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.
A 1951 poster by Boris Belopol’skii carries the caption ‘Glory to Stalin, the great architect of communism!’ and was issued in a massive edition of half a million copies, which suggests that it was viewed as an important piece of propaganda. The notion of Stalin as the architect of Soviet communism dates to the time of the burgeoning of the Stalin cult in 1934.
Written after Radek’s expulsion from the Party for ‘oppositionist activities’ in 1927, and readmission to Party ranks after capitulating to Stalin in 1930, the booklet has the intriguing subtitle: ‘the ninth in a course of lectures on “The history of the victory of socialism”, delivered in 1967 at the School of Inter-Planetary Communications on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution’, and its content is so excessively eulogistic that it is difficult to determine just how one should read it.
After signing a document capitulating to Stalin in 1929, Radek was readmitted to the Party in 1930 and went on to lead Cominform and deliver a keynote address at the Writers Congress of 1934. He was arrested in the purges of 1937 and subsequently died in the gulag during a sentence of ten years’ hard labour.
In his article, Radek argues that Stalin, rather than Lenin, was the architect of socialism. He acknowledges that Stalin stood on the shoulders of Lenin, but claims that in executing Lenin’s will, Stalin had to take many daring independent decisions and to develop Lenin’s teachings in the same manner that Lenin had further developed those of Marx.
When Radek wrote in 1934, the Congress of Victors had just declared the full achievement of socialism and the new task of progressing to the higher stage, communism, had commenced. By the time this poster celebrating Stalin as the architect of communism appeared, Stalin was an old man, already over 70, and the quest to introduce a communist society had been taking place for 17 years, complicated by the need for defence in the Great Patriotic War.
The poster, in pale blues and muted browns typical of the pastel shades of the ‘era of abundance’, is dominated by Stalin, depicted with attributes of leadership (his marshal’s uniform) and standard props (unlit pipe in the right hand and scroll in the left). At the literal level, the scroll is suggestive of an architect’s blueprints, but at a symbolic level it also references the scroll or logos held by Christ.
Behind Stalin, bathed in a white glow that appears to emanate from him, is the new hydroelectric work being undertaken across the Soviet territories. The inscription on the dam wall is carved in stone and reads ‘“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” Lenin’, an iconic Lenin slogan, to which Radek also draws attention in his pamphlet. In the far distance is a small statue of Lenin, the man upon whose foundation Stalin was building.
There are two groups of figures in the poster, both existing only in order to react (and illustrate for the viewer the correct attitude to take) to Stalin. The group of men on the left, who appear to be professional workers associated with bringing the communist dream to fruition, stare up at Stalin with awe and respect.
In the bottom-right corner, passers-by on a barge hail Stalin with visible enthusiasm. Stalin pays them no attention and gazes out to the viewer’s right at a future that only he can see. By focusing on Stalin, the other figures demonstrate that it is Stalin who embodies the communist future. Like a priest or shaman, Stalin acts as a sort of intermediary between the vision and the people.
*Karl Radek, The architect of socialist society, Moscow, Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1934
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.
Dr Anita Pisch’s website can be found at www.anitapisch.com