N.I. Mikhailov, Stalin among the delegates, 1937
‘Stalin among the delegates’ is a 1937 poster by N.I. Mikhailov, published in Moscow by Glavlit, the censorship bureau, as part of a series that included posters of ‘Kalinin among the Uzbeks’ and ‘Peasants visiting Lenin’.
The poster highlights the new rights of women as enshrined in the 1936 Constitution of the USSR and features a verse at its base recalling the ‘slave-like’ conditions under which women laboured in the past.
As a legacy of the past,
The visual imagery of the poster is striking and unusual.
All of the delegates are young women from the eastern republics in colourful traditional dress. A young-looking Stalin (Stalin was already 58 years old in 1937) is pictured sitting among them, as ‘real’ and ‘fleshy’ as they are, and drawn on the same scale.
He is differentiated from the women only by his throne-like chair; most of the women stand. Stalin leans forward to talk intimately with a woman in blue, while a woman in a red veil listens attentively.
Stalin is relaxed and friendly, superior, but not threatening, however, it is clear that he speaks, and they listen. He adopts the roles of teacher and mentor to these women from traditional societies going forth in daring new roles.
Behind Stalin, the woman draped over his chair is clearly enamoured of him, as are the beaming women in the background. Two women whisper conspiratorially and giggle.
The informality of the scene is reinforced by the papers scattered across the table, which imply that they have all been working together.
While the purpose of the poster is to highlight Stalin’s mentorship and support of women, this is the most overtly sexual image of Stalin I have encountered. Other poster images of Stalin may suggest fertility and marital union in an abstract allegorical manner, but here he appears almost as if he is presiding over his harem, while the women seem positively titillated to be in his presence.
Despite the thematic emphasis on female rights and equality, the women’s deference to Stalin is unambiguous in the composition and in the text. The poster was published in a large edition of 200,000 during the year of the Great Purge.
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.