This 1952 poster by an unknown artist highlights the treatment of Stalin as an icon. A huge military portrait of Stalin is wreathed in fruit and flowers and appears to be part of a parade on a Soviet holiday.
Red banners swirl behind the portrait and it appears that a sea of banner-bearing children is marching forward. Of the eight children in front of the portrait, seven are in a variety of national costumes of the republics of the USSR, while the young boy in the check shirt at front left is of uncertain origin, most likely African or African-American.
Negro characters had appeared in pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary literature, often as figures from an exotic continent where injustice and peril reign and, from 1920 onwards, dark-skinned people appeared in Moscow and Petrograd as delegates to the many congresses of the Comintern and Profintern, and as workers from the United States seeking employment during the Depression years.
Stalinist literature and propaganda presented negroes as victims of poor conditions and of racism, with the USSR the champion of equality, with this intensifying after the Great Patriotic War as relations with America deteriorated.*
The children in the poster crowd in front of the processional icon, posing informally and smiling for the camera. These children, relaxed and at leisure, are in marked contrast to those in the other posters of this time who are engaged in study or oath-taking ceremonies.
Here, Stalin is a symbol of the opportunities for happiness and fulfilment offered by the Soviet Union, and a champion of racial equality on a global scale.
Despite the casual atmosphere where children are involved, Stalin is even more remote and god-like than ever. The poster has no caption and was published in an edition of only 300, and its purpose is unclear.
Propaganda posters that overtly thanked Stalin for a happy childhood operated on several levels in Stalin’s personality cult. On one level, they appealed to children and instructed them in appropriate behaviour and attitude towards the leader.
By depicting Stalin increasingly as a mythical and iconic figure, children were further encouraged to an attitude of unquestioning obedience and spiritual faith that filled the vacuum left by the suppression of the Orthodox religion in Soviet society.
After the Great Patriotic War and in the last few years of Stalin’s life, the emphasis in propaganda moved from depicting Stalin as an earthly father who was intimately concerned with the everyday problems of the citizenry, to a remote and god-like image of the leader in which he was the saviour of the USSR, the Eastern bloc and, ultimately, the whole world. He thus became a sort of spiritual father to whom one prayed and sent tribute from afar.
*Bogdanov, K., (2015), ‘“Negroes” in the USSR. The Ethnography of an Imaginary Diaspora’, Forum for Anthropology and Culture, Transl. by Cleminson, R., 11, 97-134
Ivanov, K. & El’tsufen, M., Pioneer – an example to all children!, 1952
Stalin presides symbolically over an award ceremony for young achievers in a 1952 poster by K. Ivanov and M. El’tsufen: ‘Pioneer – an example to all children!’
A young pioneer is presented with an award certificate for achievement by a mature man who appears to hold authority on behalf of Stalin. A mature woman and a young woman watch keenly in the background.
The poster itself resembles an award certificate, with an image in a gilt-edged text box above golden text, framed by images of celebratory trumpets, drums, and red flags.
The lovely young girl in her spotless white pinafore and Pioneer scarf is meek and obedient. With her orderly demeanour and upturned gaze, she serves as an example to both children and adults of the correct attitude to display toward authority in the Soviet regime.
Stalin, as portrayed in the icon portrait, does not look down protectively over his charges, but up and out of the picture plane, to something beyond time and place that only he can see.
Other posters of the early 1950s reflect a preoccupation with the mission of ‘world peace’ and Stalin as the bearer of the gift of Communism to other nations. Stalin is almost always portrayed as looking up and beyond, and it is perhaps this vision of universal peace and equality of all mankind that captures his attention and drags it away from local events.
The portrait used in this poster (and many other posters of this era) is taken from a painting by P. Nazarov and N. Gerediuk and was released by Iskusstvo in 1953 (the year of Stalin's death) in an edition of 30,000.
Such portraits, hung in public offices and buildings, function similarly to portraits of the monarch in buildings like post offices, schools, and courts of law. The invoked presence of the remote presiding authority authenticates and legitimates the proceedings.
Stalin, the tsar/god exercises remote control across his realm. However he no longer watches over all aspects of Soviet life – the minutiae of everyday existence are no longer his concern. His vision is lofty and other-worldly.
In many ways, Stalin has already been apotheosised, like the long-dead Lenin whose spirit and legacy inspires and guides. Stalin, the architect and builder of Communism, has been fashioned as the creator of this utopian society. His presence, both literally and as an image in propaganda posters, has become increasingly that of a spiritual force.
A.A. Kokorekin, Be prepared to struggle for the cause of Lenin-Stalin!, 1951
In A.A Kokorekin’s ‘Be prepared to struggle for the cause of Lenin-Stalin!’ of 1951, two serious young Pioneers salute the viewer before a banner with the Stalin-Lenin frieze.
Stalin and Lenin are both apotheosised, as if carved from stone on a billowing red banner. Lenin’s head is less defined and partially obscured by that of Stalin – literally in Stalin’s shadow.
The inclusion of Lenin, and the reference to the cause of Lenin-Stalin may be in part due to the fact that Lenin was always a primary figure for the Pioneers. However, it also highlights the now hyphenated identity of ‘Lenin-Stalin’ as one indivisible unit representing the Party.
The two children in the poster are young, yet already serious and restrained, as befits the nature of the oath-taking ceremony. They are immaculately turned out in their Pioneer uniforms and execute with precision the high salute of their organisation.
Elena Mel’nikova, Best friend of children. Glory to Great Stalin!, 1951
Stalin’s special relationship with the Young Pioneers is illustrated in the 1951 poster, ‘The Best Friend of Children. Glory to great Stalin!,’ by well-known artist Elena Mel’nikova. Mel’nikova was a Russian and Soviet Avant-garde painter, graphic artist and illustrator.
The text emphasises the friendly nature of the relationship between Stalin and the young Pioneers and, uncharacteristically for posters involving Stalin and children, makes no reference to Stalin as a ‘father.’ There is no interaction between the children and the image of Stalin: Stalin looks out into the distance, while the children all have their backs turned to him.
Stalin appears in this poster as a giant portrait hanging behind the unified, obedient children, who salute and wave flags and appear to be engaged in an oath-taking ceremony.
The Soviet regime bound children to Stalin by the taking of oaths of allegiance and duty at initiation ceremonies into the Pioneers and Komsomol, and posters such as this one reinforced the sense of obligation the children owed their leader.
On either side of Stalin are graphic depictions of birch trees. The birch is the national tree of Russia and a symbol of new beginnings.
It is interesting to note that this is one of the relatively few posters of this era in which Stalin does not appear in military uniform. Neither the warrior nor the father archetype is being emphasised here.
Mikhail Solov’ev,Young Builders of Communism, Forward to New Successes in Work and Education, 1950
After 1950, the ‘Happy Childhood’ poster theme that had been a feature of much of the 1930s and the immediate postwar years slipped into the background and poster artists focussed on depicting obedient children and youth performing their duty to Stalin.
Youth are serious, committed and dutiful, as in ‘Young Builders of Communism, Forward to New Successes in Work and Education’ of 1950 by Mikhail Solov’ev.
The young woman looks straight out, just above the head of the viewer,to the present day. She carries an unidentified book under her arm. The young man carries a thick volume of writings by Lenin and Stalin, and looks to the viewer’s right – the future. Both are shown in smart business attire with white-collared shirts.
This new generation of Soviet youth are being provided with a technical and scientific education, preparing them to work smarter rather than harder to transition the nation from socialism to full communism.
Stalin, still very much alive in 1950, joins Lenin in the apotheosised position as a stony relief on a tasselled banner. Both are in profile and facing the viewer’s left, associating them with the past.
From this point on, Stalin is now almost always represented in one of three ways: as a visionary on a mission to save the world, as a portrait/icon, or as a frieze.
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