Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, We’ve got a Metro!, 1935
By 1935, an achievement of great and tangible significance for the daily lives of Muscovites occurred and was celebrated in propaganda posters that appeared throughout Moscow in the hundreds of thousands.
Two 1935 posters, both titled ‘We’ve Got a Metro!’, by prolific poster artists Viktor Nikolaevich Deni(sov) and Nikolai Andreevich Dolgorukov celebrate the opening of the Metro in Moscow, one of the truly grand Soviet achievements.
Although plans for a rail system of various types had been submitted and discussed since 1898, the construction of an underground railway service to move Moscow’s burgeoning population only finally got underway under Stalin’s government in November 1931.
There were huge natural obstacles to overcome, including soil unsuitable for tunnelling and the existence of several underground waterways. Work was done mainly by hand using pickaxes, spades and bars, as there was a shortage of pneumatic hammers and rock loaders.
The Muscovite population was mobilised to get behind the massive effort needed to achieve the Metro with the organisation of subbotniks (days of voluntary unpaid labour) amid a festival atmosphere with bands playing.
Political officials, business leaders and delegates all picked up shovels. Labourers were recruited from all over the vast empire, and peasants brought in from the collective farms. Thus it was a truly national effort, and credit for this monumental achievement belonged to the people, who were genuinely invested in it.
A Pravda article from late 1933 exclaimed: “How many people recreated themselves in the process of building the metro!”
Thus, building the Metro and other achievements of Soviet engineering, were viewed not only as extraordinary physical feats, but also as contributing to the central task of socialism – the engineering of a new human soul.
The Soviet leadership used the Metro project to bring art and beauty into the everyday lives of Soviet citizens. Function and aesthetics were seen as wholly intertwined in socialist theory, with the utility of beauty the dominant paradigm.
As historian Andrew Jenks points out: in 1935 “Moscow stood triumphantly at the centre of a newly sacralised domain, bounded below by the world’s deepest metros and above by the world’s highest flying pilots.”*
The metro was open to the public on May 16, 1935, with 285,000 passengers riding the subway on the first day.
Simon Sebag Montefiore describes an amusing scene as Stalin, his daughter, and their lengthy entourage, including bodyguards, all decided to take a ride on the Metro, causing near-riots at two stations.**
On the opening day, fifty-five thousand colour posters celebrating the occasion were hung around the city, including two designs which contained an image of Stalin, by Deni and Dolgorukov. Both titled ‘We’ve Got a Metro!’, these 1935 poster images consist of a photomontage of key features of the Metro – stations, route maps, tunnels trains, and the long escalators used to move commuters 30 to 40 metres underground at some stations.
In the first image, Stalin is inset at the top of the picture as the overseer and inspirer of the project. A sea of commuters floods the lower picture plane, and flank Lazar Kaganovich, after whom the Metro was named until 1955 (it is currently named after Lenin.)
One of the crowd carries a red banner which reads: ‘Long live our great Stalin.’ The caption above the image says: ‘There are no fortresses that the Bolsheviks cannot capture.’
*Andrew Jenks. ‘A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization.’ Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 4, Oct., 2000, pp. 697-724, p.699.
**Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. London, 2003, p.156.
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.