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.
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