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 reality of our program is living people, you and I (Gustav Klutsis, 1931) is an early and somewhat unusual poster in that Stalin appears to be the same size as the marching coal miners he strides alongside.Stalin frequently appeared in posters in gigantic proportions – in traditional Russian art, the relative size of a figure was commensurate with that figure’s importance or status relative to others.
According to Victoria Bonnell,* one of Klutsis’s sketches for this poster depicted Stalin as much larger than the coal miners. By ultimately choosing to depict Stalin as the same size as other people in the poster, the message is given at this time that Stalin is a leader who can still regarded as one of the people, walking alongside them in their struggles, standing in their shoes.
Although Stalin is the same size as the workers, his image is distinguished by being sharper and clearer than those of the workers, and although he wears a worker’s cap and boots, his dress is still distinct from that of the miners, with their helmets and lamps. Thus Stalin at this time is regarded as ‘first among equals’.
The caption of the poster is taken from Stalin’s speech delivered at a conference of business executives on June 23, 1931 in which he announced the recent changes in the conditions of industrialisation in the USSR.
In the speech, Stalin outlined the six new conditions of development of Soviet industry, which are given in summary form on the poster:
- We can no longer count, as of old, on an automatic influx of manpower. In order to secure manpower for our industries it must be recruited in an organised manner, and labour must be mechanised. To believe that we can do without mechanisation, in view of our tempo of work and scale of production, is like believing that the sea can be emptied with a spoon.
- We cannot any longer tolerate the fluidity of manpower in industry. In order to do away with this evil, we must organise wages in a new way and see to it that the composition of the labour force in the factories is more or less constant.
- We cannot any longer tolerate lack of personal responsibility in industry. In order to do away with this evil, work must be organised in a new way, and the forces must be so distributed that every group of workers is responsible for its work, for the machinery, and for the quality of the work.
- We can no longer manage, as of old, with the very small force of old engineers and technicians that we inherited from bourgeois Russia. In order to increase the present rate and scale of production, we must ensure that the working class has its own industrial and technical intelligentsia.
- We can no longer, as of old, lump together all the experts, engineers and technicians of the old school. In order to take into account the changed situation we must change our policy and display the utmost solicitude for those experts, engineers and technicians of the old school who are definitely turning to the side of the working class.
- We can no longer, as of old, manage with the old sources of accumulation. In order to ensure the further expansion of industry and agriculture we must tap new sources of accumulation; we must put an end to inefficiency, introduce business accounting, reduce production costs and increase accumulation within industry.
The full text of the speech was printed in the newspaper Pravda, No. 183, July 5, 1931. Stalin concluded by emphasising that fulfilment of the new conditions is not an unrealistic goal:
There are certain near-Party philistines who assert that our production program is unrealistic, that it cannot be fulfilled. They are somewhat like Shchedrin’s “sapient gudgeons” who are always ready to spread “a vacuum of ineptitude” around themselves. Is our production program realistic or not? Most certainly, it is.
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.
* Victoria E. Bonnell. Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin. 1 ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, p.162.