Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, We’ve got a Metro!, 1935
By 1935, an achievement of great and tangible significance for the daily lives of Muscovites occurred and was celebrated in propaganda posters that appeared throughout Moscow in the hundreds of thousands.
Two 1935 posters, both titled ‘We’ve Got a Metro!’, by prolific poster artists Viktor Nikolaevich Deni(sov) and Nikolai Andreevich Dolgorukov celebrate the opening of the Metro in Moscow, one of the truly grand Soviet achievements.
Although plans for a rail system of various types had been submitted and discussed since 1898, the construction of an underground railway service to move Moscow’s burgeoning population only finally got underway under Stalin’s government in November 1931.
There were huge natural obstacles to overcome, including soil unsuitable for tunnelling and the existence of several underground waterways. Work was done mainly by hand using pickaxes, spades and bars, as there was a shortage of pneumatic hammers and rock loaders.
The Muscovite population was mobilised to get behind the massive effort needed to achieve the Metro with the organisation of subbotniks (days of voluntary unpaid labour) amid a festival atmosphere with bands playing.
Political officials, business leaders and delegates all picked up shovels. Labourers were recruited from all over the vast empire, and peasants brought in from the collective farms. Thus it was a truly national effort, and credit for this monumental achievement belonged to the people, who were genuinely invested in it.
A Pravda article from late 1933 exclaimed: “How many people recreated themselves in the process of building the metro!”
Thus, building the Metro and other achievements of Soviet engineering, were viewed not only as extraordinary physical feats, but also as contributing to the central task of socialism – the engineering of a new human soul.
The Soviet leadership used the Metro project to bring art and beauty into the everyday lives of Soviet citizens. Function and aesthetics were seen as wholly intertwined in socialist theory, with the utility of beauty the dominant paradigm.
As historian Andrew Jenks points out: in 1935 “Moscow stood triumphantly at the centre of a newly sacralised domain, bounded below by the world’s deepest metros and above by the world’s highest flying pilots.”*
The metro was open to the public on May 16, 1935, with 285,000 passengers riding the subway on the first day.
Simon Sebag Montefiore describes an amusing scene as Stalin, his daughter, and their lengthy entourage, including bodyguards, all decided to take a ride on the Metro, causing near-riots at two stations.**
On the opening day, fifty-five thousand colour posters celebrating the occasion were hung around the city, including two designs which contained an image of Stalin, by Deni and Dolgorukov. Both titled ‘We’ve Got a Metro!’, these 1935 poster images consist of a photomontage of key features of the Metro – stations, route maps, tunnels trains, and the long escalators used to move commuters 30 to 40 metres underground at some stations.
In the first image, Stalin is inset at the top of the picture as the overseer and inspirer of the project. A sea of commuters floods the lower picture plane, and flank Lazar Kaganovich, after whom the Metro was named until 1955 (it is currently named after Lenin.)
One of the crowd carries a red banner which reads: ‘Long live our great Stalin.’ The caption above the image says: ‘There are no fortresses that the Bolsheviks cannot capture.’
*Andrew Jenks. ‘A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization.’ Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 4, Oct., 2000, pp. 697-724, p.699.
**Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. London, 2003, p.156.
Konstantin Cheprakov, So – greetings, Stalin, and live for a hundred years…, 1939
The 1939 Uzbek poster, ‘So — greetings, Stalin, and live for a hundred years …’ by Konstantin Cheprakov, dates from the immediate prewar era in which Stalin’s munificence extended beyond the borders of Russia and out to all the nationalities and states of the Soviet Union.
Uzbekistan is one of the many countries that at that time made up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This poster illustrates the gratitude to Stalin of the Uzbek people for the building of the 270-kilometre-long Great Fergana Canal to irrigate the cotton fields, and thus create cotton independence for the Soviet Union.
Stalin is surrounded by a flowing multitude of Uzbek peasants bearing flowers and displaying the fruits of their irrigated fields. Stalin gives and receives congratulations to Vyacheslav Molotov who, due to his position in the composition and the distinctive colour of his clothing, occupies centre stage.
Interestingly, Molotov is also the centre of light in the poster, with a subdued Stalin in muted tones placed off in the shadows to the right.
Despite Stalin’s reluctance to assume the limelight in the visual component of the poster, the text of the poster in both Russian and Uzbek) — ‘So — greetings, Stalin, and live for a hundred years, shine like the sun, live for victory! And lead us on the way to victory! Accept the country’s joyous greetings!’ — makes it clear to whom the Uzbek people owe their gratitude for the canal which is to be their lifeblood.
In fact, Stalin is responsible for more than just water for the crops, he also provides the sunshine. Molotov takes centre stage because Stalin allows him to do so, a manifestation of Stalin’s modesty and humility.
The text makes clear that all of the illustrated bounty is due to the blessing bestowed by Stalin. By appearing to be a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude from the hearts of the people, both the image and the text illustrate the correct relationship between the leaders and the people.
Sadly, the construction of the Great Fergana Canal ultimately precipitated the desiccation of the Aral Sea, a huge ecological and environmental disaster with lasting implications.
N.I. Mikhailov, Stalin among the delegates, 1937
‘Stalin among the delegates’ is a 1937 poster by N.I. Mikhailov, published in Moscow by Glavlit, the censorship bureau, as part of a series that included posters of ‘Kalinin among the Uzbeks’ and ‘Peasants visiting Lenin’.
The poster highlights the new rights of women as enshrined in the 1936 Constitution of the USSR and features a verse at its base recalling the ‘slave-like’ conditions under which women laboured in the past.
As a legacy of the past,
The visual imagery of the poster is striking and unusual.
All of the delegates are young women from the eastern republics in colourful traditional dress. A young-looking Stalin (Stalin was already 58 years old in 1937) is pictured sitting among them, as ‘real’ and ‘fleshy’ as they are, and drawn on the same scale.
He is differentiated from the women only by his throne-like chair; most of the women stand. Stalin leans forward to talk intimately with a woman in blue, while a woman in a red veil listens attentively.
Stalin is relaxed and friendly, superior, but not threatening, however, it is clear that he speaks, and they listen. He adopts the roles of teacher and mentor to these women from traditional societies going forth in daring new roles.
Behind Stalin, the woman draped over his chair is clearly enamoured of him, as are the beaming women in the background. Two women whisper conspiratorially and giggle.
The informality of the scene is reinforced by the papers scattered across the table, which imply that they have all been working together.
While the purpose of the poster is to highlight Stalin’s mentorship and support of women, this is the most overtly sexual image of Stalin I have encountered. Other poster images of Stalin may suggest fertility and marital union in an abstract allegorical manner, but here he appears almost as if he is presiding over his harem, while the women seem positively titillated to be in his presence.
Despite the thematic emphasis on female rights and equality, the women’s deference to Stalin is unambiguous in the composition and in the text. The poster was published in a large edition of 200,000 during the year of the Great Purge.
Iraklii Toidze, Under the banner of Lenin, under the leadership of Stalin, forward to the victory of communism!, 1949
After the Great Patriotic War (Second World War), emphasis in propaganda was increasingly placed on technical expertise over the breakneck physical labour characteristic of the Stakhanovite era. Thee science budget of the Soviet Union tripled in 1946.
Iraklii Toidze uses a richly symbolic visual image to illustrate this new emphasis, captioned by the familiar text, ‘Under the banner of Lenin, under the leadership of Stalin, forward to the victory of communism!’
This 1949 poster employs the preferred Toidze palette of black, white and red, with small embellishments of gold. The top half of the poster is dominated by the figures of Lenin and Stalin.
Lenin appears as a life-size sculpture in characteristic pose, right arm extended and whole hand beckoning the crowd forward and appears to be shepherding Stalin forward.
Stalin, only slightly less monolithic due to the higher contrast on his figure, mirrors Lenin’s gesture almost exactly, except that his right index finger points and his left hand drapes over the podium.
The pole of the ubiquitous scarlet banner divides the background in half vertically, at exactly the place where the heads of Lenin and Stalin meet, identifying Stalin with the banner, but not Lenin, a link that is visually reinforced by the touches of red on Stalin’s uniform. The podium on which Stalin and the statue of Lenin are elevated divides the top and bottom halves of the poster.
Beneath the podium, with their backs to Lenin and Stalin, are civilian members of the populace. On the left, a young female agricultural labourer, a huge sheaf of wheat over her right shoulder, stands next to a young male worker, both looking forward in the direction indicated by Lenin and Stalin.
On the right, a young man holds aloft a sparkling white book with the words ‘Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin’ emblazoned on the front cover in gold. His pose mimics that of Lenin and Stalin, although his right hand does not point, but clutches the sacred text.
Behind him is a young woman with windswept hair who adopts the same pose and looks up to Lenin and Stalin for guidance. In her right hand is a large spray of flowers, symbolising abundance and kultur’nost, the postwar emphasis on living a cultured lifestyle.
The left or ‘Lenin side’ of the poster is associated with the past — the two young workers are manual labourers, in the factory and field. Stalin’s side of the poster represents the present pushing on to the future.
The two young people are not dressed for manual labour and rely on education and a sound knowledge of the science of Marxism, as adapted by Lenin and Stalin, for the imminent victory of communism. The early 1950s saw a continuation of the emphasis on education and the mastery of science, with a number of posters published in 1952 on these themes.
Aleksandr Zhitomirskii, Stalin is the greatness of our era, Stalin is the banner of our victory!, 1942
In his 1941 address on the anniversary of the October Revolution, Stalin cautiously told the military parade that victory was possible in 1942:
‘Some more months, another half year, perhaps a year, and Hitlerite Germany will have to break under the weight of its crimes.’*
Confidence grew cautiously and Stalin sometimes appeared without Lenin in war propaganda posters.
In most cases, where Stalin appears without Lenin, he is in gigantic scale, and only visible from above the chest as in this Red Army poster by Aleksandr Zhitomirskii** in which the picture plane is effectively divided in two.
The top of the poster is dominated by just such a gigantic image of Stalin gazing out at the viewer. Down the right side of the top half of the poster is a red segment that contains the text ‘Stalin is the greatness of our era, Stalin is the banner of our victory!’
The bottom half of the poster shows a photomontage of Soviet tanks rolling through Red Square on parade, soldiers marching on parade and a tank in profile with open turret and crewman in the foreground.
The splash of vibrant red colour on the banner of the tank picks up the red field of the text in the top of the poster. Otherwise, the poster consists of a montage of black-and-white photographs.
Aleksandr Zhitomirskii was a leading political artist and satirist who pioneered photomontage techniques in propaganda work, alongside artists like Gustav Klutsis, Aleksandr Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, and German artist John Heartfield.
During the Great Patriotic War, Zhitomirskii used photomontage techniques as part of a psychological warfare campaign in which leaflets, printed in editions of up to one million, were dropped from planes on German troops, urging them to lay down their arms rather than freeze to death in the long Russian winter at the front. This was was so effective that Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, is said to have placed Zhitomirskii on the Third Reich’s list of “most wanted” with the order “to find and to hang.”*** Although, Erika Wolf points out that this latter is just myth.
* I. Stalin, O Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine Sovetskogo Soiuza, 4th edn, Moscow, Gospolitizdat, 1944, p. 36.
** For an excellent book on Aleksandr Zhitomirskii, see Erika Wolf, Aleksandr Zhitomirsky: Photomontage as a Weapon of World War II and the Cold War, 2016
*** See http://www.nailyaalexandergallery.com/russian-photography/alexander-zhitomirsky
Mikhail Oskarovich Dlugach, 10 years of the civil fleet of the USSR, 10 years of hard Bolshevik struggle and the world’s greatest victories at the aviation front USSR, 1933
Mikhail Oskarovich Dlugach (Михаил Оскарович Длугач), 10 years of the civil fleet of the USSR, 10 years of hard Bolshevik struggle and the world’s greatest victories at the aviation front USSR.(10 лет гражданского воздушного флота СССР – 10 лет упорной большевистской борьбы и крупнейших побед на фронте аэрофикации СССР), 1933
In the early 1930s, a significant genre of poster production emerged that focussed on Soviet achievement, presenting accomplishments in eye-catching format with striking visuals and simple, emphatic text.
This genre had its origins in Lenin’s time and flourished throughout the Stalinist era, from the time of the first Five-Year Plan, right up to Stalin’s death.
One of the early posters that linked Stalin with great Soviet achievements, Mikhail Oskarovich Dlugach’s, ’10 years of the USSR Civilian air fleet’ of 1933, emerges from a time at which facts and figures were still held to have more power than the charisma of the leader.
Stalin, looking ordinary, a little tired, and surprisingly disinterested, is perched in a corner of the poster, above the text which proclaims the celebration of ten years achievement.
It appears as if Stalin’s primary role is to announce the anniversary of the founding of the civilian air fleet and its successes. Claims of success are backed up in scientific fashion with the three graphs near the bottom of the poster, showing the amazing improvements in the spread of the air network, the transport of passengers, and the transport of mail, cargo and baggage over the ten years. Propaganda posters of the 1920s and early 1930s often featured graphs and ‘scientific’ data as evidence of claims of progress.
The centre of the poster is occupied by the large image of a civilian aircraft and a dirigible looming above a silhouetted power plant, which sends out one of two criss-crossing beams of light into the night sky, drawing the eye up to the figure of Stalin.
Electrification had always been associated with Lenin. Light bulbs were known in early Soviet days as ‘Lenin lamps’ – lampochka Lenina – and Lenin saw electrification as a cornerstone of progress towards the new socialist society, his famous slogan:
“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.”*
In Dlugach’s poster, Lenin’s ghostly and familiar silhouette, in benedictory pose on a pedestal, projects out into the electrical plant and points directly to the dirigible. It is Lenin’s work, commenced 10 years earlier, that made all of this development possible and in 1933, it is the spirit of Lenin who gives his blessing to the enterprises.
As if to make this message totally unambiguous, the second beam of light originates from Lenin’s feet. In 1933, Stalin is still claiming lineage from Lenin and his public identity is still primarily as Lenin’s ‘most able pupil’, the one who carries forth the torch of Lenin’s legacy.
In keeping with the ‘scientific’ and ‘factual’ tone of the poster, Dlugach employs black and white photos, and a subdued but dramatic colour scheme of blacks, reds and dark blues.
The text on the side of the poster reads: 10 years of the civil fleet of the USSR, 10 years of hard Bolshevik struggle and the world’s greatest victories at the aviation front USSR.
The text at the bottom: Your messages go by air to all major destinations as one of the most important means of communication with remote areas and large industrial centres.
The focus is on Soviet achievement, rather than on the personal qualities of Lenin and Stalin. However it is interesting that even a poster that appeals so overtly to the realm of science and fact incorporates mystical and spiritual allusions.
*V. I. Lenin. ‘Our Foreign and Domestic Position and Party Tasks’, Speech Delivered To The Moscow Gubernia Conference Of The R.C.P., November 21, 1920, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 408-426.
Boris Belopol’skii, Peace to all nations!, 1952
This is Boris Belopol’skii’s second 1952 poster on the theme of peace.
The poster is captioned ‘The world will be saved and enhanced if people take responsibility for maintaining peace into their own hands and defend it to the end. I. Stalin’, with the words ‘Peace to all nations!’ inscribed in the background at the top of the poster.
The caption quotation comes from ‘A conversation with the Pravda correspondent of Pravda on 17th February 1951.* In this interview, Stalin labels as slanderous the declaration of British Prime Minister Clement Attlee that the Soviet Union has actually increased its military forces since the end of World War II.
Stalin also discusses the Korean War, labelling the Americans as the aggressors and calling the United Nations decision to declare China the aggressors as ‘scandalous’. He concludes the interview by championing the Soviet Union as the vanguard of the world peace movement on behalf of the international masses.
In the poster, a human, almost humble Stalin stands at a podium and makes a speech. Stalin appears in his old-style tunic, rather than the uniform of Marshal of the Soviet Union. In this poster, the warrior archetype is not being emphasised.
In contrast to the other 1952 Belopol’skii poster (stalin poster of the week 26), there is no background – no banner, no crowd, just white light.
Stalin is more ‘real’, greyer in skin and hair, and softer and more rounded than in the other poster. His left hand, in a loose fist, rests on a copy of Pravda (the source of the quote, which is not from an actual publicly delivered speech) and his right hand points loosely in the direction of the future, on which his transcendent gaze is also focussed.
The podium is not real. Stalin leans on a text box or banner bearing his own words. This is a quieter, softer Stalin, the teacher or wise man. He neither commands nor exhorts. In this poster he persuades and appeals, on an intimate, almost one-on-one level.
*I.V. Stalin. ‘A conversation with the Pravda correspondent.’ Pravda, 17 February 1951, accessed at http://www.marxists.org/russkij/stalin/t16/t16_29.htm on 04/08/2013.
Boris Belopol’skii, We move further, forward towards Communism. I. V. Stalin, 1950
A 1950 poster by painter and graphic artist Boris Nakhmanovich Belopol’skii depicts Lenin on a banner hovering over Stalin’s right shoulder, almost in the manner of a protective spirit.
Stalin’s figure dominates the poster, his white marshal’s jacket luminous against the rich red of the banner.
Stalin is depicted behind a podium in oratorical pose, and the text of the poster is taken from his report to the Eighteenth Party Congress on 10 March 1939 on the work of the Central Committee; that is, before the war interrupted the progression of socialism towards communism: ‘We move further, forward towards Communism. I. V. Stalin’.
The Eighteenth Party Congress took place five years after the Seventeenth Party Congress and Stalin begins his speech by noting how much the world has changed in this time period.
Stalin outlines the years of economic depression and political conflict in the capitalist countries during the 1930s. He presents a barrage of economic data to provide evidence for his arguments, lists the causes of the beginning of the new imperialist war and details the Soviet commitment to world peace.
Stalin then turns to the internal affairs of the USSR, again presenting copious amounts of detailed data to highlight how the Soviet Union is outstripping the capitalist nations in all areas of industry and agriculture.
Considerable time is spent outlining , again with data, the rise in the cultural and material standards of the Soviet people. and the rise of the intelligentsia class.
In a further section of the speech, Stalin discusses the consolidation of the Soviet state and justifies the recent purges of the Party as strengthening the Soviet system.
He discusses the value and use of propaganda extensively:
There is still another sphere of Party work, a very important and very responsible sphere, in which the work of strengthening the Party and its leading bodies has been carried on during the period under review.
Stalin concludes his lengthy speech by confirming the supremacy of the working class in the Soviet state:
The chief conclusion to be drawn is that the working class of our country, having abolished the exploitation of man by man and firmly established the Socialist system, has proved to the world the truth of its cause.
It is interesting to consider the possible reasons for referencing a 1939 speech in a 1950 poster. By 1950, the USSR was firmly embroiled in the Cold War and the Stalinist propaganda machine took pains to present Stalin as a man of peace and the USSR as heading the international peace movement.
Re-visiting the Eighteenth Party Congress speech reminds the viewer that Stalin actively spoke out against the war, right from the beginning, and that he saw it as caused by flaws in the capitalist system.
The poster also reminds the Soviet viewer that the progress begun before the war must continue now that there is peace.
Stalin thus stands in this poster as the figure who is continuing and expanding upon Lenin’s work, and as the man who will ultimately bring the dream of communism to fruition.
Vasilii Bayuskin and A. Shpier, Great Patriotic War, poster no. 11, 1942
The 1942 TASS poster by Vasilii Bayuskin and A. Shpier, titled ‘Great Patriotic War’, serves as a graphic illustration of Order of the Day, No. 55, issued by Stalin on 23 February 1942, the 24th anniversary of the founding of the Red Army. The poster itself appeared in July 1942.
In the order, Stalin discusses the history of the Red Army as the defender of the Soviet people, and emphasises its role in expelling foreign invaders since 1918. The order concludes with several patriotic declarations, the last of which makes up the subtitle of the poster:
Under the banner of Lenin onward to the defeat of the German-fascist invaders!
From the right, a gigantic, determined Stalin in plain greatcoat and characteristic workers’ boots, strides towards the battlefield, right arm outstretched, finger pointing ahead. He is accompanied by a sky full of aircraft.
The poster uses the landscape format to display a number of battle scenes — multiple scenes and a ‘storyboard effect’ are reminiscent of the lubok (traditional Russian popular prints) and a device to which the ROSTA and TASS windows were particularly suited.
TASS window posters were a return to the earlier idea of ROSTA windows, which originated in 1919 as satirical posters that were heavily influenced by the traditional lubok and featured political themes.
In 1919 ROSTA (Russian Telegraph Agency – Российское телеграфное агентство) began publishing newspapers, but chronic shortages of paper led to the idea of pasting short news articles and agitational materials up onto walls and in empty shop windows. The windows drew crowds and the idea expanded from Moscow to the provinces.
On 23 June 1941, Aleksandr Gerasimov, head of the Organising Committee of the Union of Soviet Artists, approved a proposal to create a new propaganda studio in Moscow based on the ROSTA model. The first TASS poster appeared on 27 June 1941.
In the 1942 poster by Bayuskin and Shpier, six battle scenes are featured, each captioned with a quotation from Stalin’s order.
The first shows the birth of the Red Army on 23 February 1918, in the battle against the Germans at Narva and Pskov. Soldiers, sailors and civilians all fight from the trenches to defend the motherland. The caption to the image reads: ‘Young detachments of the Red Army, which entered war for the first time, routed the German invaders at Pskov and Narva on February 23, 1918.’
Immediately beneath this image is another image relating to 1918 in which the Red Army is shown liberating Ukraine and Belarus. The caption to this image states: ‘The Red Army successfully defended our country in the battles with the German invaders in 1918 and drove them beyond the confines of the Ukraine and Byelorussia.’
The top middle picture juxtaposes Great Patriotic War troops in the foreground, with the cavalry of earlier days in the background, all riding forward to engage the enemy. Aircraft appear in the distant sky, accompanying the ground troops. This image is captioned: ‘It is essential that in our country the training of reserves in aid of the front should not be relaxed for a moment. It is essential that ever-new military units should go to the front to forge victory over the bestial enemy.’
Beneath this is an image of Soviet might in the current battle — an array of tanks rolls towards the viewer, while behind them, Soviet industry belches out smoke as it produces the weapons needed for the Front. The image shares a caption with another image that shows all means of transport — road, rail, and river — being ultilised in service of the war effort. The caption reads: ‘It is essential that our industry, particularly our war industry, should work with redoubled energy. It is essential that with every day the front should receive ever more tanks, planes, guns, mortars, machine-guns, rifles, automatic rifles, and ammunition.’
The bottom of the poster is dominated by a large, darker image of contemporary battle, complete with explosions, aerial bombings and troops in action. The scene is dramatic and frenetic, the sky and the earth swirling and breaking apart in the heat of the battle.
It is in this scene that Stalin’s feet are firmly planted. The caption for this image highlights the horrors of war and outlines the task of the Red Army: ‘The Red Army’s task is to liberate our Soviet territory from the German invaders; to liberate from the yoke of the German invaders the citizens of our villages and towns who were free and lived like human beings before the war, but are now oppressed and suffer pillage, ruin and famine; and finally, to liberate our women from that disgrace and outrage to which they are subjected by the German-fascist monsters.’
The whole of the poster, including the figure of Stalin, is bathed in golden light, reinforcing the sanctity of the mission, the iconic nature of the image of Stalin, and the dogmatic nature of his words.
Pen Varlen, The path to our glory is immutable – Fascism will die! The enemy will fall! We were inspired by the great Lenin – the great Stalin leads us in battle!, 1942
Pen Varlen (Пен Варлен), The path to our glory is immutable – Fascism will die! The enemy will fall! We were inspired by the great Lenin – the great Stalin leads us in battle! (Путь нашей славы неизменен – Фашизм погибнет ! Враг падет! Нас вдохновил ВЕЛИКИЙ ЛЕНИН – ВЕЛИКИЙ СТАЛИН в бой ведет!), 1942
A striking Uzbek poster featuring Lenin and Stalin, Pen Varlen’s 1942 ‘The path to our glory is immutable — Fascism will die! …’, shows an infinite wedge of Soviet peoples surging forward to take on the enemy. The huge mass moves as one body and consists not only of military personnel, but also of nurses and civilians of a variety of ethnicities.
This wedge may reference the famous abstract poster of 1919 by El Lissitzky ‘Beat the whites with the red wedge’, a piece of Bolshevik propaganda used during the Civil War.
In the 1942 poster, the sky is dominated by the huge diagonal field of a sweeping red banner, with hammer and sickle thrusting forward, and behind it the sketched figure of Stalin is shadowed by the ghostly white silhouette of Lenin.
The sketch of Stalin has distinguishing features, tone and depth; however, he does not occupy the same space as the Soviet citizens. Stalin inhabits the world of the banner and simply disappears below the waist.
Stalin’s right arm is flung out, the hand extended to indicate the way forward to victory, palm open almost as if it is he who provides the momentum for the people below. Stalin appears on a giant scale and dwarfs the silhouette of the Kremlin.
The spirit of Lenin appears as Stalin’s shadow, almost morphing them into the same person, and is even larger than Stalin.
While Lenin’s pose is almost exactly that of Stalin, the same upthrust jaw and outstretched arm, Stalin’s left arm hangs at his side whereas Lenin’s is bent and held high against his body. While Lenin’s coattail flaps, Stalin’s clothing is orderly and undisturbed.
These minor variances highlight the difference in rhetorical style between the two men — Lenin speaking urgently, leaning forward, moving his body; Stalin calm and still — and also the fact that, while Lenin was on his way to socialism, Stalin has already arrived.
The full text of the poster reads:
‘he way to our glory is immutable — fascism will die! The enemy will fall! We were inspired by the great Lenin — the great Stalin leads us in battle!’
The caption names Lenin as the inspiration for both Stalin and the Soviet people, although it is Stalin who now leads the battle, bridging the spiritual and corporeal worlds.
Kliment Voroshilov, who had committed serious errors as marshal of the Soviet Union during the Russo–Finnish War of 1940, has disappeared from war propaganda.
Pen Varlen (1916-1990) was a Goryeoin, a Korean born in Russia, outside the Korean national border when Korea lost its sovereignty. In addition to his contributions to Soviet art, he also established the foundations of North Korean art.
Dr Anita Pisch
Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.
SPotW71 Deni 1935