politicians, to French intellectuals, to world famous artists, like Picasso.4 The presents were showcased in an exhibition at the Maison de Metallos, a space controlled by a metallurgists’ union. From 6 to 15 December, about 40,000 people visited the exhibit.
Despite the vigorousness of the pcf’s promotions, the celebration and the many gifts produced for it constitute a largely forgotten episode of complicity with authoritarianism on the part of a significant number of French intellectuals and writers.5 L’Homme que nous aimons le plus is an especially intriguing manifestation of this phenomenon, as the...