Alexander Abramovich Mytnikov, 26 years without Lenin, but still on Lenin’s path, 1950
This intriguing poster by Alexander Mytnikov, published at Rostov-on-Don in 1950, employs the generic slogan ‘Under the banner of Lenin, under the leadership of Stalin — forward to the victory of communism!’ at its base, but has an unusual caption at the top of the poster — ‘26 years without Lenin, but still on Lenin’s path’.
An almost white-haired Stalin stands with his face in semi-shadow, his brows pinched as if in grief. According to literary scholar Katerina Clark,* in socialist realist literature the furrowed brow and pinched face are signs of the revolutionary’s dedication and sacrifice. Although Stalin’s skin is generally smooth and unblemished, he appears tired and aged.
Behind Stalin, a massive red banner billows in a yellow sky, resembling a wall of fire. The tiny Spassky tower of the Kremlin is in shadow, with the golden fringe of the banner also resembling flames. The words on the banner read ‘Long live the Party of Lenin–Stalin!’
Dominating the banner, on a scale similar to Stalin’s head, is that of Lenin in grayscale. Lenin also looks out of the poster, but far further to the left (the left signifies the past) than Stalin. Lenin’s hair, normally portrayed in posters as flat and sparse, curls forward around his forehead above his ears, and his usually trim goatee is thick and lush and appears to circle his chin.
This is an unusual depiction of Lenin, but bears some resemblance to depictions of St Nicholas the Wonderworker in Russian Orthodox icons. St Nicholas, whose feast day is 6 December (19 December, Old Calendar) is the ‘miracle-working’ saint and one of the most beloved figures in the iconography of the church, known for his gentleness, humility, love of all people and purity of heart.
Tales of St Nicholas’ life highlight a reputation for giving anonymous and secret gifts to aid people in need and he is reported to have divided his substantial inheritance among the poor. He is known to intercede for petitioners in response to heartfelt prayer through his icon in practical and tangible ways, particularly in matters of healing and rescue, and is also the patron saint of travellers, particularly seafarers.
Nicholas is usually depicted with a high, bald forehead, his hair curling in on either side, and with a trim circular beard and moustache. By placing Lenin on the red banner over Stalin’s right shoulder, visually referencing St Nicholas, and making textual reference to his exemplary role, Mytnikov is perhaps drawing a parallel between Lenin and Nicholas’s gentle nature, humility, and fame for redistributing the wealth of the rich among the poor.
There is also the suggestion that the apotheosised Lenin can intercede on behalf of both Stalin and the Soviet citizen. While Lenin is a saint in the Soviet pantheon, Stalin is the dedicated and self-sacrificial revolutionary who bears aloft the Lenin banner.
Katerina Clark, The Soviet novel, p. 57
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.