Starting in the 1930s, Soviet art was dominated by the officially sanctioned “Socialist Realist” style. Socialist Realist art portrayed the world not as it was, but as it ought to be under Socialism. This style of art was meant to be useful as a tool for propaganda (“elevating the workers”) and for advancing Communism. Posters depicting Stalin are good examples of Socialist Realism. They also displayed many archetypes, which made them easier to understand and gave more emotional pull. Frequently occurring archetypal images of Stalin were warrior, savior, and father.
The depiction of Soviet leaders as warriors makes sense within the Bolshevik revolutionary class war narrative. Jeffrey Brooks wrote that the party often used military metaphors to describe social and economic concepts. Production was a military front, art was a weapon, lazy workers were traitors. Problems like hunger and cold were characterized as enemies to be conquered.
According to Anita Pisch’s book The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, the first attempts at constructing a Warrior identity for Stalin were in 1930 (Figure 1).
Propaganda posters of the 1930s presented exaggerated and false records of Stalin’s military deeds. Some of these accounts were actually the experiences of Trotsky. By the time the Great Patriotic War began in 1941, Stalin had built himself a reputation of a military man. After Germany attacked, Soviet propaganda focused entirely on the war. Posters of Stalin during this time portrayed him as an inspiration to the soldiers, leading them into battle, though in reality he never went to the front (Figure 2). In 1944, artists began depicting Stalin in military uniform, a motif that continued into the post-war years (Figure 3).
The victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War/World War II provided an endless source of propaganda value and pride. Many propaganda pieces attributed the victory entirely to Stalin. He was awarded the title of Generalissimo, and given the decoration Hero of the Soviet Union. With victory, the archetype of Stalin as Savior appeared, though vestiges of the Warrior would remain.