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.
Stalin was frequently depicted as the father of the people in Soviet propaganda posters, but is always shown without a female partner.
Stalin had been married twice, his first wife dying young of an illness, and his second wife committing suicide in 1932. The nation saw Stalin mourn Nadia and, from this point on, he did not publicly have a female partner – in fact so little is known of this aspect of his personal life that there is only speculation as to further sexual relationships after Nadia’s death.
Stalin’s life centred around his role as leader and it was easy to depict him as ‘wedded to the nation.’ A famous painting of 1948 by Fyodor Shurpin, ‘The morning of our motherland,’ depicts a calm, reflective Stalin in a plain white tunic, isolated and alone in a muted pastel landscape, his greatcoat draped over his sleeve.
Behind Stalin in the distance, tractors plough the fields and power lines melt into the hazy sky. Stalin is bathed in the early morning light and looks out to the right to the dawn of the communist utopia.
This famous painting is undoubtedly the inspiration for a poster by Petr Golub’ published in 1949 in an edition of 300,000. The poster caption, ‘Long life and prosperity to our motherland,’ is a quote from Stalin.
It is interesting to compare the poster to the painting that inspired it, as the differences between them are telling. A key difference is that Stalin is slightly more face-on to the viewer in the painting than in the poster and looks considerably more tired. In the poster, he is less heavily jowled, his skin brighter, and his moustache more trim.
Stalin has a much more military bearing in the poster, almost standing at attention, while in the Shurpin painting he is relaxed and leans back slightly. In the poster, Stalin wears his military uniform while in the painting he appears as a civilian, a much more private individual, alone at dawn.
The poster is in portrait format, while the painting is in landscape format, hence the poster emphasises the figure of Stalin, while Shurpin’s painting places him in the landscape.
Indeed, in the poster by Golub’, Stalin is not alone, but accompanied by a young Pioneer boy who gazes silently into the future with him, the symbolic son of the wedded union between Stalin and the Motherland. The landscape has also been altered and the Golub’ poster features the national Russian symbol of a birch tree in the foreground (birch is also associated with beginnings), standing straight as Stalin, and a patchwork of lush green fields behind the two figures.
The notion of plenitude and abundance is reinforced by the small sprig of flowers in the child’s hand. A river flows through the landscape, continuing the dual association of Stalin with water, and with the golden light that illuminates him from above.
By drawing so obviously on Shurpin’s painting, the poster suggests the dawn of a new age of abundance for the Soviet Union, the arrival of the long-awaited communist utopia after the dark nights of the Civil War, the purges, and the Great Patriotic War.
Stalin is the father of the nation who cared for, protected, and raised the nation and, in Golub’s poster, the hope of the future lies in the nation’s youth.
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.
You can visit Dr. Anita Pisch’s personal website at www.anitapisch.com