M. Solomyanii, Excellent study will please the leader!, 1952 (in Ukrainian)
After the Second World War, known as the Great Patriotic War in the USSR, the Soviet Union set about rebuilding its territories after the terrible devastation of people and property.
However, unlike the early years of Soviet construction, the emphasis moved from amazing feats of manual labour, such as those executed by the shock workers (udarniki) and Stakhanovites, to mechanisation and technical expertise. Thus, there was a drive for education, especially in engineering and the sciences, but always within the context of the science of Marxism-Leninism.
This 1952 Ukrainian poster, published by Mistetstvo in Kiev in the Ukrainian language, in an edition of 60,000, encourages youth to study hard in order to please the national leader, Comrade Stalin (who, interestingly, is not mentioned by name here).
The young girl, in pinafore and red Pioneer scarf, is totally engrossed in her lesson, writing in a large, even script. The text from which she studies features a portrait of Stalin, and is likely a volume of the great idealogue’s writings on Marxist-Leninist thought.
Neither Lenin, nor his voluminous writings, are anywhere to be seen in this poster. Stalin has surpassed the great Soviet genius to become a guiding philosopher in his own right. With victory in the war and more than two decades of leadership behind him, Stalin no longer needs to appeal to the legitimising presence of Lenin.
The Stalin textbook is propped up by a stack of books on the desk, partially obscuring a globe, and shelves of books sit behind the girl. The new Soviet citizen is well-educated across a variety of academic fields, and also aware of wider global issues, especially those pertaining to peace.
The colour scheme of the poster is in stark contrast to the bold reds and strong outlines of earlier rallying posters. Pastel shades, soft outlines and a painterly surface emphasise that this is an era of peace and abundance, and that the Soviet future is in the safe hands of serious and dedicated children like the child in the poster.
Konstantin Ivanov, Happy New Year, Beloved Stalin!, 1952
Stalin is depicted as an icon in this festive poster from 1952.
Konstantin Ivanov’s Happy New Year, Beloved Stalin! shows Stalin’s portrait being hung as an icon by a young boy at New Year. Stalin wears his Marshal’s uniform and is presented as the great saviour of the Soviet Union.
Unlike earlier posters in which Stalin interacts with children on festive occasions, by 1952 Stalin is present only as an icon portrait at which the child gazes raptly, almost hypnotically, as one prays before an icon.
In contrast to the Viktor Koretskii poster of 1943 in which a child also hangs an iconic image of Stalin on a wall, the child is alone in this poster, without siblings, peers or parents.
Perhaps the child is an orphan. Stalin stands in for the absent father, but here he is a remote presence and his relationship with the child is anything but familiar.
The small portion of the New Year tree that is visible carries red stars as decorations, but none of the other portents of a happy future that are evident in earlier posters featuring New Year trees – aeroplanes, automobiles, etc.
This tree is adorned with tinsel, traditional baubles, a candy cane, a fish and a rabbit – a reference to a time of plenitude and bounty for Soviet citizens. Stalin, the saviour, appears now to be removed from the realm in which he is expected to gift any physical or material objects, to inhabiting a realm in which he is thanked and praised in a manner akin to a god.
The poster highlights Stalin’s talismanic and protective properties.
Vartan Arakelov, Stalin is the wisest of all people…, 1939
One of the key symbols associated with Stalin across all genres of propaganda is the sun, with its related qualities of light and warmth. The sun has been 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 the leader with the sun suggests that he is the bringer of life and of bounty to the people and 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. The sun also symbolises the masculine principle and leadership.
Perhaps one of the most laboured metaphorical associations of Stalin with the light of the sun occurs in a poem by Kazakh poet Dzhambul (28.02.1846 – 22.06.1945). This panegyric forms the text of a poster by Vartan Arakelov which was released in 1939, the year of Stalin’s 60th birthday celebrations.
Stalin is celebrated as the father of children of all nations and tribes, and the source of a radiating and shimmering light, which reflects onto everyone.
Despite the fatherly connotations of the text, this poster image of Stalin emphasises his remoteness from the realm of man and endows him with the qualities of a deity.
Stalin is made of stone, an honour reserved for founding fathers and those who have accomplished exceptional feats. The statue is immutable and immortal. It stands amid lush blossoms and above a group of children, and it looks protectively out over the scene and beyond. Stalin appears as a god who guarantees abundance and safety, and invites veneration and worship.
The children, who are from various nationalities of the USSR, cannot hope to access Stalin personally as they could in earlier posters. Instead, the remote stone Stalin is accessed through his representative in the earthly realm, the poet Dzhambul, who plays the dombra, the pear-shaped lute of the Kazakh people, and sings words of praise of Stalin to the children:
Stalin is the wisest of all people
Dzhambul’s mission is sacred, as emphasised by his white tunic and rich red robe.
There is some disagreement as to whether Dzhambul Dzhabayev was a real poet or the creation of Russian writers who needed a traditional folksinger for propaganda purposes. Russian poet Andrei Aldan-Semyonov (27.10.1908 – 08.12.1985) claims to have authored Dzhambul’s poems from 1934 until he was sent to the gulag in 1938.
The children, all members of Lenin’s Young Pioneers, are passive and attentive. From this time onward, the ideal Soviet child was consistently depicted as obedient, disciplined and grateful across all media. For example, the 1937 film Cradle Song, (Колыбельная) shows Stalin surrounded by children and includes footage of the Eighteenth Party Congress where the Young Pioneers joined in songs of praise sung to Stalin.
N. Petrov, “It is our good fortune that in the trying years of the war the Red Army and the Soviet people were led forward by the wise and tested leader of the Soviet Union the great Stalin. ...” V. Molotov, 1948
N. Petrov (Петров, Н), “It is our good fortune that in the trying years of the war the Red Army and the Soviet people were led forward by the wise and tested leader of the Soviet Union the great Stalin. With the name of Generalissimo Stalin the glorious victories of our army will go down in the history of our country and in the history of the world. Under the guidance of Stalin, the great leader and organizer, we are now proceeding to peaceful, constructive labours, striving to bring the forces of Socialist society to full frui- tion and to justify the dearest hopes of our friends all over the world.” V. Molotov (“…это наше счастье, что в трудные годы войны Красную Армию и советский народ вел вперед мудрый и испытанный вождь Советского Союза – Великий Сталин. С именем Генералиссимуса Сталина войдут в историю нашей страны и во всемирную историю славные победы нашей армии. Под руководством Сталина, великого вождья и организатора, мы приступили теперь к мирному строительства , чтобы добиться настоящего расцвета сил социалистического общества и оправдать лучшие надежды наших друзей во всем мире”. В. Молотов), 1948
This 1948 poster by N. Petrov shows Stalin in uniform seated at his desk, wholly absorbed in writing in a large book. Behind him, the Spassky tower juts into a hazy sky, the red star atop the steeple blazing like a beacon, even in daylight.
On the top right is a simple framed portrait of Lenin, Stalin’s teacher and inspiration. The text of the poster quotes Vyacheslav Molotov’s speech of 7 November 1945, which credits Stalin with victory in the war. By putting the attribution of credit for victory to Stalin into the mouth of Molotov, Stalin can retain his personal modesty.
It is interesting to note that, while the poster is in full colour, featuring soft pastel hues, Stalin is in black-and-white, except for his military insignia. His hair and flesh are in grayscale, as is Lenin’s portrait in the background.
Many, although certainly not all, posters depict Stalin as a photograph, a cameo, or a sketch, often amid an otherwise colourful and ‘realistic’ background. This tactic seems to support the idea that, although Stalin acts in the real world, he is not a real man, made of flesh and blood, but an image and symbol, whose presence in the poster stands for a number of other referenced qualities and values.
Unidentified artist, 50 years, 1929
This 1929 poster of Stalin, published by the Red Cross in Stalingrad, is one of the earliest Soviet propaganda posters featuring an image of Stalin and dates to the early days of Stalin’s consolidation of power after the turmoil of the power struggle after Lenin’s death in 1924.
A large bust of Stalin is sketched in red, the symbolic colour of Bolshevism, revolution, blood sacrifice and martyrdom, and of the Russian Orthodox icon. This red is picked up throughout the poster, on the red star on the engine of the train, on the wheels and carriages of trains and tractors, and on the chimneys of industrial buildings busily belching out smoke.
Stalin emerges from scenes of rapid industrialisation, construction, and burgeoning transport networks. The words on the sides of the trains are bread (хлеб), and coal (уголь), the two main thrusts of Bolshevik ambition – feeding the people and modernising the nation.
For a nation that had been left behind by the rest of Europe, these visible signs of modernisation and industrialisation were scenes of great beauty, and proof that Stalin was the correct man to be leading the nation. The Bolsheviks saw overcoming and subduing nature as a key priority in bringing the USSR rapidly into the new world of the 20th century.
The personality cult of Stalin is often seen as beginning in earnest with Stalin’s 50th birthday celebrations on 21 December 1929. This date is interesting because neither the date nor the year correspond with Stalin’s real birthdate, which was 18 December 1878.
Stalin, for reasons of his own, chose to falsify his birthday, although all of his early records, such as those from his seminary days, clearly show the 1878 date.
By 1929 Stalin had a much firmer grip on the reins of power than in 1928. Perhaps 50th birthday celebrations and the cultic phenomena surrounding them were simply more politically expedient in 1929 than the previous year.
Such creative and expedient use of biographical data came to be a prominent feature of the Stalin era, although it should also be noted that many monarchs today have their birthdays publicly celebrated on a different date to their actual date of birth.
The bottom section of the poster is filled with a brief biographical outline of the major events in Stalin’s Bolshevik biography, from his birth, through his years in the revolutionary underground, to the revolution itself, and beyond to his assumption of the leadership. Bolshevik biographies came to serve the same function as the lives of the saints in the church – they were exemplary and didactic.
Adherence to historical fact was less important than higher moral truths and the lessons to be drawn from a life correctly lived. In the quest for legitimacy for a government that had neither inherited the throne, nor been elected democratically, it was also important to educate the public about the Bolshevik leadership – particularly the new leader, Stalin.
By emphasising Stalin’s Bolshevik credentials, the poster appeals to a sort of ideological legitimacy and is an early step towards developing a cult around the leader, who would partake of the charismatic legitimacy that had been invested in Lenin.
The poster was published by the Russian Red Cross in an era when many Soviet entities were involved in publishing their own posters, and before poster production became centralised and heavily controlled. The text on either side of the poster promotes the Red Cross: “They alone, of all of the toiling masses, stand outside their ranks” and asks the public to strengthen the military-health fund.
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