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
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