Despite my featured image having its origins later in Soviet history, I could not leave it out of the post which I hope captures the cult of personality who was, and in many ways still is, Joseph Stalin. As the Seventeen Moments module states, “historians rewrote party history ” at his command, and did so to make him the star of the show. One example of this appears in the Freeze text, in chapter 11. It reads, “… until the Central Committe – or, in the case of historical writing, Stalin himself – intervened to restore order…”(357). This was not by accident either, because in doing so allowed Stalin to claim responsibility, and more importantly credibility, for the great accomplishments of the past fifteen years.
I think that this image really captures the aforementioned idea of Stalin as a cult of personality for a few reasons. The first being the text caption within the image, which reads: “Stalin’s kindness illuminates the future of our children!” (https://properganderpressblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/stalin-poster-of-the-week/). It is Stalin’s kindness alone, not that of any other party officials or members, that will shape the future of the Soviet Union.
The second reason is the image itself, which depicts him lofting a small child waving the mighty sickle and hammer. The reason why I chose this image despite its origins in post-war period of the 40’s, is that it is a call back to the period which I am focusing on in this post which is the late 30’s. During this time, the people of the Soviet Union looked up to Stalin to continue to revolutionize the country, and bring it out of the dark yet revolutionary period in the decades prior. Despite the image being a portent of what’s to come in the following decade, I think that it captures the essence of just how highly people thought of Stalin, and just how much they thought he was capable of doing. Especially if they trusted him holding their kid!
The second primary source of this post is that featured above, which is a propaganda poster from 1937, is set more in appropriate era of Soviet history. I will break it up into three sections, the top image, the middle caption, and the bottom image.
I think my favorite thing about this part of the poster is the expression on Stalin’s face, which to me reads, “OMG guys, you shouldn’t have!” All kidding aside however, this image depicts many different people of the Soviet Union paying tribute to Stalin for his accomplishments in writing the Constitution of 1936 and the bountiful harvest it produced in 1937. Among these figures is the Rodina, a maternal symbol of the Motherland, bearing a cornucopia of the bountiful harvest. Also featured is a buff of Lenin, whose disembodied head looms above like some kind of Soviet saint(https://properganderpressblog.wordpress.com/category/stalin-poster-of-the-week/). Again we see that Stalin is the sole figure to thank for the accomplishments of the Soviet people, as he stands above the crowd on a raised platform. This is despite the fact that the crowd features key party members like aviators, workers, children, and the elderly who all contributed to the great successes of the state, even if on the small individual level.
The text in the caption which separates the two images reads, “I am pleased and happy to know how our people fought and how they have achieved a world-historic victory. I am pleased and happy to know that the blood freely shed by our people, was not in vain, that it has produced results!”(https://properganderpressblog.wordpress.com/category/stalin-poster-of-the-week/)
This is a quote from Stalin from the Report on the draft constitution of the USSR, Extraordinary Eighth Congress of Soviets of the USSR, 25 Nov. 1936. From the above quote, Stalin is applauding his efforts in drafting the new Constitution, as well as its accomplishments which are now documented within it.
The final part of the poster is an image of the Red Army charging into battle during the Civil War. Behind them stand Stalin and Lenin, as tall as giants, seemingly as equals. However noting that Stalin stands tall above the Red Army men distinguishes him as the real hero here, and the focus of the image is again on Stalin (and Lenin) as the ones to thank for victory over the enemies of the state.
Freeze, G. L. (2009). Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
15 thoughts on “The Most Interesting Soviet Man in the World”
Rory, I really enjoyed how in depth you went into Stalin’s personality cult and how prevalent it was during the Soviet Union. I made a post very similar to this that I think goes well with it. Your analysis of the various propaganda pieces I also thought was well done.
Thanks for your post!
Thank you very much for the feedback Isaiah! I will make sure to check out your post soon!
Great post, Rory! I’m curious as to Stalin’s egotistical intentions prior to his rule? Did he have any dictatorial aspirations under Lenin?
In all honesty I do not know enough about his past position, which I believe was Head of the Committee of the Soviet Party or something along those lines, to answer that question. I’m sure Professor Nelson would have some great comments, but from my understanding of his time in power after Lenin’s death, and from his actions following his rise to power, he made it pretty clear that he enjoyed his position and putting down anyone who tried to oppose him. To that end, I would draw the conclusion that he may have certainly had dictatorial aspirations considering what followed in his rise to power and up through his reign. Great question though!
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Hey Rory, I really enjoyed reading your post all the way to the last paragraph. Seeing propaganda now and comparing it to the actions and how those leaders really treated people such as Stalin I thought was very opening. It’s interesting to think how easily people back then and even now regardless of country or so easily persuaded and turn a blind eye to the actuality of circumstances going on around them, but yeah overall great post!
Thanks Matt! I agree that the propaganda versus what actually went on can differ greatly, and I think that’s part of the reason why political propaganda is used in a lot of cases. It tries to paint a pretty picture of a bleak reality.
This was an enjoyable post to read and I think you did an excellent job of analyzing the key elements of the poster. One of the most interesting points you noted was the portrayal of Lenin in the first register in an almost deified manner and then in the second register both Lenin and Stalin as giants above the army but equal to each other. It really shows the power of Stalin’s propaganda.
Thank you Kayt, I appreciate the thoughtful comment! I agree with you that the power of how characters are portrayed in these propaganda images can convey so much more than meets the eye.
“OMG guys, you shouldn’t have!”
That made me laugh. Thank you! And thanks for this close reading of a poster and the 40s painting, which I agree is very well suited for this unit. And no, I would not let Stalin hold my toddler…but the painting highlights the dynamics of generational change and the invention of soviet childhood in the 30s. Joy wrote a terrific post about that here: https://jvillvt.wordpress.com/2020/04/05/jojo-russki-the-komsomol-sequel/comment-page-1/#comment-103.
I’m not quite clear on where the translation of the quote on the poster comes from, but something got confused along the way. My loose translation of that quote (red band in the middle of the poster) is something like: It’s pleasant and joyful to know that our people have won and that they will win a universal-historical victory. It’s pleasant and joyful to know that the blood spilled by our people was not spilled in vain and that it produces results.”
I think this poster is likely from WWII rather than the 30s? The guy on the horse in the lower frame is Chapaev (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapaev_(film)).
I’m glad that you appreciated my humor! I will definitely go check out Joy’s post today, thank you for pointing me in her direction. I know where the translation error came from, because I was referencing the blog where I found the posters! In the post from that blog, the loose translation you gave was also featured, however the one I featured in my blog was also given. The way the other blog featured the translation I gave made it seem like it was translating the caption of the poster, however I must have misinterpreted it! My bad! I will have to go back and change that since it makes a significant difference, and thank you for pointing that out. I wanted to try google translating it but unfortunately you can’t copy text from an image so I took a guess. 50/50 shot did not turn out in my favor hahaha!
It’s true, sometimes the odds are never in your favor!
No worries on the mix up — one of the beauties of the blog is that it’s easy to re-write and fix.
The propaganda was extremely interesting to look at and study. Your analysis of the posters highlighted what they were trying to accomplish especially when produced for the masses. I learned a lot specifically about how even positioning can change the perspective of the poster. A really good read.
Thanks Paul! I agree that the propaganda is really cool to analyze, and it was one of the things that really interests me about twentieth century history. Studying how governments used artwork to manipulate people and their thoughts/opinions, especially during times of crisis and war, fascinates me.
Rory, I enjoyed reading your analysis of the propaganda poster! I found it very helpful that you broke down the poster into three different sections and related them all together. This poster definitely does a good job painting Stalin in a great light! It seems to place Stalin on a pedestal and I think you did a great job picking it apart to analyze.
Thank you Natalie, I appreciate your feedback! I’m glad you found my breakdown of the poster helpful, since I felt that the entire thing was too much to analyze all together.