stalin poster of the week 20: boris berezovskii, we stand for peace and we defend the cause of peace. i. stalin, 1947
Once post-Second World War victory celebrations in the USSR had quietened, the task of rebuilding the devastated nation and getting back on track to the ultimate goal of communism moved to the forefront of propaganda.
Alongside this, from 1947, was an attempt to merge Stalin’s Warrior archetype, appropriate for the crisis of the war years, into that of the Saviour of the nation by presenting him as the bringer of peace.
This 1947 poster by Boris Berezovskii shows Stalin uncharacteristically out of military uniform and back in his earlier tunic as he proclaims the Soviet desire for peace — ‘“We stand for peace and we defend the cause of peace.” I. Stalin’.
This quotation is taken from Stalin’s report to the Seventeenth Party Congress on the work of the Central Committee, 26 January 1934, many years prior to the onset of war in Europe, and suggests that Stalin has ALWAYS been a man of peace.
Stalin appears softer, rounder and more genial than in most of the contemporaneous posters and, by wearing his pre-Victory plain tunic, plays down the Warrior archetype that is so prevalent in other posters of this time.
Engulfed by an undefined red backdrop, and with the poster caption in gold, the Russian Orthodox icon is invoked through colour symbolism, engendering a subconscious association of Stalin with the revered saints of the church for the initiated beholder.
Unidentified artist, We are warmed by Stalin’s affection …, 1949
In the tradition of deified leaders before him, much Stalinist propaganda associates Stalin with warmth and the sun. The sun is a recurrent motif throughout propaganda associated with leaders since pre-Christian times, when leaders appealed to their sun gods to look favourably upon their leadership, their battles and their harvests.
Associating a leader with the sun suggests that he is the bringer of life and of bounty to the people. The sun became a central image in Stalinist propaganda, with Stalin unambiguously equated with the sun in poetry and song, while propaganda posters frequently associated Stalin with light in general, as in this 1949 poster by an unidentified artist, ‘We are warmed by Stalin’s affection’.
The poster features a smiling bust of Stalin, with military collar but without cap, surrounded by the smaller heads of 15 children. Beneath Stalin is a laurel wreath that, with his military uniform and the fireworks and searchlights below, makes visual reference to the Soviet Union’s victory in the Great Patriotic War.Stalin was portrayed as being largely responsible for leading the nation to victory in the war.
The children in the poster look ethnically Georgian and are encased in flowers, many of their heads appearing to grow out of the petals. The five children at the base of the poster appear to rise up from a bowl of fruit. Fruit, flowers and children all testify to the fertility and abundance of the socialist utopia.
Behind the youngest child, in the centre at the base, the spire of the Spassky tower rises, leading straight to the portrait of Stalin and thus linking the two symbols. Stalin is located at the position of deity, but also appears as the father of the children, a point that has particular resonance because of Stalin’s Georgian roots.
Above their heads, but beneath Stalin, fireworks and searchlights illuminate the violet sky. Stalin glows with a white light and, in the heavenly realm that he inhabits, the entire background consists of the white light that emanates from him.
The text of the poster is in Russian and Georgian and celebrates the joys of childhood, sunny Georgia and Stalin:
We are warmed by Stalin’s affection, We carry joy and happiness,
The text is flanked by scenes of Georgian life — traditional architecture juxtaposed with new construction, and a train rushing through lush fields of crops.
Iraklii Toidze, All our forces – to support our heroic Red Army and our glorious Red Navy! All the power of the people – to defeat the enemy! I. Stalin., 1941
Iraklii Toidze (тоидзе, ираклии), All our forces – to support our heroic Red Army and our glorious Red Navy! All the power of the people – to defeat the enemy! I. Stalin. (все наши силы – на поддержку нашей героической красной армии, нашего славного красного флота! все силы народа – на разгром врага! И. Сталин.), 1941
Iraklii Toidze’s 1941 poster ‘“All our forces — to support our heroic Red Army and our glorious Red Navy! All the power of the people — to defeat the enemy!” Stalin.’ quotes from Stalin’s famous radio address to the Soviet people of July 3, 1941 and shows a determined Stalin striding to the right accompanied by Soviet tanks and aircraft.
The figure of Stalin forms a curious mixture of motion and stability. His gaze is steady and unflinching. The extended arm, showing the way forward with pointed index finger, is rigid and firm. Stalin is fixated on victory and the strength of his will carries the army and airforce with him.
The force of his forward momentum is revealed by the way in which his coat lapels fly about him, and by the swirling motion of the clouds in the sky. These stormy clouds part above Stalin’s head, suggesting that even the forces of nature bend to Stalin’s will, making way for his unstoppable progress towards victory.
Many posters of this era are captioned with quotes from Stalin, which had become akin to quoting scripture, and the posters are captioned as if these words contain deep wisdom, spiritual guidance, and unimpeachable truth.
Writing in 1942 about Stalin’s speeches during the war thus far, President of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin said:
‘We call these historic speeches not only in the sense that they are documents but because of their influence on our people and on our army. They are speeches that make history.’
Many people, both immediately after the war and today, claim that Stalin’s speeches had a rallying effect on the nation and contributed to the Soviet victory in the Second World War.
Marina Volkova and Natalia Pinus, Long Live the Equal-Rights Woman in the USSR, an Active Participant in the Administration of the Nation’s State, Economic, and Cultural Affairs!, 1938
Marina Volkova and Natalia Pinus (Марина Волкова и Наталья Пинус), Long Live the Equal-Rights Woman in the USSR, an Active Participant in the Administration of the Nation’s State, Economic, and Cultural Affairs! (да здравствует равноправная женщина СССР! активная участница в управлении государством, хозяйствеными, и культурными делами страны!) ,1938
The 1938 poster, ‘Long live the equal-rights woman in the USSR, an active participant in the administration of the nation’s state, economic, and cultural affairs!’ was created by two well-established female poster artists, Marina Volkova and Natalia Pinus.
Although the subject of the poster is the new equality of women, as evidenced by high-flying women achievers in state, economic and cultural affairs, it is the figure of Stalin that dominates the poster, occupying two-thirds of the space, engulfed in a sea of holy and revolutionary red.
The colour red is specifically associated with icons, where it often forms a background colour and represents youth, beauty and eternal life and, in posters, it imbues the figures it surrounds with an aura of sacrality.
The ‘woman delegate’ became something of an archetype in Soviet painting during the mid-1930s. Almost all Soviet delegates were women, and this was part of a trend in which the image of the female came increasingly to represent the stereotypic ‘Soviet citizen’ in visual culture and women were depicted in propaganda and the media submitting to authority figures, learning, and expressing gratitude.
The colour palette of the poster, the use of tone and the flat, stylised image of Stalin, all echo the Russian Orthodox icon. Like a holy personage, Stalin is the source of light in the poster. Dressed in white, with gold tones, he casts a golden hue over the entire poster, including the faces of the young women.
The familiar shape of the Spassky tower of the Moscow Kremlin is silhouetted in Stalin’s golden light, rising into empty space to his right, the spire topped with a red star echoes his upraised arm and gesturing golden hand and forms a sort of Soviet house of worship or sacred site.
This poster is manifestly about the new order and the new creation. The new order is symbolised by the sea of red flags on either side of the women, and also by the Kremlin.
It is particularly manifest in the army of modern, professional young women, their ranks receding into the background. Though slim and attractive, there is nothing coy or frivolous about these women. They are allowed, at best, an ambiguous half-smile, and the focus is on their eyes, which do not engage the viewer, but look out of the picture and around the viewer, to the imminent future.
The woman in blue is a parachutist, literally accessing the heavens under the new order. Stalin points upward and out of the picture frame, to the heaven-on-earth of the communist utopia.
This poster visually references the colour, tonal qualities and stylised imagery of the Russian Orthodox icon, a visual language with which the Soviet population were familiar, and encourages a subconscious spiritual response to the poster.
I.V. Stalin. Comrade. Stalin (Dzhugashvili) Iosif Vissarionovich …, 1930
This early poster of Stalin, with hair parted on the side and wrinkles under his eyes and on his brow, was published in an edition of 25,000 by Litografia CKKPO in Krasnodar, Russia, in 1930, just one year after Stalin consolidated his personal power as leader in the battle for succession after Lenin’s death, and a year after Leon Trotskii’s exile. It is an interesting first tentative attempt to begin constructing a warrior identity for Stalin.
The text of the poster provides an extensive biography purporting to summarise each year of Stalin’s adult life, making mention of his revolutionary underground activities, several arrests, exiles and escapes.
However, at this early stage in Stalin’s career, his military exploits are not elaborated in great detail. The civil war years merely contain references to Stalin’s roles as People’s Commissar for Nationalities, and People’s Commissar for the Worker-Peasant Inspectorate, as well as his appointment as General Secretary of the Party in 1922.
Stalin appears hatless and in a vaguely military-style shirt without embellishment, although he prominently displays two military decorations, both Orders of the Red Banner, which were awarded for extraordinary heroism and courage in battle.
Behind Stalin, sketched in a faint pale green, is evidence of booming industrialisation, as a result of the implementation of the First Five-Year Plan, which was midway through in 1930.
The poster serves as an introduction to Stalin as leader, as a resumé of his revolutionary and civil war credentials and of his personal qualities of courage and Bolshevik conviction, and as a means of associating him with the goals of the Five-Year Plan.
Viktor Koretskii, On the joyous day of liberation from under the yoke of the German invaders the first words of boundless gratitude and love of the Soviet people are addressed to our friend and father Comrade Stalin – the organiser of our struggle for the liberation and independence of our homeland, 1943
Viktor Koretskii (Корецкий, Bиктор), On the joyous day of liberation from under the yoke of the German invaders the first words of boundless gratitude and love of the Soviet people are addressed to our friend and father Comrade Stalin – the organiser of our struggle for the liberation and independence of our homeland (В радостный день освобождения из под ига немецких захватчиков первые слова безграничной благодарности и люби советских людей обращены к нашему другу и отцу товарищу СТАЛИНУ – организатору нашей борбы за свободу и независимость нашей родины), 1943
In the early years of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War), Stalin’s appearances in both the media and posters declined, possibly in order to avoid associating the leader with the disastrous decisions and their consequences of the beginning of the war. The Germans clearly had the upper hand and, at one stage, came within a few kilometres of capturing Moscow.
By 1943, with the tide of the war turning in the Soviet Union’s favour, Stalin began to appear in propaganda more frequently and was sometimes depicted as ‘standing in’ for absent fathers.
In Viktor Koretskii’s ‘On the joyous day of liberation …’ of 1943, a portrait of Stalin is hung on the wall like an Orthodox icon and has talismanic properties; however, the child is also treating the portrait as if it were a portrait of his own father.
The peasant man in the poster appears too old to be the husband of the young woman, or father of the child, and it can be safely assumed that, with the war still raging outside the window, the child’s father is away defending the nation.
The family gather instead around a portrait of Stalin who, in this early version of the poster, is not wearing insignia of military rank and looks humble and approachable. This reading of the poster is supported by the lengthy poster caption in which Stalin is referred to as ‘our friend and father’, rather than a great warrior or military strategist.
In 1943, the USSR was gaining back some of the earlier lost ground, and claiming some victories against the German invaders. The poster lays responsibility for these victories wholly at Stalin’s feet.
Stalin’s portrait is hung in a ‘Lenin corner’ or ‘Stalin room’ as they were now sometimes called, with great reverence by a young, blond child who appears to be instructing his peasant family in the virtues of Stalin’s beneficence.
The little Russian boy represents the future of the motherland. Stalin is the glorious father who is to be venerated above all others. As art historian Erika Wolf observes: ‘The family resembles the Holy Family, with a mother and child accompanied by an older and impotent man, akin to Saint Joseph.Stalin thus stands in as the absent father of the family, as well as the “father comrade” of the Soviet people.’*
Stalin’s portrait is soft and paternal and the icon’s talismanic powers are juxtaposed with Soviet military success. The frame of the portrait balances the window frame through which a large red flag and some departing soldiers can be seen. The Red Army soldiers have restored peace and the village is intact and safe.
Koretskii’s poster celebrates the liberation of an occupied village and inspires the population with hope for victory in the war. The extensive text makes it clear who is responsible for the victory, and to whom a boundless and unpayable debt of gratitude is owed:
‘On the joyous day of liberation from under the yoke of the German invaders the first words of boundless gratitude and love of the Soviet people are addressed to our friend and father Comrade Stalin — the organiser of our struggle for the liberation and independence of our homeland.’
Stalin does not yet appear in full military uniform and, despite being appointed marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943 and accepting the award of the Order of Suvorov, First Class,** in November 1943, he may still have been cautious about claiming military and strategic brilliance until ultimate victory in the war was assured.
* Erika Wolf, Koretsky: the Soviet photo poster: 1930–1984, New York, The New Press, 2012.
Gustav Klutsis, The reality of our program is living people, you and I, 1931
The reality of our program is living people, you and I (Gustav Klutsis, 1931) is an early and somewhat unusual poster in that Stalin appears to be the same size as the marching coal miners he strides alongside.Stalin frequently appeared in posters in gigantic proportions – in traditional Russian art, the relative size of a figure was commensurate with that figure’s importance or status relative to others.
According to Victoria Bonnell,* one of Klutsis’s sketches for this poster depicted Stalin as much larger than the coal miners. By ultimately choosing to depict Stalin as the same size as other people in the poster, the message is given at this time that Stalin is a leader who can still regarded as one of the people, walking alongside them in their struggles, standing in their shoes.
Although Stalin is the same size as the workers, his image is distinguished by being sharper and clearer than those of the workers, and although he wears a worker’s cap and boots, his dress is still distinct from that of the miners, with their helmets and lamps. Thus Stalin at this time is regarded as ‘first among equals’.
The caption of the poster is taken from Stalin’s speech delivered at a conference of business executives on June 23, 1931 in which he announced the recent changes in the conditions of industrialisation in the USSR.
In the speech, Stalin outlined the six new conditions of development of Soviet industry, which are given in summary form on the poster:
There are certain near-Party philistines who assert that our production program is unrealistic, that it cannot be fulfilled. They are somewhat like Shchedrin’s “sapient gudgeons” who are always ready to spread “a vacuum of ineptitude” around themselves. Is our production program realistic or not? Most certainly, it is.
Mizin, ‘”The Leninist Komsomol was and still is the young reserve of our revolution.” Stalin.’, 1934
Mizin’s 1934 poster celebrates the Komsomol, the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (or VLKSM) for youth aged 14 to 28 years. Originally formed in 1918 as the Russian Young Communist League, or RKSM, the Komsomol was one of a series of youth organisations that provided activities and education for children, and groomed them to become valuable Party members.
Children under nine years old could join the Little Octobrists, then progress onto the Pioneers (Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organisation) for children aged 10 to 14. Pioneers wore red scarves and undertook activities similar to the scouts. After Pioneers came the Komsomol.
Mizin’s poster shows Stalin down among the youth, one of the ‘everyday’ people, although his white tunic and cap mark him out for special attention. The youth represent a cross-section of Soviet young people – armed forces personnel, aviators and agricultural workers.
Agricultural workers were often represented as women in red scarves, the knot tied behind their head. The red scarf designated a collective farm worker, someone who had willingly embraced Stalin’s policy of collectivisation and laboured for the state. The knot behind the head, rather than under the chin as with traditional peasant women, showed the new breed of peasant woman – strong, dedicated and determined.
Behind Stalin’s right shoulder, a female aviator follows him. Many women embraced the opportunity to forge a career in aviation and some of the first female heroes of the Soviet Union were aviators.
An attempt to capture the ethnic diversity of the USSR is made, with Stalin surrounded by youth of various nationalities, all striding together in the same direction.
Stalin and the youth are protected by the ubiquitous red banners, Lenin’s glowing profile offering protection and blessing over the youth who strive in his name. These youth are particularly notable, some of them wearing state awards.
Behind the youth and banners, a crowd throngs in, stretching back for miles to a horizon punctuated by electricity towers, evidence of the huge strides made in electrification of the country. Electrification of Russia was a project particularly associated with Lenin. Stalin took Lenin’s work further by undertaking electrification of the entire Soviet Union.
The text of the poster is taken from Stalin’s speech on the tenth anniversary of the Komsomol, October 28, 1928:
‘The Leninist Komsomol was and still is the young reserve of our revolution’.
Although the Komsomol is primarily associated with Lenin, it is Stalin, the man of the present, who takes the role of interpreter of Lenin’s doctrine.
Naum Karpovskii, ‘Labour with martial persistence so your kolkhoz becomes part of the vanguard. The reward for honest work is wealth, fame and honour!’, 1948
By 1948, the Second World War had been over for three years. Soviet victory gave Stalin political legitimacy, and he was almost always portrayed in the military uniform of the Marshal of the Soviet Union from this point onward.
Stalin had in fact been awarded the military rank of Generalissimus in 1945, but claimed that the rank did not exist in the Soviet military, and expressed discomfort at being addressed in this way. Although a new uniform was designed for the rank, Stalin continued to appear in posters in the Marshal’s uniform.
In Karpovskii’s 1948 poster, Stalin’s warrior archetype is transplanted to an agricultural setting. A military Stalin is surrounded by outstanding agricultural workers whom he has just rewarded with Gold Star Hammer and Sickle Hero of Socialist Labour medals and the Order of Lenin for their outstanding labour feats.
The workers are both male and female, of varying ages, and represent a variety of ethnicities from throughout the territories of the USSR. In contrast to earlier posters featuring agricultural workers, these workers wear suits, and there are no bales of cotton or sheafs of wheat to be seen.
This is in keeping with the post-war emphasis on using science and technology to increase productivity, rather than simply pushing people to work harder at manual labour.
Unlike many other posters of this era, Stalin stands on the same level with the workers, only just the tallest person in the room by a hair’s breadth. The atmosphere is relaxed and genial with smiles all round. Stalin’s modesty is most apparent in that he is even less decorated than the others in the room, wearing only his Hero of Socialist Labour medal.
Stalin asks the kolkhoz (collective farms) workers to treat their work as if it were a battle, and promises them ample reward for their efforts. From the earliest days of the Bolshevik Party, battle metaphors were extended to all areas of life, with frequent reference to struggles, fronts and weapons in a non-military context.
In this context, the war was just one of many battles facing the fledgling Soviet state, and a strong, militant leader is needed to keep ensuring victory.
Vladislav Pravdin, Long Live the Bolshevik Party, the Lenin-Stalin Party, the Vanguard of the Soviet People Forged in Battle, the Inspiration and Organizer of Our Victories!, 1950
Vladislav Pravdin (Правдин), Long Live the Bolshevik Party, the Lenin-Stalin Party, the Vanguard of the Soviet People Forged in Battle, the Inspiration and Organizer of Our Victories! (За здравствует партия большевиков, партия ленина-сталина, закаленный в боях авангард советского, вдохновитель и организатор наших побед!), 1950
Many Stalinist propaganda posters depict huge red banners that fill the sky and hover protectively over the crowds below them. The text on the posters specifically invokes the banner as a protective and inspirational object, whether protecting the troops going into battle, inspiring citizens to further sacrifice in the name of the victory of communism, or even protecting and legitimating the leadership.
A 1950 poster by Vladislav Pravdin features two red banners that dominate the sky. The largest of the two, which occupies almost all of the top half of the poster, is intensely red and decorated with gold braid — it ripples as if in a gentle breeze.
It is emblazoned with the head and shoulders of Lenin in fleshy tones, associating Lenin with eternal life, as in the icon, and also acknowledging his sacrifice for the sake of the people – Lenin survived an assassination attempt in 1918 and, despite dying of natural causes, was still viewed as a martyr to the cause by many.
Lenin looks out to the viewer’s left, his eyes focused on a distant vision of the past. Beneath him, the figure of Stalin dominates the foreground, his head jutting up into the red field created by the banner, with Lenin hovering over his right shoulder like a protective ‘good angel’.
Stalin’s gaze mimics that of Lenin and he partakes of the implication of eternal life already bestowed upon Lenin.
Behind Stalin, and also underneath Lenin’s banner, are the figures of the Soviet leadership although it is interesting to note that this was not the membership of the Politburo at the time.
The other leaders are differentiated from Stalin by appearing smaller and their gazes turn in a number of directions, with Andrei Andreev and Anastas Mikoian looking directly at the viewer.
Behind the first banner is a second large banner that hovers over the anonymous faces of ‘the masses’, carrying text which reads: ‘Under the banner of Lenin, under the leadership of Stalin — forward to the victory of communism!’, making literal the well-worn slogan.
We can read Pravdin’s poster as an icon, replacing Russian Orthodox iconography with Soviet iconography. The apotheosised Lenin floats in the upper part of the poster, contained within an implicit aureole.
His red banner spreads over the Party leaders, guiding and protecting them as they lead the people forward to victory.
Stalin, the largest figure in the poster and, therefore, the most important, is the chief saint, while the other leaders flanking him fill the ranks of the minor saints.
The common people follow behind Stalin and are also guided and protected by a Lenin banner.
Like the icon, the poster is a primarily visual medium which relies on the impact of the image to deliver its message. By visually referencing the characteristics of the Russian Orthodox icon, the posters encouraged the viewer to respond in a spiritual manner to the form and content of the poster, and to draw parallels, both conscious and unconscious, between the central figure in the posters and the key spiritual figures of the Orthodox faith.
This was facilitated by Russian traditions of leadership in which the tsar held both secular and spiritual powers and was viewed as the sacred protector of the people.
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