B.V. Vorontsov, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin – Companion and a great follower of Lenin…, 1951
B.V. Vorontsov’s ‘Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin’ was published in 1951, just two years after Stalin’s 70th birthday and two years before Stalin’s death, and pulls all of the elements of the Stalin personality cult together into one fascinating hagiographic poster.
The poster does not have complete publication details, so it is not known where it was published or who commissioned it. It would be an unusual poster for its time if it were published in Moscow or Leningrad as, by 1951, such laudatory personality cult posters of Stalin were not generally being published in the two major Russian centres, although they were being published in the other republics and in the territories newly incorporated into the USSR after the war. However, the text of the poster is only in Russian, which may suggest that it does not come from one of the republics.
The poster is composed in a hagiographic style resembling somewhat the lives of the saints in Orthodox icons. The central panel features an oval black-and-white portrait of Stalin at the top of a large panel that consists mainly of text.
The background colour of the central panel is yellow-gold, similar to the background colour of icons, and the box is outlined in a shimmering gold. The text is in the holy colour red.
A greying but unblemished and dignified Stalin gazes serenely into the distance, wearing the epaulettes of the Marshal of the Soviet Union and the single Hero of Socialist Labour medal. The positioning of Stalin, and the oval shape that semi-encloses his image, is reminiscent of the position of God in the heavens in icons.
The text of this central panel is extensive and translates as follows:
Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
This short passage outlines most of the major symbolic values that Stalin’s image represented in Soviet propaganda. He is not only the disciple of Lenin, but an equal – a companion; he is a leader and teacher; a genius; a creator; an inspirer; and responsible for organising all of the victories of the Soviet people and the socialist system.
In fact, the text paraphrases a lengthy tribute to Stalin released by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) in Moscow in 1949 on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday.
The larger landscape photograph underneath the golden box is a photograph of Stalin’s birthday celebrations. Among those attending are Mao Zedong and many prominent members of the Politburo, including Lazar Kaganovich, Nikolai Bulganin, Aleksandr Vasilevskii, Nikita Krushchev, Mikhail Suslov, Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoian and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Nikolai Shvernik, speaking.
The portrait of Stalin in the background is huge, approximately two-and-a-half men high, and is framed with an elaborate border and surrounded by a sea of flowers, which are celebratory, tributary, and symbols of Soviet abundance.
On either side of the central panel are small text boxes and significant scenes from Stalin’s life, with the poster serving as a pictorial illustration of the Propaganda department’s text.
The text in gold on the top left translates as: “Comrade Stalin has raised the glorious banner of Lenin, courageously led our party on the Leninist path …”
The scenes beneath it show Stalin:
The righthand side of the poster illustrates the text, “Stalin’s name is the most precious for our people, for ordinary people around the world. Stalin’s name is a symbol of the future victory of communism.”
Scenes beneath this caption are taken from Stalin’s life after the death of Lenin:
The text of the tribute by the Propaganda and Agitation Department on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday stresses Stalin’s lineage from the great Communist leaders, Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also his huge independent contribution to the achievement of communism, which allows him to be placed alongside these legendary figures as an equal.
It refers to Stalin as the ‘Lenin of today’, and concludes by expounding on the symbolic value of the name Stalin, then wishing him a long life before closing with the slogan ‘Under the wise leadership of Comrade Stalin – forward to communism!’
Each of the scenes from the life of the saint is enclosed in a wreath of leaves outlined in gold – symbolising Stalin’s role as the organiser and inspirer of the many victories of the Soviet people and the system.
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.