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.
While the Metro, the Dnieper dam, and the Moscow-Volga Canal were very real and visible achievements of Soviet socialism, one of the more curious of the posters celebrating Soviet achievements is K. Ryvkin’s, ‘The Soviets of Worker Deputies of the Capital are leading the fight to fulfil the Stalinist Plan for the Reconstruction of Moscow’, 1939.
The poster celebrates the reconstruction of Moscow under Stalin, an anticipated total overhaul of the design of the city to turn it into a socialist space, and unintentionally illustrates the socialist realist ideal of presenting reality as it should be, not as it is.
One of the most ambitious of the Soviet projects was the Palace of the Soviets, the proposed seat of government and administrative centre near the Kremlin, on the site of the demolished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
According to Sona Stephan Hoisington, this site was chosen because of its political symbolism:
Christ the Savior was the personification of tsarist authority in Moscow. The location had been selected by Nicholas I who had laid the cornerstone in 1839; the consecration of the church on 26 May 1883 was the culmination of Alexander III’s coronation, with the new emperor and members of the imperial family personally participating in the elaborate ceremony…. The link between autocracy and architecture was made even more explicit in 1912 when an enormous statue to Alexander III was unveiled on the church plaza amidst great pomp and circumstance. [*]
The Palace of Soviets was planned as the tallest building in the world at the time (about 300m) and was to be further topped by a 100-metre-tall statue of Lenin, however it was ultimately not constructed.
The model for the structure was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in March and April, 1934, with viewers invited to leave written comments, which were preserved in the Soviet archives.
There were many objections to the size of the proposed structure. Artist B. Cheryshev stated:
This is not an edifice but a theatrical pedestal for a monument to Lenin. The significance of the leader of the masses, ascending into the clouds far from the people, is utterly lost here. What is more, Lenin is depicted in the pose of a provincial actor. Unbelievably inflated and banal. Why does such excessive theatricality pervade the entire design? It lacks profundity; there is nothing serious or convincing about it…. Down with this theatricality, this operatic quality, this interpretation of Lenin as actor.[**]
Although the Palace of Soviets never progressed past the laying of its foundations, it was treated in propaganda such as posters, film, literature, pamphlets and medallions, as if it already existed.
In Ryvkin’s 1939 poster, it appears in lighter outline than its surrounds, suggesting, at least in this instance, that it was yet to be made manifest. However, in other posters, the Palace of Soviets takes pride of place in the centre of the poster as an established fact.
As Sheila Fitzpatrick points out, the image of this building was more familiar to both the Soviet public and foreigners, than that of most actual existing buildings.[***]
Ryvkin’s poster features an extensive landscape sketch of a bustling Moscow, with the Palace of Soviets jutting into a cloudless blue sky.
All forms of transport are available to the people – cars, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft, which fly beneath the towering statue of Lenin.
Although Lenin’s statue is planned at 100m high, in the poster it is dwarfed by that of Stalin who, while not placed centrally, is emphasised by the diagonal red of the space he occupies.
Less a man than an ancient stone idol, his monolithic statue, featuring the favoured hand-in pose, presides over the city, as its creator and protector.
[*] Sona Stephan Hoisington. ‘”Ever Higher”: The Evolution of the Project for the Palace of Soviets’, Slavic Review, Vol. 62, No. 1, Spring, 2003, pp. 41-68, p. 46.
[**] Sona Stephan Hoisington. ‘”Ever Higher”: The Evolution of the Project for the Palace of Soviets’, Slavic Review, Vol. 62, No. 1, Spring, 2003, pp. 41-68, p. 62.
[***] Sheila Fitzpatrick. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Soviet Russia in the 1930s.New York, 1999, p.70.
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