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.
This poster by an unidentified artist is typical of many of the cheap posters published during the years of the Great Patriotic War. Released as the USSR entered the Second World War, it aims to rally the population for the war effort around the charismatic figure of Stalin.
As in the Civil War of 1918 to 1922, a multitude of inexpensive posters were produced to tight deadlines. They used cheap paper and a limited colour scheme of black, white and red, which also suited the austere and severe mood of the time.
As Germany had invaded the USSR in violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, many artists were happy to rally to the national cause and to offer their talents to the war effort. In this case, the poster is stark and simple, and the artist is not identified. The poster also lacks publishing details, other than the year of publication, and was most likely viewed as ephemeral and disposable.
Stalin’s greyscale portrait (looking to the viewer’s right – the direction of the future) is superimposed over four billowing banners that look as if they are being carried into battle (presumably on horseback – Stalin was particularly associated with the establishment of the Red Cavalry).
The text of the poster, in sacred gold and red, draws attention to the key archetypes associated with Stalin at this stage of his leadership – the Father and the Teacher:
Long Live our leader and teacher, best friend of the Red Army, dear and beloved Stalin!
The word used for ‘leader’ – vozhd’ – has an interesting etymology. The roots of the term can be traced back to old Church Slavonic, with a sacred connotation but, prior to the October Revolution, it denoted a military leader and was applied only metaphorically to a political leader. Victoria Bonnell* cites the poem Vozhdiu, by Demian Bednyi, for May Day 1918, as being one of the first instances in which the term was applied to Lenin.
Similarly, the term ‘rodnoi’ cannot be translated exactly into English. It is an expression of affectionate regard that also implies a familial relationship or kinship, as that of a father to children, between Stalin and the Soviet populace.
It is interesting to note that in 1941, at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, while Kliment Voroshilov was still leader of the armed forces, Stalin is lauded as being merely the ‘best friend’ of the Red Army. Voroshilov’s lack of military success in the war meant that within one year, Stalin became leader of the military and in 1943 Marshal of the Soviet Union, before being promoted to Generalissimus in 1945 after victory.
The Warrior archetype became strongly associated with Stalin during the war and, unlike this portrait in which Stalin wears a military-style tunic but no insignia of rank or other markings of a military man, Stalin would later be depicted in the uniform of Marshal of the Soviet Union in most propaganda posters.
*Victoria Bonnell, Iconography of power, p. 140
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 is www.anitapisch.com