Georgii Zarnitskii, Workers stand to defend our beloved socialist motherland!, year unknown
Stalin rarely appeared in images with any kind of enemy, although there are a few exceptions, including in a 1938 poster by Deni and Dolgorukov, and a 1941 poster by an unidentified artist.
A tiny medallion of Stalin and Lenin also appears in this curious undated war poster by Georgii Zarnitskii. During both the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War, the enemy was depicted as either brutal and animalistic, or cowardly and cartoon-like. In this poster, the enemy appears as cowardly.
Three-quarters of the picture plane consists of a fairly characteristic depiction of a young fighter (not in standard military uniform – he is a worker) holding a rifle and a long banner with a frieze of Lenin and Stalin and the words ‘For the motherland! For Stalin!’ emblazoned across it.
This phrase was more than a mere tool for propaganda. Soldiers rushed into battle with this cry on their lips. As Ilya Ehrenburg recalls in his memoirs:
I was with an Andalusian detachment whose men fought to the death; they called it the ‘Stalin Battalion’. During the war years I had often heard the cry ‘For the Fatherland, for Stalin!’ The letters of many Italian and French heroes of the Resistance written on the eve of their execution ended with the words ‘Long Live Stalin!’ On his seventieth birthday A Frenchwoman sent Stalin the cap worn by her daughter who had been tortured to death by the Gestapo.*
In Zarnitskii’s poster, the backdrop is also full of fairly conventional imagery – the silhouettes of other fighters, rifles ready, bayonets thrust forward, and signs of successful Soviet industrialisation and agriculture in the background, the silos looking particularly phallic.
However the right edge of the poster, a section demarcated by the pole of the banner, is stark black with a depiction of small frightened enemies, two cowering, and the hind leg of one visible fleeing, in white outline.
Above the frightened enemy is a dogfight between aircraft, with smoke and falling debris. The caption to the poster is in large, bold type and reads: ‘Workers stand to defend our beloved Socialist Motherland!’
Thus, while the style of the major portion of the poster is conventional and heroic, the part of the poster devoted to the enemy is cartoon-like and slightly comical. The enemy looks anything but menacing.
* Ilya Ehrenburg. Men, Years – Life, Transl. by Tatiana Shebunina and Yvonne Kapp, London, MacGibbon and Kee, Vol. 5. P. 304.
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.