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.
Following on from last week’s poster (stalin poster of the week 71), this poster, once again by graphic duo Viktor Deni and Nikolai Dolgorukov, employs the same caption and addresses the same theme – the opening of the newly built Metro in Moscow.
The poster uses some of the same photographic components as the other poster on this theme, but here places more emphasis on the commuters than on images of the Metro itself.
Stalin is brought down from the top of the poster and into the picture plane with Lazar Kaganovich, designer and chief builder of the Metro, and the other commuters. However, Stalin is pictured as larger than Kaganovich, and walks slightly ahead, indicating his preeminent place in the hierarchy of obligation.
Despite the fact that the building of the Metro had been achieved only through the almost superhuman efforts of the workers involved, including large numbers of volunteers, the Metro was presented as a gift to the people from the State, with Stalin presented as the ultimate benefactor of the Soviet population.
The Metro stations were both a triumph of Soviet construction, and a form of cultural palace for the common people, bringing both convenience and beauty into everyday life.
Metro stations are large, lavish, and ornate, with marble walls, sculptures, mosaics, and enormous chandeliers.
The stations were designed to inspire awe, and to make tangible to the ordinary citizen the monumental achievements of the Soviet Union under Stalin.
As Kaganovich, said in 1935, the Metro “went far beyond . . . the typical understanding of a technological construction. Our metropolitan is a symbol of the new socialist society being built.”
In ‘A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization’,* Andrew Jenks describes the overall effect of one of the most beautiful of the Metro stations, named for the poet Vladimir Maiakovskiĭ:
In 1938 the chief artist for Moscow’s Mayakovski metro station urged Muscovites, “Raise your head, citizens, and you will see the sky.” Forty meters below the surface, Soviets would find images “preparing them for labor and defense.” Nearly three dozen cupolas crowned the top of a 155-meter-long platform dressed in stainless steel, Stalin’s favorite material. Each tile mosaic showed idealized scenes from a day in Soviet life: blast furnaces belched flames and carbon gases into the night sky, Red Army planes rumbled in formation, lithe athletes leaped into action, a parachutist tumbled down toward the viewer. To see the mosaics a passenger had to stand directly underneath them and gaze skyward. Heads permanently cocked back and eyes fixed on a heaven of Soviet power: this was the preferred pose for a citizen in Stalinist society, a pose inscribed in the design of the Moscow metro.
The electrification of the system and stations, always highlighted in Soviet propaganda on industrialisation, was very technologically advanced for its time – “Soviet lighting would outshine London’s, 50 lux to 24 lux.”**
The stations were also designed to promote the socialist message through the creation of a sacred Soviet space that induced reverence. Jenks likens the atmosphere to that of a church: “Ornamental elements helped transform the first line’s thirteen stations into a working Bolshevik church of modernity, offering Soviet communion on every ride.”***
*Andrew Jenks. ‘A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization.’ Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 4, Oct., 2000, pp. 697-724, p.699.
**Andrew Jenks. ‘A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization.’ Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 4, Oct., 2000, pp. 697-724, p.710.
***Andrew Jenks. ‘A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization.’ Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 4, Oct., 2000, pp. 697-724, p.708.
Anita Pisch‘s book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 – 1953, is available for free download through ANU Press open access, or to purchase in hard copy. 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