Unknown artist, Komsomol political education system mid-Volga organisation VLKSM for 1930-31, 1931
Stalin gained control of the Politburo at the Fifteenth Party Congress on 18 December 1927 demonstrating that not only had he been a close companion and confidant of Lenin, but that he had always supported Lenin’s political positions and was a devoted adherent to his dogma.
In his interview with the German author Emil Ludwig, Stalin stated modestly:
“As for myself, I am just a pupil of Lenin’s, and the aim of my life is to be a worthy pupil of his.”*
The first appearances of Stalin with Lenin in a poster occur in the year 1930. This poster by an unknown artist was published in Samara** by the Propaganda Department and Theoretical Studies Regional Committee of Middle-Volga Komsomol.
The poster promotes the value of political education. Lenin and Stalin appear outlined in a sacral red Bolshevik aura on either side of the poster, although as a full-length figure, Lenin is larger and therefore more prominent than the smaller bust of Stalin.
Both Lenin and Stalin are quoted, along with Engels, and their authoritative texts are depicted around the page. Circles containing text may reference the underground ‘circles in which Stalin and the other Old Bolsheviks cut their ideological teeth as they fomented revolution.
These circles, which Stalin joined while he was still in the seminary in Tiflis, circulated illegal literature of a political and ideological nature. They were places of lively and often heated discussion and morphed into the secret cells that actively sought to undermine the tsarist regime.
The larger text on the posters is in the form of recognisable catchy slogans:
Achieve the five-year plan in four years.
This poster is typical of posters of the very early 1930s in which a great deal of text is reproduced and there is an assumption that people will spend a lot of time examining the poster.
Later posters capitalised on the strength of the medium by presenting shorter and punchier captions with arresting images, able to be taken in quickly as people bustled about their daily activities.
* J. V. Stalin, ‘Talk With the German Author Emil Ludwig’, December 13, 1931, Transl. by Hari Kumar, J.V. Stalin, Works, 13, (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955), pp. 106-25, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1931/dec/13.htm.
** From 1935 to 1991 Samara became known as Kuibyshev.
Vladimir Musinov, Great Stalin is the hope of the world / peace!, 1951
The powerful image of Stalin in Vladimir Musinov’s 1951 poster shows a three-quarter view of the relaxed and friendly vozhd’ in monochrome, set against the brilliant red of the Soviet flag.
The rich red is associated with the Revolution and the Soviet government, with beauty and sacredness in icons, and also with the blood of the sacrifice of Soviet forces in the Great Patriotic War, which by transference is also Stalin’s sacrifice.
Stalin’s sacrifice during the Great Patriotic War was in fact a real sacrifice. Stalin’s son Yakov Djugashvili by his first wife was an artillery lieutenant who on 16 July, 1941 was captured by the Germans during the battle of Smolensk. He did not perform the expected honourable act of committing suicide, and so was imprisoned in a POW camp.
When German Field Marshall Friedrich von Paulus surrendered to the Soviet forces on January 31, 1943 (and also did not commit suicide), the Germans proposed an exchange of prisoners. Stalin refused, stating as his reason that Yakov was not equivalent to a Field Marshall.
When Stalin was asked after the war if the von Paulus story was a myth he replied:
“Not a myth... Just think how many sons ended in camps! Who would swap them for Paulus? Were they worse than Yakov? I had to refuse... What would they have said of me, our millions of Party fathers, if having forgotten about them, I agreed to swapping Yakov? No, I had no right... Otherwise, I’d no longer be “Stalin”... I so pitied Yasha!”
Yakov committed suicide in the POW camp, without having co-operated with the Germans in April 1943.*
The simple poster caption in large font plays on the dual meanings of the Russian word 'mir' as both 'peace' and 'the world'. With the Soviet Union conspicuously heading world peace movements in the 1950s, Stalin was presented in propaganda as the shining hope for peace - world peace, the beacon of hope for the entire world.
In Musinov's poster, Stalin’s eyes actually sparkle with friendship and joy. His approachability is highlighted by the fact that he is not wearing his characteristic marshal’s uniform, just a simple military-style tunic, without epaulettes or braid, and his sole decoration is the star of the Hero of Socialist Labour.
To be portrayed in the marshal’s uniform might have served as a reminder of the recent war and conquest in Eastern Europe. In official parlance, the nations of Eastern Europe had been ‘liberated’ and for this they owed the friendly avuncular figure of Stalin an unpayable debt of gratitude.
Vladimir Musinov was a well-known Soviet photographer who travelled the USSR from Vladivostok to the Arctic to middle Asia, documenting collectivisation and Soviet development. He was one of four Russian photographers who contributed to the March 29, 1943 special edition of LIFE (vol. 14, no. 13) on the USSR.
* S. Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. London, 2003, pp.394-5.
Gustav Klutsis, Shock workers of the fields engage in fighting for the socialist reconstruction of agriculture, 1932
This 1932 poster by highly acclaimed photomontage artist Gustav Klutsis focuses on agriculture and references the six conditions outlined in Stalin's speech of 23 June, 1931.
The shock workers (udarniki), people who performed exemplary and extraordinary feats of labour, were the predecessors of the Stakhanovites. From the 1950s, the shock worker of communist labour (udarnik kommunisticheskogo truda) was an official title, awarded along with a badge, certificate and cash.
In Klutsis' poster, Stalin rises solid from the earth, forged to the motherland and presenting a fortress of protection for the work beneath him.
Immediately beneath him and literally heading into his body is a wedge-shaped scene of the old, labour-intensive farming methods - horse and plough, and manual tilling.
In another of Klutsis' characteristic diagonals, a modern scene occupies the foreground in which a huge paddock is ploughed by an enormous tractor and only a handful of agricultural workers. The tractor flies an impossibly large red banner.
Behind Stalin, there is another typical Klutsis motif - the sea of people, in this case peasants - streaming in as a surging tide towards the inevitable socialist future.
Stalin is lit by a red ray from the heavens, containing a quotation of his own words:
"At the end of the Five-Year Plan, Soviet collectivisation should be mostly finished. "( I. Stalin)
The green side bar contains a series of slogans:
For organisational and economic strengthening of the collective!
Unknown artist, Six historical conditions of Comrade Stalin, undated
Yet another 'six conditions' poster on cheap paper, this time unsigned and undated. As the speech by Stalin from which the six conditions are taken was delivered on June 23, 1931, the poster post-dates this speech.
The poster appears to have been created in the early 1930s, as both the style and the Stalin portrait are of that time. The cameo format of the portrait places this poster within the tradition of informative and statistical posters of early Stalinism.
The poster shows scenes of industrialisation at the top and agricultural collectivisation at the bottom. The use of red fill denotes the socialist nature of this progress.
Strong diagonals among the industrial construction lead the eye to the medallion photographic portrait of Stalin. Stalin gazes directly at the viewer, appealing to them to adopt his six conditions.
The text of the poster reads:
Unknown artist, The path to victory - implementation of the six conditions of Comrade Stalin, 1932
This 1932 version of the six conditions poster by an unknown artist prioritises text over image. This sort of poster with simple design on cheap paper was often used as a way to publicise important messages from the leader.
The text reads:
The path to victory - implementation of the six conditions of Comrade Stalin.
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.
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