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.
The heads of the two leaders dwarf the diagonally arranged scenes of construction in the black and white of newsprint. The strong diagonals and vivid reds suggest movement and determination. Lenin is seen as at the forefront of the movement towards construction and industrial expansion.
Appearing behind, but literally merged with Lenin, the overt message is that Stalin, the disciple of the great master, is about to become the new ‘Lenin of today’.
Klutsis became a prominent graphic artist under Stalin and was successful in securing many commissions for posters during the early to mid-1930s. He was fully committed to the goals of the regime. In his autobiography, Klutsis summed up his role as an artist of the revolution:
My task was to make the revolutionary struggle of the working class and Soviet reality the contents of my creative output, converting it into artistic imaged comprehensible to the masses […] Before me was the challenge to transform the poster, the book, the illustration, the postcard into mass conductors of Party slogans.
Klutsis had a strong personal allegiance to Lenin and had been a member of the Latvian riflemen which formed Lenin’s personal bodyguard during the days of the October Revolution. It was this Latvian affiliation that would apparently lead to his arrest and execution in 1938 under Stalin.
One could speculate that by placing Stalin so deeply in Lenin’s shadow, Klutsis was making a veiled criticism of the leadership of Stalin, and asserting the unique qualities of Lenin as Bolshevik leader.
Weight is given to this interpretation by Margarita Tupitsyn*, who argues that the claims made in propaganda for Stalin on his 50th birthday in December 1929, that he was “the Great Leader – the organizer of the October Revolution, the creator of the Red Army, and distinguished military commander … leader of the world proletariat, and the great strategist of the Five-Year Plan” would have ‘infringed on Klutsis’ consciousness’.
It is interesting that, at some time between 21 September 1930 and 31 August 1931, Klutsis was expelled from the Bolshevik Party, accused of not paying member’s dues for five months, of distancing himself from the Party’s work, and of exhibiting ‘political illiteracy’. After repenting his mistakes, Klutsis was immediately reinstated.
However, with Under the banner of Lenin for socialist construction, Klutsis was also dramatising the moment of the transfer of power from Lenin to Stalin, and doing so in the visual language of mythology.
Natalia Skradol** notes that the transfer of special characteristics from one great man to his successor can only be accomplished when there is a moment of physical contact between the two, allegorised as a smooth continuation of an intimate co-existence with each man being an extension of the other, punctuated by death.
Physical contact is indispensable for the ‘sacred royal unction ritual’. By merging Lenin and Stalin into one conjoined face, Klutsis employs mythic symbolism to denote the transfer of power and conferring of legitimacy from Lenin to Stalin.
* See Margarita Tupitsyn. Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina: photography and montage after constructivism. New York, International Center of Photography, 2004, p. 61.
**See Natalia Skradol, ‘Remembering Stalin: mythopoetic elements in memories of the Soviet dictator’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 2009, 10:1, pp. 19–41, p. 34.