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.
A.A. Babitskii, Under the leadership of Comrade Stalin, forward – to the final defeat of the enemy!, 1944
A.A. Babitskii’s poster of 1944, while employing many of the familiar motifs of other war-era posters, shows an increase in confidence in ultimate victory in the Great Patriotic War.
The ghostly head of Lenin on a large red banner dominates the sky. The sacred Spassky tower of the Kremlin, here bathed in the reddish-golden light reflected off the banner, glows in the background, and a tank rushes forward to battle under the protective red banner.
The giant figure of Stalin in his military uniform dominates the poster, however, in this poster Stalin does not merely inspire the troops from the sky, as he does in many other posters of this time.
Stalin is depicted here as rushing forward into battle. In his hands he carries a large map, the red territories showing the ground held by Soviet forces. Thus Stalin is shown as a man of action and as an active participant in the battle – Stalin the military strategist!
It is only in 1944, when victory in the war is almost assured, that Stalin becomes directly associated in propaganda with the actual military leadership of the war.
Prior to this, he has been portrayed as the leader of the nation, a father, a teacher, a friend, and merely an inspiration to the troops on the ground.
In the background, behind the Kremlin, is a little fireworks display – subtle and colourless as yet, but a precursor to what is yet to come.
The caption of the poster makes it clear that Stalin is responsible for this latest positive turn of events –
Under the leadership of Comrade Stalin, forward – to the definitive crushing of our enemy!
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.
SPotW61 Babitskii 1944
SPotW62 Pen Varlen 1942
SPotW63 Bayuskin 1942
SPotW64 Belopol'skii 1950
SPotW65 Belopol'skii 1952
SPotW66 Dlugach 1933
SPotW67 Zhitomirskii 1942
SPotW68 Toidze 1949
SPotW69 Mikhailov 1937
SPotW70 Cheprakov 1939
SPotW76 Toidze 1943
SPotW77 Futerfas 1936
SPotW78 Mukhin 1945
SPotW79 Golub' 1948
SPotW80 Karpovskii 1948