The heyday of Stalin's cult

The heyday of Stalin's cult

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Thanks to our dear Stalin for our happy childhood!

© FineArtImages / Leemage

Publication date: April 2019

Historical context

The last of the revolutionaries of 1917

In 1950, Nina Nikolaevna Vatolina (1915-2002) drew a new version of a subject which had become recurrent in 1936, Stalin thanked by children "for their happy childhood". This slogan, which appeared on a banner from a parade in Red Square in July 1936, was reused by the Pravda to comment on the photograph of Stalin carrying in his arms little Gelia Markizova who was holding a bouquet of flowers. His signature is one of the best known, his colorful style with typical close-up figures among the most recognizable.

At 72 years old, Joseph Vissaronovich Djugashvili, known as Stalin, seems immortal. He unleashed the Great Terror in 1937-1938 and had the main historical leaders of the single party, such Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, tried at the Moscow Trials (1936-1938).

Image Analysis

The Stalinist generation

Among the many variations on this theme, the 1950 poster chooses verticality and ascending from left to right. The well-known slogan appears in red at the top left, like the title of a work; he insisted on the word "THANKS" while other posters put forward the word Stalin instead. Simple, soothing colors - white, black, gray, orange - costumes and anonymous decor make it possible to bring out the red adorning the boy's pioneer scarf, the bows in the little girl's hair, the collar of Stalin's general. . Red roses, a universal symbol of love, contrast with the red carnations that usually adorn the busts of great Communist figures during ceremonies. The flowers held by the girl are a reminder, if necessary, that a little Soviet girl had the joy of approaching the Guide for real. The inverted triangle composition reverses that of the Renaissance Pietàs and reconfigures the notion of the Trinity. There is only one father here, to whom the eyes of children embodying the Soviet population unanimously converge. The glances exchanged and the smile exchanged illustrate the slogan while denoting total confidence.


The cult of personality

The cult of Stalin, cynically denounced by Nikita Khrushchev during a secret session of the XXe Congress of the Communist Party in October 1956, has its roots in the relationship of the people to the Tsar, then to Lenin. The autocratic emperor was also the temporal head of the official Orthodox Church and the figure of Nicholas II was promoted during World War I. In 1917, a Kerenskimania raged in Russia during the brief reign of Alexander Kerensky as head of the Provisional Government. After Lenin's death, embalmed and placed in the mausoleum, Stalin used the image and truncated quotes from the late Guide to oppose "Leninism" to a supposed "Trotskyism". If the supreme ruler has never directly encouraged his worship, he makes it possible by a major change in historical vision. In 1927, he renounced internationalism in favor of "socialism in one country"; From the mid-1930s, figures of great leaders such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were reintegrated into national history. Finally, the desire to please the "little father of the people" among the Communist leaders made them multiply requests such as the baptism of the city of Tsaritsyn in Stalingrad. They thus honor the one who sees himself as the father of the nation, of a new state religion and of a new empire.

Targeting children, the propaganda is directed at the first generation of Soviets who knew only him as the ruler, the explicit foundation of the Communist Soviet Union of the future. This direct link delegitimizes the intermediate generation implicitly judged unfinished in the transformation of the communist self. It also finely reconfigures the old Marxist-Leninist duo of the Guide and the masses, while playing on the ethnic issues crucial to cementing the empire around the regime. But this slogan must have seemed cruel to a generation which, instead of the few years of relative peace between 1933 and 1937, had known the terrible ordeal of the "Great Patriotic War".

  • Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, said)
  • Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, says)
  • Trotsky (Leon)
  • Russia
  • Nicholas II (Tsar)
  • personality cult
  • Communism
  • Zinoviev (Grigori)
  • Kamenev (Lev Borissovich)
  • Bukharin (Nikolai)
  • Kerensky (Alexander)
  • Red place


Oleg Khlevniouk, Stalin, Paris, Gallimard, 2017.

Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1983.

Nicolas Werth, Terror and disarray. Stalin and his system, Paris, Perrin, 2007.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The Height of Stalin Cult"

Video: Stalin Cult of Personality