Konstantin Cheprakov, We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy..., (in Uzbek and Russian), 1941
Konstantin Cheprakov (Чепраков, К.П.), We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy.We will keep the covenant of our fathers. Lead us into battle victory, wise Stalin – Clear the enemy, father of fighters! (Разбить врага – вождью мы клятву дали. Мы сохраним завет своих отцов. Веди нас в бой победный, мудрый Сталин – Гроза врагов, родной отец бойцов!) (in Uzbek and Russian), 1941
Konstantin Cheprakov’s poster of 1941 shows Stalin looking slightly ethnically Uzbek in a characteristic wartime pose of strength and iron will.
Stalin appears in profile, right arm rigidly indicating the way forward to victory. His tunic and coat-tail swirl, but here he appears to have been depicted just as he has come to a halt.
In Stalin’s left hand, he carries a scroll. The scroll is symbolic on two levels: first, it can be read literally as a ‘plan’, i.e. Stalin has a strategy for winning the war and is in the process of executing it; second, it is visually reminiscent of the scroll (logos) carried by Christ in Russian Orthodox icons and suggests that Stalin is the saviour of the nation.
Soldiers, tanks and aircraft surge forward past him, set on reaching the indicated destination. Diagonal banners and a raised bayonet in the foreground reinforce the violence of the forward motion, as do the aircraft diving in on a diagonal.
The poster’s caption, in Uzbek and Russian, reinforces the notion of the allegiance owed to Stalin as the wise father of the people:
‘We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy. We will keep the covenant of our fathers. Lead us into battle victory, wise Stalin — Clear the enemy, father of fighters!’
Images that appear to be photographic purport to tell the truth. Stalin never went near the front in the Great Patriotic War but, if Stalin is depicted as physically leading the troops into battle, it is easier to associate him with qualities of vision, bravery, heroism and steadfastness, even if this is at a subconscious level.
Despite the fact that Stalin is portrayed here as leading the troops into battle, he was not yet depicted in military uniform. Insignia of rank were abolished in 1917, immediately after the Revolution, however, in 1935, Stalin reintroduced personal ranks and, in 1940, general officer ranks. Insignia of rank were fully restored in 1943.
Stalin is shown hatless or, on the rare occasions when he does wear a cap, it is unadorned, and he wears no epaulettes or other insignia of rank.
To represent Stalin as a military genius at this point in time may have been risky and may even have opened him up to ridicule. Lack of preparedness for war, poor decision-making, and a blatant misreading of the enemy could all be placed at Stalin’s feet, as could the consequent losses of Soviet life.
Despite the advantages in wartime of portraying a strong and successful warrior, the propaganda machine was as yet unable to unambiguously drape Stalin in the mantle of the warrior. Instead, the established archetypes of Father and Teacher were called upon in an effort to maintain some legitimacy for the leader and to mobilise the population behind him in this crisis.
Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, Glory to Stalin’s Falcons–the Conquerors of Aerial Elements!, 1937
A significant genre of Soviet propaganda was concerned with documenting and publicising great Soviet achievements, crediting them all to the Revolution, the Party, and ultimately the brilliance of the great enabler whom history had placed in the role of the leader.
Stalin was effusively credited with not only facilitating all of the successes of the Soviet Union, but with such apparently miraculous abilities as keeping his aviators and polar explorers warm against the Arctic cold. Stalin was able to do this by virtue of the breadth and depth of his paternal care.
The 1937 poster ‘Glory to Stalin’s falcons — the conquerors of aerial elements!’ by Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, celebrates the historic and dangerous flight from Moscow to the United States via the North Pole without even identifying the men directly involved in the flight (Valerii Chkalov, Georgii Baidukov and Aleksandr Beliakov).
Instead, the focus is on Stalin, whose profile image sketched on a red flag sits above the city of Moscow in the mid-left of the poster.
The centre of the poster is dominated by a flat view of the globe from the North Pole, with the USSR positioned to the bottom, and the United States tucked away at the top. The large landmass of the USSR is coloured Soviet red, and extended by the adjoining red flag, which billows across the globe in a symbol of Soviet domination.
A well-populated Moscow bustles below, the people carrying a sea of red flags and banners. The route of the historic flight is traced by a thick red line through the North Pole, the centre of the poster, which swoops upwards through Canada to the United States.
While Moscow is sketched in vibrant red, features the identifiably ‘Russian’ towers of the Kremlin, and is densely populated, Washington is a colourless and unpopulated landscape of featureless and indistinct skyscrapers.
The steep red line that marks out the route is reminiscent also of the line on a graph, the upward swoop registering success and progress, as well as the trajectory of takeoff.
Almost as large as the globe itself, and larger than the whole territory of the United States, are the images of the two Soviet planes that sweep across the top of the poster, and to which Stalin’s gaze directs our eye. The nearer, larger plane is marked with the number 25 (the Tupolev 25 flown on the mission), the abbreviation USSR, and its body is inscribed with the words ‘Stalin’s falcons’.
The text reinforces the association of this historic accomplishment with Stalin, proclaiming glory to ‘Stalin’s falcons’, rather than to the individuals involved, and also reiterates the key Soviet priority for conquering nature and the elements.
Bainazar Al’menov, But there is one branch of science which Bolsheviks in all branches of science are in duty bound to know… , 1951
The ‘banner of Marx–Engels–Lenin-Stalin’ theme was a minor but fairly consistent theme (except during the war years) throughout the 25 years of Stalin’s leadership
… and even beyond.
Several of these posters were published outside the two major centres of the Russian nation, Moscow and Leningrad, and this 1951 poster was published by Tatgosizdat, the publishing house of the Republic of Tatarstan, in Kazan, Tatarstan.
The text quotes Stalin on the necessity to train all cadres, regardless of specialty, in the scientific laws of Marxism–Leninism. It comes from the Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, delivered on March 10, 1939.
But there is one branch of science which Bolsheviks in all branches of science are in duty bound to know, and that is the Marxist–Leninist science of society, of the laws of social development, of the laws of development of the proletarian revolution, of the laws of development of socialist construction, and of the victory of communism.’ I. Stalin.
Marxism-Leninism as a science was seen as defining immutable and unchallengeable laws and was foundational for all other scientific endeavour.
This 1951 poster by illustrator of folktales and fairytales Bainazar Al’menov (1909 -1976), shows the four pillars of communism – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – as part of a billowing banner that fills the top half of the picture plane.
Stalin and Lenin both appear particularly ‘Asiatic’ in their banner profiles. Stalin was often given facial features reminiscent of the general racial characteristics of the place in which the poster was published. In the Asian parts of the Soviet Union he tended to have Asiatic features, while in the European parts he looked more European.
In fact, Stalin actually described himself to Georgi Dimitrov, leader of the Communist International, as a ‘Russified Georgian–Asian’ (obrusevshii gruzin-aziat).* Lenin was part Kalmyk on his father’s side.
The banner is rich red in colour and adorned with gold tassels. Beneath it, also in rich red with gold trim, are four slender books, one by each of the men pictured above, which outline the immutable laws of Marxism–Leninism. Stalin’s work thus resides unambiguously beside those of the three legendary great thinkers.
Bainazar Al’menov worked as the Artistic Director of the regional publishing house, Tatknigizdat, served in the Second World War, and was awarded the Meritorious Art Worker of the Tatar ASSR.
*See Jan Plamper, The Stalin cult, p. 46.
Long Live our leader and teacher, best friend of the Red Army, dear and beloved Stalin!, 1941
This poster by an unidentified artist is typical of many of the cheap posters published during the years of the Great Patriotic War. Released as the USSR entered the Second World War, it aims to rally the population for the war effort around the charismatic figure of Stalin.
As in the Civil War of 1918 to 1922, a multitude of inexpensive posters were produced to tight deadlines. They used cheap paper and a limited colour scheme of black, white and red, which also suited the austere and severe mood of the time.
As Germany had invaded the USSR in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, many artists were happy to rally to the national cause and to offer their talents to the war effort. In this case, the poster is stark and simple, and the artist is not identified. The poster also lacks publishing details, other than the year of publication, and was most likely viewed as ephemeral and disposable.
Stalin’s greyscale portrait (looking to the viewer’s right – the direction of the future) is superimposed over four billowing banners that look as if they are being carried into battle (presumably on horseback – Stalin was particularly associated with the establishment of the Red Cavalry).
The text of the poster, in sacred gold and red, draws attention to the key archetypes associated with Stalin at this stage of his leadership – the Father and the Teacher:
Long Live our leader and teacher, best friend of the Red Army, dear and beloved Stalin!
The word used for ‘leader’ – vozhd’ – has an interesting etymology. The roots of the term can be traced back to old Church Slavonic, with a sacred connotation but, prior to the October Revolution, it denoted a military leader and was applied only metaphorically to a political leader. Victoria Bonnell* cites the poem Vozhdiu, by Demian Bednyi, for May Day 1918, as being one of the first instances in which the term was applied to Lenin.
Similarly, the term ‘rodnoi’ cannot be translated exactly into English. It is an expression of affectionate regard that also implies a familial relationship or kinship, as that of a father to children, between Stalin and the Soviet populace.
It is interesting to note that in 1941, at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, while Kliment Voroshilov was still leader of the armed forces, Stalin is lauded as being merely the ‘best friend’ of the Red Army. Voroshilov’s lack of military success in the war meant that within one year, Stalin became leader of the military and in 1943 Marshal of the Soviet Union, before being promoted to Generalissimus in 1945 after victory.
The Warrior archetype became strongly associated with Stalin during the war and, unlike this portrait in which Stalin wears a military-style tunic but no insignia of rank or other markings of a military man, Stalin would later be depicted in the uniform of Marshal of the Soviet Union in most propaganda posters.
*Victoria Bonnell, Iconography of power, p. 140
A.I. Madorskii, Be as the great Lenin was, 1938
In 1938, the USSR was still in the grip of the Great Purge: the Communist Party and peasantry were purged; in 1937, the Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army and seven generals were shot; in 1938–39, all the admirals and half the Army’s officers were executed or imprisoned; and it is estimated* that between 600,000 and 3 million people died at the hands of the Soviet government at this time, known in Russia as Yezhovshchina (the Yezhov phenomenon, named for the head of the secret police, Nikolai Yezhov).
The purges served many purposes. One of the major ones was to identify ‘enemies of the people’ who were ‘sabotaging’ the progress of the Soviet Union and thus set up an ‘us and them’ mentality, increasing the identification of the people with their leaders.
The leadership represented positive qualities including honesty, loyalty and commitment, while enemies were unfaithful, treacherous, lazy and self-serving. The trials of the accused, particularly those from the upper echelons of the party, were public and the confessions made, which were often patently absurd and had been extracted under torture, were aimed at outraging the public and uniting them behind the friendly, paternal leadership of Stalin.
The cult of Lenin had deified the Party’s founder and the image of Lenin symbolised all the highest qualities of the socialist ideal. In this 1938 poster by A.I. Madorskii, Lenin is invoked as an inspiration from the past, whose steady example is to be practised in the present and future. The people are urged to ‘Be as the great Lenin was.’
Despite Lenin’s visual dominance of the images, it is Stalin’s words that feature in the poster, and Stalin appears as the sole authoritative interpreter of Lenin’s legacy for the future. The text is taken from Stalin’s speech on December 11, 1937:
The electors, the people, must demand that their deputies should remain equal to their tasks, that in their work they should not sink to the level of political philistines, that in their posts they should remain political figures of the Lenin type, that as public figures they should be as clear and definite as Lenin was, that they should be as fearless in battle and as merciless towards the enemies of the people as Lenin was, that they should be free from all panic, from any semblance of panic, when things begin to get complicated and some danger or other looms on the horizon, that they should be as free from all semblance of panic as Lenin was, that they should be as wise and deliberate in deciding complex problems requiring a comprehensive orientation and a comprehensive weighing of all pros and cons as Lenin was, that they should be as upright and honest as Lenin was, that they should love their people as Lenin did.
The importance given to this speech of Stalin’s is evidenced by the fact that two more posters of 1939 also took it as their subject.
In the poster, Stalin stands before a podium and is depicted while giving the electoral speech in December 1937. His right hand points straight up at the heavens, invoking a higher order of law, and drawing the eye to the large image of Lenin (looking to the viewer’s left – to the past) on a protective banner that covers Stalin, the Kremlin, and the crowd of workers below.
The workers are from all walks of life and a variety of nationalities, although it is interesting to note that only two women are depicted and that they are shown wearing the head scarves of agricultural workers.
Creating enemies, or exaggerating their prevalence and power has a galvanising and polarising effect on communities, increasing feelings of hatred and hostility towards those identified as ‘other’, and correspondingly amplifying feelings of love and commitment towards those who are ‘like us’.
*See Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles), p.67 and Michael Ellman, Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments, 2002
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