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.
In the tradition of deified leaders before him, much Stalinist propaganda associates Stalin with warmth and the sun. The sun is a recurrent motif throughout propaganda associated with leaders since pre-Christian times, when leaders appealed to their sun gods to look favourably upon their leadership, their battles and their harvests.
Associating a leader with the sun suggests that he is the bringer of life and of bounty to the people. The sun became a central image in Stalinist propaganda, with Stalin unambiguously equated with the sun in poetry and song, while propaganda posters frequently associated Stalin with light in general, as in this 1949 poster by an unidentified artist, ‘We are warmed by Stalin’s affection’.
The poster features a smiling bust of Stalin, with military collar but without cap, surrounded by the smaller heads of 15 children. Beneath Stalin is a laurel wreath that, with his military uniform and the fireworks and searchlights below, makes visual reference to the Soviet Union’s victory in the Great Patriotic War.Stalin was portrayed as being largely responsible for leading the nation to victory in the war.
The children in the poster look ethnically Georgian and are encased in flowers, many of their heads appearing to grow out of the petals. The five children at the base of the poster appear to rise up from a bowl of fruit. Fruit, flowers and children all testify to the fertility and abundance of the socialist utopia.
Behind the youngest child, in the centre at the base, the spire of the Spassky tower rises, leading straight to the portrait of Stalin and thus linking the two symbols. Stalin is located at the position of deity, but also appears as the father of the children, a point that has particular resonance because of Stalin’s Georgian roots.
Above their heads, but beneath Stalin, fireworks and searchlights illuminate the violet sky. Stalin glows with a white light and, in the heavenly realm that he inhabits, the entire background consists of the white light that emanates from him.
The text of the poster is in Russian and Georgian and celebrates the joys of childhood, sunny Georgia and Stalin:
We are warmed by Stalin’s affection, We carry joy and happiness,
We are sunny Georgian children,
Singing a song to Stalin!’
The text is flanked by scenes of Georgian life — traditional architecture juxtaposed with new construction, and a train rushing through lush fields of crops.
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.