Naum Karpovskii, ‘Labour with martial persistence so your kolkhoz becomes part of the vanguard. The reward for honest work is wealth, fame and honour!’, 1948
By 1948, the Second World War had been over for three years. Soviet victory gave Stalin political legitimacy, and he was almost always portrayed in the military uniform of the Marshal of the Soviet Union from this point onward.
Stalin had in fact been awarded the military rank of Generalissimus in 1945, but claimed that the rank did not exist in the Soviet military, and expressed discomfort at being addressed in this way. Although a new uniform was designed for the rank, Stalin continued to appear in posters in the Marshal’s uniform.
In Karpovskii’s 1948 poster, Stalin’s warrior archetype is transplanted to an agricultural setting. A military Stalin is surrounded by outstanding agricultural workers whom he has just rewarded with Gold Star Hammer and Sickle Hero of Socialist Labour medals and the Order of Lenin for their outstanding labour feats.
The workers are both male and female, of varying ages, and represent a variety of ethnicities from throughout the territories of the USSR. In contrast to earlier posters featuring agricultural workers, these workers wear suits, and there are no bales of cotton or sheafs of wheat to be seen.
This is in keeping with the post-war emphasis on using science and technology to increase productivity, rather than simply pushing people to work harder at manual labour.
Unlike many other posters of this era, Stalin stands on the same level with the workers, only just the tallest person in the room by a hair’s breadth. The atmosphere is relaxed and genial with smiles all round. Stalin’s modesty is most apparent in that he is even less decorated than the others in the room, wearing only his Hero of Socialist Labour medal.
Stalin asks the kolkhoz (collective farms) workers to treat their work as if it were a battle, and promises them ample reward for their efforts. From the earliest days of the Bolshevik Party, battle metaphors were extended to all areas of life, with frequent reference to struggles, fronts and weapons in a non-military context.
In this context, the war was just one of many battles facing the fledgling Soviet state, and a strong, militant leader is needed to keep ensuring victory.
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.