K. Ryvkin, The Soviets of Worker Deputies of the capital are leading the fight to fulfil the Stalinist Plan for the reconstruction of Moscow, 1939
While the Metro, the Dnieper dam, and the Moscow-Volga Canal were very real and visible achievements of Soviet socialism, one of the more curious of the posters celebrating Soviet achievements is K. Ryvkin’s, ‘The Soviets of Worker Deputies of the Capital are leading the fight to fulfil the Stalinist Plan for the Reconstruction of Moscow’, 1939.
The poster celebrates the reconstruction of Moscow under Stalin, an anticipated total overhaul of the design of the city to turn it into a socialist space, and unintentionally illustrates the socialist realist ideal of presenting reality as it should be, not as it is.
One of the most ambitious of the Soviet projects was the Palace of the Soviets, the proposed seat of government and administrative centre near the Kremlin, on the site of the demolished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
According to Sona Stephan Hoisington, this site was chosen because of its political symbolism:
Christ the Savior was the personification of tsarist authority in Moscow. The location had been selected by Nicholas I who had laid the cornerstone in 1839; the consecration of the church on 26 May 1883 was the culmination of Alexander III’s coronation, with the new emperor and members of the imperial family personally participating in the elaborate ceremony…. The link between autocracy and architecture was made even more explicit in 1912 when an enormous statue to Alexander III was unveiled on the church plaza amidst great pomp and circumstance. [*]
The Palace of Soviets was planned as the tallest building in the world at the time (about 300m) and was to be further topped by a 100-metre-tall statue of Lenin, however it was ultimately not constructed.
The model for the structure was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in March and April, 1934, with viewers invited to leave written comments, which were preserved in the Soviet archives.
There were many objections to the size of the proposed structure. Artist B. Cheryshev stated:
This is not an edifice but a theatrical pedestal for a monument to Lenin. The significance of the leader of the masses, ascending into the clouds far from the people, is utterly lost here. What is more, Lenin is depicted in the pose of a provincial actor. Unbelievably inflated and banal. Why does such excessive theatricality pervade the entire design? It lacks profundity; there is nothing serious or convincing about it…. Down with this theatricality, this operatic quality, this interpretation of Lenin as actor.[**]
Although the Palace of Soviets never progressed past the laying of its foundations, it was treated in propaganda such as posters, film, literature, pamphlets and medallions, as if it already existed.
In Ryvkin’s 1939 poster, it appears in lighter outline than its surrounds, suggesting, at least in this instance, that it was yet to be made manifest. However, in other posters, the Palace of Soviets takes pride of place in the centre of the poster as an established fact.
As Sheila Fitzpatrick points out, the image of this building was more familiar to both the Soviet public and foreigners, than that of most actual existing buildings.[***]
Ryvkin’s poster features an extensive landscape sketch of a bustling Moscow, with the Palace of Soviets jutting into a cloudless blue sky.
All forms of transport are available to the people – cars, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft, which fly beneath the towering statue of Lenin.
Although Lenin’s statue is planned at 100m high, in the poster it is dwarfed by that of Stalin who, while not placed centrally, is emphasised by the diagonal red of the space he occupies.
Less a man than an ancient stone idol, his monolithic statue, featuring the favoured hand-in pose, presides over the city, as its creator and protector.
[*] Sona Stephan Hoisington. ‘”Ever Higher”: The Evolution of the Project for the Palace of Soviets’, Slavic Review, Vol. 62, No. 1, Spring, 2003, pp. 41-68, p. 46.
[**] Sona Stephan Hoisington. ‘”Ever Higher”: The Evolution of the Project for the Palace of Soviets’, Slavic Review, Vol. 62, No. 1, Spring, 2003, pp. 41-68, p. 62.
[***] Sheila Fitzpatrick. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Soviet Russia in the 1930s.New York, 1999, p.70.
Unidentified artist, The Spirit of the Great Lenin and His Victorious Banner Inspires Us Now in the Patriotic War As it Did 23 Years Ago. Stalin, 1941
Attempts to associate the crisis situation of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) with the days of the October Revolution and the Civil War are made explicit in a 1941 poster by an unidentified artist, ‘“The spirit of the great Lenin and his victorious banner inspires us now in the Patriotic War as it did 23 years ago.” Stalin’
The poster shows a tank flying a banner with a Stalin portrait, racing off to battle, accompanied by the ghostly red shadow of a civil war tank flying the banner of Lenin.
The soldier holding the banner also holds open the hatch of the tank, which resembles a shield and his figure is suggestive of the bogatyr, the warrior of ancient Rus.
The text of the poster is taken from Stalin’s speech on the 24th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1941 and makes the link between the two situations explicit.
It is not just the situations of crisis that are paralleled in this poster but also, by extension, the role of the leader in resolving the crisis and inspiring the nation to a just victory.
Stalin reminds the population of the year 1918, the first anniversary of the October Revolution, when many parts of the country, including the Urals, Siberia and the Far East, were in enemy hands and there were shortages of food and arms. The Red Army was just being created.
Stalin points out that in 1941 the nation is in much better circumstances, with an army, a navy, raw materials, industry and food, and with allies against the Germans. He not only calls on the spirit of Lenin, but also of great figures from the past, including Aleksandr Nevskii, Dmitri Donskoi, Kusma Minin, Dmitri Pozharskii, Aleksandr Suvorov, and Mikhail Kutozov.
The poster was published in Moscow and Leningrad in an edition of 10,000 on the 26th of November, 1941, within weeks of the famous speech.
stalin poster of the week 87: *SPECIAL EDITION: 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MOSCOW CANAL* gleb kun, vasilii elkin, and konstantin sobolevskii, greetings to great stalin. the moscow-volga canal is open!, 1937
1937 saw the opening of the Moscow-Volga Canal, which connected the Moscow and Volga rivers and thus gave Moscow access to five seas (the White Sea, Baltic Sea, Caspian Sea, Sea of Azov, and the Black Sea), as well as supplying the water needs of about half the population of Moscow. In 1938, the February issue of USSR in Construction featured a 40-page spread on the construction of the canal.
The 1937 poster, ‘Greetings to Great Stalin. The Moscow-Volga Canal is Open!, by Gleb Kun, Vasilii Nikolaevich Elkin and Konstantin Sobolevskii, announces the opening of the canal for business and features a sleek, elegant graphic design in a striking colour scheme of red, white, black and blue , in which the canal is portrayed as the hub of modern transport.
Aeroplanes, trains, cars, buses and motorcycles feature alongside the canal which provides a waterway for transport of passengers and goods, as well as for recreational activities such as sailing, and strolling along the banks.
While the aircraft, train, and working boats are depicted in subtle greys and whites, passenger vehicles stand out in strong, bold colours, and the eye is particularly drawn to the tiny figure in red on the yacht – the red of her costume picking up the solid band of red on the flag, and the text box at the base of the poster.
Thus, although the poster illustrates the advantages to the State of the industrial and technological achievement, the image draws particular attention to consumer benefits, and promises opportunities for more joyous and abundant life.
In fact, to have access to an automobile or yacht was out of the reach of all but the very top echelon of Stalin’s magnates.
The construction achievement of the canal, which was built by slave labour from the gulags, is laid at the feet of Stalin, both through reference to him in the text, and through the use of his sketched image, which adorns the red flag that comprises almost half the image of the poster.
Stalin’s image on the flag not only hovers god-like above the scene, looking protectively down over the ant-like human activity below, but actually obscures much of the scene.
Unidentified artist, The Civil War 1918-1920, 1938
Despite ongoing claims to the contrary, Stalin was actually quite active in both the October Revolution and the Civil War.
Speaking of the early days of power after the October Revolution, Fiodor Alliluyev noted in his unpublished memoirs:*
Comrade Stalin was genuinely known only to a small circle of people who had come across him … in the political underground or had succeeded … in distinguishing real work and real devotion from chatter, noise (and) meaningless babble.
Polish Bolshevik Stanislaw Pestkovsky noted:**
Lenin could not get along without Stalin for a single day … Our Smolny office was under Lenin’s wing. In the course of the day, he’d call Stalin an endless number of times and would appear in our office and lead him away.
During the Civil War, Lenin despatched Stalin to Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad) in mid-1918, initially to take charge of food supplies. This key strategic city looked likely to fall to White forces.
Stalin took military control in July and, with his status raised to commissar, killed off a group of Trotskii’s ex-tsarist specialists, and played a significant part in the victory of the Red Army in that city.
Beginning in 1938, with the purges drawing to a close and war brewing in Europe, several posters highlight Stalin’s achievements in the Civil War.
The poster titled ‘The Civil War 1918–1920’ (poster no. 6 in the series) features a black-and-white photographic portrait of the young Stalin gazing out at the viewer in military-style jacket.
The poster also shows copies of a telegram from Stalin dated 19 July 1918 and the transcript of a recorded phonecall discussing the food situation on 24 July 1918.
The telegram and dates are significant, as propaganda in the late 1930s made much of Stalin’s successful intervention in the Civil War at Tsaritsyn and the telegram provides factual proof of the trust placed in Stalin by Lenin.
Stalin is depicted as central to the Civil War leadership, as a close and trusted comrade of Lenin, and as associated with the military effort, while Lenin is carrying out construction tasks.
In one of the poster’s vignettes, Stalin is shown rallying the first cavalry. In others, Lenin carries a large log during a subbotnik (day of voluntary public labour). Mikhail Kalinin agitates amongst the crowd. Trotskii, who had been instrumental in the red victory in the Civil War, is nowhere to be seen in the poster and had been both demonised and written out of revolutionary history.
* Fyodor Alliluyev, quoted in Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, p. 367.
** Bolshevik Stanislaw Pestkovsky quoted in Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, pp. 367-8
Anatoli Alekseevich Kazantsev, 1917-1944. Forward, to definitive defeat of the enemy!, 1944
Anatoli Kazantsev’s 1944 poster reprises the theme of drawing a parallel between Lenin leading the people to victory in the revolution and civil war, with Stalin leading them to victory in the Great Patriotic War.
The top half of the poster, under the caption 1917, shows the ghostly head of Lenin in the sky, surrounded by images of revolution and civil war, the conspicuous use of the cavalry dating the battle. Lenin’s portion of the poster is bathed in golden light – a mythic and sacred era.
The bottom part of the poster is in the documentary shades of black-and-white, and is captioned 1944. This part of the poster too depicts a battle, but the battle is in the present, the year 1944, and helmeted soldiers surge forward with rifles, supported by tanks.
Spanning both sections of the poster is the black-and-white figure of Stalin in his Marshal’s uniform. Stalin is the bridge between the past and the present. From earlier cult-related propaganda, and the Soviet education drive, the population would be well aware that Stalin was a key figure in the revolution and the ensuing civil war victory, and also that he was the creator of the Red Cavalry.
The text of the poster urges the population ‘Forward, to the definitive defeat of the enemy!’ Stalin is not only the ‘Lenin of today’, but is also the figure of continuity, with a long history of successfully steering the people through crisis to victory.
It is significant that in this poster the text refers only to ‘the enemy’ rather than the ‘German enemy/occupiers/invaders’. In being less specific, the caption refers equally to both the past and the future.
Kazantsev, who died in 1984, mainly produced posters during the war period. He was otherwise well known as an easel and monumentalist painter and was a professor at the Vera Mukhina Arts Academy.
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