Iraklii Toidze, Stalin will lead us to victory!, 1943
The city of Stalingrad, which had been renamed in Stalin’s honour after the Civil War, held a particular symbolic value in the Soviet regime.
During the Great Patriotic War, Stalin was determined that he could not let the city named for him fall to the Germans, and in 1942 Stalingrad became the scene of a fierce and bloody battle.
On 6 November the defenders of Stalingrad took an oath to Stalin:
Before our battle standards and the whole Soviet country, we swear that we will not besmirch the glory of Russian arms and will fight to the last. Under your leadership, our fathers won the Battle of Tsaritsyn, and under your leadership we will now win the great Battle of Stalingrad.
Iraklii Toidze’s ‘Stalin will lead us to victory!’ was released on 6 January 1943, a few weeks before the Soviet victory in Stalingrad, but already shows an increasing confidence that the tide of the war was turning in favour of the Soviets.
A giant Stalin strides across the battlefield at the head of his troops, equipped with the most modern weaponry, and supported by heavy armoury and the technological excellence of Soviet aviation.
Stalin’s face is determined, befitting his appellation as the ‘man of steel’. The steel-grey tones of the poster are broken up by the vivid red of the banner, which is picked up by the small red star on Stalin’s general’s cap.
The use of red diagonals gives the poster a sense of inexorable movement forward. Stalin looks unstoppable, his aura of power increased by the vaguely phallic-shaped cloud of smoke on his right shoulder — even the forces of nature are harnessed by the magnetic power of Stalin.
On 2 February 1943, the Germans troops at Stalingrad surrendered. Although the war had not been won, there was finally some good news to spread to the populace.
Georgii Zarnitskii, Workers stand to defend our beloved socialist motherland!, year unknown
Stalin rarely appeared in images with any kind of enemy, although there are a few exceptions, including in a 1938 poster by Deni and Dolgorukov, and a 1941 poster by an unidentified artist.
A tiny medallion of Stalin and Lenin also appears in this curious undated war poster by Georgii Zarnitskii. During both the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War, the enemy was depicted as either brutal and animalistic, or cowardly and cartoon-like. In this poster, the enemy appears as cowardly.
Three-quarters of the picture plane consists of a fairly characteristic depiction of a young fighter (not in standard military uniform – he is a worker) holding a rifle and a long banner with a frieze of Lenin and Stalin and the words ‘For the motherland! For Stalin!’ emblazoned across it.
This phrase was more than a mere tool for propaganda. Soldiers rushed into battle with this cry on their lips. As Ilya Ehrenburg recalls in his memoirs:
I was with an Andalusian detachment whose men fought to the death; they called it the ‘Stalin Battalion’. During the war years I had often heard the cry ‘For the Fatherland, for Stalin!’ The letters of many Italian and French heroes of the Resistance written on the eve of their execution ended with the words ‘Long Live Stalin!’ On his seventieth birthday A Frenchwoman sent Stalin the cap worn by her daughter who had been tortured to death by the Gestapo.*
In Zarnitskii’s poster, the backdrop is also full of fairly conventional imagery – the silhouettes of other fighters, rifles ready, bayonets thrust forward, and signs of successful Soviet industrialisation and agriculture in the background, the silos looking particularly phallic.
However the right edge of the poster, a section demarcated by the pole of the banner, is stark black with a depiction of small frightened enemies, two cowering, and the hind leg of one visible fleeing, in white outline.
Above the frightened enemy is a dogfight between aircraft, with smoke and falling debris. The caption to the poster is in large, bold type and reads: ‘Workers stand to defend our beloved Socialist Motherland!’
Thus, while the style of the major portion of the poster is conventional and heroic, the part of the poster devoted to the enemy is cartoon-like and slightly comical. The enemy looks anything but menacing.
* Ilya Ehrenburg. Men, Years – Life, Transl. by Tatiana Shebunina and Yvonne Kapp, London, MacGibbon and Kee, Vol. 5. P. 304.
Vasilli Elkin, Long live Comrade Stalin – banner of invincible Soviet aviation!, 1939
Vasilii Elkin’s aviation-themed poster celebrates Stalin far more conspicuously than it does aviation.
The centre of the poster is dominated by a large red banner with a three-quarter view of Stalin’s head, sketched in black-and-white. Stalin is positioned so that he looks down over the celebrated pilots and two of the three globes on the poster, as well as some of the aircraft and the red silhouette of the Kremlin.
The large red banner hovers protectively over all. The sky is full of aircraft, all heading up to the left of the poster, as does the string which anchors the banner, which also has the appearance of a line marking a flight route and a line on a graph.
The three semi-transparent globes in the top of the poster show the routes of epic Soviet flights, while the text in the top right-hand corner gives the precise factual data regarding these flights including the dates of the flights, route taken, class of aircraft, and the names of the crew. Each globe is also encircled by text giving details of the flight it depicts.
The text makes it clear that it is Stalin who deserves credit for these achievements, not the aviators themselves. The use of maps, graphs, photographs and a barrage of facts lends a documentary verisimilitude to the poster material.
Unidentified artist, Defence of the USSR, 1938
Beginning in 1938, several posters were published that highlight Stalin’s achievements in the Civil War.
In poster no. 13 from this series, titled ‘Defence of the USSR’, Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov are depicted together as equals in an informal, comradely scene.
Voroshilov was the centre of his own personality cult and was honoured with ‘Voroshilov rations for the army’, and the ‘Voroshilov Marksman’s Prize’, as well as featuring on trading cards with other Soviet leaders.
Voroshilov’s birthday was celebrated in elaborate fashion, with Stalin giving a famous speech, and he was the subject of a historical book published by English author Dennis Wheately in October 1937 — Red eagle: the story of the Russian Revolution and of Klementy Efremovitch Voroshilov, marshal and commissar for defence of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.
In poster no. 13, Stalin wears his unadorned, military-style tunic as head of the Party and the nation, while Voroshilov in full uniform is clearly a military leader. They are depicted as standing for peace, and as defenders of the world against fascism.
The poster text consists of Stalin’s words on the need for preparedness and defence, which follow two quotes from Lenin on the same theme.
Famous cartoonist Boris Efimov’s sketch at the bottom left of the poster depicts the huge fist of the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs/Secret Police) crushing a monstrous but small enemy while Lev Trotskii and Adolf Hitler cower together in the corner.
Trostkii has now been transformed from the creator and champion of the Red Army into its enemy, in league with Germany.
Scenes of military parades on Red Square, and a sky full of aircraft illustrate Soviet might and preparedness as Europe moves closer to the brink of war.
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