Vartan Arakelov, Stalin is the wisest of all people…, 1939
One of the key symbols associated with Stalin across all genres of propaganda is the sun, with its related qualities of light and warmth. The sun has been a recurrent motif throughout propaganda associated with leaders since pre-Christian times, when leaders appealed to their sun gods to look favourably upon their leadership, their battles and their harvests.
Associating the leader with the sun suggests that he is the bringer of life and of bounty to the people and the sun became a central image in Stalinist propaganda, with Stalin unambiguously equated with the sun in poetry and song, while propaganda posters frequently associated Stalin with light in general. The sun also symbolises the masculine principle and leadership.
Perhaps one of the most laboured metaphorical associations of Stalin with the light of the sun occurs in a poem by Kazakh poet Dzhambul (28.02.1846 – 22.06.1945). This panegyric forms the text of a poster by Vartan Arakelov which was released in 1939, the year of Stalin’s 60th birthday celebrations.
Stalin is celebrated as the father of children of all nations and tribes, and the source of a radiating and shimmering light, which reflects onto everyone.
Despite the fatherly connotations of the text, this poster image of Stalin emphasises his remoteness from the realm of man and endows him with the qualities of a deity.
Stalin is made of stone, an honour reserved for founding fathers and those who have accomplished exceptional feats. The statue is immutable and immortal. It stands amid lush blossoms and above a group of children, and it looks protectively out over the scene and beyond. Stalin appears as a god who guarantees abundance and safety, and invites veneration and worship.
The children, who are from various nationalities of the USSR, cannot hope to access Stalin personally as they could in earlier posters. Instead, the remote stone Stalin is accessed through his representative in the earthly realm, the poet Dzhambul, who plays the dombra, the pear-shaped lute of the Kazakh people, and sings words of praise of Stalin to the children:
Stalin is the wisest of all people
Dzhambul’s mission is sacred, as emphasised by his white tunic and rich red robe.
There is some disagreement as to whether Dzhambul Dzhabayev was a real poet or the creation of Russian writers who needed a traditional folksinger for propaganda purposes. Russian poet Andrei Aldan-Semyonov (27.10.1908 – 08.12.1985) claims to have authored Dzhambul’s poems from 1934 until he was sent to the gulag in 1938.
The children, all members of Lenin’s Young Pioneers, are passive and attentive. From this time onward, the ideal Soviet child was consistently depicted as obedient, disciplined and grateful across all media. For example, the 1937 film Cradle Song, (Колыбельная) shows Stalin surrounded by children and includes footage of the Eighteenth Party Congress where the Young Pioneers joined in songs of praise sung to 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.