Dmitrii Grinets, Thanks to the Party, Thanks to Dear Stalin for a Happy, Joyful Childhood, 1937
In the 1937 poster ‘Thanks to the Party, Thanks to Dear Stalin for our Happy, Joyful Childhood’ by Dmitrii Grinets in the Ukrainian language, Stalin adopts a fatherly pose with three children.
The portrait format of the poster emphasises the intimacy and physical closeness of the scene. By depicting such a scene with Stalin standing in as the father for non-related children, the suggestion is made that he is the father of all children of all nationalities of the USSR, intimately concerned with the prospects and fate of each child in his care.
Stalin holds the smallest child against his chest, while his focus is keenly on the elder boy who plays the violin for him. The youngest boy shows ambition to join the armed forces, wearing military garb and clutching a toy aeroplane in his right arm. The older boy wears a Pioneer scarf and will be a successful musician.
It is only the young girl, wearing traditional headdress, who is given no costume or prop to indicate her future vocation. Perhaps her gratitude and devotion are a sufficient contribution.
The caption of the poster, occupying the bottom third of the picture plane, reinforces this notion of gratitude, and is uncommon for its time in that it emphasises the thanks owed to the Party, as well as to Stalin.
The word ridnomu (and its Russian equivalent rodnomu) does not translate precisely in English. Used as a term of endearment, the word also connotes a kin or familial relationship with the person to whom it is applied.
K.V. Zotov, We’re growing up under Lenin and Stalin’s banner!, 1934
In the early years of Stalin’s rule, he often appeared as an overseer of socialist development and progress, his image appearing in a corner of a poster about factory work, or alongside graphic depictions of Soviet progress.
In the case of ‘We’re growing up under Lenin and Stalin’s banner!’ of 1934 by K.V. Zotov, Stalin and Lenin oversee the upbringing of Soviet toddlers. Lenin, in the left corner, is the sacred and revered inspiration for this important work, while Stalin on the right is the interpreter of Lenin’s words, the one who translates Lenin’s doctrine into action.
Between Lenin and Stalin is an indistinct graphic that mimics the statistical posters popular at that time in which the great feats of socialist progress are outlined in documentary fashion.
Beneath the graphic, toddlers play in a nursery with toy trucks, building blocks and construction sets, pre-empting their future careers as builders of the socialist state.
Interestingly, the children are all male. The only female in the poster is the childcare worker who looks over the children with devoted attention, her red scarf tied behind her neck – the symbol of the female Soviet worker.
In the foreground, three young boys of varied ethnicities beam out at the viewer. One wears a small Lenin badge on his jumper, and another holds an alphabet block with A for ‘Aviatsiya’ – Aviation – a desirable career path and one in which the Soviets were to set over 60 world records in the next few years.
Stalin, as the interpreter of Lenin’s teachings, is quoted beneath his own image:
“Let’s bring up a new generation; hard-working, healthy and cheerful and capable of elevating the power of the Soviet country to the height it deserves.”
In this early stage of Stalinist propaganda, Stalin is not portrayed as a fatherly figure and does not engage with the children. He is the conscientious leader with the master plan for bringing Lenin’s dream to fruition.
Within two years, Stalin’s image in propaganda was to undergo a dramatic transformation as a symbolic persona was created for him that incorporated key mythic universal archetypes and saw him depicted as the father of the nation.
Unidentified artist, we won. Under the name of Stalin we will win!, 1941
It was relatively uncommon for Stalin to be depicted in propaganda posters with any form of enemy, and even more uncommon for him to be pictured alongside any kind of brutality.
The Great Patriotic War (Second World War) was cruel and the Soviet people suffered harshly under German occupation. The propaganda of the preceding decades, which emphasised the unity of the working classes around the world and their shared goals and interests, had been largely successful, and some of the Russian soldiers saw the war as an opportunity to reach out to the working classes of other less fortunate nations.
Well-known Russian writer Ilia Ehrenburg* recalled that the Russian people did not initially have any hatred for the German soldiers:
‘The men defending Smolensk or Briansk repeated what they had heard first at school and later at political meetings, or read in the newspapers: in Germany the working class was strong, it was a leading industrial country; true, the fascists, supported by the Ruhr magnates and the social-traitors, had seized power, but the German people were in opposition and were carrying on the struggle. “Naturally,” the Red Army men said, “the officers are fascists, and of course there must be misguided men among the rank and file, but millions of soldiers advance only because otherwise they’d be shot”.’
Ehrenburg recalls feeling enraged when gunners on the front line refused to shell a highway when commanded to do so. One of the gunners explained:
‘“We can’t just shell the road and then retreat. We must let the Germans approach and try to explain to them it’s time for them to come to their senses and rise against Hitler, and that we’ll help them to do it”. The others feelingly supported him. A young and intelligent looking artillery man said: “Who are we shooting? Workers and peasants. They think we’re against them, we don’t leave them any choice”.’
Terrible atrocities committed by German troops on Russian soil, a series of punishing defeats, and a concerted propaganda campaign with highly emotive images that highlighted the risk to women and children under German occupation, turned this pacifist attitude on its head, and troops were encouraged to fight savagely in order to win the war.
Many of the posters of the time (in which Stalin’s image does not appear) focus on fear, brutality and German atrocities, as well as depicting the enemy as subhuman or vermin.
In these most desperate years of the war, a few posters contained both an image of Stalin and an image of the hated enemy.
A simple war poster of 1941 by an unidentified artist, published in Leningrad in an edition of 25,000, is dominated by a large diagonal banner on which Stalin’s profile appears only in white outline silhouette.
Beneath Stalin’s head, the words ‘Under the name of Stalin we won. Under the name of Stalin we will win!’ separate his faint image from the battle scene below. This caption refers to Stalin’s earlier victory at Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad) in the Civil War in order to legitimate his leadership and rally the troops in the current conflict.
The crude graphic shows two aircraft above a Soviet tank that is crushing the enemy beneath it. The enemy is depicted in cartoon fashion as a skull in a helmet with long sharp-clawed paws protruding from the sleeves of its Nazi uniform — in both the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War, the enemy was often depicted with animal characteristics so as to highlight either the danger posed by the enemy, or its vermin-like, subhuman qualities. Alternately, the enemy could also be depicted in cartoon-fashion as cowardly and ridiculous.
*Men, years — life, vol. 5, The war: 1941–45, Tatiana Shebunina & Yvonne Kapp (trans.), London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1964, pp. 26-28.
Konstantin Cheprakov, We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy..., (in Uzbek and Russian), 1941
Konstantin Cheprakov (Чепраков, К.П.), We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy.We will keep the covenant of our fathers. Lead us into battle victory, wise Stalin – Clear the enemy, father of fighters! (Разбить врага – вождью мы клятву дали. Мы сохраним завет своих отцов. Веди нас в бой победный, мудрый Сталин – Гроза врагов, родной отец бойцов!) (in Uzbek and Russian), 1941
Konstantin Cheprakov’s poster of 1941 shows Stalin looking slightly ethnically Uzbek in a characteristic wartime pose of strength and iron will.
Stalin appears in profile, right arm rigidly indicating the way forward to victory. His tunic and coat-tail swirl, but here he appears to have been depicted just as he has come to a halt.
In Stalin’s left hand, he carries a scroll. The scroll is symbolic on two levels: first, it can be read literally as a ‘plan’, i.e. Stalin has a strategy for winning the war and is in the process of executing it; second, it is visually reminiscent of the scroll (logos) carried by Christ in Russian Orthodox icons and suggests that Stalin is the saviour of the nation.
Soldiers, tanks and aircraft surge forward past him, set on reaching the indicated destination. Diagonal banners and a raised bayonet in the foreground reinforce the violence of the forward motion, as do the aircraft diving in on a diagonal.
The poster’s caption, in Uzbek and Russian, reinforces the notion of the allegiance owed to Stalin as the wise father of the people:
‘We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy. We will keep the covenant of our fathers. Lead us into battle victory, wise Stalin — Clear the enemy, father of fighters!’
Images that appear to be photographic purport to tell the truth. Stalin never went near the front in the Great Patriotic War but, if Stalin is depicted as physically leading the troops into battle, it is easier to associate him with qualities of vision, bravery, heroism and steadfastness, even if this is at a subconscious level.
Despite the fact that Stalin is portrayed here as leading the troops into battle, he was not yet depicted in military uniform. Insignia of rank were abolished in 1917, immediately after the Revolution, however, in 1935, Stalin reintroduced personal ranks and, in 1940, general officer ranks. Insignia of rank were fully restored in 1943.
Stalin is shown hatless or, on the rare occasions when he does wear a cap, it is unadorned, and he wears no epaulettes or other insignia of rank.
To represent Stalin as a military genius at this point in time may have been risky and may even have opened him up to ridicule. Lack of preparedness for war, poor decision-making, and a blatant misreading of the enemy could all be placed at Stalin’s feet, as could the consequent losses of Soviet life.
Despite the advantages in wartime of portraying a strong and successful warrior, the propaganda machine was as yet unable to unambiguously drape Stalin in the mantle of the warrior. Instead, the established archetypes of Father and Teacher were called upon in an effort to maintain some legitimacy for the leader and to mobilise the population behind him in this crisis.
Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, Glory to Stalin’s Falcons–the Conquerors of Aerial Elements!, 1937
A significant genre of Soviet propaganda was concerned with documenting and publicising great Soviet achievements, crediting them all to the Revolution, the Party, and ultimately the brilliance of the great enabler whom history had placed in the role of the leader.
Stalin was effusively credited with not only facilitating all of the successes of the Soviet Union, but with such apparently miraculous abilities as keeping his aviators and polar explorers warm against the Arctic cold. Stalin was able to do this by virtue of the breadth and depth of his paternal care.
The 1937 poster ‘Glory to Stalin’s falcons — the conquerors of aerial elements!’ by Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, celebrates the historic and dangerous flight from Moscow to the United States via the North Pole without even identifying the men directly involved in the flight (Valerii Chkalov, Georgii Baidukov and Aleksandr Beliakov).
Instead, the focus is on Stalin, whose profile image sketched on a red flag sits above the city of Moscow in the mid-left of the poster.
The centre of the poster is dominated by a flat view of the globe from the North Pole, with the USSR positioned to the bottom, and the United States tucked away at the top. The large landmass of the USSR is coloured Soviet red, and extended by the adjoining red flag, which billows across the globe in a symbol of Soviet domination.
A well-populated Moscow bustles below, the people carrying a sea of red flags and banners. The route of the historic flight is traced by a thick red line through the North Pole, the centre of the poster, which swoops upwards through Canada to the United States.
While Moscow is sketched in vibrant red, features the identifiably ‘Russian’ towers of the Kremlin, and is densely populated, Washington is a colourless and unpopulated landscape of featureless and indistinct skyscrapers.
The steep red line that marks out the route is reminiscent also of the line on a graph, the upward swoop registering success and progress, as well as the trajectory of takeoff.
Almost as large as the globe itself, and larger than the whole territory of the United States, are the images of the two Soviet planes that sweep across the top of the poster, and to which Stalin’s gaze directs our eye. The nearer, larger plane is marked with the number 25 (the Tupolev 25 flown on the mission), the abbreviation USSR, and its body is inscribed with the words ‘Stalin’s falcons’.
The text reinforces the association of this historic accomplishment with Stalin, proclaiming glory to ‘Stalin’s falcons’, rather than to the individuals involved, and also reiterates the key Soviet priority for conquering nature and the elements.
Bainazar Al’menov, But there is one branch of science which Bolsheviks in all branches of science are in duty bound to know… , 1951
The ‘banner of Marx–Engels–Lenin-Stalin’ theme was a minor but fairly consistent theme (except during the war years) throughout the 25 years of Stalin’s leadership
… and even beyond.
Several of these posters were published outside the two major centres of the Russian nation, Moscow and Leningrad, and this 1951 poster was published by Tatgosizdat, the publishing house of the Republic of Tatarstan, in Kazan, Tatarstan.
The text quotes Stalin on the necessity to train all cadres, regardless of specialty, in the scientific laws of Marxism–Leninism. It comes from the Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, delivered on March 10, 1939.
But there is one branch of science which Bolsheviks in all branches of science are in duty bound to know, and that is the Marxist–Leninist science of society, of the laws of social development, of the laws of development of the proletarian revolution, of the laws of development of socialist construction, and of the victory of communism.’ I. Stalin.
Marxism-Leninism as a science was seen as defining immutable and unchallengeable laws and was foundational for all other scientific endeavour.
This 1951 poster by illustrator of folktales and fairytales Bainazar Al’menov (1909 -1976), shows the four pillars of communism – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – as part of a billowing banner that fills the top half of the picture plane.
Stalin and Lenin both appear particularly ‘Asiatic’ in their banner profiles. Stalin was often given facial features reminiscent of the general racial characteristics of the place in which the poster was published. In the Asian parts of the Soviet Union he tended to have Asiatic features, while in the European parts he looked more European.
In fact, Stalin actually described himself to Georgi Dimitrov, leader of the Communist International, as a ‘Russified Georgian–Asian’ (obrusevshii gruzin-aziat).* Lenin was part Kalmyk on his father’s side.
The banner is rich red in colour and adorned with gold tassels. Beneath it, also in rich red with gold trim, are four slender books, one by each of the men pictured above, which outline the immutable laws of Marxism–Leninism. Stalin’s work thus resides unambiguously beside those of the three legendary great thinkers.
Bainazar Al’menov worked as the Artistic Director of the regional publishing house, Tatknigizdat, served in the Second World War, and was awarded the Meritorious Art Worker of the Tatar ASSR.
*See Jan Plamper, The Stalin cult, p. 46.
Long Live our leader and teacher, best friend of the Red Army, dear and beloved Stalin!, 1941
This poster by an unidentified artist is typical of many of the cheap posters published during the years of the Great Patriotic War. Released as the USSR entered the Second World War, it aims to rally the population for the war effort around the charismatic figure of Stalin.
As in the Civil War of 1918 to 1922, a multitude of inexpensive posters were produced to tight deadlines. They used cheap paper and a limited colour scheme of black, white and red, which also suited the austere and severe mood of the time.
As Germany had invaded the USSR in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, many artists were happy to rally to the national cause and to offer their talents to the war effort. In this case, the poster is stark and simple, and the artist is not identified. The poster also lacks publishing details, other than the year of publication, and was most likely viewed as ephemeral and disposable.
Stalin’s greyscale portrait (looking to the viewer’s right – the direction of the future) is superimposed over four billowing banners that look as if they are being carried into battle (presumably on horseback – Stalin was particularly associated with the establishment of the Red Cavalry).
The text of the poster, in sacred gold and red, draws attention to the key archetypes associated with Stalin at this stage of his leadership – the Father and the Teacher:
Long Live our leader and teacher, best friend of the Red Army, dear and beloved Stalin!
The word used for ‘leader’ – vozhd’ – has an interesting etymology. The roots of the term can be traced back to old Church Slavonic, with a sacred connotation but, prior to the October Revolution, it denoted a military leader and was applied only metaphorically to a political leader. Victoria Bonnell* cites the poem Vozhdiu, by Demian Bednyi, for May Day 1918, as being one of the first instances in which the term was applied to Lenin.
Similarly, the term ‘rodnoi’ cannot be translated exactly into English. It is an expression of affectionate regard that also implies a familial relationship or kinship, as that of a father to children, between Stalin and the Soviet populace.
It is interesting to note that in 1941, at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, while Kliment Voroshilov was still leader of the armed forces, Stalin is lauded as being merely the ‘best friend’ of the Red Army. Voroshilov’s lack of military success in the war meant that within one year, Stalin became leader of the military and in 1943 Marshal of the Soviet Union, before being promoted to Generalissimus in 1945 after victory.
The Warrior archetype became strongly associated with Stalin during the war and, unlike this portrait in which Stalin wears a military-style tunic but no insignia of rank or other markings of a military man, Stalin would later be depicted in the uniform of Marshal of the Soviet Union in most propaganda posters.
*Victoria Bonnell, Iconography of power, p. 140
A.I. Madorskii, Be as the great Lenin was, 1938
In 1938, the USSR was still in the grip of the Great Purge: the Communist Party and peasantry were purged; in 1937, the Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army and seven generals were shot; in 1938–39, all the admirals and half the Army’s officers were executed or imprisoned; and it is estimated* that between 600,000 and 3 million people died at the hands of the Soviet government at this time, known in Russia as Yezhovshchina (the Yezhov phenomenon, named for the head of the secret police, Nikolai Yezhov).
The purges served many purposes. One of the major ones was to identify ‘enemies of the people’ who were ‘sabotaging’ the progress of the Soviet Union and thus set up an ‘us and them’ mentality, increasing the identification of the people with their leaders.
The leadership represented positive qualities including honesty, loyalty and commitment, while enemies were unfaithful, treacherous, lazy and self-serving. The trials of the accused, particularly those from the upper echelons of the party, were public and the confessions made, which were often patently absurd and had been extracted under torture, were aimed at outraging the public and uniting them behind the friendly, paternal leadership of Stalin.
The cult of Lenin had deified the Party’s founder and the image of Lenin symbolised all the highest qualities of the socialist ideal. In this 1938 poster by A.I. Madorskii, Lenin is invoked as an inspiration from the past, whose steady example is to be practised in the present and future. The people are urged to ‘Be as the great Lenin was.’
Despite Lenin’s visual dominance of the images, it is Stalin’s words that feature in the poster, and Stalin appears as the sole authoritative interpreter of Lenin’s legacy for the future. The text is taken from Stalin’s speech on December 11, 1937:
The electors, the people, must demand that their deputies should remain equal to their tasks, that in their work they should not sink to the level of political philistines, that in their posts they should remain political figures of the Lenin type, that as public figures they should be as clear and definite as Lenin was, that they should be as fearless in battle and as merciless towards the enemies of the people as Lenin was, that they should be free from all panic, from any semblance of panic, when things begin to get complicated and some danger or other looms on the horizon, that they should be as free from all semblance of panic as Lenin was, that they should be as wise and deliberate in deciding complex problems requiring a comprehensive orientation and a comprehensive weighing of all pros and cons as Lenin was, that they should be as upright and honest as Lenin was, that they should love their people as Lenin did.
The importance given to this speech of Stalin’s is evidenced by the fact that two more posters of 1939 also took it as their subject.
In the poster, Stalin stands before a podium and is depicted while giving the electoral speech in December 1937. His right hand points straight up at the heavens, invoking a higher order of law, and drawing the eye to the large image of Lenin (looking to the viewer’s left – to the past) on a protective banner that covers Stalin, the Kremlin, and the crowd of workers below.
The workers are from all walks of life and a variety of nationalities, although it is interesting to note that only two women are depicted and that they are shown wearing the head scarves of agricultural workers.
Creating enemies, or exaggerating their prevalence and power has a galvanising and polarising effect on communities, increasing feelings of hatred and hostility towards those identified as ‘other’, and correspondingly amplifying feelings of love and commitment towards those who are ‘like us’.
*See Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles), p.67 and Michael Ellman, Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments, 2002
Viktor Deni, With the banner of Lenin…, 1931
Viktor Deni’s distinctive drawing style is already well established in this 1931 poster in which the apotheosised Lenin is called on to legitimate Stalin’s rule.
Deni was one of the major agitprop artists from the beginning of the Soviet Union in 1917, right through to the end of the Great Patriotic War and his death in 1946.
While in this poster Stalin’s image dominates the picture plane, Stalin and the scenes of construction behind him are watched over by the banner of Lenin, which is the subject of the poster’s text. In these early years of Stalin’s leadership, Lenin was continually referenced as the Party’s charismatic founder, as an ideological authority, and as a legitimator of his successor to the Party leadership.
Lenin, in characteristic collar and tie (a white-collar intellectual) looks slightly to the left, signifying his association with the Party’s past.
The poster caption invokes the protective and inspirational function of the Lenin banner, as well as stressing the military metaphor of the ongoing battles in the quest to achieve socialism:
With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in the battle for the October revolution.
This text quotes Stalin from the Political Report of the Central Committee of the XVIth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union CPSU (b) on June 27, 1930 in which he discusses the world economic crisis and capitalism in decline, contrasting it with socialist success and growth.
Stalin appears in the poster as steely and determined, his head turned to the right – the direction of the future. Stalin is depicted with his hand in his jacket, in what the English-speaking world refers to as the ‘Napoleonic pose’.
Stalin sometimes adopted this pose in media photographs, which suggests that perhaps this was habitual or comfortable for him. While portrait painters and poster artists may have been copying nature when presenting Stalin in this manner, the prevalence of this gesture in images of him in the media suggests that it conveyed a specific meaning.
Unlike in the English-speaking world, the gesture is not interpreted as ‘Napoleonic’ in Russia, and it makes little intuitive sense for Stalin to copy a gesture associated with Napoleon.
In fact, as Arline Meyer* notes, the ‘hand-in-waistcoat’ pose is encountered with relentless frequency in 18th-century English portraiture, possibly both because it was a habitual stance of men of breeding and because of the influence of classical statuary (Stalin frequently adopts this pose in statues).
Meyer traces classical references to the ‘hand withdrawn’ back to the actor, orator, and founder of a school of rhetoric, Aeschines of Macedon (390–331 BC), who claimed that speaking with the arm outside the cloak was considered ill-mannered.
The gesture is discussed as a classical rhetorical gesture by John Bulwer** in 1644 and by François Nivelon*** in 1737. Nivelon states that the ‘hand-in-waistcoat’ pose signifies ‘boldness tempered with modesty’, and Bulwer notes that ‘the hand restrained and kept in is an argument of modesty, and frugal pronunciation, a still and quiet action suitable to a mild and remiss declamation’.
Stalin took pride in his mild, anti-oratorical mode of speech. A reading of this gesture that suggests ‘boldness tempered with modesty’ is in keeping with the persona created for Stalin in Soviet propaganda.
*Arline Meyer, ‘Re-dressing classical statuary: the eighteenth-century “hand-in-waistcoat” portrait’, The Art Bulletin, 77, 1995, pp. 45–64.
**See John Bulwer’s double essay ‘Chirologia, the natural language of the hand’, and ‘Chironomia, the art of manual rhetoric’, in Chirologia: or the naturall language of the hand. Composed of the speaking motions, and discoursing gestures thereof. Whereunto is added Chironomia: or, the art of manuall rhetoricke. Consisting of the naturall expressions, digested by art in the hand, as the chiefest instrument of eloquence, London, Thomas Harper, 1644.
***François Nivelon, The rudiments of genteel behaviour, 1737.
Boris Belopol’skii, Glory to Stalin, the great architect of communism!, 1951
A 1951 poster by Boris Belopol’skii carries the caption ‘Glory to Stalin, the great architect of communism!’ and was issued in a massive edition of half a million copies, which suggests that it was viewed as an important piece of propaganda. The notion of Stalin as the architect of Soviet communism dates to the time of the burgeoning of the Stalin cult in 1934.
On 1 January 1934, in Pravda, Karl Radek published a laudatory article on Stalin titled ‘The architect of socialist society’, which was then reissued as a pamphlet in an edition of 225,000.*
Written after Radek’s expulsion from the Party for ‘oppositionist activities’ in 1927, and readmission to Party ranks after capitulating to Stalin in 1930, the booklet has the intriguing subtitle: ‘the ninth in a course of lectures on “The history of the victory of socialism”, delivered in 1967 at the School of Inter-Planetary Communications on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution’, and its content is so excessively eulogistic that it is difficult to determine just how one should read it.
After signing a document capitulating to Stalin in 1929, Radek was readmitted to the Party in 1930 and went on to lead Cominform and deliver a keynote address at the Writers Congress of 1934. He was arrested in the purges of 1937 and subsequently died in the gulag during a sentence of ten years’ hard labour.
In his article, Radek argues that Stalin, rather than Lenin, was the architect of socialism. He acknowledges that Stalin stood on the shoulders of Lenin, but claims that in executing Lenin’s will, Stalin had to take many daring independent decisions and to develop Lenin’s teachings in the same manner that Lenin had further developed those of Marx.
When Radek wrote in 1934, the Congress of Victors had just declared the full achievement of socialism and the new task of progressing to the higher stage, communism, had commenced. By the time this poster celebrating Stalin as the architect of communism appeared, Stalin was an old man, already over 70, and the quest to introduce a communist society had been taking place for 17 years, complicated by the need for defence in the Great Patriotic War.
The poster, in pale blues and muted browns typical of the pastel shades of the ‘era of abundance’, is dominated by Stalin, depicted with attributes of leadership (his marshal’s uniform) and standard props (unlit pipe in the right hand and scroll in the left). At the literal level, the scroll is suggestive of an architect’s blueprints, but at a symbolic level it also references the scroll or logos held by Christ.
Behind Stalin, bathed in a white glow that appears to emanate from him, is the new hydroelectric work being undertaken across the Soviet territories. The inscription on the dam wall is carved in stone and reads ‘“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” Lenin’, an iconic Lenin slogan, to which Radek also draws attention in his pamphlet. In the far distance is a small statue of Lenin, the man upon whose foundation Stalin was building.
There are two groups of figures in the poster, both existing only in order to react (and illustrate for the viewer the correct attitude to take) to Stalin. The group of men on the left, who appear to be professional workers associated with bringing the communist dream to fruition, stare up at Stalin with awe and respect.
In the bottom-right corner, passers-by on a barge hail Stalin with visible enthusiasm. Stalin pays them no attention and gazes out to the viewer’s right at a future that only he can see. By focusing on Stalin, the other figures demonstrate that it is Stalin who embodies the communist future. Like a priest or shaman, Stalin acts as a sort of intermediary between the vision and the people.
*Karl Radek, The architect of socialist society, Moscow, Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1934
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.