Viktor Deni, With the banner of Lenin…, 1931
Viktor Deni’s distinctive drawing style is already well established in this 1931 poster in which the apotheosised Lenin is called on to legitimate Stalin’s rule.
Deni was one of the major agitprop artists from the beginning of the Soviet Union in 1917, right through to the end of the Great Patriotic War and his death in 1946.
While in this poster Stalin’s image dominates the picture plane, Stalin and the scenes of construction behind him are watched over by the banner of Lenin, which is the subject of the poster’s text. In these early years of Stalin’s leadership, Lenin was continually referenced as the Party’s charismatic founder, as an ideological authority, and as a legitimator of his successor to the Party leadership.
Lenin, in characteristic collar and tie (a white-collar intellectual) looks slightly to the left, signifying his association with the Party’s past.
The poster caption invokes the protective and inspirational function of the Lenin banner, as well as stressing the military metaphor of the ongoing battles in the quest to achieve socialism:
With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in the battle for the October revolution.
This text quotes Stalin from the Political Report of the Central Committee of the XVIth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union CPSU (b) on June 27, 1930 in which he discusses the world economic crisis and capitalism in decline, contrasting it with socialist success and growth.
Stalin appears in the poster as steely and determined, his head turned to the right – the direction of the future. Stalin is depicted with his hand in his jacket, in what the English-speaking world refers to as the ‘Napoleonic pose’.
Stalin sometimes adopted this pose in media photographs, which suggests that perhaps this was habitual or comfortable for him. While portrait painters and poster artists may have been copying nature when presenting Stalin in this manner, the prevalence of this gesture in images of him in the media suggests that it conveyed a specific meaning.
Unlike in the English-speaking world, the gesture is not interpreted as ‘Napoleonic’ in Russia, and it makes little intuitive sense for Stalin to copy a gesture associated with Napoleon.
In fact, as Arline Meyer* notes, the ‘hand-in-waistcoat’ pose is encountered with relentless frequency in 18th-century English portraiture, possibly both because it was a habitual stance of men of breeding and because of the influence of classical statuary (Stalin frequently adopts this pose in statues).
Meyer traces classical references to the ‘hand withdrawn’ back to the actor, orator, and founder of a school of rhetoric, Aeschines of Macedon (390–331 BC), who claimed that speaking with the arm outside the cloak was considered ill-mannered.
The gesture is discussed as a classical rhetorical gesture by John Bulwer** in 1644 and by François Nivelon*** in 1737. Nivelon states that the ‘hand-in-waistcoat’ pose signifies ‘boldness tempered with modesty’, and Bulwer notes that ‘the hand restrained and kept in is an argument of modesty, and frugal pronunciation, a still and quiet action suitable to a mild and remiss declamation’.
Stalin took pride in his mild, anti-oratorical mode of speech. A reading of this gesture that suggests ‘boldness tempered with modesty’ is in keeping with the persona created for Stalin in Soviet propaganda.
*Arline Meyer, ‘Re-dressing classical statuary: the eighteenth-century “hand-in-waistcoat” portrait’, The Art Bulletin, 77, 1995, pp. 45–64.
**See John Bulwer’s double essay ‘Chirologia, the natural language of the hand’, and ‘Chironomia, the art of manual rhetoric’, in Chirologia: or the naturall language of the hand. Composed of the speaking motions, and discoursing gestures thereof. Whereunto is added Chironomia: or, the art of manuall rhetoricke. Consisting of the naturall expressions, digested by art in the hand, as the chiefest instrument of eloquence, London, Thomas Harper, 1644.
***François Nivelon, The rudiments of genteel behaviour, 1737.
Boris Belopol’skii, Glory to Stalin, the great architect of communism!, 1951
A 1951 poster by Boris Belopol’skii carries the caption ‘Glory to Stalin, the great architect of communism!’ and was issued in a massive edition of half a million copies, which suggests that it was viewed as an important piece of propaganda. The notion of Stalin as the architect of Soviet communism dates to the time of the burgeoning of the Stalin cult in 1934.
On 1 January 1934, in Pravda, Karl Radek published a laudatory article on Stalin titled ‘The architect of socialist society’, which was then reissued as a pamphlet in an edition of 225,000.*
Written after Radek’s expulsion from the Party for ‘oppositionist activities’ in 1927, and readmission to Party ranks after capitulating to Stalin in 1930, the booklet has the intriguing subtitle: ‘the ninth in a course of lectures on “The history of the victory of socialism”, delivered in 1967 at the School of Inter-Planetary Communications on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution’, and its content is so excessively eulogistic that it is difficult to determine just how one should read it.
After signing a document capitulating to Stalin in 1929, Radek was readmitted to the Party in 1930 and went on to lead Cominform and deliver a keynote address at the Writers Congress of 1934. He was arrested in the purges of 1937 and subsequently died in the gulag during a sentence of ten years’ hard labour.
In his article, Radek argues that Stalin, rather than Lenin, was the architect of socialism. He acknowledges that Stalin stood on the shoulders of Lenin, but claims that in executing Lenin’s will, Stalin had to take many daring independent decisions and to develop Lenin’s teachings in the same manner that Lenin had further developed those of Marx.
When Radek wrote in 1934, the Congress of Victors had just declared the full achievement of socialism and the new task of progressing to the higher stage, communism, had commenced. By the time this poster celebrating Stalin as the architect of communism appeared, Stalin was an old man, already over 70, and the quest to introduce a communist society had been taking place for 17 years, complicated by the need for defence in the Great Patriotic War.
The poster, in pale blues and muted browns typical of the pastel shades of the ‘era of abundance’, is dominated by Stalin, depicted with attributes of leadership (his marshal’s uniform) and standard props (unlit pipe in the right hand and scroll in the left). At the literal level, the scroll is suggestive of an architect’s blueprints, but at a symbolic level it also references the scroll or logos held by Christ.
Behind Stalin, bathed in a white glow that appears to emanate from him, is the new hydroelectric work being undertaken across the Soviet territories. The inscription on the dam wall is carved in stone and reads ‘“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” Lenin’, an iconic Lenin slogan, to which Radek also draws attention in his pamphlet. In the far distance is a small statue of Lenin, the man upon whose foundation Stalin was building.
There are two groups of figures in the poster, both existing only in order to react (and illustrate for the viewer the correct attitude to take) to Stalin. The group of men on the left, who appear to be professional workers associated with bringing the communist dream to fruition, stare up at Stalin with awe and respect.
In the bottom-right corner, passers-by on a barge hail Stalin with visible enthusiasm. Stalin pays them no attention and gazes out to the viewer’s right at a future that only he can see. By focusing on Stalin, the other figures demonstrate that it is Stalin who embodies the communist future. Like a priest or shaman, Stalin acts as a sort of intermediary between the vision and the people.
*Karl Radek, The architect of socialist society, Moscow, Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1934
B.V. Vorontsov, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin – Companion and a great follower of Lenin…, 1951
B.V. Vorontsov’s ‘Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin’ was published in 1951, just two years after Stalin’s 70th birthday and two years before Stalin’s death, and pulls all of the elements of the Stalin personality cult together into one fascinating hagiographic poster.
The poster does not have complete publication details, so it is not known where it was published or who commissioned it. It would be an unusual poster for its time if it were published in Moscow or Leningrad as, by 1951, such laudatory personality cult posters of Stalin were not generally being published in the two major Russian centres, although they were being published in the other republics and in the territories newly incorporated into the USSR after the war. However, the text of the poster is only in Russian, which may suggest that it does not come from one of the republics.
The poster is composed in a hagiographic style resembling somewhat the lives of the saints in Orthodox icons. The central panel features an oval black-and-white portrait of Stalin at the top of a large panel that consists mainly of text.
The background colour of the central panel is yellow-gold, similar to the background colour of icons, and the box is outlined in a shimmering gold. The text is in the holy colour red.
A greying but unblemished and dignified Stalin gazes serenely into the distance, wearing the epaulettes of the Marshal of the Soviet Union and the single Hero of Socialist Labour medal. The positioning of Stalin, and the oval shape that semi-encloses his image, is reminiscent of the position of God in the heavens in icons.
The text of this central panel is extensive and translates as follows:
Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
This short passage outlines most of the major symbolic values that Stalin’s image represented in Soviet propaganda. He is not only the disciple of Lenin, but an equal – a companion; he is a leader and teacher; a genius; a creator; an inspirer; and responsible for organising all of the victories of the Soviet people and the socialist system.
In fact, the text paraphrases a lengthy tribute to Stalin released by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) in Moscow in 1949 on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday.
The larger landscape photograph underneath the golden box is a photograph of Stalin’s birthday celebrations. Among those attending are Mao Zedong and many prominent members of the Politburo, including Lazar Kaganovich, Nikolai Bulganin, Aleksandr Vasilevskii, Nikita Krushchev, Mikhail Suslov, Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoian and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Nikolai Shvernik, speaking.
The portrait of Stalin in the background is huge, approximately two-and-a-half men high, and is framed with an elaborate border and surrounded by a sea of flowers, which are celebratory, tributary, and symbols of Soviet abundance.
On either side of the central panel are small text boxes and significant scenes from Stalin’s life, with the poster serving as a pictorial illustration of the Propaganda department’s text.
The text in gold on the top left translates as: “Comrade Stalin has raised the glorious banner of Lenin, courageously led our party on the Leninist path …”
The scenes beneath it show Stalin:
The righthand side of the poster illustrates the text, “Stalin’s name is the most precious for our people, for ordinary people around the world. Stalin’s name is a symbol of the future victory of communism.”
Scenes beneath this caption are taken from Stalin’s life after the death of Lenin:
The text of the tribute by the Propaganda and Agitation Department on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday stresses Stalin’s lineage from the great Communist leaders, Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also his huge independent contribution to the achievement of communism, which allows him to be placed alongside these legendary figures as an equal.
It refers to Stalin as the ‘Lenin of today’, and concludes by expounding on the symbolic value of the name Stalin, then wishing him a long life before closing with the slogan ‘Under the wise leadership of Comrade Stalin – forward to communism!’
Each of the scenes from the life of the saint is enclosed in a wreath of leaves outlined in gold – symbolising Stalin’s role as the organiser and inspirer of the many victories of the Soviet people and the system.
Petr Golub’, Great Stalin is the best friend of the Latvian people!, 1950
Petr Golub’s poster of 1950 is an audacious piece of postwar propaganda which, although seemingly targeted at the Latvian people, was probably actually produced to make the Russian population feel good about their relationship with Latvia. The poster was published in Moscow and Leningrad in the Russian language and was thus most likely intended for a Russian audience.
The Republic of Latvia came under the Soviet sphere of influence/was liberated/was militarily occupied by the USSR under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Latvia had declared its independence in 1918 and, after a prolonged war of independence, made peace with Soviet Russia in 1920:
Russia recognises without objection the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and forever renounces all sovereign rights held by Russia in relation to the Latvian nation and land on the basis of the previous State legal regime as well as any international agreements, all of which lose their force and effect for all future time as herein provided.
On Jun 16, 1940, Soviet troops entered Latvia and Estonia. Elections were organised for July 14-15 with a pre-approved list of candidates from the Latvian Working People's Bloc and the results allegedly published in Moscow 12 hours before the polls closed in Latvia. One week later, the newly installed government petitioned to join the Soviet Union.
Latvia's sovereignty was only fully restored in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. On August 22, 1996, the Latvian parliament adopted a declaration stating that the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 was a military occupation and thus an illegal incorporation.
In fact, even prior to the Second World War in the 1930s, the Soviet leadership had targeted the Latvian community in the purges, and it is very likely that it was renowned poster artist Gustav Klutsis' Latvian ethnicity that led to his arrest and execution in 1938.
Klutsis, who created numerous acclaimed and memorable posters in service of the regime, had also been a member of the Latvian rifle guard that formed Lenin’s personal bodyguard during the days of the October Revolution of 1917.
Klutsis was arrested and executed in 1938 due to his ‘alleged participation, beginning in 1936, in the Latvian fascist-nationalist organization, operating at the time in Moscow’. Prometheus, a Latvian cultural organisation, was established in Moscow in 1923 and shut down by government decree in 1937.*
Petr Golub', a noted poster artist and illustrator, died just three years after this poster was released, one week before his 40th birthday. Rumours that he was executed for having depicted Stalin with a deformed hand with only four fingers may be apocryphal.**
In Golub's 1950 poster, just five years after the end of the Second World War when the Soviet Union was presenting itself as the world leader of the peace movement, Stalin's figure, in his white marshal’s uniform, fills the picture plane. This serves as a pointed reminder of Soviet victory in the war and of Stalin's leading role in bringing about this victory.
Stalin's right arm points the way to a future of victorious communism and a young man and woman gaze, as in a trance, in the direction he indicates. The position of Stalin's hand, held in a gesture of firing at someone, is one of many gestures made by Stalin in posters to indicate movement towards the future.
The young man beneath Stalin wears a suit and tie and the young woman wears the blouse of a national costume. She holds a bunch of carnations that are not offered to Stalin, and probably signify postwar abundance, the payoff for all of the past sacrifices made in the name of socialism.
The caption of the poster, which must have been particularly galling to the Latvian people, states ‘Great Stalin is the best friend of the Latvian people!’
*Margarita Tupitsyn, Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina, p. 1
** See http://www.memiauctions.com/MMA_Sep2011.pdf, p. 69
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