Nina Vatolina, Thank you dear Stalin for our happy childhood!, 1939
The theme of a happy childhood was a major trope in Soviet propaganda posters of the Stalin era, beginning in 1936. Many posters were produced on the theme of a happy childhood and, in some of them, Stalin appeared as the father of all children of all territories of the USSR.
In Nina Vatolina’s 1939 version of ‘Thank You Dear Stalin for our Happy Childhood,’ the children are from various nationalities within the Soviet Union, although Russian children still predominate in their Pioneer scarves.
Whereas in earlier posters on this theme Stalin and the children occupied the same space in the picture plane and interacted in an affectionate manner, in this poster the children are totally separated from Stalin. He is geographically isolated from them – nominally, away at the Kremlin, but in fact floating above them in the sky, looking down on them like an omnipotent god.
This god-like quality is reinforced by the difference in scale in the two halves of the poster – Stalin’s head is that of a titan and it dominates the heavens.
There is no sky, only light (as in an icon) and the sacred spire of the Kremlin, topped by its red star, stands like the steeple of a church bathed in fairytale light. The Spassky tower is the earthly home of the benign deity and, in the poster, forms a link between the realms of the heavens (inhabited by Stalin) and earth (inhabited by the children).
The children bring offerings, but these lush bunches of flowers will not actually reach Stalin and remain purely symbolic. While the children salute and gaze with reverential awe.
Stalin looks down on them as a symbolic father, offering protection and benefaction from afar. Stalin radiates white light, which not only illuminates the Kremlin tower, but also the faces of the children across the various lands and territories of the union.
It is here that Stalin’s transformation from man to myth commences.
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.