Until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Western democracies had to confront the challenge of communism, which, although an ally during the war against Nazism, was now considered their most formidable enemy. The communist religion spread its presence over the entire planet through the expansion of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, the creation of communist movements in every country, and the advent of new communist regimes in Asia and Latin America. Between the late forties and the mid-sixties, the sacralization of politics also found the new states brought about by the end of colonialism to be favorable ground in which to put down roots. The new rulers made many attempts to establish systems of beliefs, myths, rituals, and symbols to legitimize their authority, integrate the masses into the state, and inculcate a national consciousness and a common identity for the purpose of creating loyal and reverential citizens.

As it reproduced itself in various national versions all based on Marxism-Leninism, communism spread around the world taking with it cynical attitudes based on brute force and ruthlessness. However, it also had the fascination of a doctrine that seemed to be simultaneously a science, a faith, and a political power that promised liberation, emancipation, and equality to all peoples of this world. The religious nature of communist activism, which was based on faith and devotion, was confirmed by intellectuals such as Arthur Koestler and Ignazio Silone, who had become disillusioned with communism after the experience of Stalinism.

Of course, variants were produced in each country according to the prevailing conditions at the time of taking power, the roles of particular leaders, and relations with the Soviet Union. In spite of the oft-repeated professions of internationalist faith, the new communist religions took on strikingly nationalistic connotations, and their spread around the world was accompanied by disagreements and conflicts that ended up in heresies, schisms, and excommunications, as in the case of Russia and China. These two countries divided over rivalry for power and ideological conflicts concerning the correct interpretation of Marxism-Leninism, and they then competed for the leadership of world communism.

In spite of the different historical experiences, the common features of the new political religions are quite clear. All the communist regimes established a compulsory system of beliefs, myths, rituals, and symbols that exalted the primacy of the party as the sole and unchallenged depositary of power. They all dogmatized their ideology as an absolute and unquestionable truth. They all glorified the socialist homeland and imposed a code of commandments that affected every aspect of existence. They all safeguarded their monopoly of power and truth through a police state and hard-line ideological orthodoxy backed up by constant surveillance and persecution, which enormously increased the number of human lives sacrificed for the triumph of communism. Finally, they all used the sacralization of politics with the ultimate aim of carrying out an anthropological revolution that would transform the population and create a "new man."

In this context, the denunciation of Stalin's crimes did not, prove to be an obstacle to this fascination with communism. During the following decades and up to the end of the seventies, communism was a religion of the intellectuals and the masses, it made many converts among all peoples and races, and it inflamed the new generations who rebelled from within the capitalist world and found communist revolutions of the Third World to be a source that renewed their faith in revolution. Mao's China, Castro's and "Che" Guevara's Cuba, and Ho Chi Min's Vietnam became the new beacons of enlightenment for Western intellectuals who, disillusioned with the experience of actual socialism in the countries of Eastern Europe, were now fascinated by new socialist experiments in the regeneration of society and the creation of "new man." Meanwhile, they continued in the exuberance of their faith to ignore or deny the costs of such experiments in terms of suffering and human lives, just as they had previously done in relation to Stalinism before it was officially condemned. They considered violence and brutality to be necessary measures that were sanctified by the nobility and grandeur of the ends they wished to achieve.1

In 1958 Walter Ulbricht, the leader of the communist regime in East Germany, issued the "Ten Commandments of Socialist Morality," which were to inform the life of the "new socialist man," a virtuous and model citizen wholly committed to his socialist fatherland.2 After seizing power in 1959 and converting to Marxism, Fidel Castro also undertook to mold a "new man," a militant dedicated to achieving the Cuban version of socialism by exalting Cuba's socialist mission in the triumph of the world revolution. The theoretical magazine Cuba socialista asserted in 1964 that all educational efforts should aim at "training a new type of intellectual, socialist, and activist conscious of the formidable tasks of his time."3 Cuban communism's new man was imagined as a "member of an egalitarian society who acted in the interests of the whole community to the full extent of his abilities. "

Artificiality and spontaneity came together in the formation of the new communist religions and influenced the socialization of the new system of beliefs, myths, rituals, and commandments imposed by the regime, just as they influenced the religious traditions of the majority of the population, something that sat rather oddly with the regime's profession of atheism. The reference to the traditional religion is an important one because, as had already occurred in the Soviet Union, the new communist countries, particularly in Asia, found that traditional religious beliefs heavily influenced the way in which the new political religion was perceived and received by the masses. There was a syncretic process of fusion between communism and traditional religion in the majority of the new regimes, particularly through deification of the leader, who embodied the values and commandments of the new political ideology and whose image was shrouded in sanctity partly through popular religious beliefs.

In Russia, "the personality cult" was publicly condemned by Khrushchev in 1956 following Stalin's death. Five years later, the dictator's embalmed body was removed from Lenin's mausoleum and was buried in the Kremlin Wall next to the remains of other leaders of the regime, but Soviet citizens and communist activists from all parts of the world continued to file past the mummy of Lenin with religious reverence. The sacralization of politics in Russia did not end once the Stalinist cult had been discarded. Particularly during the Brezhnev era (1964-1982), the regime campaigned systematically to establish and spread new myths and rituals of both a political and a civic nature in order to revitalize the sacralization of communist power and accelerate the creation of homo sovieticus. During this phase, praise was lavished on Russian nationalism and Soviet patriotism by glorifying the events, the victims, and the combatants of the Second World War, called the Great Patriotic War. The sacralization of politics even survived during the Gorbachev era (1985-1991), and only came to an end with the breakup of the communist regime, when an icon oclastic frenzy brought down the statues and monuments raised to glorify the demigods of the Soviet empire. Only Lenin's embalmed body was saved, and it still lies in the mausoleum in Red Square.4

 Once abolished in Russia, personality cults became one of the fundamental features of the sacralization of politics in other communist regimes, which applied the Stalinist model and often surpassed it in the megalomania of deification. The establishment of the cult of the leader was not everywhere immediate following the conquest of power and depended on several factors concerning the presence of a charismatic personality, power struggles between the regime's leaders, and the attitudes of the masses. In Cuba, for example, the myth and cult of Castro, Jefe Maximo, originated from his leading role in the revolutionary struggle for power and his genuine popularity among the masses.5 In other cases, the cult of the leader resulted from the affirmation of absolute power by a dominant personality, who succeeded in prevailing over his rivals within the new regime, and crowned his victory with his own consecration as the unchallenged leader and living myth. This is what occurred in Romania, where Nicolae Ceausescu, who lacked any charismatic quality, introduced a personality cult a few years after achieving the highest position in the regime's hierarchy following the death of its founder, Gheorghiu-Dej. In1974 Ceausescu proclaimed himself Conducator and concentrated absolute power in the hands of his family. He established a political religion founded on communism and nationalism, and his very public independence from the Soviet Union won him popular consensus for a certain period. From then until his fall in 1989, Ceausescu governed the country as a despot, falling prey to an increasingly unrestrained fever of self-exaltation and megalomania.6

It appears that the Romanian dictator was first suggested the idea of a "personality cult" by a visit to North Korea where he was stunned by the spectacular cult of Kim II-Sung.7 The latter was a communist activist educated in Russia who took part in the war of liberation from the Japanese with Stalin's support. As founder and dictator of the communist regime in North Korea since 1948, Kim II-Sung adopted the Stalinist model to set up a personality cult after eliminating his rivals. Since the sixties, he put a great deal of effort into establishing a political religion founded on the deification of his person and the sanctification of his thought, the Juche doctrine ("rely upon one's own forces"), which was a mixture of Marxism, Leninism, and nationalism imposed upon the entire population through terror, propaganda, and a pervasive and grassroots system of indoctrination.

Isolated from the rest of the world, North Korea was transformed into a totalitarian laboratory that defined itself as the "hermit kingdom." Its communist warriors fought against imperialism under the orders of the "Great Helmsman" and committed themselves to the realization of socialism and the forging of the collectivized personality of the socialist "new man," in accordance with the doctrine of the "Great Leader." Forty thousand study centers were established in villages, factories, schools, production cooperatives, and the armed forces throughout the country to teach the doctrine of Kim Il-Sungism, and a state apparatus permanently engaged in symbolic and ritual works implemented the deification of Kim Il-Sung, who was glorified as the "Savior of the Nation," "the Nation's Sun," "Father of the people," and "Genius of all humankind."

On his death in 1994, Kim Il-Sung was immortalized by embalmment and his body was placed in a great mausoleum to be worshipped. Since 1997, the official calendar of North Korea has counted the years since 1911, the year in which Kim Il-Sung was conceived, and the birthday of the "Nation's Sun," 12 April 1912, is the most sacred of the regime's national holidays. Mangyondae, his birthplace, is venerated as the sacred heart of the nation. Gigantic statues were erected both before and after his death to immortalize the image of the "Great Helmsman," which every North Korean must carryon him as a sacred icon. Museums, sculptures, paintings, and poems represent his life as a mythical epic of heroic deeds leading to the liberation of Korea from the Japanese and the realization of socialism. "All his activities," one can read in a recent official biography, "were directed toward the realization of his plan to build a communist paradise. "8 "Our Father is Marshall Kim Il-Sung, our home is the Party, we are all true brothers and we are the happiest people in the world": these are the words sung by children brought up in this totalitarian laboratory. The Kim Il-Sung religion added racial superiority to the mixture of communism and nationalism, and it exalted Korea as an "ethnically homogeneous nation."9 Kim-Il-Sungism was declared to be an immortal doctrine not only for the Korean people but for the entire world.10 His mission of universal "enlightenment" was celebrated symbolically with a gigantic tower in the center of Pyongyang, which is 150 meters high and topped with a 20-meter light in the shape of a flame to signify the spread of Kim Il-Sung's doctrine around the world. A compulsory textbook, Kim It-Sung, Great Man of the Century, concocts fanciful statistics on the spread of the Juche doctrine:

Today, there are university courses on Juche ideas in many countries .... Some one hundred have more than 400 institutions, organizations, and streets named after Kim Il-Sung and his secretary Kim Jong-ll. Their portraits hang in many homes around the world. Thus, the rays of the Juche tower have touched the hearts of innumerable people, increasing the mass of his followers .... Every year the works [of Kim Il-Sung] are translated and published in numerous languages in more than a hundred countries, with print runs of tens or hundreds of millions of copies .... Just as you cannot hide the sun with the palm of your hand, so nothing can stop the spread of truth. The same happens with Juche ideas. Juche ideas, the source of life that revitalizes the spirit of all peoples wherever they live, are considered by humanity to be the truth of all truths.11

The deification of Kim II-Sung was passed on to the son Kim Jong-I1, the appointed successor in the first communist dynasty. Since 1982 his birthday has been celebrated as a national holiday. After the death of the "Great Leader," who had been proclaimed President for Eternity, the son inherited absolute power and was venerated in the regime's liturgy as "the Sun of the XXI Century," a living perpetuation of his father with whom he was identified: "Kim II-Sung lives among us. Kim II-Sung is Kim JongII, and Kim Jong-I1 is Kim II-Sung" is a current slogan in the Korean liturgy. It is no coincidence that the slogan evokes the Christian identification of father and son. Kim II-Sung persecuted traditional religions and destroyed their institutions and temples, but traces of the Christian tradition are evident in the myths and rituals of his political religion. A French journalist, who pretended to be a tourist, was one of the very few foreign visitors to the country in 2000 and has observed that in North Korea "the Christian liturgy appears to have merged into the political model, whose sole morality is that of the state. "12

The similarity between this pagan liturgy and Catholic and Protestant rituals is quite surprising. The analogy is something of a caricature: Kim-the-father is immortal, and Kim-the-son is the bearer of good tidings in this country defined as a "paradise on earth." But there is also something palpable about it: the endless gigantic painted panels like icons, statues like those found in churches, slogans like the commandments, rituals of purification, the sacred scriptures of the "Great Leader," and above all his "testament" on reunification, which is treated as a Bible. The official propaganda associates this "sacred task" of reunification of the two Koreas with the promise of a future free from all evils. The comparison with Christianity is by no means an extravagant one. Korea as a whole was the country in Asia that was most heavily Christianized after the eighteenth century, apart from the Philippines .... Christianity was the principal factor in the modernization in Korea, where missionaries set up thousands of schools and infirmaries.13

Even today, while hunger, famine, and epidemics resulting from an uninterrupted series of failed economic experiments have caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Koreans, the regime governed by "Sun of the Twenty-First Century" is glorified by its inhabitants as an earthly paradise.

Kim Il-Sung probably used both Mao and Stalin as models to inspire a political cult based on the deification of his person, given the many similarities between the political religions. There are also clear analogies between the Chinese communist religion and Stalinism, especially in the transition from the sacralization of the party to the deification of the leader, but equally there are clear differences. While in Russia this transition went through an intermediate stage, represented by the establishment of the cult of Lenin and Leninism, which was the premise for establishment of the cult of Stalin and Stalinism, in China both before and after taking power, Mao and Maoism always had a predominant role, although not always an unchallenged one.

The sacralization of the Chinese Communist Party went back to the time of the Long March (1935-1949) and manifested itself in the very way activism was perceived, namely as the result of a ritual process of initiation, character improvement, and "reforming thought," which created a new human being and a "good communist" who devoted himself completely to his party and fully identified with its ideology and politics.14

Within the party, Mao, who was already legendary and messianic because of the heroic Long March, was invested with charismatic authority as leader of the revolution, president of the party, and the greatest theoretician of Marxism-Leninism.15 In 1945, at the Seventh Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao was proclaimed the greatest revolutionary in Chinese history, and his thoughts were canonized in the party statutes as the supreme theoretical guide for Chinese communists. After 1949, his glorification continued apace as he was attributed with mythical and messianic qualities-"Mao-sun," "Mao is the star of salvation," "Mao is China's helmsman." However, this glorification was not yet matched with absolute personal power. There was in fact strong resistance from within the party to Mao's claim to be considered the unchallenged and infallible leader. In 1956, following the denunciation of Stalinism, the Chinese Communist Party held its eighth congress at the behest of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. It condemned the personality cult and argued in favor of collective leadership. Deng, who was the party's general secretary, declared "love for the leader is essentially an _expression of love for the interests of the Party, the class, and the people, not the deification of an individual. "16

 The congress decided to remove the reference to Mao's thought as the ideological guide to Chinese communism, while continuing to pay formal homage to his person. But two years later, Mao decided to declare war on his rivals and argued that a personality cult can be "good," if understood not as blind obedience but as reverence toward a personal ity who represents the truth. The reason, he explained, was that "the question at issue is not whether or not there should be a cult of the individual, but whether or not the individual concerned represents the truth. If he does, then he should be revered." Marx, Engels, Lenin, and in part even Stalin were individuals who, in this sense, merited eternal reverence.17

The sacralization of politics in communist China thus became a factor and a symptom of Mao's struggle against his adversaries within the party to achieve absolute power. He had been marginalized as a result of the failure of his policy known as the "Great Leap Forward" (1958-1961), which aimed to introduce socialism to the countryside and cost the lives of 20 or perhaps even 30 million Chinese. As Mao recovered power, there was a parallel increase in the glorification of his thought as an absolute truth and the sanctification of his person as a living demigod. In 1960 an Italian journalist called Virgilio Lilli visited communist China and described it as "both an immense battlefield and a huge church." The Chinese were dominated by "a religion that can be reduced to blind obedience to the Communist Party"18 and the deification of Mao.

For the Chinese masses, Mao Tse-Tung is a saint who already has something of the divine about him. The Central Committee of the Communist Party is now a supernatural power very similar to divine power. The revolutionary leaders, ministers, members of the Central Committee, generals, etc. are personalities in a living religious iconography that has its own supernatural, indisputable, and cultish dynamic. For mystical and ritualistic reasons, the world in which today's Chinese move from dormitory to refectory, from ordinary school to political school, from workshop to field, from kindergarten to military barracks, is a sacred one in which the redemption of mankind is being fulfilled from above, from the ideological heavens. Contrary to what occurs in our Western societies (in which earthly and heavenly matters are kept well apart), in the world of the communist Chinese, man already finds himself within a revealed paradise, a paradise of matter, machines, stomachs, salaries, and compulsory work, where he awaits only to be perfected. It is a world in which he has been privileged to be placed by the revolution .... Compared with the capitalistic world, communist China is a mystical and liturgical phenomenon and an endless religious service. It is an enormous church in which every workbench is an altar, every piece of iron an incense-burner, and every product a sacred image, whether it is an iron pipe, a brick, a roll of cloth, a pencil, a tin container, or a too1.19

Mao attributed a fundamental role in the implementation of his policies to the deification of his person. When the American journalist Edgar Snow, who had known Mao on the Long March and had become an admirer, visited China in 1965, he was perplexed to find "an immoderate glorification of Mao Tse-tung": "Giant portraits of him now hung in the streets, busts were in every chamber, his books and photographs were everywhere on display to the exclusion of others. In the four-hour revolutionary pageant of dance and song, "The East is Red," Mao was the only hero.”20 Snow questioned Mao about this, and he "stated that there was a need for more personality cult in order to stimulate the masses to dismantle the anti-Mao party bureaucracy."21 A year later, now determined to impose his absolute power on the party, Mao launched the "Grand Proletarian Cultural Revolution" with the support of the army. He appealed to the masses over the heads of the party bureaucracy and mobilized young people and students in the Red Guard militias against their old leaders. From the very beginning, the myth and cult of Mao were the engine driving the Cultural Revolution, as a Chinese sociologist was able to witness:
Beginning in the summer of 1966, the streets of Beijing were filled with banners with such slogans as "Long live Chairman Mao" and "Be ready to die in defense of Chairman Mao." The songs children sang were reminiscent of Western hymns in praise of Jesus. One song proclaimed, "My love for my parents is great, but greater still is my love for Chairman Mao." Another said, "We think of you every minute, Respected Chairman Mao." Mao was glorified as "the Red Sun," "the Great Teacher," "the Great Leader," "the Great Commander," "the Great Steersman," and significantly "the Messiah of Working People." Catching a glimpse of him in public left observers with unforgettable memories, and many were reduced to tears by the experience. The masses would spend the night in the street if they knew Mao's route the next morning would take him past them. When Mao finally appeared, the people would jump, shout, cry out, and wave the "Little Red Book" in agonies of joy. This experience of ecstasy is not unlike the uncontrolled outpourings of emotion that sometimes accompany religious revivals in the West.22

Cinema and theater celebrated Mao's glory by evoking the heroic story of the Long March, the War of Liberation, and the conquest of communist China, which thus transformed spectacle into ritual. A Soviet student who frequented Peking University at the time compared the presentation of the film Red Sun, which described events in the War of Liberation, to a pagan rite of collective ecstasy.

Before the screening, there was an amateur show introduced by a choir that sang compositions in praise of Mao. There followed a ballet on the war between the Vietnamese and the Yankees. The apotheosis was a group of dancers and a chorus who sung the praises of the Great Leader of the Chinese People ....As the dancers started to sing their praises of the Leader, they turned toward an enormous portrait of Mao that dominated the background framed by large red flags. The Leader's face stood out against the red canvas and radiated a golden light. The dancers lifted their arms toward this human sun and kneeled down before him in small groups in artistic poses. The choir lifted the general enthusiasm and electrified the dancers in a frenzied crescendo. I felt like fainting in the middle of all those people intent upon their collective worship. In this delirious spectacle there was much of the ancient pagan cults. The only thing missing was human sacrifice. The collective ecstasy so palpably expressed by the collective and youthful grace of the performers brought to mind the worship of the sun, thunder, and fire, the submission to heavenly will, and shamanic rituals.23

The image of the "Great Helmsman" was everywhere: in homes, workplaces, schools, public buildings, streets, and squares. Mao, who disliked mixing with the crowd, offered his person for adoration by the masses as a modern reincarnation of the ancient Chinese emperor venerated as the Son of the Heavens, by appearing at the top of the Gate of Heavenly Peace before the immense Tienanmen Square filled with a great sea of people. His birthplace and the places where he had engaged in political activity became sacred spaces and were visited by pilgrims. In the countryside, the cult of Mao became part of the universe of popular saints and was the focal point of daily life, work, and hours of indoctrination. Families gathered around his image in the morning before going to work to venerate him and draw inspiration to act virtuously, and in the evening on return from work, they again gathered around the sacred icon to express gratitude. In the cities, processions and parades to express approval of Mao were ritual activities that were repeated incessantly every day and night, with a frenzied, obsessive, and jarring rhythm, as the Soviet student recalls:

The drums beat by night, in the morning, and all day long, close-by and in the distance. It is impossible to escape the sound. The rumbling is only breached by raucous voices and shouts: "Long live Mao Tse-tung," "We will defend President Mao!" "Glory to the Great Helmsman!" Parades in the university quarter and in the city streets; endless rallies ....

In the first row, four students hold an enormous portrait of President Mao framed in red velvet and rimmed with flowers and green branches. Next come flags of a bright red color and usual form, and long narrow standards on tall poles, whose silk is light and quivering. Thus the procession of men under flags looks heavy and cumbersome, although the people, in the flush of youth, walk with a spring in their step. The flags are followed by a band. A drum is obligatory and is often accompanied by high-pitched Chinese gongs.Behind the band there comes a well-ordered procession, and occasionally activists walk alongside armed with the ubiquitous sloganizing leaflets. The slogans are shouted rapidly in a hoarse voice.24

The writer Alberto Moravia, who visited China in 1967, gave a graphic description of the Maoist liturgy:

Then down below, deep in the whitish haze, something colored appeared, pulsated, and began to move. It was a red flag, one of the many that for about a year in these parts are taken on processions from one end of the city to the other for any number of reasons.We stop and wait. Shortly afterwards the flag approached and we could see the entire procession. It was made up of young men and women, or in other words, Red Guards, as can be inferred from their scarlet armbands. They were all in blue trousers, white shirts, and they all carried Mao's little red book gripped tightly in their hands. The standard-bearer at the head of the march carried the flag on a bamboo pole that fits into his belt. He was followed by two girls who held up a large portrait of Mao framed in gold and decorated with red festoons. Behind the portrait came the demonstrators in single file. This was a typical demonstration, and once you have seen one you have seen them all. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the style of these processions, like that of propaganda performances with songs, music, and dance, is a religious style, and the religiosity is rustic and traditional. Replace the red flag with the standard of a confraternity and Mao's portrait with the portrait of a patron saint, and you will find that nothing has really changed. The Red Guards are certainly the most modern political movement in the communist world, but their style cannot help being Chinese, which means appropriate to a country like China whose population mainly consists of the peasantry.25

All Chinese were subjected to an intense and incessant indoctrination campaign. One hundred fifty million copies of Mao's selected works were printed and distributed, and a billion copies were printed of the Little Red Book, a collection of quotations of Mao's thought that became the catechism of the Maoist religion and a guide to all Chinese in every moment of their existence and of relevance to all their activities.26 The collective pedagogy, based on a daily, pervasive, and incessant indoctrination, became one of the principal tools in the Maoist anthropological revolution to "reform thought" and create the "good communist" and "new man." This involved a radical transformation of identity, which finally freed people from individualism and immersed them mind and body in the social collectivity. The "new man" was to devote his entire life to his party and had to be willing to die for it, too. In 1966 the Italian writer Goffredo Parise felt that China was an immense seminary "where they study and implement Marxism-Leninism not as a science but as a political theology and where six hundred and fifty million seminarists are organized and subdivided into a hierarchy that is more or less that of any other religious community. "27

After the Revolution, the Chinese had taken on "the spirit, the organization, and forms of a religious community":

What then occurred with Mao Tse-tung's revolution? Something occurred that had not occurred for millennia and that was the creation not only of a relationship between the Chinese people and their new ruling class but also an identification of the former with the latter. Something else occurred that was unheard of for millennia: this identification of the Chinese people with their ruling class proved in its revolutionary practice to be not only a political experience but also a politico-religious one in which the ancient Confucian rationalistic tradition concurs with the new ideology of Mao Tse-tung. Put very succinctly, these are the reasons why China resembles a seminary of political theology where the will of the individual, which never counted for anything in the past because it had to conform to that of the family, continues to not count for anything because it has to conform to the ideology of everybody together. 28

The transformation of Maoism into a political religion, which is inherent in the ideological dogmatism and political monopoly of the Communist Party, resulted from an initiative from above and the spontaneous participation of the masses from below, producing a politico-religious syncretism in which Maoist ideology mixed with Confucianism, Taoist mysticism, and popular religiosity.29  Moravia considered the "religious nature of the Cultural Revolution" to result from the "Confucianization of Marx's thought by Mao" and the "Confucianization which the Chinese masses instinctively and spontaneously imposed on Maoism, which is a form of Marxism that has already transformed into something more Chinese. "30 Moravia then added, "this is not an intellectual operation, as in Mao's case, but rather a religious operation, in the general sense of the term," which was for the most part the consequence of the rural religious tradition of the Chinese people.32

The Cultural Revolution was an experience of collective exuberance, in which violence and the sacred were daily mixed up together with enthusiasm, fanaticism, and terror, both in the city and in the countryside. The Red Guards triggered the hounding of the "class enemies," particularly intellectuals, university teachers, school teachers, technicians, and party members, all accused of treachery, revisionism, and disloyalty to the thought and commandments of the "Great Helmsman." The rituals of confession and repentance became an everyday practice. Those who were accused of not having fully assimilated the new collective conscious ness and the correct understanding of Mao's thought were subjected to an immediate trial carried out by the Red Guards. It has been calculated that about a million Chinese lost their lives during the Cultural Revolution, while millions of others were subjected to periods of reeducation and "brain-washing" through forced labor and the constant study of Mao's thought.

The consecration of the cult of Mao was sealed at the Tenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which was held in April 1969. It reaffirmed the primacy of his power and his thought as the supreme teachings for the party, after having purged the majority of his rivals, but at the same time it marked the end of the Cultural Revolution. In the years that followed, Mao reined in the violence of the Red Guards, while China's domestic and foreign policies gradually shifted in a more realistic direction, a process that accelerated after his death in 1976 and the abandonment of his utopia, but without dismantling the totalitarian regime. The myth of Mao survived the repudiation of his policies and, following a brief period when his star was falling during the eighties, it revived on the back of its commercial use and the spontaneous myth of the masses: his embalmed body is still venerated in the mausoleum dedicated to him in Tienanmen Square.32


1. See P. Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, New York 1981.)

2. Quoted in E. B. Koenker, Secular Salvation: The Rites and Symbols of Political Religions, Philadelphia 1964, pp. 33-34.

3. Quoted in R. R. Fagen, "Mass Mobilization in Cuba: The Symbolism of Struggle," Journal of International Affairs, 2, 1966, p. 258.

4. See F. C. Barghoorn, Soviet Russian Nationalism, New York 1956; J. McDowell, "Soviet Civil Ceremonies," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 3, 1974, pp. 265-79; C.A.P. Binns, "The Changing Face of Power: Revolution and Accommodation in the Development of the Soviet Ceremonial System. Part II," in Man, 1980, pp. 170-87; C. Lane, The Rites of Rulers: Ritual in Industrial Society: The Soviet Case, Cambridge, U.K., 1981; Ead., From Ideology to Political Religion: Recent Developments in Soviet Beliefs and Rituals in the Patriotic Tradition, in C. Arvidsson, L. E. Blomqvist, Symbols of Power, Stockholm 1987, pp. 87-97; M. Heller, Cogs in the Soviet Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man, London 1988; W. van den Bercken, Ideology and Atheism in the Soviet Union, Mouton de Gruyter-Berlin-New York 1989; J. Thrower, Marxism-Leninism as the Civil Religion of the Soviet Society, Lewiston (Maine), 1992; N. Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia, New York 1994; A. J. Klinghoffer, Red Apocalypse. The Religious Evolution of Soviet Communism, Lanham (Md.) 1996.

5. See H. Matthews, Castro (1969), Milan 1971.

6. V. Georgescu, "Politics, History and Nationalism: The Origins of Romania's Socialist Personality Cult," in J. Held (ed.), The Cult of Power: Dictators in the Twentieth Century, New York 1983, pp. 129-42.

7. D. Chirot, Modern Tyrants: The Power and Prevalence of Evil in Our Age, New York 1994, p. 240.

8. See Eum Seuk Houn, Les brillantes empreintes, Pyongyang 1990, p. 161. See The Red Dynasty, Seoul 1982, pp. 28-68.

9. See P. Grangereau, Au Pays du Grande Mensonge. Voyage en Coree du Nord, Paris 2000, p. 39.

10. See Eum Seuk Houn, Les brillantes empreintes, pp. 145 ff.

11. Quoted in Grangereau, Au Pays du Grande Mensonge, p. 38.

12. Ibid., p. 51.

13. Ibid., p. 50.

14. See K. G. Riegel, Konfessionsrituale in Marxismusleninismus, Cologne 1985, pp. 178 ff.

15. See J. Lewis (ed.), Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China, Cambridge (Mass.) 1970.

16. Quoted in M. Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism, Madison 1982, p. 162.

17. Ibid., p. 164.

18. V. Lilli, Dentro la Cina rossa, Milan 1961, p. 107.

19. Ibid., pp. 131-32,209.

20. E. Snow, The Long Revolution, London 1973, p. 68.

21. Ibid., p. 169. An important account of the Mao personality cult is provided by his personal physician Zhisui Li, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, London 1994.

22. Jiping Zuo, "Political Religion: The Case of the Cultural Revolution in China," Sociological Analysis, 1, 1991, p. 101.

23. A. Zhelokhovstyev, La rivoluzione culturale vista da un sovietico (1968), Milan 1971, pp. 57-58.

24. Ibid., pp. 104-105.

25. A. Moravia, La rivoluzione culturale in Cina (1967), Milan 1973, pp. 40-41.

26. See Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, p. 165.

27. G. Parise, Cara Cina, Milan 1968, p. 37.

28. Ibid., pp. 39-40.

29. See C. Jochim, Chinese Religions: A Cultural Perspective, Englewood Cliffs (N.J.) 1986, pp. 56-60; Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, pp. 175 ff.; Zuo, Political Religion, pp. 103-4.

30. Moravia, La rivoluzione culturale, p. 37.

31. Ibid., p. 52.

32. See G. F. Barme, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader, Armonk-London 1996.

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