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.
1949 was the year of Stalin’s massive official 70th birthday celebrations, and this poster by Viktor Koretskii shows him being greeted and applauded by a sea of festive people crowding into Red Square. The Soviet masses bear flowers, and carry banners and portraits of Lenin and Stalin – significantly, there are two portraits of Lenin in the crowd, but three of Stalin.
Stalin stands on the tribune on top of Lenin’s Mausoleum, which raises him above and separates him from the crowd. While each member of the crowd gazes at him, Stalin makes eye contact with no-one.
Although Stalin may appear to be acknowledging the applause of the crowd by applauding them as well, he does not actually engage with his audience, looking above and beyond them. It is unclear precisely what he is applauding … perhaps joining in with the crowd to applaud himself.
The presence of flowers and children in the crowd is reminiscent of posters thanking Stalin for providing a happy childhood and this poster appears to belong to a long-standing genre of posters that depict the reciprocal obligation between the leader and the citizens. This genre includes posters that:
- highlight the debt owed to Stalin for a happy childhood
- highlight the debt owed by women for their new equality in society to Stalin and the Party
- thank Stalin, the Party and/or the Red Army for winning the war
- acknowledge Stalin as the benefactor of all humankind
- associate Stalin and the Party with great Soviet achievements
- acknowledge and encourage those who strive to do their duty and
- appear to acknowledge that obligation is a two-way street
However, closer examination of both textual and visual cues within the posters reveals the one-sidedness of the relationship and this poster ultimately reinforces the notion of Stalin as the bestower of all bounty and the source of all achievements. The caption removes any possible ambiguity: ‘Beloved Stalin is the people’s joy!’
Citizens can never hope to reciprocate these gifts adequately in any tangible manner, having only their eternal gratitude and well-crafted birthday gifts to offer, and thus remain in a condition of permanent indebtedness to their leader.
The text on the banner on the building opposite Stalin reads: “Hail to our great homeland – the stronghold of friendship and glory for the peoples of our country!”
Anita Pisch‘s new book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 – 1953, is now available for free download through ANU Press open access, or to purchase in hard copy for $83. This lavishly illustrated book, featuring reproductions of over 130 posters, examines the way in which Stalin’s image in posters, symbolising the Bolshevik Party, the USSR state, and Bolshevik values and ideology, was used to create legitimacy for the Bolshevik government, to mobilise the population to make great sacrifices in order to industrialise and collectivise rapidly, and later to win the war, and to foster the development of a new type of Soviet person in a new utopian world.