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 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.
Mikhail Mikhailovich Solov’ev’s ‘Such Women Didn’t and Couldn’t Exist in the Old Days’ of 1950 features a woman delegate making a speech, flanked on either side by a delegate who listens attentively to her.
Despite the depiction of women as holding positions of power and influence, this poster in fact makes the obligation women have to Stalin particularly explicit.
Solov’ev’s poster places Stalin on a wall in a frame, removed from the action of the real, earthly world. A palette of reds and gold is employed, sacred colours of the Orthodox icon, with the entire earthly domain bathed in golden light, representing the radiance of heaven.
Reminiscent of the Virgin in the icon, the women are dressed in blues and reds. The female delegate is the central figure of a holy trinity. Her placement behind a podium, which serves as a kind of socialist altar, and in front of Stalin’s looming image, is reminiscent of the placement of the Deity in the Orthodox Church.
Although the young woman does not adopt the Virgin’s pose of prayer, her attitude does draw attention upwards to the authoritative figure hovering above her, the position reserved for Jesus in the Church.
While the figures of the women are three dimensional, Stalin is flatter and monochrome, and stands against a symbolic and semi-stylised background – more of an iconic image than a real man. In many images of Stalin with a portrait of Lenin, the Lenin portrait is also in grayscale in contrast to the coloured flesh of Stalin. In this poster, Stalin’s hand lays across the page of an open book, almost as if he is taking an oath, or perhaps drawing on the authority of The Word.
While the strong young woman on the podium in the centre dominates the image, it is clear, both visually and through the text on the poster, that it is only through Stalin’s support that she can do so. It is only by virtue of his authority that she can exist at all.
Stalin is captured in a stylised, rhetorical pose, which reflects, almost in mirror image, the pose of the young woman in front of him. The woman in the 1950 poster exists in the same symbolic relationship to Stalin as the blacksmith’s assistant did to the blacksmith-magician in the propaganda posters of 1920. In her pose, her gaze, and even her upswept hair, she is an imitator of Stalin, and his messenger in the everyday world from which, by 1950, he has almost totally retreated.
The text is taken from Stalin’s speech at the reception for female collective farm-shock workers of the beet fields on November 10, 1935 in which Stalin outlines how collectivisation of agriculture has liberated women. In the poster, it reinforces the identification of Stalin with Christ. It is Christ’s sacrifice that has saved humankind just as here it is Stalin who is the saviour of women, who could not find freedom or salvation before his advent.
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.
Visit Anita Pisch’s website at www.anitapisch.com