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 1950 poster by painter and graphic artist Boris Nakhmanovich Belopol’skii depicts Lenin on a banner hovering over Stalin’s right shoulder, almost in the manner of a protective spirit.
Stalin’s figure dominates the poster, his white marshal’s jacket luminous against the rich red of the banner.
Stalin is depicted behind a podium in oratorical pose, and the text of the poster is taken from his report to the Eighteenth Party Congress on 10 March 1939 on the work of the Central Committee; that is, before the war interrupted the progression of socialism towards communism: ‘We move further, forward towards Communism. I. V. Stalin’.
The Eighteenth Party Congress took place five years after the Seventeenth Party Congress and Stalin begins his speech by noting how much the world has changed in this time period.
Stalin outlines the years of economic depression and political conflict in the capitalist countries during the 1930s. He presents a barrage of economic data to provide evidence for his arguments, lists the causes of the beginning of the new imperialist war and details the Soviet commitment to world peace.
Stalin then turns to the internal affairs of the USSR, again presenting copious amounts of detailed data to highlight how the Soviet Union is outstripping the capitalist nations in all areas of industry and agriculture.
Considerable time is spent outlining , again with data, the rise in the cultural and material standards of the Soviet people. and the rise of the intelligentsia class.
In a further section of the speech, Stalin discusses the consolidation of the Soviet state and justifies the recent purges of the Party as strengthening the Soviet system.
He discusses the value and use of propaganda extensively:
There is still another sphere of Party work, a very important and very responsible sphere, in which the work of strengthening the Party and its leading bodies has been carried on during the period under review. I am referring to Party propaganda and agitation, oral and printed, the work of training the Party members and the Party cadres in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, the work of raising the political and theoretical level of the Party and its workers.
There is hardly need to dwell on the cardinal importance of Party propaganda, of the Marxist-Leninist training of our people. I am referring not only to Party functionaries. I am also referring to the workers in the Young Communist League, trade union, trade, cooperative, economic, state, educational, military and other organizations.
The work of regulating the composition of the Party and of bringing the leading bodies closer to the activities of the lower bodies may be organized satisfactorily; the work of promoting, selecting and allocating cadres may be organized satisfactorily; but, with all this, if our Party propaganda for some reason or other goes lame, if the Marxist-Leninist training of our cadres begins to languish, if our work of raising the political and theoretical level of these cadres flags, and the cadres themselves cease on account of this to show interest in the prospect of our further progress, cease to understand the truth of our cause and are transformed into narrow plodders with no outlook, blindly and mechanically carrying out instructions from above – then our entire state and Party work must inevitably languish.
… It may be confidently stated that if we succeeded in training the cadres in all branches of our work ideologically, and in schooling them politically, to such an extent as to enable them easily to orientate themselves in the internal and international situation; if we succeeded in making them quite mature Marxist-Leninists capable of solving the problems involved in the guidance of the country without serious error, we would have every reason to consider nine-tenths of our problems already settled.
Stalin concludes his lengthy speech by confirming the supremacy of the working class in the Soviet state:
The chief conclusion to be drawn is that the working class of our country, having abolished the exploitation of man by man and firmly established the Socialist system, has proved to the world the truth of its cause. That is the chief conclusion, for it strengthens our faith in the power of the working class and in the inevitability of its ultimate victory.
It is interesting to consider the possible reasons for referencing a 1939 speech in a 1950 poster. By 1950, the USSR was firmly embroiled in the Cold War and the Stalinist propaganda machine took pains to present Stalin as a man of peace and the USSR as heading the international peace movement.
Re-visiting the Eighteenth Party Congress speech reminds the viewer that Stalin actively spoke out against the war, right from the beginning, and that he saw it as caused by flaws in the capitalist system.
The poster also reminds the Soviet viewer that the progress begun before the war must continue now that there is peace.
Stalin thus stands in this poster as the figure who is continuing and expanding upon Lenin’s work, and as the man who will ultimately bring the dream of communism to fruition.
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