Viktor Govorkov, Thank you beloved Stalin for our happy childhood, 1936
Viktor Govorkov’s ‘Thank You Beloved Stalin for our Happy Childhood’ carries one variant of the iconic slogan, ‘Thank You Dear Comrade Stalin for our Happy Childhood!’ which was chanted by children at celebrations and appeared everywhere in Soviet childhood.
The theme of ‘A happy childhood’ was adopted for the 1936 May Day celebrations in Moscow and also appeared on beautifully presented biscuit and lolly boxes.
This 1936 poster shows Stalin dressed in white, surrounded by children with toys, flowers and artworks. Stalin’s white clothing has symbolic significance, suggesting purity, simplicity, and also making him appear as if he is full of light against the dark green vegetation. In fact, if you look at the patterns of shading on the children’s faces, it is clear that Stalin is the source of light in the poster.
In the background, children play in miniature cars and on scooters, watched by their mother, who is of secondary importance after Stalin. In the very distant background, parachutists enjoy their recreation time.
Stalin’s figure dominates the poster, his gaze focussed on the young boy who shows him a drawing of the Kremlin. Other boys hold model ships and aeroplanes. These toys are suggestive of career aspirations – the navy, the airforce, the arts – and symbolise the great potential for the future offered by Stalin and the Soviet state.
In contrast, despite the communist state’s explicit advocacy of equal rights and opportunities for women, who were expected to work as well as raise families, the girls in the poster are passive and express gratitude by gesture, and by the gift of flowers. One young girl clutches a stuffed toy, perhaps representing her nurturing and caring qualities.
Unlike the intense reds, whites and blacks of many of the Soviet posters on other themes, the colour palette of the happy childhood posters of the mid-1930s is mostly muted and pastel, emphasising the relaxed and idyllic nature of the scene. Red, green and white predominate – the colours of festivity.
Though happy and relaxed, the children are also orderly. Obedience, to Stalin and the state ahead even of parents, was seen as an ideal quality in the Soviet child.
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.