Nina Vatolina, Nikolai Denisov, Vladislav Grigorevich Pravdin, & Zoia Rykhlova-Pravdina, Thank You Comrade Stalin for our Happy Childhood!, 1938.
Although the 1938 poster ‘Thank you Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood!’, by Nina Vatolina, Nikolai Denisov, Vladislav Pravdin and Zoia Rykhlova-Pravdina features a similar colour scheme and several of the same objects as the Viktor Govorkov poster of 1936, significantly, the action in this poster takes place in front of a New Year tree.
The New Year Tree had been banned in the Soviet Union since 1916, and was only reinstated in 1935. Pavel Postyshev, second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, wrote a letter to the newspaper Pravda (meaning Truth) in 1935 calling for the installation of the New Year tree in schools, homes, children’s clubs and at Pioneers’ meetings.
Much fuss was made over the re-institution of the New Year tree by the newspaper Izvestiia (meaning News). On 1 January 1937, Izvestiia reported:
‘On New Year’s Eve nearly A QUARTER OF A MILLION HOLIDAY TREES were lit up in the capital alone. The spruce tree has come to symbolise our country’s happy youth, sparkling with joy on the holiday … The clinking of glasses filled with champagne. At the stroke of midnight, hundreds of thousands of hands raised them in a toast to the health of their happy motherland, giving tribute in the first toast of the year to the man whose name will go down through the ages as the creator of the great charter of socialism.’*
The tree in the 1938 poster is decorated with traditional candles and garlands, but also with small aircraft, parachutes and red stars.
The model aeroplane and ship are typical Soviet toys, inspiring boys to emulate Soviet heroes in aviation and exploration. Catriona Kelly notes that official New Year tree ceremonies, which in practice were open to a fairly limited elite group, ‘were in part a way of tutoring the offspring of the Soviet elite in new roles (hence the giving of telephones as gifts …)’**
By including these toys in the poster, oblique reference is also made to the great Soviet achievements in these fields. Stalin is not only providing a happy childhood, but also offers the children the potential for happy and fulfilling futures.
In the 1938 poster, Stalin is surrounded by fair-haired Russian children who are situated on the same level in the picture plane as he although, by virtue of his status as adult male, he looks down on the children protectively.
The scene is relaxed and informal, with four of the children gazing up at Stalin with affection while a fifth child has his back turned to Stalin and gazes directly at the viewer.
The poster implies that a Soviet childhood is a time of sacred innocence, unbounded joy, and material abundance. The flowers in the bottom right-hand corner are a further indication of material wealth, fertility, and the blossoming of the Soviet Union.
As the slogan suggests, all of this bounty is provided by the dominating paternal presence of Stalin, who is the equivalent of a kind of secular Father Christmas.
This was not the first time that Stalin had been depicted in this role. On 30 December 1936 Stalin appeared on the cover of the newspaper Trud (meaning Labour) as Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), making literal his role as mythical children’s benefactor.
*Translated in Thomas Lahusen, Véronique Garros, Natalia Korenevskaya, Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s, p. 12.
**Catriona Kelly, Children’s World: Growing Up in Russia, 1890-1991, p. 112
Viktor Deni, Six Conditions for Victory, 1931
This is one of the earliest of the 'six conditions' posters, published in 1931, the year in which Stalin delivered the speech New Conditions — New Tasks in Economic Construction at a conference of business executives on June 23.
By notable graphic artist Viktor Deni, it features Deni's usual sparse style and use of line drawing rather than the popular technique of photomontage so frequently used by Klutsis and others at the time.
The conditions on this poster are in a truncated and summarised form, making them easy to take in with a quick read. This is in contrast to most of the other six conditions posters, which have a lot more text and require prolonged engagement.
The text reads:
Six Conditions for Victory.
1. Recruit manpower in an organised way
2.Do away with wage equalisation
3. Put an end to the lack of personal responsibility at work
4. Create our own industrial and technical intelligentsia
5. Pay greater attention to the old specialists
6. Reinforce financial accountability
Unknown artist, 6 conditions of Stalin, 1938
This 1938 poster by an unknown artist is one of the later of several posters outlining 'Stalin's six conditions'. Posters were published on this theme as early as 1931, the year in which Stalin gave the speech from which they are extracted, New Conditions — New Tasks in Economic Construction, delivered at a conference of business executives on June 23.
Each poster features a large body of text to spell out the six conditions:
A new way to work in a new direction.
The poster shows Stalin as central to, and actually melded to, Soviet industrialisation and agriculture. He is surrounded by grain silos and scenes of construction. Industrial products are moving above his head, along with an aircraft and a dirigible.
Towers and a massive dam flank the text, while scenes of agriculture run across the bottom of the poster. The banner on the tractor reads 'Bread to the state'. Collectivisation meant that tractors replaced horses and that produce became the property of the state.
The bottom left shows a scene of a teacher giving instruction to children at a board, while on the bottom right is a charming little country schoolhouse. Thus, all areas of Soviet achievement under Stalin are graphically represented and the need for an educated citizenry is highlighted.
In earlier times, the Bolsheviks had waged class war against the bourgeois and the wealthier farmers (kulaks). In his speech, Stalin now suggests that the intelligentsia, the educated and the highly skilled worker be embraced into the socialist fold as the new leaders in the push forward to catch up the western world.
The poster was published by the mid-Volga Regional Council, League (Union) of Militant Atheists. The League of Militant Atheists was an atheistic and anti-religious group of workers and intelligentsia that formed in 1925.
The league, which had a presence in work places, collective farms, educational institutions and youth organisations, aimed to extinguish religious belief in the Soviet populace and to replace it with an emphasis on science.
The League of Militant Atheists was disbanded in 1941 when Germany invaded the USSR and Stalin opened the churches, allowing believers to flock back to religion in their millions.
Gustav Klutsis, With the banner of Lenin ..., 1933
Gustav Klutsis (Густав Клуцис), With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in the battle for the October revolution. With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in attaining decisive achievements in the struggle to build socialism. With the same banner we will be victorious in our proletarian revolution throughout the world (со знаменем ленина победили мы в боях за октябрьскую революциюю со знаменем ленина добилиь мы решаюших успехов в борьбе за победу социалистического строителства. с этим же знаменем победим в пролетарской революций во всем мире), 1933
Gustav Klutsis uses sweeping diagonals and a photomontaged sea of people to create a dynamic representation of the tide of change brought on by socialism.
This 1933 poster uses hieratic scale to depict the Bolshevik leadership. Klutsis begins with the apotheosised Lenin, the largest figure cast in stone set against the red banner. Lenin's immortality is symbolised by the fact that he is treated differently from the living and is seen as foundational and monolithic.
In front of Lenin and mimicking his pose is Stalin, the General Secretary of the Central Committee. The first rank of leaders features Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Kliment Voroshilov, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze.
Marching behind them are Mikhail Kalinin, Sergei Kirov, Valerian Kuibyshev, and Stanislav Kosior. The only identified figure in the third row is Vlas Chubar (second from the left), and Anastas Mikoian and Pavel Postyshev are the couple in the rear.
The poster caption features on several posters of 1933, and had appeared as early as 1931:
With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in the battle for the October revolution.
The caption is taken from the Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B.), delivered by Stalin on June 27, 1930 and published in Pravda on June 29.
This mammoth speech includes the following sections:
Stalin concludes that all achievements have been possible because "we were able to hold aloft the great banner of Lenin," before finishing with the rousing quotation that forms the poster text.
Like many of Stalin's speeches, this report consists of the relentless presentation of statistical information to drive the points home. It must have been quite a marathon performance and a feat of outstanding endurance for the speaker and audience alike.
The poster was published in a large edition of 300,000 and would also have served to familiarise the populace with the faces of the leadership in the early years of Stalin's rule.
Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, Results of the First Five-Year Plan, 1933
This 1933 poster by graphic art duo Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov shows a worker joyfully holding a copy of the newspaper Pravda announcing the results of the first five-year plan.
The worker and the industrial construction and agricultural silos surrounding him, are all coloured the sacred red of the Bolshevik revolution.
Sporting a Stalin-like moustache, the worker's broad smile is emphasised by the contrast of his white teeth against the red fill of his figure.
Pravda reports Stalin's speech of January 7, 1933 in which he revealed the results of the first five-year plan and discussed future directions for industry, agriculture and class struggle.
The first two sections of the speech are reproduced in full under the two section headings:
I. International significance of the five-year plan
II. The fundamental task of the five-year plan and the way to its fulfilment.
Beneath this 'socialist' section of the poster is a dividing band containing a paragraph of text in red. The text is a highlighted quote from the speech by Stalin:
The results of the five-year plan have shown that the capitalist system of economy is bankrupt and unstable; that it has outlived its day and must give way to another, a higher, Soviet, socialist system of economy (I. Stalin)
Filling the bottom quarter of the poster beneath this is a segment illustrating this divide between the capitalist and socialist systems.
An overweight and ugly white male capitalist in top hat reels backwards, away from the encroaching banners of the red front. Buildings appear to be collapsing around him and a skull with the word 'crisis' emblazoned across its forehead looms menacingly.
The Great Depression had begun in the West in 1929 and in 1933, just days before the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States was gripped by a banking crisis. The banks were closed for a period extending from March 2 to March 13th, halting panicked withdrawals by customers.
Although ultimately preserved, the capitalist system was unstable and appeared to be under threat. Thus, Stalin had some evidence to back his claims that the socialist system was in the ascendent.
Nina Vatolina, Glory to the great friend of children!, 1952
This 1952 poster by renowned poster artist Nina Vatolina employs serene pastel tones and lush foliage to represent the advent of the imminent communist utopia.
Stalin appears grandfatherly with a protective hand supporting the young boy as he stands atop a podium. The symbolism is obvious and works on a few levels.
In one sense, Stalin, now in his 70s and only a year away from death, is passing the baton to the new generation - those born after the war in a time of comparative peace.
In another, the child is symbolic of the fledgling communist regime, joyously taking its place in the world with a promise of peace and abundance in the future. The child is identifiably Russian and, with his little red flag aloft, leads the union of republics into the future.
In contrast to the 1930s when Stalin was often pictured with female children (passive and grateful), the children taking the USSR into the future are male.
As a symbolic grandfather, Stalin moves away from the role of father of the nation and occupies the niche formerly held by 'Grandpa Lenin'. Stalin has thus moved beyond the role of disciple and occupies the role of master, an equivalent status to the deified Lenin.
Both Stalin and the child wear white. This symbolises purity and clarity, but Stalin is also dressed in his Marshal's uniform, emphasising his role as the saviour of the nation in the Great Patriotic War. On his chest, Stalin wears the Gold Star Medal, awarded to heroes of the Soviet Union for exceptional feats in combat.
The Spassky tower in the background soars into a benign blue sky. The hands on the clock are visible and show that it is late morning. Two aspects of this depiction of the Spassky tower are slightly unusual.
The top of the tower with its familiar red star is out of the picture frame. The Spassky tower usually functions in posters as something of a Bolshevik place of worship, the star paralleling the Christian cross.
And the crenellated walls of the Kremlin are visible close behind Stalin and the child. The Kremlin is being depicted here as a protective fortress, enclosing the pair in a lush and verdant garden that is safe, but separated from, the outside world.
Nina Vatolina created hundreds of posters over a long and illustrious career. Many were created in partnership with her husband, Nikolai Denisov, who was the son of legendary graphic artist Viktor Deni. Vatolina frequently dealt with themes related to Soviet childhood, although she was also responsible for some of the most iconic war posters during the Great Patriotic War.
She had two solo exhibitions of her work in 1957 and 1968, and died in Moscow in 2002.
Konstantin Vialov, The Party has succeeded in converting the USSR from a country of small-peasant farming into a country of the largest-scale agriculture in the world..., 1933
Konstantin Vialov (Вялов, K.), "The Party has succeeded in converting the U.S.S.R. from a country of small-peasant farming into a country of the largest-scale agriculture in the world." "In a matter of three years we have created more than 200,000 collective farms and about 5,000 state farms, i.e., we have created entirely new large enterprises which have the same importance for agriculture as large mills and factories for industry." Stalin ("Партия добилась того, что СССР уже преобразован из страны мелко-крестьянского хозяйства в страну самого крупного сельского хозяйства в мире". "В каких-нибуд три года мы создали более 200 тысяч колхозов и около 5 тысяч совхозов, т. е. Мы создали совершенно новые крупные предпрятие, имеющие такое же значение для сельского хозяйства, как заводы и фабрики для промышленности". И. Сталин), 1933
This early poster of Stalin contains a substantial slab of text, taken from Stalin's speech at the Joint Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the CPSU (b) on January 7, 1933.
This lengthy speech, delivered in Stalin's usual style of a relentless bombardment of facts and statistics, announces the results of the first Five-Year Plan and sets the direction for the next one.
Stalin begins by listing examples of international disbelief that the Five-Year Plan could succeed. Dismissing these utterances from a bourgeois press, he then quotes from international press items that report that the plan is indeed a success.
Having concluded that the Five-Year Plan is internationally significant, Stalin then moves on to detail the plan, examining its purpose and aims, before providing exhaustive detail on the results of the plan in the spheres of industry, agriculture, improvement in conditions for the working class, trade turnover between town and country, and the struggle against the remnants of the hostile classes.
Lenin is quoted extensively to both provide direction and to provide legitimacy for actions already taken. The Five-Year Plan is deemed fulfilled in four years.
Stalin concludes by admitting to numerous mistakes and shortcomings, but choosing to focus on victories. He attributes success to "the activity and devotion, the enthusiasm and initiative of the vast masses of the workers and collective farmers, who, together with the engineering and technical forces, displayed colossal energy in developing socialist emulation and shock-brigade work", to the Soviet leadership and to the merits of the Soviet system.
Although the caption text is clearly taken from this well-known speech, and is identified as such on the poster, Stalin is not depicted as giving a speech.
Instead, his giant head (this poster is over one metre tall) captures viewers and holds them in his piercing gaze.
Behind Stalin's right shoulder (the virtuous side) are scenes of socialist success - wagons overflowing with agricultural produce being delivered to huge silos, workers filing in to commence work, and aircraft in the sky. The development of an aeronautical industry was an achievement that post-dated Lenin and hence could be counted as Stalin's own.
Aircraft, wagons and some of the workers are coloured red, designating them as sacrally socialist.
Over Stalin's left shoulder (the devil's side) are the golden onion domes of an Orthodox church beside a little timber home and bare tree. Only birds circle the domes. This inappropriate relic of the past is annihilated by a big red cross through it.
This graphic representation of right and wrong, us and them, with the legitimating presence of Stalin, ensured that those who were either unable, unwilling or perhaps too busy to read the text could still easily grasp the poster message.
The poster was created by prolific Muscovite artist Konstantin Vialov. Vialov had an amazing artistic career continuing into the mid-1970s. He was taught at GSKhM (State Free Art Studios) and VKhUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Studios) by Vassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Tatlin, David Shterenberg, and Aristarkh Lentulov.
Vialov's oeuvre also included film posters, magazine and book covers and illustrations, abstract paintings, Constructivist sculptures and theatrical sets. His works can still be found in major collections like that of the Tretiakov and have been featured in exhibitions in the United States and London over the past few decades. Vialov was married to fellow graphic artist Elena Mel'nikova.
V. Reshetnikov, Glory to Lenin, glory to Stalin, glory to great October!, 1952
This 1952 poster of Stalin was published in a small edition of 3000 by Latgosizdat, the Latvian State Publishing House, one year before Stalin's death.
Resplendent in his marshal's uniform, Stalin sports the Gold Star Medal. Established in 1939, the medal was awarded to 'heroes' of the Soviet Union (formerly awarded the Order of Lenin and a special certificate).
Behind Stalin is the banner of Lenin. The heads of the two are merged (making a Lenin-Stalin) as they both gaze to the viewer's right - the direction of the future.
So visionary is Stalin that he seems oblivious to the crowds behind him, who hail him in greeting and wave bunches of flowers in the air. The crowds line the City Canal, which was the site of the declaration of Latvian independence in 1918.
The banner on the gate has a double meaning: Stalin is the world/Stalin is peace. The poster coincides with the time at which Stalin was striving to be seen as the leader of the world peace movement.
1952 was also the time at which the so-called Latvian cultural wars erupted. After the 19th CPSU Congress and the 12th Latvian Communist Party Congress in September 1952, culture became the battleground for the question of nationalism versus internationalism among the Latvian communists.
The culture wars hinged around the question of whether Latvia's allegiance was nationalist in nature, a form of 'national communism, or to the Soviet Union.* The situation was exacerbated for the Latvian leadership by the fact that their attempts at recruiting the populace were largely unsuccessful.
The setting of the poster on the City Canal is, perhaps, a perfunctory nod to the nationalist sentiments of many of the Latvian communists. However, the poster depicts the Latvian people as being firmly behind Stalin and Lenin - the Bolshevik/Soviet model of communism, which will ultimately lead the world to peace.
*For more on this, see an interesting chapter on 'Sovietization, Russification, and Nationalism in Post-war Latvia' by William D. Prigge in the book The Baltic States under Stalinist Rule, edited by Olaf Mertelsmann.
Boris Mukhin, Long live the leader of the Soviet people - great Stalin!, 1947
This 'personality cult' poster of Stalin from 1947 is unusual for its time in that Stalin is depicted in his old-style 'Lenin suit', rather than military attire, and without insignia of rank.
Neither the image nor the text make reference to Stalin's role as the great and victorious warrior during the Great Patriotic War (Second World War).
Instead, a softer portrait of a greying Stalin is used. This portrait was painted by Paraskovia Pilipivna Deputatova, a Russian artist who also studied at the Kiev Art Institute between 1944 and 1946, when this portrait was created for Ukrainian publishing house Mistetstvo and reproduced in 1946 in an edition of 25,000, captioned by Stalin's name.
In Mukhin's poster, Stalin is framed in the sacred colours of the religious icon and socialism, red and gold, with perhaps only an oblique reference to past victories in the wreath beneath him.
The sixteen flags surrounding Stalin refer to the sixteen republics of the USSR in 1947:
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russian SFSR, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Visually, the poster is reminiscent of the candidate posters of Stalin that appeared in election years. Indeed, 1947 was an election year for the Supreme Soviets of the Soviet Union's constituent republics.
However, this poster was published in the Russian language in Moscow and Leningrad, in a fairly large edition of 300,000 and it is difficult to determine if it served any specific propaganda function.
The poster artist, Boris Mukhin, was a well-known graphic artist, painter and theatre artist who was active in the All-Union Art Exhibition in Moscow in 1949.
Vladislav Pravdin, It is our blessing..., 1949
Vladislav Pravdin (Правдин, В.), It is our blessing that in the trying years of the war the Red Army and the Soviet people were led forward by the wise and tested leader of the Soviet Union the great Stalin. (это наше счастье, что в трудные годы войны Красную Армию и советский народ вел вперед мудрый и испытанный вождь Советского Союза – Великий Сталин.), 1949
By 1949, victory in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) was sometimes attributed almost solely to Stalin, both in the news media, and in propaganda.
Marshal Georgi Zhukov had gained enormous popularity for his role in the war victory, and on the first Victory Day stood side by side with Stalin on the Lenin Mausoleum to receive the gratitude and adulation of the pressing crowds. However, by 1948, Marshal Zhukov had completely disappeared from the public eye.
In Vladislav Pravdin’s 1949 poster, Stalin stands at attention amid a backdrop of billowing flags and ribbons, and gazes out of the picture frame to the future which his wisdom and brilliance have brought to the Soviet people.
The three medal ribbons flowing over Stalin’s right shoulder are the Order of Lenin (red and gold), the Order of the Red Banner (red and white) and the Order of Suvorov, 1st Class (yellow and green).
The Order of Lenin was the highest civilian honour that could be bestowed on a citizen although, after the war, it was also given to those who had performed 25 years of conspicuous military service.
The Order of the Red Banner was the first Soviet military decoration, established during the Civil War in 1918.
The Order of Suvorov, 1st Class, was created in 1942, named in honour of Russian Field Marshal Count Aleksandr Suvorov. The 1st Class order was given to army commanders for exceptional leadership of combat operations.
Together, these three ribbons identify Stalin as having demonstrated extraordinary military prowess from the time of the Civil War, right through the Great Patriotic War, and continuing to the present day of the poster in 1949.
The lengthy caption to the poster leaves no doubt as to who is responsible for leading the people safely through the war to victory:
It is our blessing that during the hard years of war the Red Army and the Soviet people were guided into the future by the wise and experienced leader of the Soviet Union – Great Stalin
The text of the poster, taken from Vyacheslav Molotov’s speech on the 28th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, 1945, makes reference to the hardship of the war, but does not tie this hardship specifically to the people, nor thank them for their sacrifices.
Instead, it is the people who must thank the great warrior Stalin for guiding them into the future. This gratitude assumes an almost spiritual dimension as Stalin is described as a ‘blessing’ for the people.
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