Nikolai Zhukov, Thank you Comrade Stalin for our happy life!, 1940
The genre of the happy childhood was a major theme in Soviet propaganda posters featuring Stalin from 1936 to 1950, with a brief interlude during the Great Patriotic War when propaganda had other priorities.
In 1940, with the Soviet Union on the brink of war, it is not only children but the entire population that is infantilised and thanking Stalin for their happy life. A poster by Nikolai Zhukov features a remote and celebrated Stalin as a giant poster on a wall above some youthful observers of a huge parade.
Children and young people wave excitedly from a balcony above a festive parade that extends as far as the eye can see. Revellers carry red banner and images of Lenin and Stalin down a long avenue of apartments.
The apartment blocks are evidence of the state providing quality housing for the people. Two aircraft fly overhead, symbolic of Soviet achievements in aviation and of preparedness for the upcoming war although, in truth, the aircraft that were setting world records in aviation for the USSR were not the sort of aircraft needed to win a war.
Zhukov’s ‘Thank you Comrade Stalin for our happy life!’ makes it clear that the Stalin persona presented by the propagandists of the personality cult is largely symbolic. The poster features a quotation from Vyacheslav Molotov on the Stalin symbol:
‘We have a name that has become the symbol of the victory of socialism. It is the name of the symbol of the moral and political unity of the Soviet people! You know what that name is — STALIN!’
In the Short Biography released in 1947, Stalin’s value as the symbol of a plethora of Bolshevik values is made explicit in the text:
‘In the eyes of the peoples of the U.S.S.R., Stalin is the incarnation of their heroism, their love of their country, their patriotism’
Writing in 1971, with the benefit of historical perspective, Roy Medvedev also regarded Stalin as a rallying symbol to unify and give hope to a suffering population during the Great Patriotic War:
‘Stalin’s image became a sort of symbol existing in the popular mentality independently from its actual bearer. During the war years, as the Soviet people were battered by unbelievable miseries, the name of Stalin, and the faith in him, to some degree, pulled the Soviet people together, giving them hope of victory.’**
Evidence exists that this was true for at least some soldiers. The writer Konstantin Simonov quoted an officer on the Stalingrad front who said he
‘gained all his strength from the idea that our great leader directs everything in our enormous cause from his office in Moscow and thus invests in him, an ordinary colonel, part of his genius and spirit’.***
Poster artist Nikolai Zhukov was a highly decorated People’s Artist of the USSR with two Orders of Lenin, was also a Soviet pilot and was the artistic director of the Studio of Military Artists from 1943.
*G.F. Alexandrov, M.R. Galaktionov, V.S. Kruzhkov, M.B. Mitin, V.D. Mochalov & P.N. Pospelov, Joseph Stalin: a short biography, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947, pp. 201-3.
** Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev, Let history judge: the origins and consequences of Stalinism, New York, Knopf, 1971, p. 749.
*** Quoted in Orlando Figes, The whisperers: private life in Stalin’s Russia, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2007, p. 410.
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.