Viktor Ivanov, Great Stalin is the beacon of communism!, 1949
In Stalin Prize winner Viktor Ivanov’s ‘Great Stalin is the beacon of communism!’, Stalin stands alone in his study in front of a bookshelf containing the collected works of Marx and Engels, Lenin, and his own writings.
Caught in a moment of quiet reflection, Stalin holds a book by Lenin and appears to be pondering the words he has read. In 1949, there was an emphasis by the Soviet leadership on greater scientific, technological and ideological education of the people.
Socialism was believed to contain irrefutable scientific laws that could guide people in every branch of endeavour and, accordingly, science should flourish and lead to the discovery of absolute truths if practised in accordance with Marxist principles.
Stalin was also laying the foundations of his own claim to immortality as a great revolutionary theorist and evidently felt he was qualified to make a valuable contribution to the science of Marxism–Leninism, a contribution born from the cauldron of actual experience in endeavouring to work in a socialist system.
The poster caption refers to Stalin as a ‘beacon’. Numerous propaganda posters depict Stalin either as the source of light in the image or as illuminated by a light from above, and Stalin was associated with both natural and artificial light.
Although in this poster Stalin is lit from above in sacred golden tones, the text makes it clear that it is Stalin who has assumed Lenin’s mantle as the guiding light of communism.
Aleksandr Druzhkov and I. Shagin, Long Live Soviet Physical Culture Athletes!, 1939
This poster, published just before the outbreak of the Second World War, is one of only three posters I have found in which Stalin’s image appears in a physical culture poster. Stalin appears in profile outline on a red banner carried by an athletic woman in a physical culture parade and his image sanctions the propaganda message.
The physical culture poster was a massive genre in Soviet posters of the Stalin era, encompassing not only health and physical activity, but also hygiene, anti-smoking and ant-drinking campaigns, anti-delinquency measures, and even posters about the maintenance of appropriate clothing.
Prior to the October Revolution of 1917, sport had largely been the province of the idle rich or associated with military training. When the All-society Military Instruction (Vsevobuch – Vseobshchee voennoe obuchenie) committee was formed in May 1918, it took charge of all sports groups in the country with a mandate to create better, healthier men.
In the 1920s, non-competitive sports that fostered a collective spirit came to the fore and a cultural revolution sought to forge beautiful, strong and agile bodies that both represented and served the regime.
But it was only under Stalin that massive sports parades became a feature of public holidays and fiercely competitive sport on the international stage sought to showcase Soviet achievements. However, the Soviets did not participate in the Olympics until after World War Two, instead promoting the Spartakiad – the socialist games.
In April 1930, the party’s Central Committee established the All-Union Council of Physical Culture (Vsesoiuznyi sovet fizicheskoi kul’tury) in an attempt to centrally control, standardise and systematise sport in the USSR. Programs introduced under this council were inclusive of both women and children, and the regime achieved a large degree of success in encouraging women into sport and physical culture in general.
The programs were also present throughout the republics of the USSR and propaganda featured women of all ethnicities and religions engaged in physical cultural activity. According to Alison Rowley, by 1934, the number of female fizkul’turalisti had reached 1.7 million.*
From the mid-1930s, marching in parades became a popular physical pastime for women, and a popular image on posters and the covers of women’s magazines. In photo spreads, Stalin and the top leadership were often depicted watching these parades on Red Square.
Rowley sees three primary goals of propaganda encouraging women to take up sport in the 1930s:
In the 1939 poster by Druzhkov and Shagin, two skilled and agile women feature in the foreground of the poster, part of the mass parade that can be seen behind them. A young gymnast balances on a moving motorcycle whilst hoisting aloft the banner of Stalin. Her companion lays flat on the bike, holding a machine gun, showing her preparedness and willingness to fight for the Soviet Union.
Motor sports and shooting were part of Red Army training and women had begun competing in shooting competitions in the 1920s. With world war on the doorstep, a fit and trained population could act as reservists when fighting erupted on Soviet soil.
Propaganda featuring strong and competent women served to bolster internal confidence while deterring potential invaders from entering Soviet soil.
*Alison Rowley (2006) Sport in the service of the state: Images of physical culture and Soviet women, 1917–1941, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 23:8, 1314-1340, DOI: 10.1080/09523360600922246, p. 1317
** Rowley, p. 1314.
This 1935 photomontage by renowned graphic artist Gustav Klutsis introduces members of the Central Committee of the Politburo to the Soviet people.
In front of a billowing red backdrop, Stalin is identified as the leader and most important character by making him larger than everyone else.
In the front row, from left to right, are Stalin’s closest allies: Anastas Mikoian, Mikhail Kalinin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Kliment Voroshilov, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze.
The back row features Stanislav Kosior, Vlas Chubar, Mikhail Tomsky, Pavel Postyshev, Grigori Petrovskii, Andrei Zhdanov, Robert Eikhe, and Nikolai Yezhov.
The ‘inked out’ figure is Jānis Rudzutaks, a Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet politician of Latvian descent.
Rudzutaks was expelled from the Central Committee in 1937, the first arrest of a Politburo member with no record of having opposed the party line. After torture, confession to being a spy, and then a retraction of this confession, Rudzutaks was shot on 28 July, 1938.
Figures who fell from grace under Stalin, whether top Soviet leaders or purged family members, were systematically deleted from the visual record by blacking them out or tearing them out of the image.
These erased figures formed a conspicuous censorship, their erasure speaking even more strongly than their presence – an eerie reminder of the reach of the leadership and the penalty for suspicious or treacherous behaviour, although the vast majority of victims of the purges had committed no crime and were often even loyal to the regime.
Torture forced victims to not only confess to crimes, but to implicate others as well, who also subsequently confessed – often to outlandish claims – under torture.
Ordinary citizens often took to their own photo albums with scissors and ink to purge the image of family members upon whom suspicion had been cast, dissociating themselves from charges of treachery or disloyalty.
Under Stalin, the falsification of history eventually extended to all areas of public discourse. Paintings on popular revolutionary subjects, such as the salvo from the Aurora and the storming of the Winter Palace, were published in history textbooks and took on the status of documentary images.
It was not enough, though, for enemies of the people to disappear from historic occasions. Stalin had also to be seen to be present at the most decisive moments in revolutionary history, whether or not he had actually been there, and his image was inserted into the visual record in key places.
This conspicuous alteration of history continued even in times of triumph, such as victory in the Great Patriotic War. Marshal Zhukov gained enormous popularity for his role in the war victory and, on the first Victory Day, he stood side by side with Stalin on the Lenin mausoleum to receive the gratitude and adulation of the pressing crowds.
The situation had already changed by the second Victory Day when Zhukov completely disappeared from the public eye. By the third anniversary of victory, Pravda commemorated the event without even mentioning Zhukov and victory in the war became solely attributable to the military genius of Stalin.
**SPECIAL CENTENARY EDITION**
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