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.
B.V. Vorontsov’s ‘Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin’ was published in 1951, just two years after Stalin’s 70th birthday and two years before Stalin’s death, and pulls all of the elements of the Stalin personality cult together into one fascinating hagiographic poster.
The poster does not have complete publication details, so it is not known where it was published or who commissioned it. It would be an unusual poster for its time if it were published in Moscow or Leningrad as, by 1951, such laudatory personality cult posters of Stalin were not generally being published in the two major Russian centres, although they were being published in the other republics and in the territories newly incorporated into the USSR after the war. However, the text of the poster is only in Russian, which may suggest that it does not come from one of the republics.
The poster is composed in a hagiographic style resembling somewhat the lives of the saints in Orthodox icons. The central panel features an oval black-and-white portrait of Stalin at the top of a large panel that consists mainly of text.
The background colour of the central panel is yellow-gold, similar to the background colour of icons, and the box is outlined in a shimmering gold. The text is in the holy colour red.
A greying but unblemished and dignified Stalin gazes serenely into the distance, wearing the epaulettes of the Marshal of the Soviet Union and the single Hero of Socialist Labour medal. The positioning of Stalin, and the oval shape that semi-encloses his image, is reminiscent of the position of God in the heavens in icons.
The text of this central panel is extensive and translates as follows:
Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
– Companion and a great follower of Lenin, a wise leader and teacher of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet people and the working people of the world, a brilliant strategist of the socialist revolution, the greatest leader of all time, the founder and leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the inspirer and organiser of all the victories of socialism.
This short passage outlines most of the major symbolic values that Stalin’s image represented in Soviet propaganda. He is not only the disciple of Lenin, but an equal – a companion; he is a leader and teacher; a genius; a creator; an inspirer; and responsible for organising all of the victories of the Soviet people and the socialist system.
In fact, the text paraphrases a lengthy tribute to Stalin released by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) in Moscow in 1949 on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday.
The larger landscape photograph underneath the golden box is a photograph of Stalin’s birthday celebrations. Among those attending are Mao Zedong and many prominent members of the Politburo, including Lazar Kaganovich, Nikolai Bulganin, Aleksandr Vasilevskii, Nikita Krushchev, Mikhail Suslov, Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoian and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Nikolai Shvernik, speaking.
The portrait of Stalin in the background is huge, approximately two-and-a-half men high, and is framed with an elaborate border and surrounded by a sea of flowers, which are celebratory, tributary, and symbols of Soviet abundance.
On either side of the central panel are small text boxes and significant scenes from Stalin’s life, with the poster serving as a pictorial illustration of the Propaganda department’s text.
The text in gold on the top left translates as: “Comrade Stalin has raised the glorious banner of Lenin, courageously led our party on the Leninist path …”
The scenes beneath it show Stalin:
- leading a demonstration of Batumi workers in March 1902, taken from a painting by Kutateladze;
- Stalin meeting Lenin for the first time at the National Bolshevik conference in Tammerfors, Finland in which Stalin is portrayed as Lenin’s faithful ally in the fight against the Mensheviks for the Leninist line of the revolution;
- Stalin in exile in Turukhansk, his longest period of exile from which he was only released in February 1917, from a painting by the famous artist trio, the Kukrynisky;
- Stalin and Lenin as co-leaders of the October Revolution;
- and Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov in the trenches at the front near Tsaritsyn, a crucial front during the civil war in 1918. Stalin was sent to Tsaritsyn, later to be named Stalingrad and now known as Volgograd, by Lenin, as Commissar in charge of food supplies, but was soon given military leadership responsibilities and was credited with organising victory in this decisive battle.
The righthand side of the poster illustrates the text, “Stalin’s name is the most precious for our people, for ordinary people around the world. Stalin’s name is a symbol of the future victory of communism.”
Scenes beneath this caption are taken from Stalin’s life after the death of Lenin:
- commencing with his speech to the workers at the Dynamo factory in November 1924;
- his speech at a reception given by leaders of the Communist Party and the Government to Women Collective Farm Shock Workers on 10 November 1935;
- the speech delivered at the commemoration of the 24th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, in 1941, the year the Soviet Union was invaded by Germany, from a painting by the noted poster artist Iraklii Toidze;
- the moment after victory in the Great Patriotic War at which the generals of the Soviet Army placed the captured German banners before Stalin on the ground in Red Square, from a 1949 painting by Ukrainian artist Mykhailo Khmelko called ‘The Triumph of the Victorious Motherland’;
- and ‘For the happiness of the people. Meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b)’, a 1949 painting by renowned artist Dmitri Nalbandian which shows the members of the Politburo gathered around a huge map, planning the communist future.
The text of the tribute by the Propaganda and Agitation Department on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday stresses Stalin’s lineage from the great Communist leaders, Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also his huge independent contribution to the achievement of communism, which allows him to be placed alongside these legendary figures as an equal.
It refers to Stalin as the ‘Lenin of today’, and concludes by expounding on the symbolic value of the name Stalin, then wishing him a long life before closing with the slogan ‘Under the wise leadership of Comrade Stalin – forward to communism!’
Each of the scenes from the life of the saint is enclosed in a wreath of leaves outlined in gold – symbolising Stalin’s role as the organiser and inspirer of the many victories of the Soviet people and the system.
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.
Visit Anita Pisch’s website at www.anitapisch.com