Unidentified artist, The Civil War 1918-1920, 1938
Despite ongoing claims to the contrary, Stalin was actually quite active in both the October Revolution and the Civil War.
Speaking of the early days of power after the October Revolution, Fiodor Alliluyev noted in his unpublished memoirs:*
Comrade Stalin was genuinely known only to a small circle of people who had come across him … in the political underground or had succeeded … in distinguishing real work and real devotion from chatter, noise (and) meaningless babble.
Polish Bolshevik Stanislaw Pestkovsky noted:**
Lenin could not get along without Stalin for a single day … Our Smolny office was under Lenin’s wing. In the course of the day, he’d call Stalin an endless number of times and would appear in our office and lead him away.
During the Civil War, Lenin despatched Stalin to Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad) in mid-1918, initially to take charge of food supplies. This key strategic city looked likely to fall to White forces.
Stalin took military control in July and, with his status raised to commissar, killed off a group of Trotskii’s ex-tsarist specialists, and played a significant part in the victory of the Red Army in that city.
Beginning in 1938, with the purges drawing to a close and war brewing in Europe, several posters highlight Stalin’s achievements in the Civil War.
The poster titled ‘The Civil War 1918–1920’ (poster no. 6 in the series) features a black-and-white photographic portrait of the young Stalin gazing out at the viewer in military-style jacket.
The poster also shows copies of a telegram from Stalin dated 19 July 1918 and the transcript of a recorded phonecall discussing the food situation on 24 July 1918.
The telegram and dates are significant, as propaganda in the late 1930s made much of Stalin’s successful intervention in the Civil War at Tsaritsyn and the telegram provides factual proof of the trust placed in Stalin by Lenin.
Stalin is depicted as central to the Civil War leadership, as a close and trusted comrade of Lenin, and as associated with the military effort, while Lenin is carrying out construction tasks.
In one of the poster’s vignettes, Stalin is shown rallying the first cavalry. In others, Lenin carries a large log during a subbotnik (day of voluntary public labour). Mikhail Kalinin agitates amongst the crowd. Trotskii, who had been instrumental in the red victory in the Civil War, is nowhere to be seen in the poster and had been both demonised and written out of revolutionary history.
* Fyodor Alliluyev, quoted in Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, p. 367.
** Bolshevik Stanislaw Pestkovsky quoted in Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, pp. 367-8
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.