Stalin poster of the week 52 (SPotW52) SPECIAL ANNIVERSARY EDITION: 100th Anniversary of the October Revolution and 1st Anniversary of SPotW
Gustav Klutsis, October to the world, 1932
I would like to thank all my friends and loyal readers for sticking with me through the first year of stalin poster of the week. It has been a great year and there are plenty more to come!
One of the ways in which Stalin sought to strengthen legitimacy for his leadership throughout its entirety was to establish himself as a successor, disciple, and interpreter of Lenin. In 1932, Stalin was still in the early years of leadership, his power consolidated but not yet totally secure – in fact, he faced a leadership challenge of sorts in 1934.
Lenin had been the charismatic leader of the Party until his death in 1924. In the years following Lenin’s death, the personality cult of Lenin became a vehicle to power and legitimacy for any candidate who could successfully prove his indisputable lineage to the deified Lenin.
One of the primary ways in which Stalin publicly illustrated his closeness to Lenin, was by ensuring that his image was visually linked with that of Lenin. A large number of political posters that feature the image of Stalin, juxtapose this image with the image of Lenin.
Stalin’s propaganda apparatus went as far as cutting and pasting photographs and commissioning paintings showing Stalin and Lenin together on historical occasions when they had not, in fact, been together at all in order to promote this idea of Stalin’s lineage. Stalin was also sometimes depicted in fake historical scenes as standing, speaking and pointing while Lenin listens.
The appeal to an established lineage is a phenomenon that occurs throughout the history of charismatic leadership. By depicting Stalin as Lenin’s legitimate successor, a case was made for him to partake of Lenin’s charismatic authority.
This was important because Stalin and the Bolshevik Party had neither traditional grounds on which to claim the right to rule, such as those of the monarchy, nor rational and legal grounds – those conferred by processes of democratic election or other legally prescribed means for choosing leaders.
Thus Stalin had to be presented as both an endorsed disciple of Lenin, and a capable leader in his own right. This 1932 poster by renowned photomontage poster artist Gustav Klutsis achieves both of these aims.
First, Lenin is depicted with arm outstretched, pointing the way forward to the future and educating the young Stalin, whilst also indicating the evidence of Soviet achievements thus far, as displayed below. The suggestion is that Lenin speaks, while Stalin listens, and it was to be a few more years before propaganda depicted Stalin as having equal status with Lenin.
Second, Stalin is depicted as a junior co-leader of the October Revolution of 1917, building the myth of Stalin’s centrality to the success of the October coup.
The caption of the poster ‘October to the world’ highlights this association, whilst also stressing a primary goal of Soviet socialism in its early years – the extension of the revolution to the rest of the world. With Lenin dead, it was Stalin who was called upon to see world revolution through to its inevitable Marxist end.
Within the non-realist iconography of Russian Orthodox imagery and distinctly Russian traditions like the lubok (political broadsheets with mass distribution), the importance of figures is often indicated by their relative size. Here, Stalin and Lenin are titans, dwarfing the masses and scenes of Soviet construction beneath them.
Disturbingly prescient, Stalin’s left foot appears to have crushed some of the regimented and uniformed masses.
While it is unclear whether Klutsis, who was deeply devoted to Lenin, had any subversive intentions, it must be noted that he was arrested in the purges in 1937, and secretly shot in February 1938.
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.