P. Lukhtein, Glory to great Stalin!, 1951
In the very last few years of Stalin’s life, his image was treated like an icon less frequently than in the immediate postwar years, except in posters published in some of the constituent republics.
Estonian Izdatelstvo published a poster by Lukhtein, which would have been commonplace in Moscow and Leningrad just a few years hence, but which now contrasts sharply in style with the contemporaneous posters from Russia.
A black-and-white portrait of Stalin in Marshal’s uniform is enclosed in an oval mandorla on a red field that is bordered by an elaborate folk motif of stylised crops and the Soviet state emblem at the top. Underneath Stalin’s portrait, in huge gold letters, is written ‘Glory to great Stalin!’
Estonia was one of the Baltic States reabsorbed into the USSR after the Great Patriotic War, as part of the carving up of Europe between the Allies. Much work was needed to sell the cult of Stalin to the largely unwilling population.
The continuation of production of this type of poster in the Baltic states and some of the other outlying republics of the USSR, when it had virtually been discontinued in posters produced in Moscow and Leningrad, suggests that the propagandists may have felt that the work of building a personality cult for Stalin was largely completed in the central regions.
Unknown artist, Printing should grow by leaps and bounds, this is the sharpest and the strongest weapon of our party. Stalin., 1950
This charming Uzbek poster was published in Tashkent by Uzbek Poligraf in a small edition of 3000 in 1950.
Its publication coincides with an increasing impetus for literacy and secondary and vocational training for professional specialisation in Uzbekistan from 1950 onward.
Literacy at a primary level had been steadily growing since the 1920s and rapidly accelerated after about 1932.
From 1946, Uzbekistan embarked on a massive cultural program of language and literary training in the Uzbek language – 46% of the books published were textbooks or children’s books (see William Kenneth Medlin, William Marion Cave, Finley Carpentier, Education and Development in Central Asia: A Case Study on Social Change in Uzbekistan, 1971).
In this poster, publishing is seen as a means of disseminating propaganda and spreading the values, beliefs and ideology of the Communist Party. The poster shows several generations of Uzbeks, possibly all one family, reading a variety of newspapers that are specifically aimed at their demographic.
The white-haired gentleman reads Eastern Pravda, a serious newspaper pitched at an educated reader. Stalin and Lenin are portrayed on the cover in profile in a similar manner to their appearances on banners in posters. Stalin, in military collar, is the man of action. Lenin, in white collar and tie, is the man of words. Lenin now sits in Stalin’s shadow.
The greying gentleman on his left reads Red Uzbekistan with a visionary Stalin in military uniform on the cover.
The married couple discuss a copy of Young Leninist together, the woman wearing traditional Uzbek headgear, a suit jacket, and a medal – most likely an award for Communist labour.
The young blond woman reads the Uzbek Komsomol newspaper while the children read Lenin’s Spark.
The poster caption, ‘Printing should grow by leaps and bounds, this is the sharpest and the strongest weapon of our party’, is a quote from Stalin, taken from a final word on the organisational report of the Central Committee at the XII Congress of the RCP (b) 19 April 1923.
Stalin poster of the week 52 (SPotW52) SPECIAL ANNIVERSARY EDITION: 100th Anniversary of the October Revolution and 1st Anniversary of SPotW
Gustav Klutsis, October to the world, 1932
I would like to thank all my friends and loyal readers for sticking with me through the first year of stalin poster of the week. It has been a great year and there are plenty more to come!
One of the ways in which Stalin sought to strengthen legitimacy for his leadership throughout its entirety was to establish himself as a successor, disciple, and interpreter of Lenin. In 1932, Stalin was still in the early years of leadership, his power consolidated but not yet totally secure – in fact, he faced a leadership challenge of sorts in 1934.
Lenin had been the charismatic leader of the Party until his death in 1924. In the years following Lenin’s death, the personality cult of Lenin became a vehicle to power and legitimacy for any candidate who could successfully prove his indisputable lineage to the deified Lenin.
One of the primary ways in which Stalin publicly illustrated his closeness to Lenin, was by ensuring that his image was visually linked with that of Lenin. A large number of political posters that feature the image of Stalin, juxtapose this image with the image of Lenin.
Stalin’s propaganda apparatus went as far as cutting and pasting photographs and commissioning paintings showing Stalin and Lenin together on historical occasions when they had not, in fact, been together at all in order to promote this idea of Stalin’s lineage. Stalin was also sometimes depicted in fake historical scenes as standing, speaking and pointing while Lenin listens.
The appeal to an established lineage is a phenomenon that occurs throughout the history of charismatic leadership. By depicting Stalin as Lenin’s legitimate successor, a case was made for him to partake of Lenin’s charismatic authority.
This was important because Stalin and the Bolshevik Party had neither traditional grounds on which to claim the right to rule, such as those of the monarchy, nor rational and legal grounds – those conferred by processes of democratic election or other legally prescribed means for choosing leaders.
Thus Stalin had to be presented as both an endorsed disciple of Lenin, and a capable leader in his own right. This 1932 poster by renowned photomontage poster artist Gustav Klutsis achieves both of these aims.
First, Lenin is depicted with arm outstretched, pointing the way forward to the future and educating the young Stalin, whilst also indicating the evidence of Soviet achievements thus far, as displayed below. The suggestion is that Lenin speaks, while Stalin listens, and it was to be a few more years before propaganda depicted Stalin as having equal status with Lenin.
Second, Stalin is depicted as a junior co-leader of the October Revolution of 1917, building the myth of Stalin’s centrality to the success of the October coup.
The caption of the poster ‘October to the world’ highlights this association, whilst also stressing a primary goal of Soviet socialism in its early years – the extension of the revolution to the rest of the world. With Lenin dead, it was Stalin who was called upon to see world revolution through to its inevitable Marxist end.
Within the non-realist iconography of Russian Orthodox imagery and distinctly Russian traditions like the lubok (political broadsheets with mass distribution), the importance of figures is often indicated by their relative size. Here, Stalin and Lenin are titans, dwarfing the masses and scenes of Soviet construction beneath them.
Disturbingly prescient, Stalin’s left foot appears to have crushed some of the regimented and uniformed masses.
While it is unclear whether Klutsis, who was deeply devoted to Lenin, had any subversive intentions, it must be noted that he was arrested in the purges in 1937, and secretly shot in February 1938.
This 1952 poster by an unknown artist highlights the treatment of Stalin as an icon. A huge military portrait of Stalin is wreathed in fruit and flowers and appears to be part of a parade on a Soviet holiday.
Red banners swirl behind the portrait and it appears that a sea of banner-bearing children is marching forward. Eight children, in a variety of national costumes of the republics of the USSR, have crowded in front of the processional icon, posing informally and smiling for the camera.
These children, relaxed and at leisure, are in marked contrast to those in the other posters of this time who are engaged in study or oath-taking ceremonies.
Despite the casual atmosphere where children are involved, Stalin is even more remote and god-like than ever. The poster has no caption and was published in an edition of only 300, and its purpose is unclear.
Propaganda posters that overtly thanked Stalin for a happy childhood operated on several levels in Stalin’s personality cult. On one level, they appealed to children and instructed them in appropriate behaviour and attitude towards the leader.
By depicting Stalin increasingly as a mythical and iconic figure, children were further encouraged to an attitude of unquestioning obedience and spiritual faith that filled the vacuum left by the suppression of the Orthodox religion in Soviet society.
After the Great Patriotic War and in the last few years of Stalin’s life, the emphasis in propaganda moved from depicting Stalin as an earthly father who was intimately concerned with the everyday problems of the citizenry, to a remote and god-like image of the leader in which he was the saviour of the USSR, the Eastern bloc and, ultimately, the whole world. He thus became a sort of spiritual father to whom one prayed and sent tribute from afar.
Ivanov, K. & El’tsufen, M., Pioneer – an example to all children!, 1952
Stalin presides symbolically over an award ceremony for young achievers in a 1952 poster by K. Ivanov and M. El’tsufen: ‘Pioneer – an example to all children!’
A young pioneer is presented with an award certificate for achievement by a mature man who appears to hold authority on behalf of Stalin. A mature woman and a young woman watch keenly in the background.
The poster itself resembles an award certificate, with an image in a gilt-edged text box above golden text, framed by images of celebratory trumpets, drums, and red flags.
The lovely young girl in her spotless white pinafore and Pioneer scarf is meek and obedient. With her orderly demeanour and upturned gaze, she serves as an example to both children and adults of the correct attitude to display toward authority in the Soviet regime.
Stalin, as portrayed in the icon portrait, does not look down protectively over his charges, but up and out of the picture plane, to something beyond time and place that only he can see.
Other posters of the early 1950s reflect a preoccupation with the mission of ‘world peace’ and Stalin as the bearer of the gift of Communism to other nations. Stalin is almost always portrayed as looking up and beyond, and it is perhaps this vision of universal peace and equality of all mankind that captures his attention and drags it away from local events.
The portrait used in this poster (and many other posters of this era) is taken from a painting by P. Nazarov and N. Gerediuk and was released by Iskusstvo in 1953 (the year of Stalin's death) in an edition of 30,000.
Such portraits, hung in public offices and buildings, function similarly to portraits of the monarch in buildings like post offices, schools, and courts of law. The invoked presence of the remote presiding authority authenticates and legitimates the proceedings.
Stalin, the tsar/god exercises remote control across his realm. However he no longer watches over all aspects of Soviet life – the minutiae of everyday existence are no longer his concern. His vision is lofty and other-worldly.
In many ways, Stalin has already been apotheosised, like the long-dead Lenin whose spirit and legacy inspires and guides. Stalin, the architect and builder of Communism, has been fashioned as the creator of this utopian society. His presence, both literally and as an image in propaganda posters, has become increasingly that of a spiritual force.
A.A. Kokorekin, Be prepared to struggle for the cause of Lenin-Stalin!, 1951
In A.A Kokorekin’s ‘Be prepared to struggle for the cause of Lenin-Stalin!’ of 1951, two serious young Pioneers salute the viewer before a banner with the Stalin-Lenin frieze.
Stalin and Lenin are both apotheosised, as if carved from stone on a billowing red banner. Lenin’s head is less defined and partially obscured by that of Stalin – literally in Stalin’s shadow.
The inclusion of Lenin, and the reference to the cause of Lenin-Stalin may be in part due to the fact that Lenin was always a primary figure for the Pioneers. However, it also highlights the now hyphenated identity of ‘Lenin-Stalin’ as one indivisible unit representing the Party.
The two children in the poster are young, yet already serious and restrained, as befits the nature of the oath-taking ceremony. They are immaculately turned out in their Pioneer uniforms and execute with precision the high salute of their organisation.
Elena Mel’nikova, Best friend of children. Glory to Great Stalin!, 1951
Stalin’s special relationship with the Young Pioneers is illustrated in the 1951 poster, ‘The Best Friend of Children. Glory to great Stalin!,’ by well-known artist Elena Mel’nikova. Mel’nikova was a Russian and Soviet Avant-garde painter, graphic artist and illustrator.
The text emphasises the friendly nature of the relationship between Stalin and the young Pioneers and, uncharacteristically for posters involving Stalin and children, makes no reference to Stalin as a ‘father.’ There is no interaction between the children and the image of Stalin: Stalin looks out into the distance, while the children all have their backs turned to him.
Stalin appears in this poster as a giant portrait hanging behind the unified, obedient children, who salute and wave flags and appear to be engaged in an oath-taking ceremony.
The Soviet regime bound children to Stalin by the taking of oaths of allegiance and duty at initiation ceremonies into the Pioneers and Komsomol, and posters such as this one reinforced the sense of obligation the children owed their leader.
On either side of Stalin are graphic depictions of birch trees. The birch is the national tree of Russia and a symbol of new beginnings.
It is interesting to note that this is one of the relatively few posters of this era in which Stalin does not appear in military uniform. Neither the warrior nor the father archetype is being emphasised here.
Mikhail Solov’ev,Young Builders of Communism, Forward to New Successes in Work and Education, 1950
After 1950, the ‘Happy Childhood’ poster theme that had been a feature of much of the 1930s and the immediate postwar years slipped into the background and poster artists focussed on depicting obedient children and youth performing their duty to Stalin.
Youth are serious, committed and dutiful, as in ‘Young Builders of Communism, Forward to New Successes in Work and Education’ of 1950 by Mikhail Solov’ev.
The young woman looks straight out, just above the head of the viewer,to the present day. She carries an unidentified book under her arm. The young man carries a thick volume of writings by Lenin and Stalin, and looks to the viewer’s right – the future. Both are shown in smart business attire with white-collared shirts.
This new generation of Soviet youth are being provided with a technical and scientific education, preparing them to work smarter rather than harder to transition the nation from socialism to full communism.
Stalin, still very much alive in 1950, joins Lenin in the apotheosised position as a stony relief on a tasselled banner. Both are in profile and facing the viewer’s left, associating them with the past.
From this point on, Stalin is now almost always represented in one of three ways: as a visionary on a mission to save the world, as a portrait/icon, or as a frieze.
Nina Vatolina, ‘Thank you dear Stalin for our happy childhood, 1950
1950 saw the release of another poster in a long-running and popular series of posters on the theme of a ‘happy childhood‘. ‘Thank you dear Stalin for our happy childhood’ by Nina Vatolina depicts a grey-haired Stalin in military uniform, standing on a podium.
He reaches out and touches the arm of the young Pioneer boy, yet is separated in the picture plane from the two children and elevated above them.
The girl carries a bunch of flowers to give to Stalin, but holds it off to the side, reaching up to touch Stalin with her right hand, as one might touch a holy icon. A huge bunch of red roses forms a barrier between them and the little girl cannot actually reach Stalin, just the flowers.
The colour palette in Vatolina’s 1950 poster is more vivid than in earlier posters. The flowers are depicted in a more realistic style and occupy a large space in the image.
The figure of Stalin floats in an undifferentiated background of pure light that illuminates the face of the boy. In earlier happy childhood posters, children are relaxed and celebrating. Not all of them look at Stalin and, where they do look at him, it is with binding affection, from within the same space. Frequently, one of the children engages the viewer by looking directly out from the image.
In the later posters of this genre, the children have been reduced in number and importance and are restrained and respectful. It is clear in this poster that merely to be admitted to Stalin’s presence is an honour and reward. The boy appears in profile and the girl is viewed from the rear, no child engages the viewer’s gaze or embodies the ‘happy childhood’ of the poster’s text.
In 1950, a happy childhood consists entirely in being loyal and dutybound to Stalin. As Stalin is portrayed wearing military uniform, the formality of the occasion is reinforced, and the viewer is also reminded that all citizens owe Stalin a debt of gratitude for victory in the war.
After 1950, the ‘happy childhood’ theme slipped into the background in Soviet posters and poster artists focused on depicting obedient children performing their duty to Stalin by studying hard or taking oaths of allegiance at Pioneer ceremonies.
Petr Golub’, Long life and prosperity to our Motherland! I. Stalin, 1949
Stalin was frequently depicted as the father of the people in Soviet propaganda posters, but is always shown without a female partner.
Stalin had been married twice, his first wife dying young of an illness, and his second wife committing suicide in 1932. The nation saw Stalin mourn Nadia and, from this point on, he did not publicly have a female partner – in fact so little is known of this aspect of his personal life that there is only speculation as to further sexual relationships after Nadia’s death.
Stalin’s life centred around his role as leader and it was easy to depict him as ‘wedded to the nation.’ A famous painting of 1948 by Fyodor Shurpin, ‘The morning of our motherland,’ depicts a calm, reflective Stalin in a plain white tunic, isolated and alone in a muted pastel landscape, his greatcoat draped over his sleeve.
Behind Stalin in the distance, tractors plough the fields and power lines melt into the hazy sky. Stalin is bathed in the early morning light and looks out to the right to the dawn of the communist utopia.
This famous painting is undoubtedly the inspiration for a poster by Petr Golub’ published in 1949 in an edition of 300,000. The poster caption, ‘Long life and prosperity to our motherland,’ is a quote from Stalin.
It is interesting to compare the poster to the painting that inspired it, as the differences between them are telling. A key difference is that Stalin is slightly more face-on to the viewer in the painting than in the poster and looks considerably more tired. In the poster, he is less heavily jowled, his skin brighter, and his moustache more trim.
Stalin has a much more military bearing in the poster, almost standing at attention, while in the Shurpin painting he is relaxed and leans back slightly. In the poster, Stalin wears his military uniform while in the painting he appears as a civilian, a much more private individual, alone at dawn.
The poster is in portrait format, while the painting is in landscape format, hence the poster emphasises the figure of Stalin, while Shurpin’s painting places him in the landscape.
Indeed, in the poster by Golub’, Stalin is not alone, but accompanied by a young Pioneer boy who gazes silently into the future with him, the symbolic son of the wedded union between Stalin and the Motherland. The landscape has also been altered and the Golub’ poster features the national Russian symbol of a birch tree in the foreground (birch is also associated with beginnings), standing straight as Stalin, and a patchwork of lush green fields behind the two figures.
The notion of plenitude and abundance is reinforced by the small sprig of flowers in the child’s hand. A river flows through the landscape, continuing the dual association of Stalin with water, and with the golden light that illuminates him from above.
By drawing so obviously on Shurpin’s painting, the poster suggests the dawn of a new age of abundance for the Soviet Union, the arrival of the long-awaited communist utopia after the dark nights of the Civil War, the purges, and the Great Patriotic War.
Stalin is the father of the nation who cared for, protected, and raised the nation and, in Golub’s poster, the hope of the future lies in the nation’s youth.
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.