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.
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