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 1950s, Stalin was increasingly promoted in propaganda as a man of peace and the Soviet Union led peace movements throughout the world.
Two posters of 1952 by painter and graphic artist Boris Belopol’skii address the peace theme. This one features Stalin in military uniform (while in the other, he is without). A large red banner provides a backdrop to Stalin in his marshal’s uniform, standing in front of, but isolated from, a thronging crowd.
The diagonal crowd filling the space suggests the movement of a never-ending river of people, and is reminiscent of the posters of the mid-1930s, although now it is no longer just the Soviet people who are giving their thanks and support to the great man, but the people of the whole world thanking Stalin for bringing peace.
Stalin gazes into the utopian future. He holds a pencil and a piece of paper; however, the pencil is not held as one would hold it for writing, but flat between the thumb and index finger with the tip pointing out at the viewer. It looks as if the pencil is being used as a conductor’s baton, or even as a wand.
This unusual gesture suggests three things:
- that Stalin is the author of the document he is holding, which is probably some sort of declaration,
- that he is the orchestrator of this great mass movement,
- and also that he is the bearer of magic powers — a magician.
This is one of the few instances in posters of Stalin in which the archetype of the Magician is employed, although Stalin is often associated with magical properties, such as control over the elements and spiritual powers, in the visual symbolism of posters produced by Iraklii Toidze, and is depicted with talismanic and spiritual–inspirational properties in a number of posters.
Although many of the epithets of Stalin’s personality cult ascribe superhuman or supernatural qualities to Stalin, it is only on comparatively rarely that the visual symbolism is as explicit as it is here.
Stalin’s figure in this poster is strangely elongated, making him appear taller and slimmer than is usually the case. Elongation of human figures is a characteristic of Russian Orthodox icons, and the language of the icon informed almost every aspect of Soviet poster design.
It is possible that by making Stalin’s figure so obviously elongated, Belopol’skii is drawing a parallel with the Orthodox saints, and thus reinforcing the Saviour archetype that is also associated with Stalin in posters of this era.
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.
You can visit Dr. Anita Pisch’s personal website at www.anitapisch.com