This 1952 poster by an unknown artist highlights the treatment of Stalin as an icon. A huge military portrait of Stalin is wreathed in fruit and flowers and appears to be part of a parade on a Soviet holiday.
Red banners swirl behind the portrait and it appears that a sea of banner-bearing children is marching forward. Eight children, in a variety of national costumes of the republics of the USSR, have crowded in front of the processional icon, posing informally and smiling for the camera.
These children, relaxed and at leisure, are in marked contrast to those in the other posters of this time who are engaged in study or oath-taking ceremonies.
Despite the casual atmosphere where children are involved, Stalin is even more remote and god-like than ever. The poster has no caption and was published in an edition of only 300, and its purpose is unclear.
Propaganda posters that overtly thanked Stalin for a happy childhood operated on several levels in Stalin’s personality cult. On one level, they appealed to children and instructed them in appropriate behaviour and attitude towards the leader.
By depicting Stalin increasingly as a mythical and iconic figure, children were further encouraged to an attitude of unquestioning obedience and spiritual faith that filled the vacuum left by the suppression of the Orthodox religion in Soviet society.
After the Great Patriotic War and in the last few years of Stalin’s life, the emphasis in propaganda moved from depicting Stalin as an earthly father who was intimately concerned with the everyday problems of the citizenry, to a remote and god-like image of the leader in which he was the saviour of the USSR, the Eastern bloc and, ultimately, the whole world. He thus became a sort of spiritual father to whom one prayed and sent tribute from afar.
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.