Konstantin Cheprakov, We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy..., (in Uzbek and Russian), 1941
Konstantin Cheprakov (Чепраков, К.П.), We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy.We will keep the covenant of our fathers. Lead us into battle victory, wise Stalin – Clear the enemy, father of fighters! (Разбить врага – вождью мы клятву дали. Мы сохраним завет своих отцов. Веди нас в бой победный, мудрый Сталин – Гроза врагов, родной отец бойцов!) (in Uzbek and Russian), 1941
Konstantin Cheprakov’s poster of 1941 shows Stalin looking slightly ethnically Uzbek in a characteristic wartime pose of strength and iron will.
Stalin appears in profile, right arm rigidly indicating the way forward to victory. His tunic and coat-tail swirl, but here he appears to have been depicted just as he has come to a halt.
In Stalin’s left hand, he carries a scroll. The scroll is symbolic on two levels: first, it can be read literally as a ‘plan’, i.e. Stalin has a strategy for winning the war and is in the process of executing it; second, it is visually reminiscent of the scroll (logos) carried by Christ in Russian Orthodox icons and suggests that Stalin is the saviour of the nation.
Soldiers, tanks and aircraft surge forward past him, set on reaching the indicated destination. Diagonal banners and a raised bayonet in the foreground reinforce the violence of the forward motion, as do the aircraft diving in on a diagonal.
The poster’s caption, in Uzbek and Russian, reinforces the notion of the allegiance owed to Stalin as the wise father of the people:
‘We swore an oath to our leader to fight the enemy. We will keep the covenant of our fathers. Lead us into battle victory, wise Stalin — Clear the enemy, father of fighters!’
Images that appear to be photographic purport to tell the truth. Stalin never went near the front in the Great Patriotic War but, if Stalin is depicted as physically leading the troops into battle, it is easier to associate him with qualities of vision, bravery, heroism and steadfastness, even if this is at a subconscious level.
Despite the fact that Stalin is portrayed here as leading the troops into battle, he was not yet depicted in military uniform. Insignia of rank were abolished in 1917, immediately after the Revolution, however, in 1935, Stalin reintroduced personal ranks and, in 1940, general officer ranks. Insignia of rank were fully restored in 1943.
Stalin is shown hatless or, on the rare occasions when he does wear a cap, it is unadorned, and he wears no epaulettes or other insignia of rank.
To represent Stalin as a military genius at this point in time may have been risky and may even have opened him up to ridicule. Lack of preparedness for war, poor decision-making, and a blatant misreading of the enemy could all be placed at Stalin’s feet, as could the consequent losses of Soviet life.
Despite the advantages in wartime of portraying a strong and successful warrior, the propaganda machine was as yet unable to unambiguously drape Stalin in the mantle of the warrior. Instead, the established archetypes of Father and Teacher were called upon in an effort to maintain some legitimacy for the leader and to mobilise the population behind him in this crisis.
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.