Genrikh Futerfas, Stalinists! Extend the front of the Stakhanovite movement!, 1936
The Stakhanovite movement was named after Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, a coalminer who, in 1935, exceeded his quota of seven tons of coal per shift with an output of 102 tons, and reorganised his work brigade to increase its production through the use of improved work methods.
Stalin personally praised this extraordinary achievement and founded a movement in Stakhanov’s name with the aim of increasing Soviet industrial output across the board.
At the First All Union Conference of Stakhanovites was held in November 1935. Stalin stated:
The Stakhanov movement is a movement of working men and women which will go down in the history of our socialist construction as one of its most glorious pages.
The 1935 Conference of Stakhanovites generated substantial publicity and was followed by a related publicity campaign. The 1936 poster ‘Stalinists! Extend the front of the Stakhanovite movement!’ by Genrikh Futerfas promotes the Stakhanovite movement and exhorts working people to join their ranks.
The poster design resembles many others of the early to mid-1930s, and is a somewhat less skillful rendition of the style of poster so successfully executed by Gustav Klutsis.
The technique used is photomontage, and the colour scheme is monochromatic, save for the diagonal slash of red surrounding the outstanding figure of Stalin, who heartily greets the army of enthusiastic workers beneath him.
The diagonal suggests movement, as if swarms of people are indeed pouring in to swell the ranks of the Stakhanovite workers, all joyously active and working together in the upward direction indicated by Stalin’s guiding hand.
Despite the multitude of workers featured in the poster, they are concentrated in the bottom third of the space, and it is the figure of Stalin that dominates and is the only figure to penetrate the upper plane. Stalin’s upraised hand, his palm flat and facing outwards, is a well-known recurring motif in the work of Klutsis.
The subtitle of the poster quotes from Stalin’s speech at the Stakhanovite conference:
Life is getting better, comrades. Life has become more joyous. And when life is joyous, work goes well.
The first part of this refrain became one of Stalin’s major slogans, and was the inspiration for a popular song of 1936, Life’s Getting Better,* with lyrics by Vasilii Lebedev-Kumach and music by General Aleksandr Aleksandrov of the Red Army Ensemble.
In his speech to the Stakhanovite conference, Stalin stated that it is the combination of hard work and technical mastery that lead to increases in productivity, and he outlined the progression from capitalism to socialism to Communism.
In this transitional socialist phase, each person is to be rewarded according to his work. It is only under a Communist system, when there is an easy surplus of consumer goods that each person is provided with goods and services according to his needs.
Thus, the extraordinary benefits and rewards accorded to those who overachieve, including trips to conferences and gramophone players, are explicable under the socialist system, and do not contradict the basic ideological concept of equality.
Part of the transition from socialism to Communism also involves the education of workers and the gradual elimination of the distinction between mental and manual labour.
Stalin said that this will occur because the level of technical and cultural education needed for the mastery of all tasks will elevate the manual worker to the level of technical worker or engineer and thus place him on a par with the mental worker.
The 1936 poster by Futerfas is an interesting example of the concepts of obligation and reciprocity in Soviet society as reflected in the Stakhanovite movement.
While the conference itself, and the sentiments expressed in Stalin’s speech, acknowledge the contribution made by these extraordinary workers, the emphasis in both the poster and Stalin’s speech, which is referenced on the poster, is on the obligation owed to the State.
Stalin was at great pains to point out that it is not just the heroic efforts of the workers that are responsible for the increases in industrial output. In fact, he claimed that their achievements could not have occurred without the gifts bestowed by the Revolution and the State:
The basis for the Stakhanov movement was first and foremost the radical improvement in the material welfare of the workers. Life has improved, comrades. Life has become more joyous. And when life is joyous, work goes well. Hence the high rates of output. Hence the heroes and heroines of labour. That, primarily, is the root of the Stakhanov movement. If there had been a crisis in our country, if there had been unemployment — that scourge of the working class — if people in our country lived badly, drably, joylessly, we should have had nothing like the Stakhanov movement. Our proletarian revolution is the only revolution in the world which had the opportunity of showing the people not only political results but also material results.
The Stakhanovites owed a debt to the State for the opportunity it provided them to work hard and to overachieve. (Despite Stalin’s vehement disclaimers, this sounds remarkably like capitalist ideology, only here the role of capitalist private enterprise is replaced by the socialist State).
Stalin ended his speech at the conference on a note which stressed the reciprocal nature of the relationship between these exemplary workers and the State:
I shall not undertake to deny that you, the members of the present conference, have learned something here at this conference from the leaders of our government. But neither can it be denied that we, the leaders of the government, have learned a great deal from you, the Stakhanovites, the members of this conference. Well, comrades, thanks for the lesson, many thanks!
*From James von Geldern and Richard Stites. (eds). Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Songs, Poems, Movies, Plays and Folklore, 1917 – 1953. Bloomington, Ind. 1995, pp.237-8.
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.