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 simple poster by an unidentified artist in 1934 is typical of many posters of the time and focuses on the delivery of information to the general public, and the generation of a propaganda message in the face of damaging rumours.
The full text of the poster reads:
“Only one thing is now needed for the collective farmers to become prosperous, namely – to work in the collective farms conscientiously, to make proper use of the tractors and machines, to make proper use of the draught cattle, to cultivate the land properly and to take care of the collective-farm property..” /Stalin/
The quotation is taken from the speech by Stalin delivered at the First All-Union Congress of Collective Farm Shock Brigadiers on February 19, 1933 and published in the newspaper Pravda.
Stalin begins the speech in modest fashion by stating that he was not intending to speak at this function because previous speakers have said all that needed to be said. However, he proceeds to deliver a long speech in which he develops an extended argument that both defends and lauds the process of collectivisation.
Stalin demonstrates that the unpopular path of forced agricultural collectivisation is the only correct path for Soviet progress and the freedom of labourers and peasants and outlines what has been achieved to date and what is planned in the next two to three years.
He finishes with a lengthy section of miscellaneous remarks in which he:
- admonishes party members for treating non-party members with disdain,
- praises the achievements of female collective farmers and acknowledges that collectivisation has given women the chance to be treated as equal to men,
- encourages youth to gain an education in Bolshevik principles and lead the way into the future,
- urges collective farmers to accept repentant ‘individual’ farmers into their ranks,
- and finally discusses a letter addressed to him by the collective farmers of Bezenchuk.*
In this letter, the Bezenchuk farmers praise the great leaders of the nation and describe their own achievements as modest. Stalin takes time to ‘correct this error’ and to hail their achievements appropriately:
“Perhaps they made the mistake out of modesty. But the mistake does not cease to be a mistake for all that. The times have passed when leaders were regarded as the only makers of history, while the workers and peasants were not taken into account. The destinies of nations and of states are now determined, not only by leaders, but primarily and mainly by the vast masses of the working people. The workers and the peasants, who without fuss and noise are building factories and mills, constructing mines and railways, building collective farms and state farms, creating all the values of life, feeding and clothing the whole world—they are the real heroes and the creators of the new life. Apparently, our Bezenchuk comrades have forgotten this.”
Perhaps in response to Stalin’s published speech, during a visit by Czechoslovakian factory workers to the kolkhozes of the Bezenchuk Equipment and Tractor Station at the end of June 1933, an individual farmer handed the visitors a written statement:
“I am an individual farmer and will not join the kolkhoz, even though the village Soviet [local authority] threatens me with violence and deportation. I tell the village Soviet: kill me but I will not join the kolkhoz. Please, understand our situation, life is very hard, the village Soviet confiscates everything [that is harvested] and is forcing [me] out of my house. If I told all my grievances, I would run out of paper.”
(Central Archive of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. Fond 2, Record Series 11, File 47, Pages 338–339.)
This poster was published the following year in 1934. The text, which refers the viewer to a published speech which, it is assumed, they have all read, is accompanied by a simple greyscale image of Stalin.
This portrait appeared on several similar informational posters of the time and shows Stalin looking directly at the viewer, as if he were speaking personally.
The terrible irony and -perhaps- impetus for this celebratory conference and speech is the shocking famine that occurred between 1929 and 1934 in the countryside as a result of collectivisation policies.
The leadership were well aware of the extent of the famine and had received numerous secret reports, beginning in 1929, outlining what was happening in the countryside. The Russian State Archives provide numerous (now declassified) examples of reports, including telegrams addressed directly to Viacheslav Molotov, that detail the impact of the famine, famine-related disease, and contain requests for permission to access grain stores to prevent starvation.
One such report from the Lower Volga region summarised the data that had been collected by March 20th, 1933.
Prepared by the Secret Operations department of the territorial representative of the OGPU [Joint Main Political Directorate] of the USSR, it makes chilling reading.
It outlines the impact of food shortages in 33 districts and 110 collective farms, noting that inflated government quotas and confiscation of seed reserves are major contributing factors:
1) More than 700 cases of hydropsy [oedema due to starvation] (230 in the Volga German Autonomous Republic).
2) More than 300 cases of consumption of corpses of fallen animals, including horses that died of glanders, dogs, cats,etc. (100 cases in B. Karabulak, 60 in Balakovo districts)
3) 10 cases of cannibalism (5 in the Volga German Autonomous Republic) and 2 attempted cases of cannibalism.
4) 4 cases of suicide (in Balashov, Arkadak, B-Karabulak districts).
5) 221 deaths (manly in the Volga German Autonomous Republic, Krasnoyarsk, Serdobsk, Leninsk, B. Karabulak districts) and
6) 5 cases of murders with the intent to rob (mainly, food).
(Central Archive of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. Fond 2, Record Series 11, File 56, Pages 125 – 132, 136 – 137).
Another report, titled ‘Regarding cannibalism and murders with the intent of cannibalism’, dated March 31, 1933, documents cases of cannibalism, selling of human flesh on markets, and murders with such intent in Kazakhstan and the North Caucasus region (Central Archive of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. Fond 2, Record Series 11, File 56, Pages 8–10).
An encrypted telegram dated July 5th, 1933 to Joseph Stalin and Viacheslav Molotov from the regional authorities of the Bashkir Autonomous Republic regarding famine in Bashkiria makes an appeal for a food loan:
“The situation with bread in several districts is extremely grave, mass famine is observed, including military families, there are cases of deaths due to famine, eating of corpses of dead animals.
…We need to provide immediate food relief to kolkhozes.
…We appeal intently to the Central Committee [of the Communist party] and the Soviet of People’s Commissars to provide us with a food loan in the amount of 500 metric tons of grain from the remote [grain-producing] areas. We assure the return of this loan in the autumn, delivered to the [local] railroad stations and river ports”.
The margin of this document contains a handwritten note: “in favour – J. St[alin]”
(Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History. Fond 558, Record Series 11, File 64, Page 37.)
* The collective farmers of the area served by the Bezenchuk Machine and Tractor Station of the Middle-Volga territory (now Kuibyshev Region) sent a letter to Stalin, which was published in Pravda, No. 28, January 29, 1933.
Anita Pisch‘s 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.
You can visit Dr. Anita Pisch’s personal website at www.anitapisch.com