Viktor Koretskii, Our banner is the banner of victory!, 1943
In June 1945, just weeks after the Soviet victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) on 9 May, Stalin was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union and, against his protestations, the military rank of generalissimus.
Simon Sebag Montefiore notes that Stalin’s reply to the proposal by Marshall Ivan Koniev that he be made generalissimus was: ‘Comrade Stalin doesn’t need it … Comrade Stalin has the authority without it. Some title you’ve thought up! Chiang Kai-Shek’s a Generalissimo. Franco’s a Generalissimo — fine company I find myself in!’*
Despite Stalin’s apparent modesty, Vyacheslav Molotov claims that he changed after victory in the war: ‘He became conceited, not a good feature in a statesman.’**
Victory in the war was celebrated exuberantly in posters, and Stalin was acclaimed for his role in this triumph. In some posters this was done with some subtlety.
Viktor Koretskii’s 1945 poster ‘Our banner is the banner of victory!’ celebrates the victory of the united Soviet people — the soldier, the munitions factory worker and the agricultural worker — although all appear to be ethnically Russian in this case.
Although both military and civilian personnel contributed to this victory, it is the soldier’s head that is wreathed by a victory laurel, and it is he who wields the protective banner, wearing decorations of the Order of the Great Patriotic War and the Order of Glory.
Stalin and Lenin appear as small profile portraits in bas-relief on the banner that has protected the Soviet people. They too are framed by the victory laurel.
*Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: the court of the Red Tsar. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2003, pp. 504-5.
** F. Chuev, Molotov remembers: inside Kremlin politics — conversations with Felix Chuev, Albert Resis (ed.), Chicago, Terra Publishing Center as Sto sorok besed s Molotovym, Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1993, p. 73.
Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, The enemy’s fate is predetermined: we have crushed them before and we will crush them again, 1938
Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov’s ‘The enemy’s fate is predetermined: we have crushed them before and we will crush them again’ of 1938 depicts the relaxed and friendly pair of Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov, civil and military leader respectively, chatting under a portrait of Lenin, who is in characteristic collar and tie.
The three figures form a ‘holy trinity’ that watches over and protects the Soviet Union, and the text of the poster, invoking fate and predestiny, lends a sacral aura to the notion of righteous victory.
Beneath the trinity is a map of Europe in which Russia’s enemies flee as a series of red flags springs up around Europe. These enemies include Aleksandr Kolchak who, in the Civil War formed an anti-Communist government in Siberia, Lieutenant General Anton Denikin who was a prominent White leader during the Civil War, Nikolai Yudenich, also a White leader, Cossack military leader Pavlo Skoropadskii, Cossack Lieutenant General Piotr Krasnov, Cossack Lieutenant General Aleksandr Dutov, the Poles, the Germans, the Japanese intervention and the Mensheviks.
Nina Vatolina and Nikolai Denisov, Long live Soviet Pilots - proud falcons of our Motherland!, 1938
In the late 1930s, the Soviet leadership watched with increasing alarm the machinations of Nazi Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.
It was becoming clear that war in Europe was imminent, and it was Stalin’s aim to stay out of the war for as long as possible, as the forces of the Soviet Union were unprepared for battle.
With the multitude of successes on the world stage in aviation, Soviet propaganda could focus on this arena of achievement and employ it as a deterrent to Germany to engage the USSR in war.
Produced in 1938, ‘Long live the Soviet pilots — the proud falcons of our motherland!’ by Nikolai Denisov and Nina Vatolina, emphasises this military might by showing a sky full of aircraft engaged in an airshow.
The display is watched by Stalin (in military-style tunic but as yet no uniform of rank) and Marshal of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov (in marshal’s uniform). With their golden, upturned faces, and white uniforms, the two men are the centre of light in the poster.
Stalin salutes the pilots in a gesture that is both a mark of respect and a form of benediction, wishing them long life and protection from the very real dangers of their calling.
Despite the defence of the nation being Voroshilov’s portfolio, it is Stalin’s image that predominates. It was perhaps particularly important for propaganda to play up the might of Soviet aviation with war imminent as, in reality, the Soviet Airforce was ill equipped for military battle.
Substantial effort had been focused on the ‘higher, faster, longer’ principle in aviation, which had led to the attainment of so many world records; however, these were not the sorts of aircraft needed to engage successfully in battle, as the war would come to demonstrate.
Vladislav Pravdin, To the new achievements of soviet aviation!, 1950
The 1950 poster, ‘To the new successes of Soviet aviation’ by Vladislav Grigorevich Pravdin, shows a paternal Stalin in his Marshal’s uniform, rewarding a Pioneer youth with a view of an airshow from his balcony.
Stalin and the boy are joined by two young men in military uniform, and a pilot, and the sky is full of aeroplanes and parachutes, providing a blaze of festive colour.
The youth holds a model aeroplane, a typical Soviet toy for boys, indicating his desire to grow up to be an aviator. He is supported in this aim by the protective, encouraging arm of Stalin, who indicates with his left hand that the sky is the limit for this boy’s future.
The youth is clean-cut, reverential, yet composed, determined, and not intimidated by Stalin – the sorts of qualities needed in the new Soviet man.
Just as Stalin had been portrayed in media and propaganda as a father to record-breaking pilot Valerii Chkalov, his special paternal attention to this deserving youth will ensure that he follows the correct line for success in the future.
Women are absent from the foreground of the poster, although may be assumed to be present among the indistinct spectators to the show. After the Great Patriotic War, women were encouraged to focus on motherhood and the domestic sphere, rather than become involved in dangerous exploits that might take them away from their families.
Well-known poster artist Vladislav Pravdin (Rykhlov) was a graduate of the Moscow Technical School for Polygraphy and of the Moscow Art Institute. Many of Pravdin’s posters of the 1940s were produced in collaboration with his fellow student, and later fellow member of the Military Artists Studio, Nikolai Denisov.
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