Stalin poster of the week is a weekly excursion into the fascinating world of propaganda posters of Iosif Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1929 until his death in 1953.
Here, Anita Pisch will showcase some of the most interesting Stalin posters, based on extensive research in the archives of the Russian State Library, and analyse what makes these images such successful propaganda.
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.
This 1947 poster by Georgian-born artist Iraklii Toidze combines the themes of childhood, victory in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War), and the bright Communist future in one powerful image in which Stalin is visually compared to Christ.
Stalin is depicted in the uniform of Marshal of the Soviet Union, holding a toddler aloft. At first glance, Stalin’s kindness illuminates the future of our children! appears to step back to the Stalin iconography of the mid-1930s, in which Stalin was surrounded by happy and affectionate children, all thanking him for their happy childhoods.
But the contact here is not fatherly, intimate or affectionate.
Stalin holds the child away from his body, at arm’s length, his hands placed in the same manner as those of Christ in icons of the Dormition of the Virgin, the child in the position of the soul of the Virgin which is held by Christ.
The feast of the Dormition commemorates the ‘falling asleep’ (natural death) of the Virgin, her salvation by Christ, and her acceptance into paradise.
Unlike the ‘happy children’ of the 1930s, the little blond Russian boy does not look at Stalin, but off to the right. He holds a bunch of flowers and a little red flag over his head, sacred symbol of the revolution and blood sacrifice, protection and intercession.
The boy wears white, as does the soul of the Virgin in Dormition icons. Stalin stands in the position of Christ in the icon. In the icon, the Virgin’s soul is held by Christ who conveys it to an angel who carries it to Heaven.
By showing Stalin in his Marshal’s uniform, reference is made to his role as Russia’s saviour in The Great Patriotic War. Russia has endured much pain, bloodshed and sacrifice.
However, from this sacrifice, the pure Russian soul has emerged, was placed into the hands of Stalin and thus conveyed through the passage of worldly suffering to the waiting gates of paradise.
In a socialist reading, this paradise exists here on earth – it is the long-promised land of the Communist utopia. The text of the poster associates Stalin with light and makes it clear that it is Stalin’s care and kindness which has enabled the Russian people to survive the war and emerge into the Communist paradise.