I. Yang, Voters of Stalin’s constituency vote in Moscow on June 26, 1938 in the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR for the great leader of the people, dear and beloved Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, 1938
I. Yang (янг, и.), Voters of Stalin’s constituency vote in Moscow on June 26, 1938 in the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR for the great leader of the people, dear and beloved Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (избиратели сталинского избирательного округа в москвы голосуйте 26 июня 1938 г. на выборах в верховный совет рсфср), 1938
Despite the Bolshevik Party having a firm and unshakeable grip on power in the USSR from the late 1920s until the fall of the Soviet Union in December, 1991, elections were held in the Soviet Union under Stalin, throughout the period of his leadership.
When the Constitution of the USSR was adopted on 5 December, 1936, socialism was officially ratified as having been successfully accomplished, and the beginning of the next phase, the transition to communism, commenced.
It was mandated in the new Constitution that elections be held for all government bodies, from local councils to the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union. Elections to the Supreme Soviet were held on 12 December, 1937 and these were the first elections to be held under the new constitution.
Although these were declared multi-candidate elections, meaning that, under Article 124 of the Constitution, bodies like the Orthodox Church could field candidates, this decision was reversed, largely due to paranoia surrounding the Great Purge of 1937. Mass arrests were carried out by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) shortly before the elections.
The Communist Party was subject to re-election, and in his pre-election speech as a candidate, Stalin took the floor begrudgingly and with the humility for which he had become well-known. After some self-effacing remarks, he continued:
I have been nominated as candidate, and the Election Commission of the Stalin District of the Soviet capital has registered my candidature. This, comrades, is an expression of great confidence. Permit me to convey to you my profound Bolshevik gratitude for this confidence that you have shown the Bolshevik Party of which I am a member, and me personally as a representative of that Party.
The majority of seats in both chambers of the Supreme Soviet were won by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) (CPSU), of which Stalin was General Secretary.
In 1938, the legislative elections for the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic were held, with Stalin leading the party and up for re-election in his constituency. This 1938 electoral poster by I. Yang is similar to electoral posters throughout the world, featuring a portrait of the leader of the party, surrounded by a slogan urging voters to endorse the party candidate, and symbolic emblems of the party.
Stalin, with narrowed eyes indicative of shrewdness, looks out to the viewer’s right, the direction associated with the future. The plain collar of his military-style worker’s tunic can be seen, and he appears as both clever and humble, intelligent enough to lead the nation, but still one of the ordinary people at heart.
Stalin’s portrait is framed in gold and he is surrounded by red flags, a red star, and hammer-and-sickle emblems. Red and gold are colours that are both traditionally associated with the Bolsheviks, and also have a long tradition as sacred colours in Russian Orthodox icons.
The text of the poster informs the populace of the date of the election and requests that they vote for ‘dear and beloved Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin’. Unsurprisingly, the CPSU won 568 seats in the 1938 election, with 159 seats falling to independent candidates.
Alexander Abramovich Mytnikov, 26 years without Lenin, but still on Lenin’s path, 1950
This intriguing poster by Alexander Mytnikov, published at Rostov-on-Don in 1950, employs the generic slogan ‘Under the banner of Lenin, under the leadership of Stalin — forward to the victory of communism!’ at its base, but has an unusual caption at the top of the poster — ‘26 years without Lenin, but still on Lenin’s path’.
An almost white-haired Stalin stands with his face in semi-shadow, his brows pinched as if in grief. According to literary scholar Katerina Clark,* in socialist realist literature the furrowed brow and pinched face are signs of the revolutionary’s dedication and sacrifice. Although Stalin’s skin is generally smooth and unblemished, he appears tired and aged.
Behind Stalin, a massive red banner billows in a yellow sky, resembling a wall of fire. The tiny Spassky tower of the Kremlin is in shadow, with the golden fringe of the banner also resembling flames. The words on the banner read ‘Long live the Party of Lenin–Stalin!’
Dominating the banner, on a scale similar to Stalin’s head, is that of Lenin in grayscale. Lenin also looks out of the poster, but far further to the left (the left signifies the past) than Stalin. Lenin’s hair, normally portrayed in posters as flat and sparse, curls forward around his forehead above his ears, and his usually trim goatee is thick and lush and appears to circle his chin.
This is an unusual depiction of Lenin, but bears some resemblance to depictions of St Nicholas the Wonderworker in Russian Orthodox icons. St Nicholas, whose feast day is 6 December (19 December, Old Calendar) is the ‘miracle-working’ saint and one of the most beloved figures in the iconography of the church, known for his gentleness, humility, love of all people and purity of heart.
Tales of St Nicholas’ life highlight a reputation for giving anonymous and secret gifts to aid people in need and he is reported to have divided his substantial inheritance among the poor. He is known to intercede for petitioners in response to heartfelt prayer through his icon in practical and tangible ways, particularly in matters of healing and rescue, and is also the patron saint of travellers, particularly seafarers.
Nicholas is usually depicted with a high, bald forehead, his hair curling in on either side, and with a trim circular beard and moustache. By placing Lenin on the red banner over Stalin’s right shoulder, visually referencing St Nicholas, and making textual reference to his exemplary role, Mytnikov is perhaps drawing a parallel between Lenin and Nicholas’s gentle nature, humility, and fame for redistributing the wealth of the rich among the poor.
There is also the suggestion that the apotheosised Lenin can intercede on behalf of both Stalin and the Soviet citizen. While Lenin is a saint in the Soviet pantheon, Stalin is the dedicated and self-sacrificial revolutionary who bears aloft the Lenin banner.
Katerina Clark, The Soviet novel, p. 57
Vladimir Elpidiforovich Kaidalov, Departing from us, Comrade. Lenin urged us to strengthen and extend the union republics..., 1940
A 1940 poster from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, by Vladimir Kaidalov quotes from Stalin’s funerary oath to Lenin on 26 January 1924: ‘Departing from us, Comrade Lenin urged us to strengthen and extend the union republics. We swear to you, Comrade Lenin, that we will fulfil with honour your behest’.
A giant head of Lenin sits above the Kremlin in a crimson sky. In 1940, Lenin had already been dead for 16 years, but was still the major legitimating tool for the Soviet government, and for Stalin as leader. By depicting Lenin as hovering in the sky, he appears as a protective spirit, guiding Stalin and the people on the path from socialism to full communism.
Beneath the sky, a holy shade of red like the background in an Orthodox icon, a crowd of people in Uzbek dress carry large red banners and look up at Stalin, who stands at the podium, arm raised to swear his oath.
The portion of Stalin’s oath that is quoted on the poster refers to socialist work to be undertaken in the union republics. In 1940, Tashkent was in the early stages of a total reconstruction that would see a ‘cultured city’ rise out of the demolition of a city of single-storey mudbrick houses, the opening of the Tashkent canal, and the opening of the children’s railway.
Plans to refashion Tashkent’s inhabitants into high-rise dwellers were meeting with resistance, and this poster calls upon the apotheosised Lenin to legitimate Stalin’s plan, whilst also showing Stalin to be a man of honour, having given his word to carry on Lenin’s plans in his funeral oration.
Kaidalov, who was born in Barnaul, Siberia in 1907 and only moved to Tashkent in 1932, achieved considerable fame as a painter in Uzbekistan and was awarded the honorary title of the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan.
Boris Belopol’skii , We stand for peace and we defend the cause of peace. I. Stalin, 1952
In the 1950s, Stalin was increasingly promoted in propaganda as a man of peace and the Soviet Union led peace movements throughout the world.
Two posters of 1952 by painter and graphic artist Boris Belopol’skii address the peace theme. This one features Stalin in military uniform (while in the other, he is without). A large red banner provides a backdrop to Stalin in his marshal’s uniform, standing in front of, but isolated from, a thronging crowd.
The diagonal crowd filling the space suggests the movement of a never-ending river of people, and is reminiscent of the posters of the mid-1930s, although now it is no longer just the Soviet people who are giving their thanks and support to the great man, but the people of the whole world thanking Stalin for bringing peace.
Stalin gazes into the utopian future. He holds a pencil and a piece of paper; however, the pencil is not held as one would hold it for writing, but flat between the thumb and index finger with the tip pointing out at the viewer. It looks as if the pencil is being used as a conductor’s baton, or even as a wand.
This unusual gesture suggests three things:
This is one of the few instances in posters of Stalin in which the archetype of the Magician is employed, although Stalin is often associated with magical properties, such as control over the elements and spiritual powers, in the visual symbolism of posters produced by Iraklii Toidze, and is depicted with talismanic and spiritual–inspirational properties in a number of posters.
Although many of the epithets of Stalin’s personality cult ascribe superhuman or supernatural qualities to Stalin, it is only on comparatively rarely that the visual symbolism is as explicit as it is here.
Stalin’s figure in this poster is strangely elongated, making him appear taller and slimmer than is usually the case. Elongation of human figures is a characteristic of Russian Orthodox icons, and the language of the icon informed almost every aspect of Soviet poster design.
It is possible that by making Stalin’s figure so obviously elongated, Belopol’skii is drawing a parallel with the Orthodox saints, and thus reinforcing the Saviour archetype that is also associated with Stalin in posters of this era.
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