The Theme of "Chantage" (Blackmail) in The Possessed: Art and Reality
Nadine Natov, The George Washington University
"... Ложь, принятая за правду, умеет самый опасный вид."
Ф. Достоевский, Дневник писателя, 1873 год.
. . .a lie taken for the truth always assumes a most dangerous appearance."
F. Dostoevsky, "One of the Contemporaneous Falsehoods," (1873)
"History is an approximate account of the past, just as prophecy is an approximation of the future"
Père Lagrange, The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Chantage or blackmail is one of the oldest means of psychological domination by one person over another. Blackmail aims to intimidate a person to the point of debilitating his will or totally destroying it. Here are some select definitions of the term:
ШАНТАЖ (франц. chantage) - вид вымогательства, заключающийся в угрозе разоблачения или разглашения компрометирующих или мнимокомпрометирирующих сведений для получения к.-л. политич., имуществ. или иных выгод. (МСЭ, 3-е изд., 1960, Т. 10, стр. 502).
Le chantage - action d'extorquer à une personne de l'argent, des faveurs, sous la menace de révélations scandaleuses. (Larousse)
Blackmail. Law. a. any payment extorted by intimidation, as by threats or injurious revelations or accusations, b. the extortion of such payment. (The American College Dictionary)
Blackmail is used when all usual means of forcing one person to submit to the will of another become ineffective. There are cases when neither subordination to the rules imposed by an organization upon its members nor voluntary acceptance of orders, requests or advice can move a person to commit actions which are required from him by others. Then, through intimi-
dation, threats of damaging revelations or false accusations and slander, the blackmail victim submits to the will of the individual seeking control and becomes a blind tool in his hands. Blackmail can take various forms — from extortion of money to political terrorism, coercion, imprisonment or murder. Frequently it masquerades as subtle diplomatic, ideological or political pressure.
A classic example of subtle blackmail is provided by the famous negotiations between Pontius Pilate and the high priests:
"Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Ca-ia-phas.
And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill Him." (St. Matthew 26: 3, 4.)
"And when they bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
And He was accused of the chief priests and elders. He answered nothing.
Therefore when they gathered together, Pilate said unto them: Whom will ye that I release unto you? Ba-rab'-bas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him." (27: 2, 12, 17, 18.)
According to all four Gospels as well as historical data cited by David Strauss, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Ernest Renan, Pilate "was the more afraid" (John 19: 8). He delivered Jesus to be crucified after the Jewish high priests had accused Pilate of opposing Caesar and threatened to denounce him in front of Tiberius: "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar" (John 19: 12, 15) .
The perfect artistic and dramatic skill with which Mikhail Bulgakov depicted this most poignant drama of human conscience in his novel The Master and Margarita (in chapter 2) is well known.
Despite the great number of articles on Dostoevsky's novel Besy (The Possessed or The Devils) and a few comparisons of its characters with the real individuals Bakunin, Nechaev, and their associates, no attention has been paid to blackmail as one component of the destructive, revolutionary antigovernmental activity in the radicals' struggle for power. Dostoevsky was the first Russian writer to concentrate on this invisible but dangerous means of psychological enslavement of one person by another. In impressively dramatic scenes Dostoevsky revealed the horrifying essence of the phenomenon of "chantage."
In the works written by Dostoevsky before 1870, despite a rich variety of psychological phenomena and subtlety of human re-
lations, the phenomenon of blackmail is virtually absent. But the novel The Possessed presents, with an astonishingly profound insight into the hidden motivation behind human acts, various forms of blackmail: several protagonists resort to this means of intimidation in order to achieve their goals. Thus, the pseudo-Captain Lebyadkin blackmails Stavrogin for money; Peter Verkhovensky blackmails his own father and Governor von Lembke; simultaneously, he sets up such idealists as Shatov and Kirillov and tries to lure Stavrogin into his intrigues.
We will begin our analysis with the simplest form of blackmail -- extortion of money for personal profit. Captain Ignat Lebyadkin embodies the unscrupulous crook who places his own well-being above all else.
Relations between Lebyadkin and Nikolay Stavrogin change in the course of the novel. At first, Lebyadkin receives regular payments from Stavrogin to keep silent about Stavrogin's grotesque marriage to Marya Timofeevna, Lebyadkin's half-witted sister. According to Liputin, Stavrogin had placed Marya Timofeevna in a convent to hide her from Lebyadkin. But Lebyadkin found her, returned with her to the city T. and immediately received a large sum of money from an unknown source. The cynic Liputin, while playing the role of an innocent city dweller, makes the noble and naive Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky indignant by revealing Lebyadkin's "secrets." Liputin describes the false "captain" as "an irritable man" who has "bad taste," and says that his lame and mad sister "seems to have been seduced by someone, and Mr. Lebyadkin has, it seems, for many years received a yearly grant from the seducer by way of compensation for the wound to his honor, or so it would seem at least from his chatter." (1) Having excited Stepan Trofimovich's curiosity and anxiety, Liputin adds that he considers the rumors to be mere "drunken talk." Veiling his intentions behind seemingly friendly gossip. Liputin is actually pursuing a twofold aim — to compromise Stavrogin through the latter's mysterious association with the drunken scoundrel Lebyadkin and, by casting a shadow on Dasha's reputation, to confirm Stepan Trofimovich's suspicions that his prospective marriage to Dasha would serve only one purpose -- to "cover the sins of others under the shelter of his honourable name" (p. 85). Later in the novel it is revealed that Liputin is closely connected with the young Verkhovensky, but at first his provocative talk seems to lack any practical purpose: he enjoys seeing the anxiety and fear of Stepan Trofimovich and avenges in this way the offense inflicted upon him four years earlier by the rich landlord Nikolay Stavrogin, whom Liputin hates and envies.
It is Liputin who, in quoting the drunken Lebyadkin, first pronounces the meaningful words "premudryi zmii" (subtle serpent) , in reference to Stavrogin. While drinking with Liputin in Filippov's tavern, Lebyadkin does not yield to Liputin's provocative questions: asked if his "subtle serpent" is mad, Lebyadkin answers: "Yes, yes, only that cannot affect..." Liputin's repeated inquiries as to what it cannot affect fail to elicit a clarification from Lebyadkin.
Lebyadkin aptly perceives Stavrogin's satanic essence; he
hates and fears Stavrogin yet also admires him. While depending upon the generosity and mood of the "subtle serpent." Lebyadkin keeps silent concerning his "secret," though he blames Stavrogin publicly and shouts in all the city taverns that Stavrogin has offended "his family dignity." Lebyadkin is paid for his silence; but then by abusing Stavrogin's patience, he continues to extort money from him apparently in hopes of getting his hands on Stavrogin's estate. Liputin even begins to gossip that Stavrogin has sold to Lebyadkin "all his estate formerly of two hundred serfs." (p. 96.)
Nevertheless, Liputin does not know exactly what "the secret" is. Even in a state of inebriation and rage Lebyadkin manages to control himself. When he bangs on Shatov's door with his fists and boasts that his sister is someone of importance, he does not finish his sentence, even after being teased by Shatov and labelled a coward: "I. . .I. ..she's..." falters Lebyadkin but dominates his urge and roaring "Sc-ou-ndrel!" stumbles down the staircase. Shatov remarks: "He won't give himself away even when he's drunk." (p. 12O.) Thus Shatov both summarizes the ugly episode and characterizes Lebyadkin's behavior.
The way in which one person can be reduced to an object of contempt for another with a stronger personality is impressively depicted in the famous "conclave" scene in the drawing-room of Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin. Lebyadkin bursts into the drawing room and, though unsure of himself, passing quickly from embarrassment and fear to insolence, he brags of possessing a secret that everyone is anxious to discover. He enjoys his power over these curious high society people, especially over the first lady of the city, Mrs. Stavrogin. Scoffing at her, he insinuates that he knows the invaluable "secret" concerning money sent to him by Nikolay Stavrogin. He adds that his sister, "Marya Anonyma," is "not at all" what Mrs. Stavrogin supposes. Lebyadkin is overcome with pride in his own importance and feels it is he who is in control of the situation. He brags that "Lebyadkin is cunning" and strong, and decides "to endure family disgrace rather than proclaim the truth aloud." (p. 142.)
Two sudden "coups de théâtre" put an end to Lebyadkin's blackmailing triumph. He stares, petrified, at the young Verkhovensky, who suddenly bursts into the drawing room; then the unexpected appearance of Nikolay Stavrogin and his prompt departure with Marya scares Lebyadkin so much that he tries to slip away. But the young Verkhovensky grasps him by the arm — now the would-be blackmailer will himself be blackmailed and victimized by a stronger blackmailer. Verkhovensky starts to threaten Lebyadkin — Stavrogin's "Falstaff," the discharged clerk in the former commissariat department — by saying that he and Stavrogin both know what Lebyadkin was doing in the city, and that he will be forced to answer for all his acts.
Verkhovensky reveals that Lebyadkin has taken Marya, his own sister, whom he considered his "source of income," from the nunnery and begun impudently harassing Stavrogin. He has even threatened his benefactor with legal proceedings if Marya's pension is not paid straight into his hands. While narrating
his story to Mrs. Stavrogin's guests, the young Peter Verkhovensky does not take his eyes from Lebyadkin for one minute. With his scrutinizing glance Verkhovensky dominates the false captain and paralyzes his will.
Frightened by Verkhovensky's threat to start talking about him "in a real sense," Lebyadkin confirms everything but remarks that he has been "asleep for the last four years with a storm cloud" hanging over him. In the doorway he comes face to face with Stavrogin, who, with a single glance, destroys Lebyadkin, leaving him "frozen to the spot," his eyes fixed upon Stavrogin "like a rabbit before a boa-constrictor." (p. 155.)
This "boa-constrictor" and "subtle serpent" — both metaphors clearly suggesting Stavrogin's diabolic nature — will control Lebyadkin's fate and, finally, destroy his blackmailing effortlessly. Lebyadkin's attempt at blackmail is rebuffed when Stavrogin tells him nonchalantly that he has decided to make a public announcement of his marriage to Marya Timofeevna. It is very easy to do because everything has been done "perfectly legally," and both witnesses are in town.
In the crucial episode in the house beyond the river, Lebyadkin plays a different role: he begins to realize that Stavrogin, who "dlia zla liudiam zhivet" (lives to inflict evil on others), might indeed make his marriage public. In so doing, he would deprive Captain Lebyadkin of his sole source of income. Bewildered and confused, but still uncertain about Stavrogin's real intentions, Lebyadkin recalls his former role as Stavrogin's buffoon, his "Falstaff from Shakespeare" and tries to find the most advantageous tone to deal with the master who now holds the key to his fate. In vain Lebyadkin tries to evoke their drunken talks in St. Petersburg, speaking of his absurd desire to imitate the testament of a rich American, and reciting his absurd verses. At last he tries to play his favorite card by complaining that the secret marriage is an offense to his "family honor."
Lebyadkin, who still hopes to extort money from Stavrogin, is stunned by the latter's imperturbable indifference and his calm announcement that he plans to reveal his marriage "to the police and to local society." Lebyadkin complains that Verkhovensky is threatening to denounce him to the police if he disobeys. Lebyadkin describes how, as a member of a revolutionary network, he distributed inflammatory leaflets everywhere — in the capital, in the provinces and in the military barracks — calling for people to take up knives and pitchforks and destroy everything. He still believes, however, that Stavrogin, like Peter Verkhovensky, is only deceiving him and wants to use him. While Lebyadkin stands on the porch of his house, during Stavrogin's talk with Marya, he wonders — does Stavrogin fear being denounced or is he simply setting Lebyadkin up by suggesting that he writes a letter to the authorities and denounces Verkhovensky's revolutionaries? Lebyadkin immediately begins to spin another intrigue, but here blackmail ceases to be only a personal affair; it becomes a political one. At this moment, though aware of Verkhovensky's double game of insinuation and deceit, Lebyadkin does not yet realize that just a few minutes later, his fate will be de-
cided by Stavrogin. With the simple gesture of throwing money to the convict Fedor at the bridge, Stavrogin delivers Lebyadkin to Fedor's mercy.
Paradoxically, even the independent, powerful and selfish Stavrogin does not realize at this crucial moment that he, too, has fallen into a web of intrigue and blackmail spun by the experienced "maître chanteur" Peter Verkhovensky, a villain of almost supernatural proportions. Denunciation, false accusation, entrapment based on threats — such are Verkhovensky's methods. He also proves himself a fine psychologist and a perfect master of stylistics by exploiting the meaning of several different levels of discourse simultaneously. Acting according to a well-elaborated plan, manipulating the ambitions and weaknesses of city people, he succeeds in all his malicious intrigues.
Upon his arrival in the city of T., Verkhovensky immediately establishes close contact with local society, worming himself into the confidence of the aristocrat Gaganov, ingratiating himself with Julia von Lembke, the governor's wife, and obtaining unlimited access to Mrs. Stavrogin's house. Verkhovensky is an excellent actor: he always plays a role specially suited to his audience, and is quick to change masks when the need arises. This is how he explains his behavior to Stavrogin: "...But you know I have my policy; I babble away and suddenly I say something clever just as they are on the lookout for it. They crowd round me and I humbug away again..." (p. 179). He manages to become known as a young man "with abilities," who knows everybody and everything. The naive and suspicious governor even invites him to join his staff: "Lembke invites me to enter the service so that I may be reformed. You know I treat him shockingly, that is, I make a fool of him and he simply stares at me. Yulia Mikhailovna encourages it..." (p. 179).
Verkhovensky's buffoonish boast contains a sinister truth: he uses all possible means to dominate the city people, to breed strife, to scorn and destroy all of society's laws, customs and morals for the triumph of the revolution. Stavrogin tries to warn Shatov of the danger: Verkhovensky's gang plans to murder Shatov because he knows too much about the revolutionaries and their doctrine; they will never let him go as Shatov has asked, and they will not release Stavrogin himself who already suspects that he too has been "sentenced to death." In trying to persuade Shatov, who refuses to believe that the danger is real, Stavrogin notes that "Verkhovensky is an obstinate man," and an "enthusiast." Overwhelmed by his doctrine of the merciless destruction of existing society, Verkhovensky might at any moment cease to play the buffoon and would not hesitate at pulling a trigger.
Indeed, Verkhovensky follows his plan of action to the letter and hints with sadistic pleasure at his methods of mocking people, offending and denigrating them — all under the pretext of serving the revolutionary cause and of eradicating the whole of traditional society, its order and civilization, precisely as stated in the "Catechism of a Revolutionary," propagated by Sergei Nechaev and his aides:
"He (the revolutionary) despises and hates the prevailing moral code in all its manifestations. Anything assisting the triumph of the revolution is for him moral, anything ' hindering it is immoral and criminal. He knows no mercy for csardom or generally for the whole set-up of society, and he expects from them no mercy for himself."
Peter Verkhovensky's first victim is his own father. The younger Verkhovensky ridicules Stepan Trofimovich in the drawing room of Mrs. Stavrogin: hiding behind the mask of a naive innocent "stranger," Peter Verkhovensky reveals the contents of the letter his "old man" had written concerning his prospective marriage to cover "the sins of another." He aims to create a sensation and ruin his father's friendly relations with Mrs. Stavrogin, thus depriving Stepan Trofimovich of his pension. Moreover, the young man stages this ugly performance to mock the views and behaviour of the entire older generation.
Although the young Verkhovensky overacts by playing his part with open cynicism and vulgarity, he achieves his goal: Stepan Trofimovich is thrown out of the house where he has spent twenty years. Yet the young Verkhovensky is not satisfied with this provocative action and continues to humiliate and slander the old idealist. Anton Lavrentievich G., the chronicler, who witnessed the last meeting between the two, is struck by the mercilessness and cynical vulgarity of the son, but soon understands his aim:
"In my opinion he (Peter Verkhovensky) calculated upon reducing the old man to despair, and thus to drive him to some open scandal of a certain sort..." (p. 241).
Thus the young Verkhovensky methodically steers his father toward an open scandal in order to disrupt the normal life of the city and create confusion and discord.
His second victim is Governor von Lembke. Totally dominated by his possessive and ambitious wife, Julia Mikhailovna, the governor, though indignant at the lack of respect the young Verkhovensky ostensibly displays towards him, tries to consider such behavior, at his wife's insistence, as "traces of old free-thinking habits," a kind of coarse, but innocent jest. Von Lembke has already made two basic mistakes: he gave his novel to the young Verkhovensky, and, with the innocent intention of displaying his liberalism and confidence, the governor also showed him his private collection of revolutionary leaflets and manifestos. Verkhovensky immediately "caught" the loyal administrator and accused him of "agreeing to demolish churches." (p. 246.)
Verkhovensky steadily accumulates material to compromise the governor and works methodically at provoking him to take rash actions. The scene in von Lembke's study, where the young Verkhovensky pops in unannounced as "an intimate friend and one of the family" with the constant support and encouragement of Mrs. von Lembke, provides a classic pattern of a double-level discourse in a most impressive artistic display of insolent and, at the same time, subtle blackmail.
Starting with blunt, base flattery and simulating enthusiastic admiration for von Lembke's mediocre novel, Verkhovensky wins the governor's confidence and abuses his credulity. The young nihilist skilfully manipulates the governor for his own purposes. Taking advantage of the tense atmosphere in the city, the conflict between the workers and the administration of the Shpigulin factory, and the confusion caused by the increasing number of inflammatory leaflets found everywhere, Verkhovensky pushes the governor to extreme actions. He declares that the workers "are in rebellion" and accuses the governor of being too soft. The workers "ought to be flogged, every one of them." (p. 272.)
Then, playing the part of an honest, but naive young man who really trusts the governor, Verkhovensky asks him to "save" a student by the name of Shatov, his "former friend" who, driven crazy by misfortunes, has let himself become involved in distributing leaflets "with the sign of hatchet." Verkhovensky controls the double-level discourse perfectly — everything that he says about Shatov, Kirillov, and his ardent desire to "save" his mistaken "friend," has another meaning. By promising the governor to "serve" up to him all seven or ten underground conspirators, Verkhovensky names the price for his "services" — the governor must "spare" Shatov for him and not take any measures for six days. Indeed, Verkhovensky needs six days, not to save Shatov, however, but to avenge himself by killing Shatov.
Though von Lembke has instinctively never trusted the adroit and vulgar young man, this time he is again deceived by the first class artistic performance and gives Verkhovensky the anonymous denudation written by Lebyadkin, thus unwittingly promoting Verkhovensky's plan to murder Lebyadkin. One must agree that Dostoevsky impressively embodied in artistic terms and images the dry, didactic lines of the "Catechism" attributed to Nechaev:
"To reach his aim of merciless destruction the revolutionary is forced to live in society pretending to be completely different from what he really is, for he must penetrate everywhere; into all the higher and middle class circles, into the business world, the great houses, the bureaucracy, the military and the literary world, yes, into the Third Department and even into the Winter Palace of the Csar."
Indeed, Peter Verkhovensky is a talented actor: he is frequently quite successful in "pretending to be quite other than what he is." He penetrates not only into the governor's house and office, but also into other bastions of high society, including the study of the writer Karmazinov, the mansion of the aristocrat Gaganov, the Nobility Club, and even military circles. He twists even the proud and ambitious Mrs. Stavrogin, the long time first lady of the city T., around his finger, intrudes into her drawing room and introduces himself as "one of them." Later he will have several important talks with her. During her decisive meeting with Stepan Trofimovich in Skvoreshniki, which she meant to be their last, Mrs. Stavrogin repeats almost word for word the propagandistic and nihilistic statements of the young Verkhovensky about art
and "new ideas" that Stepan Trofimovich has already heard from his son.
Peter Verkhovensky reveals to Nikolay Stavrogin his well-elaborated strategy: he declares that enroute to the city T., he "made up his mind to assume the part of a naive fool," but then ended up by "sticking to his own character" — that one of a mediocre man. (p. 175.) While boasting of his mediocrity, he begins to play a new role and does not even conceal the fact that, for some reason, he wants to compromise Stavrogin and entrap him. After Shatov's offense against Stavrogin, Verkhovensky, as he termed it, changed his ideas about Stavrogin: "...now I shall never compromise you in the old way, it will be in a new way now." (p. 177.)
Verkhovensky tries to find out how much Stavrogin is afraid of his past, but realizes that Stavrogin is a fearless man, superior to others in his haughtiness, cold indifference, and disdain for others. Therefore, to use Stavrogin, now an enigmatic and romantic figure, for his purpose, i.e., to exhibit him as the mysterious leader of an international revolutionary center, Verkhovensky must change his previous tactics. To him the best way to achieve his goal now would be to involve Stavrogin in a criminal action — the murder of his lame, halfwitted secret wife.
From that moment, Verkhovensky's satanic urge to possess and manipulate people grows increasingly: he draws all of them into a network of malicious intrigue. The mask of the adroit, lighthearted but rather stupid young man who "dropped from the moon" is gradually replaced by that of an impudent, self-sure political despot, some kind of emissary of a powerful, international organization. Curiously enough, no one at first takes his allusions and hidden threats seriously.
The most blatant example is Shatov's disregard of the danger then hanging over him. Shatov does not listen to Stavrogin's warning:
"Owing to certain circumstances I was forced this very day to choose such an hour to come and tell you that they murder you." (p. 191.)
Shatov does not know that Stavrogin is a member of Verkhovensky's underground organization. Nor does he know that he is surrounded by agents, some of whom do not even realize they are "serving" the organization by giving information about Shatov's every movement. The honest and straightforward Shatov openly declares that he has cut himself off from the underground circle and wants to use his right to freedom of conscience and thought. But neither honesty nor freedom of conscience exists for the cruel and fanatical Verkhovensky whose goal is the destruction and extermination of anyone blocking his road to power.
Verkhovensky lures Shatov into the meeting of revolutionary conspirators at Virginsky's house by promising him that there they will settle the questions of how Shatov can leave the secret society and to whom he must hand over the printing press. Verkhovensky lies with impudence in claiming that he
has been working hard to "defend" Shatov, attempting to persuade the other society members to release Shatov, though they still believed that the latter meant to deceive and betray them.
Verkhovensky's talk is a perfect display of double-level discourse: while blackmailing Shatov, Verkhovensky accuses him of blackmailing and deceiving the members of the underground society. He deliberately distorts the meaning of the note in which Shatov announces his refusal to print the leaflet with the revolutionary poem "A noble Personality" (Svetlaia lichnost'). Verkhovensky has already used this note to "prove" Shatov's involvement in revolutionary activities to Governor von Lembke. In so doing, Verkhovensky betrays and denounces Shatov to the authorities. In reply Shatov's indignant remark that he is not afraid of "all those fools," that he despises them because they can not harm him, Verkhovensky says: "Your name would be noted, and at the first success of the revolution you could be hanged." — "That's when you get the upper hand and dominate Russia?" — Shatov ironically remarks but is rebuffed by Verkhovensky's cold warning "don't laugh" (p. 294).
While writing this novel in the nineteenth century, Dostoevsky already envisaged how those who were to dominate after carrying out a successful revolution and seizure of power could treat those who disagree with them: "He who is not with us is against us" — that ruthless rule, a slogan popularized by Bakunin and Nechaev, has remained relevant to the present day.
In a talk with Verkhovensky on their way to the meeting in Virginsky's home, Stavrogin makes the proposal for "cementing" the secret circle together. He specifies the technique which Verkhovensky will use to dominate its members: "Persuade four members of the circle to kill the fifth on the pretense he is a traitor, and you will tie them all together with the blood they have shed. They will be your slaves; they won't dare to rebel or call you to account..." (p. 299).
Verkhovensky's reaction to this "advice" and his remark that Stavrogin should be familiar with the tactics and policy of the secret revolutionary organization since it was he, Stavrogin, who "wrote the rules ("ustav") himself" several years earlier (p. 298) is significant. It suggests that both had discussed doctrines and rules of underground circles. Their manipulation of people they considered "suitable material" and prospective members exploited tendencies widespread in the society of their day -- the fear of one's own opinion and, especially, the fear of not seeming to be "progressive" enough.
Verkhovensky makes use of his previous acquaintance with Stavrogin to force him to play the role of a great leader of a powerful revolutionary organization, while he, Peter Verkhovensky, holds all the executive power. After the meeting in Virginsky's house, Verkhovensky speaks frantically of his political ambitions to Stavrogin, elaborating on the myth of a "new just law" to be established after the complete destruction of the old system, when a few self-imposed rulers will dominate the masses.
At this meeting Verkhovensky successfully creates confusion among the city's "progressive elements" -- the flower of the city's "reddest radicalism," in the words of the chronicler. Verkhovensky skilfully directs the excited minds of the "guests," persuading them to commit themselves to any action for the sake of "the common cause." Finally, he asks them his most provocative question: would they give information to authorities if "any one knew of a proposed political murder?" Several people respond immediately to Verkhovensky's challenge by assuring him that they would in no case inform the police, and that they are proud to give proof, in this way, of their progressive liberal views. Shatov is the first to see Verkhovensky' s intention of compromising them all, and he walks out of the meeting. Unfortunately, he again ignores the seriousness of Verkhovensky's threat: "Shatov, this won't make things better for you!" (p. 318).
A few minutes later at Kirillov's lodging, Stavrogin reveals Verkhovensky's double game: Verkhovensky had hoped to expose Shatov as a potential informer, thus cementing the secret circle together with Shatov's blood, and to involve Stavrogin in the murder of the Lebyadkins, so as to gain power over him as well. Stavrogin has apparently forgotten, however, that he himself recently advised Fedor the convict to murder the Lebyadkins, and gave this consent to the crime by throwing money to Fedor while crossing the bridge on his way home from a visit with Marya Timofeevna and the false captain.
Stavrogin has warned Shatov of Verkhovensky's murderous intentions but fails to see the same threat directed at him. Rejected by Stavrogin, afraid that his chance to gain absolute power will vanish with Stavrogin's refusal to collaborate in the realization of his political plans, Verkhovensky shouts now in rage: "Listen, like Fedka I have a knife in my boot." (p. 321.)
A satanic disdain for human beings and the urge for power over them prompts Verkhovensky to turn to arms. The last time he sees Stavrogin, when the latter confesses to Liza that he knew the Lebyadkins were going to be killed but did nothing to stop the murderers, Verkhovensky realizes that his idol is indeed fearless and that there is nothing imaginable that could scare this "Ivan Csarevich." Stavrogin's sudden remark that Verkhovensky is the real murderer of Marya Timofeevna, alarms Verkhovensky: he, the experienced blackmailer, is suddenly seized by panic in fear that the unpredictable Stavrogin will denounce him. Then Verkhovensky seizes his revolver and shouts hysterically: "I will kill you, though you are not afraid of me!" He is apparently stopped only by Stavrogin's willingness to be shot: "Very well, kill me..." (pp. 407-8) .
The same evening, at the meeting of his "quintet" at Erkel's shabby apartment, Peter Verkhovensky intimidates them, announcing that they must execute his commands because everything is in his hands, for if they refuse, certain strange coincidences might occur. Thus, "some Fedka relieves us quite by chance of a dangerous man" by killing Captain Lebyadkin who had denounced them to Governor von Lembke. (p. 417). Finally, Verkhovensky unmasks himself, declaring bluntly that Shatov's letter of
denunciation is ready and that by the next day they could all be arrested as incendiaries and political offenders.
Once again, Verkhovensky's blackmail techniques work without fail: indignant and intimidated, the quintet members Tolkachenko and Lyamshin suggest that the time has come to get rid of Shatov — to "send him to the devil." Playing once more on the quintet's devotion to the "common cause" — the bettering of mankind's future by means of a destructive upheaval -- Verkhovensky expounds in a very businesslike manner his plan to murder Shatov and cover the crime with Kirillov's "confession." Nevertheless, they all sense Verkhovensky's true intentions and "feel like flies suddenly caught in a web by a huge spider." (p. 421). They are furious, but tremble with terror. They realize all too well that they have become slaves of this despotic and remorseless man who could ruin them at any time.
Verkhovensky sees that the period of negotiations is over and turns to drastic, violent measures. When Fedor the convict again refuses to respond to blackmail, Verkhovensky aims a revolver at him. Infuriated by the mere fact of Fedor's resolute disobedience, Verkhovensky, panic-stricken, then points the revolver straight at Kirillov's head, fearing that Kirillov too, like Stavrogin, will "run away." Trembling with rage, he stammers: "I'll hang you... like a fly... crush you..." (p. 429) .
Prompted by the same rage and urge to consolidate his power over others while manipulating their dream of "the common cause," Verkhovensky commits the ugly crime of murdering Shatov. He presses the same revolver to Shatov's forehead and coldbloodedly pulls the trigger, while three of the "fighters for the right common cause" and mankind's happiness -- Tolkachenko, Erkel, and Liputin — pin Shatov to the ground.
Before this macabre scene, Verkhovensky had listened to the protests and objections of the three quintet members and fearing their possible disobedience, responds by threatening them and accusing them of serious crimes: "But let me tell you, gentlemen, no betrayal would win you a pardon now. Even if your sentence were mitigated it would mean Siberia; and what's more, there's no escaping the weapons of the other side -- and their weapons are sharper than the government's." (p. 458.)
Despite their indignation and hatred of the tyrannical Verkhovensky, no one fails at the gloomy spot near the abandoned grotto in Skvoreshniki park. After the murder of Shatov, Verkhovensky cynically boasts with "pride" of his contribution to the "common cause." Verkhovensky reiterates to the deeply shaken "quintet" members that their duty is "to watch over one another" and "to bring about the downfall of everything --both the government and its moral standards." He emphasizes that he and those like him, who prepare themselves to take over the state's power, should know that "there will be many thousands of Shatovs to contend with" because the entire generation must be re-educated "to make them worthy of freedom." (p. 463.)
A few hours later, Verkhovensky takes the same revolver with
him to Kirillov's. Before running away to St. Petersburg, and, by this act, betraying his revolutionary "quintet," Verkhovensky wants to carry out another satanic act; he wants to see whether the fanatical idealist Kirillov, who considers himself a new "mangod," will in fact submit to his will and act upon his command. Kirillov, contrary to the opinion repeated by many critics since the publication of The Possessed, is not a creation of Dostoevsky's "perverse mind."
Kirillov, though labelled "a maniac" and a "deranged man" by some characters in the novel, is in fact the epitome of the popular philosophical and, especially, antitheistic theories developed by Ludwig Feuerbach, Mikhail Bakunin and the whole pleiad of Russian revolutionary thinkers -- from Belinsky to Pisarev, Chernyshevsky, and many others. An analysis of Kirillov's statements against the background of the dominant materialistic and nihilistic theories of the 1840's-1860's has shown that Kirillov frequently paraphrases Feuerbachian theses. (2)
Kirillov's attempt to apply the Feuerbachian theory of mangodhood and prove his own alleged omnipotence and absolute freedom to liberate mankind from suffering and death ends in tragic failure. Kirillov's anguished plight and his desperate efforts to bring an unfeasible theory into effect are utilized by Verkhovensky with a demonic ruthlessness for his own destructive criminal aims. In the end Kirillov realizes the falseness of the man-godhood idea, but lacks sufficient intellectual and moral strength to accept his failure.
In that moment of intense inner struggle, Kirillov could have changed his views and, consequently, his decision to accept the responsibility for having distributed the revolutionary leaflets. When, shocked at the news of Shatov's murder by Verkhovensky, Kirillov refuses to sign the letter Verkhovensky needs to cover his crime, Verkhovensky immediately aims his revolver at Kirillov. He declares that he will not go away "without any result" — either Kirillov must keep his "promises" and commit "ideological" suicide or die from Verkhovensky's bullet just as Shatov did.
The subsequent dialogue, in which Kirillov makes a final attempt to convince himself of the validity of his ideas, reveals his theory to his last interlocutor in this world — the murderer Verkhovensky -- and demonstrates how an honest idealist can be manipulated by an unscrupulous, coldblooded master of intrigue and blackmail. Finally, in a paroxysm of despair, Kirillov, who now realizes the complete collapse of his theory, is adroitly guided by Verkhovensky into writing a self-incriminating suicide note. Thus, the promoter of mankind's happiness becomes an accomplice to the crime committed by the merciless fanatical despot animated by an evil that strives for elaborate means to achieve its goal.
It should be remembered that after leaving several corpses behind him, the initiator of all these deaths and desasters, Peter Verkhovensky, calmly boards a train for Petersburg. Having performed like a virtuoso the role of blackmailer he must now remove himself from danger. Until the very last bell at the railroad station, Verkhovensky continues to deceive the others
and play a double role. Thus, he explains to his devotee, the young socialist-idealist Ensign Erkel, that he is going away "for a work of the first importance, for the common cause," and not to save his skin, as Liputin and other members of his "quintet" imagine, (p. 477.)
x x x
A close reading of the text of The Possessed (Besy) and an analysis of the various methods and types of blackmail used by some of its protagonists can provide a new perspective on the significance of this much disparaged and misinterpreted, prophetic and cautionary literary work.
A comparison of the events described in the novel to the historical reality of the nineteenth century shows how much Dostoevsky's novel was misread and how subjective and tendentious was the opinion of a number of its detractors and critics. A study of the pertinent documents -- political programs, leaflets, letters, and reminiscences of Dostoevsky's contemporaries -- shows that Governor von Lembke's observation -- "The fire is in the minds of men and not in the roofs of houses" ("Pozhar v umakh, a ne na kryshakh domov") (vol. 1O, p. 395) — though shouted in a moment of desperation, proved to be correct. Indeed, the dominant idea enthusiastically propagated by the radicals, as well as a number of liberals in various European countries at that time, was the destruction of the existing governmental and social system for the sake of mankind's future happiness.
It is well known that beginning with Vissarion Belinsky the young liberal and radical Russians supported the idea of the annihilation of the old order, an idea which frequently implies the use of violence and terrorism. The concepts born in the French Enlightenment and the Revolution of 1791 were still alive in the mind of Dostoevsky and in the thinking of his contemporaries. At least two generations of young people, who were incited to rebel against the existing order in Russia, echoed and developed these destructive and violent revolutionary ideas. Dostoevsky closely observed the development of the concept of a "right" to violence and destruction for the sake of a better future for mankind, and witnessed the appeal of this concept to radical youth. Dostoevsky showed in his novels how, in a few years, Rodion Raskolnikov's ideological individualistic murder was transformed into a political pluralistic crime in which, through a skilfully spun web of intrigue and threats, Peter Verkhovensky managed to involve several persons of different social standing. From Crime and Punishment to The Possessed Dostoevsky continued to observe and analyze historical events and their reflection in the ideas and theories of his time.
The "Napoleonic" and "Caesarian" ideas of a "right to crime" were well known before Raskolnikov and had been discussed in political, ideological and literary works. The view of destruction as being a "creative passion" was the core of Mikhail Bakunin's ideas and became well known in Russia after Turgenev's protagonist Evgenii Bazarov formulated it with firm
It is sufficient to recall the popularity in the late 1850's-early 1860's of the idea shared by Bazarov and his disciple Arkady Kirsanov of rejecting everything which had previously been thought worthy of respect. As Arkady explained to his father and his uncle, "A nihilist is a man who does not bow to any authorities, who does not take any principle on trust. no matter with what respect that principle is surrounded." (3) Bazarov, during his decisive "tussle" (skhvatka) with Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov, went much further than Arkady in defining a nihilist as one "who approaches everything from a critical standpoint." This was not only a refusal to "recognize any authorities," but a blatant "rejection of all things," as Bazarov put it. When Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov remembered somewhat anxiously that the rejection of everything "is a total destruction of everything, while it is still necessary to build up too," Bazarov coldly replied, "First we must clear the site." (4) Turgenev dated this statement, made by his protagonist, May 1859.
Almost simultaneously the critic Dmitry I. Pisarev came forward in his article "Scholasticism of the 19th Century," published in 1861, with a bold statement defining the "ultimatum" of the radicals: everything should be smashed and destroyed. To free people from all antiquated "rubbish" — old morality, authority of traditions, and established order, Pisarev proposed "to strike to the right and to the left." (5)
While Pisarev openly propagated the annihilation of old established ideas and the existing order in Russia, a secret group, "Hell" (Ad), formed in 1866 within Nikolai A. Ishutin's revolutionary circle, offered Sergei Nechaev a good example of a violent, conspiratory organization. The veil of secrecy that cloaked its actions, the mutual spying among its members and the close supervision by the leader over the acts of the entire circle, and the death sentence prescribed for any case of deviation from the group's rules attracted Nechaev's attention. He declared in his manifesto "People's Revenge" (Narodnaia rasprava) that "The basis of our holy cause was laid by Dmitry Vladimirovich Karakazov." (6)
It is well known that the publication of The Possessed in the periodical The Russian Herald in 1871-72, and in book form in 1873, stirred a wave of negative criticism from the radical critics, a wave that has not dried up to this day. But we will not repeat here all the negative opinions expounded by M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, P. N. Tkachev, N. K. Mikhailovsky, D. I. Minaev and others in the reviews published in a number of Russian newspapers in 1871-73, and later expressed by Maxim Gorky in 1913, D. Zaslavsky in 1935 and again in 1959, by M. Gus in 1962, and others. (7)
These reviews, though some contain interesting and valuable remarks, present an obvious case of an erroneous understanding of a work of art, an understanding motivated by divergent ideologies and different political convictions. Historical facts and documents show convincingly that Dostoevsky's novel is not a "wicked pamphlet on revolution," as M. Gus wrote, nor are Dostoevsky's protagonists a mere product of his imagination,
to whom the writer attributed his "eccentric ideas." They are neither "fantastic masks and pathological cases," nor do they sit in a "kunstcamera of monsters," as N. K. Mikhailovsky and P. N. Tkachev wrote in their respective reviews and articles. (8) On the contrary, the novel's protagonists and their alleged prototypes were very active, diligent individuals, and Sergei Nechaev was not an isolated fanatic, but an ideologue with predecessors, associates, followers and supporters.
In 1966 Michael Confino published letters to and about Nechaev and certain other documents he had discovered in the archives of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. These documents prove that Dostoevsky did not "disparage Russian true revolutionaries" -- an accusation which has become a cliché in a number of critical articles on The Possessed in the East as well as sometimes in the West. Dostoevsky, of course, could not have known the contents of all these documents. They prove, however, how correctly he depicted the essence of that historical period, relying on his artistic intuition and personal sense of history, and how perspicacious was his warning, in the form of literary imagery against the theory of using all possible means in the effort to improve mankind's condition.
The problem now is to prove that Dostoevsky with his clear view of history and his ability to closely observe the historical events of this time, created in his novel a persuasive and realistic artistic picture of controversial and diametrically opposed ideas and facts which were ignored or distorted by his critics, and even by a number of his readers.
To begin with the question of conformity to historical facts, one should keep in mind that numerous statements and actions of Dostoevsky's protagonist Peter Stepanovich Verkhovensky reflect the principles expounded in "The Catechism of a Revolutionary," published in Petersburg, in Herald of the Government (Pravitel'stvennyi vestnik, 1871, No. 162) during the trial of Nechaev's followers in July-August of 1871. This Catechism was modeled on several revolutionary catechisms that abounded in France during the revolutionary years 1791-94. Of the several dozen catechisms extant at that time, some were parodic; in others the authors tried to create a new code of morality based on republican, materialistic and atheistic principles to replace traditional religious catechisms. (9)
However, the Catechism now known as "Nechaev's Catechism" was written exclusively for the purpose of undermining and destroying the entire existing order by all possible means in order to seize power.
A lot of ink has been spilled by contemporary historians and critics in order to dissociate Nechaev from other revolutionaries of his time and to separate his ideas and methods from those of his contemporaries, including Mikhail Bakunin. (10)
"The Catechism of a Revolutionary," which was confiscated in 1869 during the arrest of Nechaev's associate Peter Gavrilovich Uspensky, and published in St. Petersburg, in The Herald of the Government, (11) provoked a discussion concerning the authorship of this document, a discussion which to this day
has not resulted in a definitive solution. The famous Russian lawyer Vladimir Danilovich Spasovich, who served as a defender at the trial of Nechaev's followers in Petersburg in July-August 1871, dissociated Nechaev from the author of "The Catechism." He said: "There is an enormous difference between the author of 'The Catechism' and Nechaev, the same difference which exists between a revolutionary of action and a revolutionary of thought. Nechaev was the revolutionary of action..." Spasovich considered "The Catechism" a purely theoretical work and insisted that the abstract theories expounded in it were originally created by an emigre theoretician, and that only a few of the statements in the document were actually accepted by Nechaev as guiding principles.
The publication of Bakunin's long letter to Nechaev revived the question of the authorship of "The Catechism of a Revolutionary" which served as one of the major pieces of evidence in the trial against Nechaev, explaining the activities of his followers and the motive for the murder of the student Ivanov.
The purpose of the present study is not to resolve the problem of the authorship of the "Nechaev Catechism" found at Uspensky's home: in the last fifteen years several serious articles based on the new archival discoveries have been written and the problem has been discussed thoroughly. (12)
It is important to note, however, that during the almost century-long discussion of the Catechism's authorship, Nechaev's contemporaries and historians mentioned a number of different persons as alleged authors or co-authors of this curious, provocative and cruel work.
This fact alone proves that many people were involved in such activities, and, apparently, supported identical or similar violent and merciless methods. In Nechaev's time, the 1860's, a number of revolutionary circles and organizations used to set their programs and principles down on paper under various titles such as "rules," "ABC-books," programs for action, catechisms, etc. The term "catechism" was especially popular. Even Chernyshevsky's novel What Is To Be Done? (Chto delat'?) was sometimes labelled as the "catechism" of young radicals. (See The Possessed, PSS, v. 1/, p. 238.) It should be noted that as early as 1864, Mikhail Bakunin had already used the title "Revolutionary Catechism" (Revolutsionnyi katekhizm) in his draft of the program for a prospective conspiratory society which he called "International Fraternity" (Internatsional'noe bratstvo). One of the most recent such programs is "ABC of Communism," edited by Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin and Evgenii Alekseevich Preobrazhensky in 1918.
Therefore, it would be correct to conclude that the coded copy of the "Catechism of a Revolutionary," found in the apartment of Peter G. Uspensky at the time of his arrest, was only one of many revolutionary programs whose common goal was the abolition of the existing order and the destruction of all previous ideologies and morality.
Mikhail Bakunin's letter to Nechaev of June 2, 1870 from Locarno, first published in Russian in Paris in 1966, (13)
prompted many comments. Once again the problem of hermeneutics arose in deciding how to interpret Bakunin's efforts to dissociate himself from Nechaev, his program, and his methods. Soviet critics deny any connection between Nechaev's activities and those of other members of revolutionary circles and organizations. At this writing, Bakunin's letter has not yet been published in the Soviet Union, but the Paris publication has been cited by Natalia M. Pirumova, and Yurii V. Davydov. These authors along with B. Bialek, to name only the authors of the most recent articles, like many other Soviet critics, dismiss the Nechaev phenomenon, characterizing his tactics as superleftist and extremist. By neglecting certain historical facts of the last hundred years, they continue to regard Nechaev's activities and his program as an isolated case of "fanatic extremism" and "pseudorevolutionary" acts. (14)
But how can one determine who is a real revolutionary and who is a pseudorevolutionary? Here it is appropriate to remember Crime and Punishment and the conversation at Porfiry Petrovich's apartment, were Razumikhin had brought Raskolnikov. On the eve of this visit with Porfiry, Razumikhin's guests at his "housewarming party" had discussed the problem of "whether there is such a thing as crime." Razumikhin had summarized for Raskolnikov the essence of the socialist doctrine supported by many of his guests: "Crime is a protest against the abnormality of the social organization and nothing more; no other causes are admitted..." (PSS, vol. 6, p. 196). Razumikhin had disagreed with this opinion, saying that this theory of social environment does not take into account human nature and justifies any act of violence against the existing social system.
In this connection Porfiry mentioned Raskolnikov's article on crime, published two months previously. He listened attentively as Raskolnikov explained his theory of "ordinary men" — men from the masses, "material," who must live under the control of others and obey the law — and "extraordinary men," proponents of lofty ideas, the makers of laws for the others. These superior persons have a right to commit crime; they may transgress the law for the sake of their "progressive idea," and are "forced" to destroy the present and to step over corpses or wade through blood for the sake of a better future.
Porfiry was immediately aware of the ambiguity in Raskolnikov's division of mankind into two unequal groups and rightly asked how one can distinguish those extraordinary people from the ordinary ones? He mockingly asked for "more exactitude" and more definition as there might be "a confusion" and it could be very alarming if there were a great many of those "extraordinary" men, eager to "eliminate all obstacles" at any price. (PSS, vol. 6, pp. 200-201.)
It is doubtful that the identity of the author of the work now usually designated as "Nechaev's Catechism," will ever be established for certain. For the purpose of this present study it is not so important whether this "Catechism" was the product of a joint authorship and written by Bakunin and Nechaev, by Nechaev alone under the strong influence of the ideas and conspiratorial tactics of Peter Tkachev, or the
ideas and methods elaborated by Georgii Petrovich Enisherlov, or, finally, as the historian Yurii Davydov recently said, that "The Catechism of a Revolutionary" is a product of the joint efforts of Nechaev, Enisherlov and Bakunin." (15)
The important point is that many of the principles and methods of struggle against the existing governmental and state system outlined in this Catechism were regarded as acceptable by many radicals and revolutionaries of the 1850's-70's.
In 1868, Sergei Gennadievich Nechaev actively participated in the student unrest that started in Petersburg's Medicosurgical Academy and spread to Moscow, Kiev and Kharkov. In his speeches Nechaev propagated the theory of an imminent struggle against the entire established educational system. This was the time when Nechaev created the legend of his arrest and subsequent escape from the Peter-and-Paul fortress. He skilfully used this legend -- his first mystification — to blackmail and deceive Russian emigrés abroad and to attract the attention of the revolutionary leaders Bakunin, Herzen and Ogarev to gain their support for his sham "Russian Revolutionary Committee."
This legend helps to explain why, when Nechaev appeared in Geneva for the first time in March of 1869, Mikhail Bakunin and Nikolai Ogarev received him as a dedicated revolutionary. Nechaev became for them the epitome of the revolutionary emigrés' ideal "man of action" -- a fighter, an energetic and decisive young man, totally devoted to a unique aim — the destruction of the Russian government and social order by all possible means. Many radical and liberal Russian emigres saw Nechaev's extremist intentions as a dose of needed energy injected by the young generation into the revolutionary movement.
It is also necessary to note that at that time Bakunin was elaborating his revolutionary plans and a appealing for immediate revolutionary actions, for rebellion and destruction of the old order in the name of liberty. In a stylistic analysis of "Catechism of a Revolutionary" published in 1976, Philip Pomper compared that work to several articles by Bakunin and found, particularly in the first part of the Catechism, echoes of many ideas first propagated by Bakunin. Pomper concluded:
"Both Bakunin and Ogarev met him (Nechaev) more than halfway..."; Nechaev "had an awesome quality of command, to whose power are numerous testimonials. Finally, he communicated the authentic rage, the destructive strast', the unleashed power for which Bakunin longed." (16)
This attitude explains why later, when Nechaev appeared in Geneva for the second time in December 1869, having escaped Russia after murdering the student Ivan Ivanov, Bakunin did not pay enough attention to the warnings of German A. Lopatin. Lopatin, who in 1866 had been exiled to his native Stavropol', knew about Nechaev's activity. According to historian B. P. Koz'min, Lopatin corresponded from Stavropol' not only with his friends Mikhail Negreskul and Nikolai N. Lubavin, but also with Bakunin and Nechaev. From Geneva Nechaev sent to Stavropol' a package of revolutionary manifestos.
He also sent another thousand such packages to various addresses in Russia. When Lopatin escaped from Russia and arrived in Geneva in May of 1870, he objected to Nechaev's methods and tried to "open the eyes" of Bakunin and Ogarev. Lopatin's letter to Bakunin from Paris dated May 26, 1870, contains information about a net of intrigue centered around Bakunin's commitment to translate the first volume of Karl Marx's Das Kapital and also Nechaev's claim to be the leader of the "Russian Revolutionary Committee, Narodnaia Rasprava (People's Justice, Justice du Peuple, Volksgericht)." Lopatin also informed Bakunin of a complex knot of lies and mutual accusations made by a rather large group of Russian revolutionary emigres. (17)
Several pamphlets were issued by Bakunin and Nechaev in Geneva between April and August 1869 — some anonymous, some signed by Bakunin, some by Nechaev, and one known to be written by Ogarev. The pamphlet "Principles of Revolution" says ruthlessly:
We recognize no other activity but the work of extermination, but we admit that the forms in which this activity will show itself will be extremely varied — poison, the knife, the rope, etc. In this struggle revolution sanctifies everything alike. (18)
One of Nechaev's articles of that period was entitled "Kto ne za nas, tot protiv nas" (He who is not with us, is against us). In it he discussed the expediency of political murder. (19) Now it may sound like a cliché to say that this slogan, the epitome of despotic intolerance, was fully implemented only in the twentieth century. Yet the course of historical events and the development of radical ideology proved that Nechaev was not an isolated fanatic and that his methods were nothing exceptional or fantastic; unfortunately they have become an almost everyday occurrence in the modern struggle for power by ambitious men frequently motivated by the urge to take vengeance on society and the existing social system.
While the authorship of "The Catechism" may still be in doubt, the author of the famous "Certificate No. 2771" (Mandat) issued in 1869 was obviously Mikhail Bakunin, "The Head of the World Revolutionary Alliance" (Vsemirnyi revolutsionnyi soiuz) as he signed it. The certificate was issued to Nechaev and reads: "The bearer of this is one of the accredited representatives of the Russian section of the World Revolutionary Alliance. No. 2771" (Podatel' sego est' odin iz doverennykh predstavitelei russkogo otdela Vsemirnogo revolutsionnogo soiuza No. 2771) . The seal affixed to this certificate bears the words: "European Revolutionary Alliance: Central Committee."
Thus, a second lie was invented and a far-reaching campaign of blackmail was prepared: the impostor was certified as legitimate with an "official document" of prime importance. In this way, an excellent foundation for Nechaev's future activity as the head of a mighty secret revolutionary organization, "People's Revenge," was laid by the internationally known revolutionary leader. The mysterious "committee" to which Nechaev had already referred prior to his trip to Europe,
now seemed to acquire a real existence.
Nechaev returned to Russia at the end of August 1869 with a reputation as a very important revolutionary leader, a reputation built with the help of Bakunin, Ogarev and the emigré community abroad. Bakunin's "certificate" — impeccable credentials to impress Russia's radical youth — enabled Nechaev to assume an authoritarian organizational role, while "The Catechism" provided him with powerful and precise theoretical rules which he put into practice.
Thus, the facts prove that it was through the support of notorious and well-known revolutionary leaders that Nechaev developed in Russia dictatorial subversive activity that ended with the coldblooded murder of the student Ivan Ivanov November 21, 1869.
When news reached Switzerland in December of 1869 of the numerous arrests of young radical Russian people following the Ivanov murder in Moscow, Bakunin was very worried about the fate of Nechaev. Upon receiving Ogarev's letter of January 12, 187O, announcing the arrival of the "Boy" in Geneva, Bakunin "jumped for joy so that he nearly broke his head on the ceiling," as he wrote back to Ogarev. Bakunin invited Nechaev to join him in Locarno, where Nechaev came in January of 187O. Here again, Nechaev resorted to mystification and lies, saying that he had been "caught" by the Czar's police, but had again successfully escaped abroad. Thus, Nechaev returned from Russia a revolutionary hero, and the fact of his perfidious murder of Ivanov, who had dared to object to Nechaev's actions, was not even mentioned. Nechaev again invented a lie — Ivanov had been a "traitor" to the common cause whom it had been necessary to eliminate. This new lie by Nechaev was accepted uncritically in radical emigré circles.
What Nechaev did in Switzerland during his second sojourn, after fleeing arrest for the murder of Ivanov, is known from Bakunin's letters to Nechaev, to his friend Ogarev, Nathalie Herzen and other correspondents; from German Lopatin's letter to Bakunin from Paris on May 26, 187O, and to Nathalie Herzen June l, 1870; from Nathalie's Reminiscences and diaries, and a number of other documents.
In a now famous letter to Nechaev dated June 2, 187O, Bakunin criticized Nechaev's methods in Switzerland, referring to Nechaev' s dictatorial and conspiratorial tactics as "Jesuitism" and "Machiavellism." But, at the beginning of his letter, while reproaching Nechaev for his deceit and lies, Bakunin assures his "dear friend" that he is not angry with him:
I am not angry with you and I do not reproach you, knowing that if you lie or hide the truth, you do it without self-interest and only because you consider it useful to the cause. I, and all of us, love you sincerely and have a great respect for you because we have never met a man more unselfish and devoted to the cause than you are. (Letter, p. 239.)
It should be noted that Bakunin wrote this letter after being deceived and humiliated by Nechaev. To name only some of the
facts that contributed to Bakunin's disappointment in his "boy," his "dear friend," there were Bakunin's financial difficulties, the transfer of the Bakhmetev fund to Nechaev, the publication of six issues of The Bell (Kolokol) in the spring of 1870 by Nechaev without Bakunin's participation, the story of the translation of Marx's Kapital that Bakunin was compelled to abandon, and other unpleasant events that hurt Bakunin.
Bakunin emphasized that his program -- "total destruction of the framework of state and law and of the whole of so-called bourgeois civilization" — was also that of Nechaev when they met. Describing his "ideal of the conspirator destined to be a member of the nucleus of the secret organization," Bakunin added that Nechaev belonged to "the number of these rare people." Bakunin urged Nechaev to renounce his system and saying that "in this case, I repeat, we shall acknowledge you as a valuable man and will gladly recognize you as our leader for all Russian activities." (Letter, pp. 263-64.)
In 21 paragraphs Bakunin set forth his program for the "People's Cause (Narodnoe delo)" and the creation of the "People's Fraternity (Narodnoe bratstvo)": This controversial Utopian ideal of a complete "mutual fraternal trust" and "general fraternal control of each other" was to replace Nechaev's system of control.
3. Complete frankness among members and proscription of any Jesuitical methods in their relationship, of all ignoble distrust, all perfidious control, of spying and mutual accusations, the absence and a positive strict prohibition of all tattling behind members' backs. When a member has to say anything against another member, this must be done at a general meeting and in his presence. General fraternal control of each other, a control which should not be captious or petty and above all not malicious. This type of control must take the place of your system of Jesuitical control and must become a moral education, a support for the moral strength of each member. It must be the basis of mutual fraternal trust on which rests all the internal and, therefore, external power of the society (Let., p. 264).
There are many contradictions in Bakunin's program for his "People's Cause" and "People's Fraternity" which he limited to a minimum of 40, and no more than 70 members, or "Brothers." While rejecting Nechaev's system of deceit and entrapment, Bakunin accepted the same methods for his "Fraternity." He wrote :
The whole society constitutes one body and a firmly united whole, led by the C.C. and engaged in unceasing underground struggle against the government and against other societies either inimical to it or even those acting independently of it. Where there is war, there is politics, and there inescapably arises the necessity for violence, cunning, and deceit. (Letter, p. 268.)
Bakunin contrasted his idea of a secret society of freely united people with Nechaev's despotic treatment of his fol-
lowers, all devoted to Nechaev's aim:
You try to subdue them, frighten them, to tie them down by external controls which mostly prove to be inadequate, so that once they get into your hands they can never tear themselves free. (Letter, p. 243.)
While rejecting Nechaev's dictatorial actions, Bakunin elaborated his principle of "collective dictatorship" of a secret organization.
We are bitter foes of all official power, even if it were ultrarevolutionary power. We are enemies of all publicly acknowledged dictatorship; we are social-revolutionary anarchists. But you will ask, if we were anarchists, by what right do we wish to and by what method can we influence the people? Rejecting any power, by what power or rather by what force shall we direct the people's revolution? An invisible force -- recognized by no one, imposed by no one -- through which the collective dictatorship of our organization will be all the mightier, the more it remains invisible and unacknowledged, the more it remains without any official legality and significance. (Letter, p. 259.)
All other organizations were to be subdued and subordinated to Bakunin's "Brothers":
Societies whose aims are near to ours must be forced to merge with our society or, at least, must be subordinated to it without their knowledge, while harmful people must be removed from them. Societies which are inimical or positively harmful must be dissolved, and finally the government must be destroyed. All this cannot be achieved only by propagating the truth; cunning, diplomacy, deceit are necessary. Jesuit methods or even entanglement can be used for this — entanglement is a necessary and marvellous means for demoralizing and destroying the enemy, though certainly not a useful means of obtaining and attracting a new friend. (Let., p. 268).
Thus, Bakunin criticized Nechaev's methods when applied to members of his own circle of revolutionaries, but accepted and approved the same methods when used against groups inimical to society or individuals considered to be enemies.
Bakunin never broke absolutely with Nechaev. Though he informed Nechaev that their former relationship and mutual obligations were at an end, Bakunin immediately offered Nechaev "new relations on a different basis" (Letter, p. 276). While criticizing Nechaev's "methods — lies, cunning, entanglement, and if necessary, violence towards enemies," Bakunin continued to emphasize Nechaev's qualities as a revolutionary leader, "A man passionately and wholly devoted and consecrated to the cause of popular liberation." In letters to his friends Bakunin repeatedly praised Nechaev — "our boy, our friend the Baron," "this passionately devoted jewel of a man." In his letter to Nikolai Ogarev, Nathalie Herzen, Vladimir Ozerov and Semen Serebrennikov of June 10, 1870, Bakunin wrote:
I repeat for the hundredth time -- he is an invaluable person, the most energetic and committed of all the Russians of our acquaintance. He is extremely obstinate, true, but very clever with it, though hardly wise; therefore, by preserving all his valiant features, above all his iron energy, ruthless even to himself, his utter self-abnegation and his passionate and total devotion to the cause — he can change all that is bad in himself. (Letter, p. 282.)
Ten days later, on June 20, Bakunin wrote to the same addresses that he was very concerned that they had begun "to take too unfavorable a view of our friend the Baron" and assured them that he had not ceased to regard Nechaev as the most valuable man among all of them. (Confino, p. 292.)
When it became evident that Russian police agents, together with Swiss police, were searching for Nechaev because the Russian government had asked for his extradition, Nathalie Tuchkova-Ogareva wrote in her Memoirs, all Russian emigrés knew about Nechaev's murder of Ivanov, though no one had ever heard a word about it from Nechaev himself. The emigres were split into two groups: a number of them intended to send a petition to the Swiss government, asking that Nechaev not be extradited and declaring their sympathy for him. The others were unable to form a true idea of the affair, since they had heard nothing from Nechaev himself. Consequently, when Nechaev came to their house, both Tuchkova-Ogareva and Nathalie Herzen allowed Nechaev to stay with them to hide himself from the police. (2O)
This attitude toward Nechaev was also typical for Russian radicals at home. All four of Nechaev's accomplices in the murder praised their "leader": in a speech at the trial in Petersburg in 1871, Peter Gavrilovich Uspensky glorified Nechaev and tried to justify their murder of the student Ivan Ivanov by the fact that Nechaev had regarded Ivanov as a potential traitor who had to be eliminated. Not only Uspensky and the three other accomplices to the murder — Kuznetsov, Pryzhov, and Nikolaev, but several other members of "The People's Revenge" justified Nechaev's criminal action as necessary for the triumph of the "common cause." In the heated atmosphere of that time, imbued with the revolutionary ideas of the destruction of everything established, and Utopian hopes for the emergence of an ideal human brotherhood, equality and happiness as a result of violence and the seizure of power, Nechaev appeared to Russian emigrés and to liberals at home as a leader fighting the existing state system, and many of them acknowledged that "the end justifies the means." Some of Nechaev's supporters ignored the ugly truth about the murder of Ivanov; they emphasized only its consequences -- the arrest of a number of revolutionaries in Russia in 1869 and their trial in July-August of 1871.
Thus, M. F. Frolenko wrote in his Memoirs that young people attending Nechaev's trial regarded the defendants as fighters for people's happiness, and were delighted by the bold speeches directed against the Russian government. (21)
It is also important to note that some members of Alexander V. Dolgushin's circle, formed in the fall of 1869 in Peters-
burg, had contacts with Nechaev and some supported Nechaev's ideas of a sudden, popular uprising. N. V. Chaikovsky regarded Dolgushin as one of Nechaev's followers. Dolgushin and his wife were arrested together with four members of his circle in January 187O during preparations for the trial of Nechaev's group, but were soon freed for lack of evidence.
When Nechaev was finally arrested in August of 1872 in the suburban "Müller's Caféhaus" near Zurich, Bakunin expressed his concern and grief in a letter to Nikolai Ogarev dated November 2, 1872:
So then, my old friend, the unheard-of has come to pass. The Republic has delivered up the wretched Nechaev. What is saddest of all is that our government will doubtless resume the Nechaev trial and there will be new victims. (Confino, p. 323.)
Bakunin was sure that this time Nechaev would perish, but declared that he "will perish a hero, and this time will betray nothing and no one." Bakunin acknowledged that though no one had done him, "and deliberately done" him, so much harm as Nechaev, he still felt "dreadfully sorry for him" and continued to praise Nechaev as "a man of rare energy, of love for our poor, oppressed people..." (Confino, p. 323).
All the above proves convincingly that Nechaev was now an isolated fanatic, or some kind of exception. He was a typical product of a particular period in Russian history, and a typical bearer of ideology that still remains relevant in our day.
x x x
And now let us look once more at how Dostoevsky himself explained and interpreted the links between his artistic work and the historical reality of his century. In this connection it is necessary to cite once again two passages often quoted by Dostoevsky scholars, including Professor Edward Wasiolek. (22)
During the process of writing The Possessed, Dostoevsky wrote to Mikhail N. Katkov, editor of the Russian Herald, on October 20, 1870:
One of the most important events of my story will concern the well-known murder of Ivanov by Nechaev in Moscow. I hurry to make this qualification: I have not known, and, except for what I have read in the newspapers, I do not know Nechaev or Ivanov or the circumstances of this murder. Even if I knew, I would not use them. I take only the completed act. My imagination can in the highest degree differ from what actually happened, and my Peter Verkhovensky can in no way resemble Nechaev; still I believe that my imagination has created that person, that type, which corresponds to the crime. (23)
Three years later, after the trial of Nechaev's group in Petersburg in 1871, Dostoevsky wrote another frequently quoted state-
ment in his Diary of a Writer:
My Nechaev is not, of course, like the real Nechaev. I wanted to pose this question, and as clearly as possible in novel form give an answer to it: In our surprisingly progressive and contemporary society how do not only a Nechaev but Nechaevs come into being, and in what way does it happen that these Nechaevs are able to gather followers? (24)
Both passages are self-explanatory and should be referred to by anyone who writes on The Possessed. However, the two statements differ in nature and require different interpretations.
The statement in the letter to Katkov offers insight into the complex processes that take place in the mind of a creative person who closely observes the phenomena of life around him and wants to make the artistic text of his imaginative work correspond to the context of historical reality. The statement from Diary of a Writer shows that the author, while basing his artistic work on real facts and events of his time, did not copy these facts, but elevated their significance and intrinsic essence to the level of another universal reality. Dostoevsky was especially concerned about the future development of Nechaev-like ideologies and methods, and explored the problem of how Nechaev, or Nechaevs, "were able to gather followers." Dostoevsky's artistic talent, historical clairvoyance and rich personal experience allowed him to find an answer to the psychological, social and political problem of how and why intelligent and idealistic young people can become followers of a man like Nechaev.
In the same article from the Diary, Dostoevsky wrote that people like Nechaev — or "Nechaevs" in the plural — may be very gloomy creatures — disconsolate and distorted ones --with a thirst for intrigue of a most complex origin and for power, with a passionate and pathologically premature urge to reveal their personalities..." However, they are not "idiots" (as one critic from the periodical Russian World asserted), but intelligent, clever individuals who know how to manipulate idealistic young people, exploiting their passionate longing for the ideals of a "universal brotherhood of man" and "universal progress."
Speaking of his own experience, Dostoevsky said that as early as the 1840's "a certain cycle of ideas and conceptions" "had a strong grip upon youthful society. We were contaminated with the ideas of then prevailing theoretical socialism." Young people were enraptured by that idea of a rosy and paradisiacally perfect world, especially when "socialism in its embryo used to be compared by some of its ringleaders with Christianity and was regarded as a mere corrective to, and improvement of, the latter, in conformity with the tendencies of the age and civilization. All these new ideas of those days carried to us, in Petersburg, a great appeal; they seemed holy in the highest degree and moral, and — most important of all --cosmopolitan, the future law of all mankind in its totality." Dostoevsky remarked, however, that later, when many of these young enthusiastic promoters of universal happiness realized how, "under the guise of regeneration and resurrection" "gloom
and horror" were being prepared for humankind, they came to renounce "this chimeric frenzy." Dostoevsky emphasized that this was precisely the way in which the murderer Nechaev characterized for his followers the murder of Ivanov — "as a political affair, useful to the future universal and great cause." (V. 21, p. 131.)
Dostoevsky's opinion is supported by newly discovered letters and documents. He could not have known what Bakunin wrote to Nechaev in a now famous letter dated June 2, 187O. Yet in his work of art he made his imaginary character Peter Verkhovensky act precisely as Sergei Nechaev did. Bakunin wrote:
You, my dear friend -- and this is a terrible mistake --have become fascinated by the system of Loyola and Machiavelli, the first of whom intended to enslave the whole of mankind, and the second to create a powerful state (whether monarchist or republican is of no importance, it would equally lead to the enslavement of the people). Having fallen in love with police and Jesuitical principles and methods, you intended to base on them your own organization, your secret collective power, so to say, the heart and soul of your whole society. You therefore treat your friends as you treat your enemies, with cunning and lies, try to divide them, even to foment quarrels, so that they should not be able to unite against your tutelage. You look for strength not in their unity but in their disunity and do not trust them at all. You try to collect damning facts or letters (which frequently you have read without having the right to do so, and which are even stolen), and try to entangle them in every way, so that they should be your slaves. At the same time you do it so clumsily, so awkwardly and carelessly, so rashly and inconsiderately, that all your deceits, perfidies, and cunning are exposed very quickly. You have fallen so much in love with Jesuit methods that you have forgotten everything else. You have even forgotten the aim which led you to them, the passionate desire for the people's liberation. (Letter, pp. 268-69.)
In Dostoevsky's novel Peter Verkhovensky uses similar methods more adroitly as illustrated by the scene of the meeting at Ensign Erkel's apartment, to which we have already referred. By manipulating his followers' blind devotion to the concept of the "common cause," and using concealed but firm threats, Verkhovensky not only subjugated those who protested against his violent methods, but even prompted some members of his "quintet" to propose the murder of Shatov to prevent him from denouncing their organization.
Dostoevsky clearly explained his creative intention and his message to the future generation. In the above-cited article he wrote :
And in my novel The Possessed I made the attempt to depict the manifold and heterogeneous motives which may prompt even the purest of heart and the most naive people to take part in the perpetration of so monstrous a villainy. The horror lies precisely in the fact that in our midst the filthiest and most villainous act may be com-
mitted by one who is not a villain at all!
Dostoevsky added that this "happens not only in our midst but throughout the world"; he expressed his deep concern that the perpetration of this kind of villainy had become a major calamity of his day. Unfortunately, the writer's warning did not prevent this kind of gloomy phenomena from continuing into our time. Thus, The Possessed is, as Professor Wasiolek has remarked, an example of "art reflecting itself in history." (25) Yet it is also an extremely important part of history reflecting itself in art.
In conclusion it should be said that Dostoevsky's poetic imagination embodied abstract concepts and statements found in political programs, leaflets and manifestos of his time in impressively concrete literary figures and imagery. He investigated the historical background of his time and analyzed the psychological mechanism through which lofty ideas on bettering the human condition and establishing social harmony are transformed into a pragmatic effort to seize power by all possible means. To reach that goal revolutionary leaders needed people, "ordinary men," and frequently they recruited idealistically minded romantic young people, such as Dostoevsky's Ensign Erkel. Only a few of these young people realized that they were being deceived and that the lofty words that so attracted them served as a cover for tyranny and violence.
Thus, the present analysis shows how masterfully Dostoevsky visualized the blackmail tactics implied by some of the novel's protagonists who skilfully manipulated the two sides of man's psyche and ideology — the diabolical and the ideal — exploiting them for their own purpose. Mankind's eternal striving for a harmonious ideal society based on justice, personal freedom, and mutual love and respect degenerated into a ruthless struggle for power and domination by a small, selfstyled elite over the others. In the course of such struggle, as Dostoevsky has shown, intrigue, blackmail, coercion and crime can be used and justified by the necessity of working "for the good of the common cause."
Stalin is like a fairytale sycamore tree — Stalin as a symbol
Gratitude’s a dog’s disease.
There was a fight in a line at the factory; people were hurt and a couple of policemen showed up. People just can’t seem to appreciate how happy their lives are.
Andrei Stepanovich Arzhilovsky (ex-prisoner, executed by firing squad, 5 September 1937) 2
Depending on your point of view, Stalin may or not be like a fairytale sycamore tree, but this metaphor, from a panegyric by Kazakh poet Dzhambul, serves to illuminate a central tenet of this book: that ‘Stalin’, as he appeared in Soviet posters, was a construct. Indeed, we are all ‘constructs’ in terms of our perceived and performed identities in society. Stalin, however, is a construct produced by a large group of people for mass consumption with specific goals in mind. Stalin existed as a symbol for such concrete entities as the Bolshevik Party and the state, but also for more abstract concepts like communist progress, Bolshevik values and vision, and peace. The Party’s propaganda apparatus tightly controlled the use of his image and his persona drew on emblems of leadership and sacred imagery from both the Russian and the European past, from newly forged Bolshevik symbols, and on universal archetypes. In this chapter some of the symbols and archetypes associated with Stalin in propaganda posters will be explored.
Stalin as symbol
Writing in 1936, Swiss theologian Adolf Keller observed that, in contemporary authoritarian societies, the state itself had become a myth, and was increasingly depicted as possessing personal, and often divine, characteristics that came to be embodied in the symbolic persona of the leader:
The State is a mythical divinity which, like God, has the right and might to lay a totalitarian claim on its subjects; to impose upon them a new philosophy, a new faith; to organise the thinking and conscience of its children … It is not anonymous, not abstract, but gifted with personal qualities, with a mass-consciousness, a mass-will and a personal mass-responsibility for the whole world … This personifying tendency of the myth finds its strongest expression in the mysterious personal relationship of millions with a leader … The leader … is the personified nation, a superman, a messiah, a saviour.3
States that are beset by turmoil, economic failure, social conflict or war invariably respond to these threats by seeking to strengthen the symbolic legitimation of the leadership. The leader cult attempts to create a point of reference for an entire belief system, centred on one man who embodies the doctrine. The cult is ubiquitous and aspires to universality of belief with the aim of integrating the masses into a ‘community of believers’. As E.A. Rees states:
Leader cults are part of the general process whereby the new power is symbolised and celebrated — in flags, hymns and anthems, medals, awards, prizes, stamps and coins, in the renaming of towns, streets and institutions. Leader cults are closely tied to the founding myths of new states.4
In a state that is in the process of reinventing itself, the leader cult becomes the means by which new rituals and traditions are instituted, employing symbols to bring consensus and a sense of shared identity in societies beset by latent conflict or indifference to the dominant ideology.5
The tendency of the Party to view their leader in mythic, symbolic and representational terms was already in evidence with regard to Lenin as early as 1923. For example, on 7 November 1923, Pravda declared: ‘Lenin is not only the name of a beloved leader; it is a program and a tactic … and a philosophical world view … Lenin is the suffering for an idea …’.6 After Lenin’s death, charisma came briefly to reside in the Party, however a charismatic leader’s persona could provide a more concrete and personalised symbol for Bolshevik values and vision. Rees sees Stalin’s cult in pragmatic terms, as an entity that ‘reflected the reality that Stalin could command more public support than either the state or the party, and certainly more support than the regime’s representatives and agents in the localities’.7 In fact, Nina Tumarkin argues that, by 1934, Lenin and his cult had been relegated to a supporting role as a sort of ‘sacred ancestor’ of Stalin.8
As noted in the Introduction, Stalin regarded the Stalin name as symbolic of a created persona rather than as relating to his personal qualities as an individual.9 This view of Stalin as a ‘symbol of the Party’ was shared by other members and was made explicit in propaganda posters. Nikolai Bukharin was asked in 1933 why he and the other Party members had entrusted the leadership to such a ‘devil’ as Stalin. Bukharin replied:
You do not understand, it was quite different; he was not trusted, but he was the man whom the party trusted; this is how it happened: he is like the symbol of the party, the lower strata, the workers, the people trust him; perhaps it is our fault, but that’s the way it happened, that is why we all walked into his jaws … knowing probably that he would devour us.10
A 1940 poster by Nikolai Zhukov (Fig. 3.1) features a quotation from Vyacheslav Molotov on the Stalin symbol: ‘We have a name that has become the symbol of the victory of socialism. It is the name of the symbol of the moral and political unity of the Soviet people! You know what that name is — STALIN!’ In the Short biography released in 1947, Stalin’s value as the symbol of a plethora of Bolshevik values is made explicit in the text: ‘In the eyes of the peoples of the U.S.S.R., Stalin is the incarnation of their heroism, their love of their country, their patriotism,’11 ‘Stalin’s name is a symbol of the courage and the renown of the Soviet people, and a call to heroic deeds for the welfare of their great country,’12 and ‘The name of Stalin is a symbol of the moral and political unity of Soviet society.’13 Writing in 1971, with the benefit of historical perspective, Roy Medvedev also regarded Stalin as a rallying symbol to unify and give hope to a suffering population during the Great Patriotic War: ‘Stalin’s image became a sort of symbol existing in the popular mentality independently from its actual bearer. During the war years, as the Soviet people were battered by unbelievable miseries, the name of Stalin, and the faith in him, to some degree, pulled the Soviet people together, giving them hope of victory.’14 Evidence exists that this was true for at least some soldiers. The writer Konstantin Simonov quoted an officer on the Stalingrad front who said he ‘gained all his strength from the idea that our great leader directs everything in our enormous cause from his office in Moscow and thus invests in him, an ordinary colonel, part of his genius and spirit’.15
The importance of maintaining central control over the image of Stalin was in evidence as early as December 1929 when, in preparation for celebration of Stalin’s 50th birthday, Glavlit16 published exact regulations with regard to the use of Stalin’s image in the press, prohibiting the use of printer’s blocks bearing Stalin’s image other than those issued by the Press-klishe17 section of the ROSTA press agency.18 From the mid-1930s the journal Iskusstvo19 ran several articles guiding artists on how to portray the leader. The first edition of Iskusstvo in 1935 featured full-page portraits of Lenin and Stalin, with Stalin depicted adopting the ‘hand-in’ pose. The sixth edition in 1937 included illustrated articles titled ‘Lenin in portraits, 1933–37’, ‘New portraits of Comrade Stalin’, and ‘Characteristics of the art of the epoch of Stalin’, each running for several pages.20 From around 1934 Stalin was visually distinguished from other leaders in propaganda, suggesting that he was the ‘first among equals’ and had exceptional, although human, qualities. Plamper observes that Stalin was distinguished from others by his size, his position in the picture plane, the colour of his clothing (which was often retouched), by the fact that his arm was often raised higher than those of others, by the fact that his hands never touched his face, by the direction of his gaze outside the picture plane,21 by props such as his pipe, and by special mention in the poster caption.22
The need to closely control Stalin’s image is also evident in the type of censorship and ‘retouching’ performed on photographs of Stalin. In his books The commissar vanishes and Red star over Russia,David King documents the thorough censorship of photographic images, which included not only the deletion of newly undesirable figures from group scenes, but also the insertion of people into scenes at which they were not present, the merging of photographic images, and the insertion of extra objects into a scene.23 In her study of photographs of Stalin, Leah Dickerman notes the use of specific devices: ‘smoothing Stalin’s pockmarked face and removing litter from his path; inserting text on banners so that the idea becomes legible; enlarging an adulatory crowd through montage …’.24 Such censorship was often heavy-handed and obvious and there was no attempt to keep the role of censors beneath the public radar. Dickerman argues that the public and visible nature of censorship was itself an attempt by the state to demonstrate its dominance over the medium of photography, especially as the source images were often well known.25 Such censorship, Plamper notes, also had as a primary goal the removal of ambiguity.26 The number of possible meanings that could be ascribed to images was narrowed and contained, a process that was aided further in the case of propaganda posters by the caption text.
Such thorough state control of representations of the leader did not originate with the Stalinist regime. In fact, the photographic depiction of Bolshevik Party leaders was centralised and placed under the control of the secret police as early as 1924.27 Nor was this phenomenon peculiar to the Soviet Union. As noted in the Introduction, leaders throughout history have sought to control the production and dissemination of their images amongst the citizenry using court-commissioned artists to create their portraiture, and officially sanctioned methods of reproduction. Elizabeth I of England issued edicts to regulate the way in which her image could be depicted on canvas.28 In Taiwan during the 1930s, contemporaneous with the cult of Stalin, the Officers’ Moral Endeavour Association (OMEA, lizhishe) fostered painters such as Liang Zhongming and Xu Jiuling who then drilled other artists in the correct portrayal of Chiang Kai-Shek and actively sought to learn from Soviet and American propaganda techniques.29 In 1955, a team of Soviet artists arrived in China to teach Chinese artists to paint in a socialist realist style.30The Chinese propaganda apparatus soon set up its own guidelines for painting portraits of Mao Zedong, which took into account some purely Chinese cultural predispositions.31 Regulation of Mao’s image went a step further, with the government decreeing how the portraits were to be handled and hung.32
The Stalin persona, like most symbols, was multifaceted, malleable, and subject to change over time. In the early days of Stalin’s rule, the Party leadership was presented as a somewhat anonymous collective with few pictures of leaders appearing in the press and Stalin often appearing alongside other leaders33 or generic workers34 in posters. Sarah Davies and James Heizer both note that in 1929, when Stalin did appear, he was generally depicted as ‘iron-willed, cold, distant, and ruthless’,35 however, in some poster images between 1927 and 1932, Stalin can be seen with a faint Giacondian smile.36 Otherwise, posters tend to focus on workers and the progress of industrialisation — Stalin is not the central image and depictions of him consist largely of head shots in which his expression is neutral and few clues are given as to his personal qualities.
Davies sees 1933 as the year in which the full-blown cult of Stalin began to emerge, and 1934 as the year in which it ‘exploded’.37 By 1933 Stalin was sometimes referred to with the epithet liubimyi (beloved)38 and, by 1935, his portrait image was softening somewhat as he smiled or waved at crowds.39 Despite the increasing tendency to eulogise Stalin, beginning in 1934, he was still only the man who leads the Party, first and foremost of the leaders of the people. Stalin was frequently shown in the media meeting and mixing with the people. This new emphasis on the relationship between the leader and the people can be demonstrated by the remarks of Aleksandr Ugarov, second secretary of the Leningrad obkom,40 in connection with the preparation for the Day of the Constitution on 6 July 1935: ‘This affair has to be organised in an essentially different way from in previous years. The political explanations should be organised so that people feel that Soviet leaders are coming to them and telling them about the achievements of Soviet democracy.’41 By 1936, the cult progressed still further, with the emphasis on developing a fanatical cult following for the Party leadership and in particular, Stalin, as in this local Party report:
During agitation and propaganda in the press there must be more popularisation of the vozhdi, and love for them must be fostered and inculcated in the masses, and unlimited loyalty, especially by cultivating the utmost love for comrade Stalin and the other leaders amongst children and young people, inculcating Soviet patriotism, bringing them to fanaticism in love and defence of comrade Stalin and our socialist motherland.42
By the late 1930s, adulation for Stalin in propaganda was increasing. Stalin became the leader responsible for all of the new socialist construction taking place, the inspiration for record-breaking flights and new feats of exploration, the creator of the glorious new constitution and the only person capable of identifying and purging the regime’s enemies. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 appears to have genuinely taken Stalin by surprise and undermined his confidence, especially as he had publicly maintained that Germany would not invade.43 The façade of rampaging success became impossible to maintain. Stalin’s appearances in the press decreased, although he was still quoted, and his image in propaganda posters also diminished. After victory Stalin reappeared as more triumphant than before the war and with a mandate for leadership in his own right, somewhat independent of his need to appeal to Lenin’s legacy. Victory was celebrated, with Stalin as its author, and his image was often treated like an icon. By 1949 Stalin was also portrayed as a saviour and bringer of peace.44
The persona of Stalin not only evolved and adapted to circumstances over a long period of time, but also exhibited considerable breadth, holding the widest possible appeal to diverse audiences. There was a tension between the need to control Stalin’s image through centralisation and censorship, which restricted meaning to within narrowly defined constructs, and the need to offer a plurality of meanings to reach the widest possible audience. This latter led to ‘overcoding’ of the image and a situation where symbols associated with the image contained a multitude of meanings that, if not wholly contradictory, sometimes sat together uneasily or appeared to be mutually exclusive. In other words, Stalinist symbolism can appear confusing if examined broadly and objectively and with a view to finding coherent and consistent meaning. In his study of Napoleon and history painting, Christopher Prendergast notes the same tendency with propagandistic portrayals of Napoleon, arising largely from the fact that there was an attempt to show Napoleon simultaneously as a victorious general and a benevolent leader.45 The Stalin cult also had to reconcile within the one persona both his image as an iron-willed military victor (both in the Civil War and later in the Great Patriotic War) and the appearance of being a humane and caring leader providing for Soviet citizens. These two elements were expressed by the Warrior and the Father archetypes, and were somewhat reconciled (if not entirely convincingly) in the adoption of the Saviour archetype. Thomas Mathews’ observations with regard to portraits of Christ apply equally well here. Mathews notes that the images correspond to what people needed from Christ, rather than to any intrinsic qualities and this has resulted in a plethora of representations of Christ that, as a whole, have little consistency and sometimes demonstrate bewildering contradictions.46
Stalin’s relationship with Lenin, as depicted in propaganda, was another area of ambiguity, and highlights the androgyny of the symbolism associated with some charismatic leaders.47 In her study of mythopoetic elements in memories of Stalin, Natalia Skradol explores how Stalin’s mythology places him both as Lenin’s son and as a sort of symbolic husband to Lenin. In this latter schema, Lenin is the mother figure who gives birth to the regime, and dies doing so, while Stalin receives the newborn into his hands and raises it. This notion is made explicit in a striking poster of 1947 by Iraklii Toidze (Fig. 3.2) which is discussed in detail in Chapter Four.
Igor Golomshtok observes in relation to Soviet genre painting under Stalin that the fundamental task of Soviet art was to interpret the Stalin symbol through a multitude of prisms: ‘Stalin — let alone Lenin — was more a symbol than a man, and the role of Soviet art was to decipher this symbol, to reveal different aspects of the existence of this superman in thousands upon thousands of genre paintings.’48 The French biographer of Stalin, Henri Barbusse, got to the crux of the matter when he observed that Stalin had ‘the face of a worker, the head of a scholar, and in the clothing of a simple soldier’.49 This ‘triple nature’ immediately invites a comparison with the ‘Holy Trinity’ and highlights the ability of the Stalin persona to both combine several natures in one being, and to appear as different things to different people, a sort of magical shape-shifting ability that befits a magician or a deity.50 Alfred J. Rieber sees the roots of Stalin’s multiple and sometimes contradictory identities as deriving from deeper, sometimes unconscious sources from within Stalin himself as he struggled to reconcile his Georgian beginnings with his proletarian values and political life in Russia.51
Stalin: ‘Man of Steel’
It is well known that the alias adopted by Stalin, inconsistently at first from around 1910, and which later came to substitute for his own surname and to symbolise his persona, translates as ‘Man of Steel’. Stalin, like Lenin and the other Bolshevik revolutionaries, had used many cadre names during his underground career. The two others to endure throughout his lifetime, especially amongst close comrades from the early days, were ‘Soso’ and ‘Koba’. There are, perhaps, a confluence of reasons for Dzhugashvili choosing the moniker ‘Stalin’ and also for why it stuck.52 Montefiore suggests that the appellation ‘Man of Steel’ suited Stalin’s character53 and, undoubtedly, his conception of himself. Montefiore also draws a parallel with the case of Lenin, who had 160 aliases, but kept Lenin because it was the byline he used on his What is to be done? pamphlet, the article with which he made his reputation. Stalin used the Stalin byline on his article on nationalities, which made his reputation.54 The name Stalin sounded Russian and was similar to ‘Lenin’. In addition, Stalin’s Bolshevik comrades were doing much the same thing: Scriabin became Molotov (Hammer Man) and Rosenfeld became Kamenev (Man of Stone).55
The use of ‘steel’ as a metaphor in portrayals of Stalin implied personal qualities of courage, determination, ruthlessness, toughness, and unbreakability. These qualities were compatible with those required in an underground revolutionary, and translated well into the leadership role, especially under the dire circumstances that existed in the fledgling Soviet regime, but also in view of the continued threats posed by internal and external enemies throughout Stalin’s rule. Stalin may also have had earlier metaphoric associations with the tough metals from his Georgian childhood. Rieber posits that the cult of iron and steel was a widespread and possibly unique phenomenon in the Caucasus, especially in the oral tradition of epic Ossetian tales. One of the most popular heroes is Soslan Stal’noi56 who was a defender (and sometimes vengeful destroyer) of his kinfolk.57
Iron and steel also had important metaphoric associations for Soviet society. During the 1930s Lazar Kaganovich earned the nickname ‘Iron Lazar’, possibly for both his iron will in executing the orders of Stalin, and because of his position as people’s commissar for the railways, in charge of building the Moscow Metro. Iron and steel were crucial to Soviet efforts to industrialise rapidly, and construct impressive new Soviet cities, including the planned reconstruction of Moscow. During the 1930s Stalin was frequently depicted amid scenes of mammoth socialist construction, surrounded by vast structures of concrete and steel, and also as showing the way forward with steady outstretched arm and steely gaze. This display of ‘iron will’ continued in the posters of the war years, with Stalin becoming the rallying symbol of the determination of the nation to hold out against the fascist threat and to force victory. Stalin was closely associated with achievements in Soviet aviation and the aircraft of the Soviet Airforce were referred to as staln’ye ptitsy (birds of steel),58 while flyers became known as Stalinskim sokolam (Stalin’s falcons). The steely determination of Stalin’s gaze and posture added force to the words of poster captions, usually Stalin’s own words from speeches in which he exhorted and cajoled the citizenry to join their will for victory to his own. When Stalin refused to evacuate Moscow and the Kremlin with the rest of the government, he was seen to be living up to his appellation of ‘Man of Steel’.
Stalin and the sun
One of the key symbols associated with Stalin in propaganda is the sun, with its related qualities of light and warmth. The sun is a recurrent motif throughout propaganda associated with leaders since pre-Christian times, when leaders appealed to their sun gods to look favourably upon their leadership, their battles and their harvests. Plamper traces the association of this trope with the leader in Russia back to the 17th-century court poet Simeon Polotskii.59 Associating a leader with the sun suggests that he is the bringer of life and of bounty to the people. That Stalin approved of the use of this symbol for his leadership seems apparent because research into his personal library has shown that, in a book about Napoleon, Stalin annotated the passage ‘Had Napoleon been forced to choose a religion, he would have chosen to worship the sun, which fertilizes everything and is the true god of the earth’, with the word ‘Good’, and circled the word ‘sun’ in red.60
The sun became a central image in Stalinist propaganda, with Stalin unambiguously equated with the sun in poetry and song, while propaganda posters frequently associated Stalin with light in general. At a meeting of shock workers in February 1936, the Dagestani folk poet Suleiman Stalskii referred to Stalin as the sun who ‘illuminates the world’.61 Hymns and songs dedicated to Stalin celebrate him with the words ‘Like the sun, you have illumined the expanse’,62 or ‘Glory to the golden sun, glory to the stars on the Kremlin, Glory to our native Stalin’,63 or ‘Glory to our mother earth! Glory to the red sun in the Kremlin!’64 In a 1937 editorial in Literaturnaia Gazeta65 it was suggested that Stalin’s warmth was so powerful that it could even protect his falcons against the freezing Arctic temperatures.66 Perhaps one of the most laboured metaphorical associations of Stalin with the light of the sun occurs in a poem by Kazakh poet Dzhambul. This panegyric forms the text of a poster by Vartan Arakelov which was released in 1939, the year of Stalin’s 60th birthday celebrations (Fig. 3.3).67 Stalin is celebrated as the father of children of all nations and tribes, and the source of a radiating and shimmering light, which reflects onto everyone. Despite the fatherly connotations of the text, this poster image of Stalin emphasises his remoteness from the realm of man and endows him with the qualities of a deity. Stalin is made of stone, an honour reserved for founding fathers and those who have accomplished exceptional feats. The statue is immutable and immortal. It stands amid lush blossoms, above children, looking protectively out over the scene and beyond, a god that guarantees abundance and safety, and invites veneration and worship. The children, from various nationalities, cannot hope to access Stalin personally and instead do so through his representative in the earthly realm, the poet Dzhambul, who sings words of praise of Stalin to the children, accompanying himself on the dombra.
The 1939 Uzbek poster, ‘So — greetings, Stalin, and live for a hundred years …’ (Fig. 3.4) by Konstantin Cheprakov, dates from the immediate prewar era in which Stalin’s munificence extended beyond the borders of Russia and out to all the nationalities and states of the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan is one of the many countries that at that time made up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This poster illustrates the gratitude to Stalin of the Uzbek people for the building of the 270-kilometre-long Great Fergana Canal to irrigate the cotton fields, and thus create cotton independence for the Soviet Union. Stalin is surrounded by a flowing multitude of Uzbek peasants bearing flowers and displaying the fruits of their irrigated fields. Stalin gives and receives congratulations to Molotov who, due to his position in the composition and the distinctive colour of his clothing, occupies centre stage. Interestingly, Molotov is also the centre of light in the poster, with a subdued Stalin in muted tones placed off in the shadows to the right.
Despite Stalin’s reluctance to assume the limelight in the visual component of the poster, the text of the poster — ‘So — greetings, Stalin, and live for a hundred years, shine like the sun, live for victory! And lead us on the way to victory! Accept the country’s joyous greetings!’ — makes it clear to whom the Uzbek people owe their gratitude for the canal which is to be their lifeblood. In fact, Stalin is responsible for more than just water for the crops, he also provides the sunshine. Molotov takes centre stage because Stalin allows him to do so, a manifestation of Stalin’s modesty and humility. The text makes clear that all of the illustrated bounty is due to the blessing bestowed by Stalin. By appearing to be a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude from the hearts of the people, both the image and the text illustrate the correct relationship between the leaders and the people.
A 1948 Uzbek poster by Mikhail Reikh (Fig. 3.5) also celebrates abundance and Stalin as the sun. The poster is dominated by a bust of Stalin emblazoned across a red sky. Stalin appears like the rising sun, illuminating the Uzbek people below who look to the sky, arms outstretched to offer thanks to the source of fertility and abundance. In their arms they hold offerings of bouquets of cotton and ears of wheat, and blossoming roses surround the poster caption. The caption, in both Uzbek and Russian, names Stalin as the sun and is taken from a letter signed by 26,474,646 Komsomol and youth on 3 November 1947: ‘For communism! So youth exclaims, and this cry is heard in the distance. Youth swears allegiance, Comrade Stalin is the Sun of all the earth!’
Stalin’s association with warmth and the sun is also the subject of a 1949 poster by an unidentified artist, ‘We are warmed by Stalin’s affection’(Fig. 3.6).The poster features a smiling bust of Stalin, with military collar but without cap, surrounded by the smaller heads of 15 children. Beneath Stalin is a laurel wreath that, with his military uniform and the fireworks and searchlights below, visually references victory in the Great Patriotic War. The children, who look ethnically Georgian, are encased in flowers, many of their heads appearing to grow out of the petals. The five children at the base of the poster appear to rise up from a bowl of fruit. Fruit, flowers and children all testify to the fecundity and abundance of the socialist utopia. Behind the youngest child, in the centre at the base, the spire of the Spassky tower rises, leading straight to the portrait of Stalin and thus linking the two symbols. Stalin is located at the position of deity, but also appears as the father of the children, a point that has particular resonance because of Stalin’s Georgian roots. Above their heads, but beneath Stalin, fireworks and searchlights illuminate the violet sky. Stalin glows with a white light and, in the heavenly realm that he inhabits, the entire background consists of the white light that emanates from him. The text of the poster is in Russian and Georgian and celebrates the joys of childhood, sunny Georgia and Stalin: ‘We are warmed by Stalin’s affection, We carry joy and happiness, / We are sunny Georgian children, / Singing a song to Stalin!’ It is flanked by scenes of Georgian life — traditional architecture juxtaposed with new construction, and a train rushing through lush fields of crops.
Numerous posters depict Stalin as the source of light68 or as illuminated by a light from above,69 and Stalin was associated with both natural and artificial light. A notable example of this variant of the metaphor is Stalin Prize winner Viktor Ivanov’s ‘Great Stalin is the beacon of communism!’ of 1949 (Fig. 3.7). Stalin stands alone in his study, in front of a bookshelf containing the collected works of Marx and Engels, Lenin, and his own writings. Although he is lit from above, the text makes it clear that it is Stalin who is the guiding light of communism. Several posters celebrating Stalin’s role in guiding the nation to victory in the Great Patriotic War show the sky lit up with fireworks and searchlights.70 During holiday celebrations Stalin’s image was sometimes projected onto clouds in the night sky, so that he appeared to be hovering over the crowds on a beam of light like a protective deity.71
Stalin was also associated with electric light. Lenin had been strongly associated with electricity as a result of concerted propaganda campaigns to electrify the nation using the slogan: ‘Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.’72 Lightbulbs were commonly referred to as ‘Ilich’s little lamps’ and Lenin was thanked for delivering electricity to new communes. Tumarkin parallels this situation with the Orthodox tradition of linking the saints with water sources they miraculously found.73 During Stalin’s leadership, electrification remained strongly tied to Lenin, although Stalin was also associated with bringing power to the nation through massive industrial projects like the Dnieper Dam. Some posters visually juxtapose images of Stalin and Lenin, suggesting that Stalin was carrying on Lenin’s pioneering work in electrification in the present day.74
This focus on light in the Stalin era also extended to an obsession with light fittings and lamps, which occupied a special place in the interior design of railway stations, theatres, and public buildings. The lights in the Metro stations were so resplendent they were described as an ‘artificial underground sun’.75 A famous poster of 1940 by honoured graphic artist Viktor Govorkov,76 ‘Stalin takes care of each of us from the Kremlin’(Fig. 3.8), shows Stalin seated at his desk in the Kremlin, working through the night, softly illuminated by his desk lamp. This lamp was to become part of the mythology of Stalin and an emblem of his care for the Soviet people. Each night, whether or not he was actually at the Kremlin, a lamp was lit in the window as a symbol of Stalin’s constant vigilance and diligence.
Stalin as the helmsman and engine driver
Although the epithet ‘The Great Helmsman’ is usually associated in current terminology with Mao Zedong, Stalin was also known by this epithet and appeared in political posters as the captain of a ship, or as the driver of a train. The helmsman image has a long history of association with skilled leadership and was a common motif in Byzantine court literature,77 and Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman literature and philosophy. Maurizio Vito also notes a usage of the helmsman metaphor by St John Chrysostom in which the helmsman is endowed with gifts that belong to divine providence.78 When a helmsman appears as a character in literature, he is often the mouthpiece for the author’s political views and, by nature of his role, demonstrates strong leadership qualities. The helmsman symbol is part of a larger field of metaphors in which the ship represents the state, navigation represents knowledge, skill and care, and the journey becomes an odyssey. Michel Foucault notes the use of this group of metaphors in classical poetry and philosophy and observes that the navigation metaphor implies three types of knowledge possessed by the skilled helmsman associated with medicine, political government and self-government.79 The helmsman image carries within it multiple implications. The helmsman is able to care for himself and for others, exerts both self-control and political leadership, and has the wisdom to take account of the many aspects necessary to navigate a skilled course through often tempestuous waters (navigating by the stars, understanding the weather and wind, knowledge of the currents, knowledge of how the ship operates). Finally, there is the understanding that he holds his position with divine consent.
A 1933 poster by highly decorated satirist, caricaturist, ROSTA and TASS artist Boris Efimov80 depicts Stalin as the helmsman steering the ship of the USSR (Fig. 3.9). In his greatcoat and plain workman’s cap, a hearty and broad-shouldered Stalin grasps the helm with two large firm hands, his vigilant gaze out over his left shoulder keeping watch against enemies and potential threats. Next to him, the Soviet flag flaps in the breeze and behind him, in the top left of the poster, is the midsection of a huge ship with its red star emblem. The bottom right of the poster contains the text in small red letters, ‘The captain of the Soviet Union leads us from victory to victory!’ The text advises the viewer that not only is Stalin keeping the Soviet Union safe from harm, but he is also steering a journey of multiple victories — in fact the entire journey consists of a journey from one port of victory to another (from socialism to communism). It is implicit that without him the ship would sink. The poster is somewhat unusual in that is does not refer to Stalin by name in the text but uses the ‘captain’ metaphor instead. This poster must have been considered an important propaganda tool because it was issued in an edition of 200,000 in 1933, before such big editions became commonplace.
Another trope related to the helmsman is that of the locomotive driver. Due to the far more recent emergence of the train and the railroad, this metaphor cannot boast the same long history of use as the helmsman metaphor, although, for obvious reasons, it is related to (perhaps even an updated extension of) the helmsman metaphor, in keeping with the Soviet emphasis on modernity and progress. There is one significant difference between the ship and the train: a helmsman must use all his knowledge and skill to navigate a safe route among many possible other routes, while the train driver has no choice of alternate routes and must follow the tracks. The train driver’s role involves keeping the engine running, avoiding pitfalls, and managing speed and braking. The locomotive is often used as a metaphor for history, and there is inevitability about the destination along a route that was already laid out before the engine driver sat at the controls. This makes the train a particularly apt metaphor for the communist journey. According to Marxist theory, scientific laws govern history, and the final destination of communism is inevitable. The leader is a caretaker of the state until it is no longer needed and withers away. Once the destination is reached, neither the train nor the train driver will be needed.
The metaphor of the train is employed in a 1939 political poster by Pavel Sokolov-Skalia discussed in Chapter Two. This poster shares with the 1933 Efimov poster the notion of a strong, wise leader who has firm control, as well as that of the journey from success to success. In both posters Stalin is shown as in firm control of a huge and powerful machine. In the 1939 poster, the text makes explicit that Stalin is ‘tried and tested’, a man of knowledge and experience. He is the only one of the four Marxist theorists depicted on the banner decorating the side of the train to have real and enduring experience in making a socialist society work. This is why he drives.
Implicitly related to the symbolic identities of helmsman and train driver are the ‘path’81 metaphors that frequently appear in the text of posters, and which are visually represented by the outstretched arm and pointed hand, and the direction of the leader’s gaze. The ‘line’ or ‘path’ is the correct way in which to achieve socialism and communism, and implies that there is only one correct direction, ideology or strategy. In Soviet propaganda, this direction is indicated by the leader (who may be driving a train down the railroad tracks, pointing or gazing) and the citizenry are duty-bound to follow him because no other way is correct or acceptable. Jeffrey Brooks points out that, although this metaphor was frequently used by Lenin, it is not borrowed from Marx and Engels, who employed vaguer metaphors for development and growth.82 This metaphor is also implied in the ‘Forward to the victory of communism’ posters that are discussed in Chapter Four.
Stalin the architect
The notion of Stalin as the architect of Soviet communism dates to the time of the burgeoning of the Stalin cult in 1934. On 1 January 1934, in Pravda, Karl Radek published a laudatory article on Stalin titled ‘The architect of socialist society’, which was then reissued as a pamphlet83 in an edition of 225,000.84 Written after his expulsion from the Party for ‘oppositionist activities’ in 1927, and readmission to Party ranks after capitulating to Stalin in 1930, the booklet has the intriguing subtitle: ‘the ninth in a course of lectures on “The history of the victory of socialism”, delivered in 1967 at the School of Inter-Planetary Communications on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution’, and its content is so excessively eulogistic that it is difficult to determine just how one should read it. After signing a document capitulating to Stalin in 1929,85 Radek was readmitted to the Party in 1930 and went on to lead Cominform and deliver a keynote address at the Writers Conference of 1934. He was arrested in the purges of 1937 and subsequently died in the gulag during a sentence of 10 years hard labour. Radek argues that Stalin, rather than Lenin, was the architect of socialism. He acknowledges that Stalin stood on the shoulders of Lenin, but claims that in executing Lenin’s will, Stalin had to take many daring independent decisions and to develop Lenin’s teachings in the same manner that Lenin had further developed those of Marx.86 Interestingly, Radek employs the helmsman metaphor with Stalin called upon by history ‘to take the helm and steer the proud ship of Lenin through storm and stress’,87 describes Stalin as ‘a pillar of fire’ who ‘marched in front of mankind and led the way’,88 and speaks of Stalin as being ‘steeled in the tireless struggle against the scores of shades of the petty bourgeois movement’.89 These and related metaphors recur with monotonous regularity throughout the pamphlet, constituting a listing of the canon of tropes associated with Stalin.
When Radek wrote in 1934, the Congress of Victors had just declared the full achievement of socialism and the new task of progressing to the higher stage, communism, had commenced. By the time the two posters celebrating Stalin as the architect of communism appeared, Stalin was an old man, already over 70, and the quest to introduce a communist society had been taking place for 17 years, complicated by the need for defence in the Great Patriotic War. A 1951 poster by Boris Belopol’skii carries the caption ‘Glory to Stalin, the great architect of communism!’ (Fig. 3.10) and was issued in a massive edition of half a million copies, which suggests that it was viewed as an important piece of propaganda. The poster, in pale blues and muted browns typical of the pastel shades of the ‘era of abundance’, is dominated by Stalin, depicted with attributes of leadership (his marshal’s uniform) and standard props (unlit pipe in the right hand and scroll in the left). At the literal level, the scroll is suggestive of an architect’s blueprints, but at a symbolic level it also references the scroll or logos held by Christ. Behind Stalin, bathed in a white glow that appears to emanate from him, is the new hydroelectric work being undertaken across the Soviet territories. The inscription on the dam wall is carved in stone and reads ‘“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” Lenin’, an iconic Lenin slogan, to which Radek also draws attention in his pamphlet.90 In the far distance is a small statue of Lenin, the man upon whose foundation Stalin was building. There are two groups of figures in the poster, both existing only in order to react (and illustrate for the viewer the correct attitude to take) to Stalin. The group of men on the left, who appear to be professional workers associated with bringing the communist dream to fruition, stare up at Stalin with awe and respect. In the bottom-right corner, passers-by on a barge hail Stalin with visible enthusiasm. Stalin pays no attention to them and gazes out to the viewer’s right at a future that only he can see. By focusing on Stalin, the other figures demonstrate that it is Stalin who embodies the communist future. Like a priest or shaman, Stalin acts as a sort of intermediary between the vision and the people.
The second poster, by N. Petrov and Konstantin Ivanov (Fig. 3.11), was published in 1952 and carries the same slogan as the Belopol’skii poster. This poster uses black-and-white photography as a means of documentary evidence of the progress of Soviet society. Stalin is superimposed in front of a view of Moscow and is looking up the Volga River. The city appears to be bustling with pedestrians, cars and river traffic, and is bathed in a white light which also shines on Stalin from above. Stalin again looks out of the picture, this time to the viewer’s left, which is usually associated with the past, and suggests that Stalin is surveying what has already been achieved. The poster plays on the two levels of meaning of the architect symbol. Stalin is literally shown as responsible for the planning and rebuilding of Moscow, which commenced in 1935, but also responsible for planning and building the new communist society. Moscow was seen as a symbol for the whole federation, her transformation a metaphor for the moral and political transformation of the whole of Soviet society. Katerina Clark points out that, although only parts of Moscow were rebuilt, it was usually represented as being totally rebuilt, and photographs of models were often presented (as in the case of the Palace of Soviets) as if the new buildings already existed.91 Moscow was also represented — in Stalin’s ‘Greetings on her 800th anniversary’ in 1947, for example — as a sort of symbolic saviour of the West, having liberated the West from the Tartar yoke, repulsed the Polish–Lithuanian invasion in the Time of Troubles, repelled Napoleon in 1812, and won the Great Patriotic War against the fascists.92
Archetypes of reciprocity
The Stalin cult made use of a number of symbols and archetypes to demonstrate the many facets of the leader and his relationship to the people, which in turn served as a model for both the new Soviet person and the new society. Two of the most pervasive and fundamental archetypes associated with Stalin are those of the Father and the Teacher. These archetypes are distinct, but closely related, as both involve notions of responsibility, care and mentoring relationships, but only the Father archetype implies kinship between participants. It is here that the relationship between the leader and his people enters the realm of myth and also, it may be argued, that the deepest realms of the unconscious are tapped by cult propaganda. Before investigating how the Father and Teacher archetypes manifested in the cult of Stalin, it is necessary to briefly examine the nature of Soviet society and how these archetypes tapped into systems of reciprocal obligation already in existence.
The constructs of the ‘economy of the gift’ and the ‘politics of obligation,’ as explored by Brooks,93 are important concepts in understanding the way in which Soviet society functioned under Stalin, and also in making sense of propaganda which fostered a sense of obligation to the leader. These terms refer to an economic system whereby the citizenry receives ordinary goods and services as gifts from the leadership.94 In What was socialism, and what comes next?,anthropologist Katherine Verdery uses the simple analogy of the all-American lemonade stand to emphasise one of the pertinent points of divergence between capitalist and socialist systems:
In capitalism, those who run lemonade stands endeavour to serve thirsty customers in ways that make a profit and outcompete other lemonade stand owners. In socialism, the point was not profit, but the relationship between thirsty persons and the one with the lemonade — the Party center, which appropriated from producers the various ingredients (lemons, sugar, water) and then mixed the lemonade to reward them with, as it saw fit. Whether someone made a profit was irrelevant: the transaction underscored the center’s paternalistic superiority over its citizens — that is, its capacity to decide who got more lemonade and who got less.95
Verdery goes on to point out that goods produced in the socialist countries were either gathered and held centrally, or almost given away to sections of the population at low prices. The socialist contract guaranteed food and clothing, but not quality, availability or choice, and the goods produced often could not compete on world markets with goods produced in capitalist countries. The point was not to sell the goods, but to control redistribution, because that was how the leadership confirmed its legitimacy with the public.96
In song, film, theatre and posters, Stalin was promoted as the benefactor of all society. All bounty came from Stalin in his role as head of state. While in numerous ways the cult of Lenin formed a prototype for the cult of Stalin, the two cults differed in one important respect. As Brooks points out, nobody had to thank Lenin for their ‘happy childhood’, nor were they indebted to him personally. Lenin was not the wellspring of all accomplishments and, although he received gifts, he wasn’t deluged with them in the way that Stalin was as his cult grew.97 The celebration of Stalin’s 70th birthday on 21 December 1949, was overseen by a specially assembled ‘Committee for Preparations of Comrade Stalin’s Birthday’, with the festivities costing 5.6 million rubles and attracting thousands of pilgrims.98 Trainloads of gifts arrived from around the world,99 and from nationalities within the territories of the USSR.100 Accompanying the gifts, were display cases full of letters of love and gratitude to Stalin, some hand-embroidered on linen or silk, or contained in elaborately carved caskets, others simple and seemingly heartfelt.101 In Lenin’s time, citizens were made aware that they were obligated, but they owed their gratitude to the Revolution, the Party and the state, rather than to the leader. By the mid-1930s, Stalin had become a symbol for the Party, with the two entities synonymous, so that expressing gratitude to Stalin (which was easier than directing gratitude to a faceless entity) was equivalent to giving thanks to the Party and the state. Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov and Olga Sosnina point out: ‘Within this idiom of gratitude, the gifts to Stalin are counter-gifts for socialism; a gift from the socialist state as a beautiful artifact given to its citizens and embodied in the care and the “love of the leader”.’102 Viewing Stalin as the source of all benefits had the additional effect of removing agency from all other actors in society, and thus reinforced Stalin’s totalitarian control and undercut the moral standing of his opponents.103
The gift of care, guidance and leadership from a benevolent Stalin to a grateful populace formed a central theme of Stalinist propaganda. By definition, gifts come without strings attached although, in practice, as Marcel Mauss points out, there is almost always104 a reciprocal obligation, and what separates the gift from economic transactions is the unspecified time delay between the two events.105 This time delay allows a mutual pretence that the two events are not causally related and reciprocity remains hidden by mutual consent. The reciprocal obligation owed to Stalin for his bountiful gifts took the form of spontaneous and extravagant displays of gratitude.
Staged ‘thanking ceremonies’ became a part of the ritual of Soviet public life. They were held in schools, and also as part of other important occasions, such as the opening of Party congresses and the celebrations for the anniversary of the October Revolution. A woman brought up in the late 1930s recalled that the ritual of thanking Stalin was ‘akin to thanking God for one’s daily bread’.106 The pervasive public secular ritualistic offering of thanks and praise may be somewhat unfamiliar phenomena to those raised in a Western democratic society in the 21st century, however, the ritual of thanking Stalin was not without precedent in Russian society. Traditionally, the tsar had been seen as the father figure and benefactor of the nation, as expressed in the proverb: ‘Without the Tsar, the land is a widow; without the Tsar, the people is an orphan.’107 Many of the characteristics of the people’s relationship to the tsar, including the tradition of diplomatic gift giving to the tsars,108 were carried over to their relationship with the next strong leader–saviour who took the helm of government. Russian traditions of bribery, official favours and even the Orthodox gift of the sacraments, through which the believer can attain eternal life, all contributed to a culture of obligation.109
In addition to the official state-controlled economy, a second economy coexisted during Soviet times, which grew directly from the culture of gift giving. The term blat has an interesting and revealing etymology,110 but was not generally used in ‘polite society’ (being considered ‘un-Soviet’), and was usually alluded to with euphemisms.111 It refers to the widespread practice of obtaining life’s essentials, which were often unavailable through official channels, using a system of ‘connections’ and ‘acquaintances’. Three points are crucial in understanding blat — the first is that, as there was no private ownership of anything, everything must be accessed through the state and state officials. The second point is that, although the transactions involved the misappropriation and misdirection of collectively owned property, blat did not tend to refer to incidents of outright bribery, which were seen as separate and usually criminal acts. Blat involved social networks and relationships, and the extending of favours, often separated in time, so that they took on the quality of reciprocal gift giving. The third point is that this second economy of blat was dependent on the official economy, which controlled the means of production, and was the source of all goods and services. If one had eliminated the state-controlled economy, rather than flourishing with opportunities for capitalist entrepreneurship, the second economy would have died.
Blat was all pervasive because it was necessary for survival, and Soviet society consisted of vast networks of patronage that ran both vertically and horizontally. Notions of gift giving, obligation, bounty, reciprocity, and even mentorship, were integral to Soviet life, and Stalin merely sat at the top of the pyramid, as the ultimate dispenser of goods and benefits to a network below. These networks of patronage were reinforced by the strong familial connections among the top Bolsheviks. Entire family clans held leadership positions, and intermarried with each other in tight-knit circles. During the latter part of Stalin’s leadership, dutiful and obedient subordinates were given packets of cash, cars, apartments,112 dachas, holidays and other benefits directly as rewards for service and loyalty, and stores came into existence that sold only to a restricted clientele, regardless of how much money someone outside the circle may manage to accumulate. None of these goods was ever ‘owned’ by the recipients, everything belonged to the state, and could be removed at the whim of Stalin. Montefiore observes: ‘It used to be regarded as ironic to call the Soviet élite an “aristocracy” but they were much more like a feudal service nobility whose privileges were totally dependent on their loyalty.’113
Notions of obligation and reciprocal duty saturated Soviet society at all levels and took a central position in the regime’s rituals, including such rituals as samokritika in which misguided subjects were required to apologise publicly to society for failing in their duty. These notions arose not only out of Bolshevik ideology and partiinost’,114 but also from long Russian cultural and religious traditions that predated the Revolution. The use of archetypes to formalise and give expression to these concepts not only served to create the appearance of the existence of a long tradition in the fledgling regime, but enabled the populace to embrace their leader in a manner to which they were already accustomed, at both the conscious and subconscious level. This served to enhance the legitimacy of the leadership so that, as Pravda stated in 1941, the leaders were seen as ‘the lawful heirs to the Russian people’s great and honourable past’.115
Stalin was not only the source of all bounty, but also the source of all accomplishments. Great care was taken to ensure that Stalin was strongly associated with all the regime’s achievements, while dissociated from catastrophes and failures, such as forced collectivisation, famine and the German invasion. Failures were blamed on sabotage, ‘meddling’, and the overzealous pursuit of targets by local officials.116 Despite the many difficulties faced by the Soviet Union in dragging its economy into the 20th century,117 the achievements touted in propaganda were not always empty rhetoric. There were significant accomplishments during Stalin’s reign, even though some of these were achieved at the expense of ‘slave labour’ from the gulags and cost many human lives.
One of the ways in which the sense of obligation was reinforced in Soviet society was through the use of propaganda centred specifically around the theme of thanking and benefaction. I have divided posters on this theme into seven categories, according to the aspect of obligation and gratitude that they best reflect: posters that highlight the debt owed to Stalin for a happy childhood;118 posters that highlight the debt owed by women for their new equality in society to Stalin and the Party;119 posters that thank Stalin, the Party and/or the Red Army for winning the war;120 posters that acknowledge Stalin as the benefactor of all humankind;121 posters that associate Stalin and the Party with great Soviet achievements;122 posters that acknowledge and encourage those who strive to do their duty;123 and, posters that appear to acknowledge that obligation is a two-way street.124 Of these subgenres of the gratitude theme, posters that associate Stalin and the Party with great Soviet achievements and posters that thank Stalin/the Party/the Red Army for winning the war are by far the most numerous and could be considered together to make up a general theme of gratitude for ‘Soviet victories’.125 Indeed, after the Great Patriotic War, propaganda posters often referred to Soviet ‘victories’ in a manner that encompassed winning the war, the attainment of socialism, the imminent attainment of communism, and record-breaking feats in workplaces, aviation and polar exploration all at once. Posters that highlight the debt owed to Stalin for a happy childhood, and posters that highlight the debt owed by women for their new equality in society to Stalin and the Party usually engage the Father archetype in relation to Stalin, as discussed below.
When examining the archetypes associated with Stalin, it is important to remember that it is only rarely that Stalin is seen to embody only one archetype in any given poster. He is often representing at least two, and sometimes more. Sometimes he makes symbolic gestures that can be read on a number of levels, at other times his visual image may suggest one archetype while the text specifies others, often several in the one caption — Stalin can be, all at once, ‘father, teacher, leader, friend, and inspirer and organiser of victories’. As noted earlier, this can lead to a somewhat confusing blend of images and symbols which occasionally attempt clumsy reconciliations of traits that are essentially irreconcilable. It also means that attempts to separate out posters as representing particular archetypes are somewhat problematic. While the key archetypes will be addressed separately in this study for ease of interpretation, it must always be borne in mind that there is often considerable overlap between archetypal identities, and also some fairly transparent contradictions.
Stalin as the father of the nation
The major archetype associated with Stalin was that of Otets Narodov, the father of the people. In many ways, Stalin inherited the mantle of father from Lenin who, in turn, inherited it from the tsars,126 although the scope of Lenin’s ‘family’ was initially somewhat confined when compared to that of Stalin after him and the tsars before him. Under Stalin, Lenin was frequently depicted in propaganda for children as ‘Grandpa Lenin’127 — in this schema Stalin is Lenin’s son who must step up and take responsibility for the family when Lenin, the father, dies. Statements by leading members of the Party after Lenin’s death indicate profound despair at the prospect of continuing without him, just as there had been deep distress among some of the peasants on hearing of the deposition of the tsar.128 Trotskii’s words of 22 January 1924, echoing the well-known proverb about the tsar, highlight Lenin’s paternal role in the eyes of the Party: ‘And now Vladimir Ilyich is no more. The party is orphaned. The workmen’s class is orphaned.’129 Indeed, Lenin may have somewhat subscribed to this view himself. As Tumarkin observes, Lenin repeatedly spoke of Soviet Russia in terms which suggested it was a child in need of care and nurturing.130 It is interesting to note that, in these early years after the Revolution, with Civil War only a couple of years behind the fledgling nation, and class struggle still at the forefront of propaganda, Trotskii does not refer to Lenin as the father of the whole nation. This is a time of the dictatorship of the proletariat as led by the vanguard party, where not everyone is equal, nor entitled to the benefits of socialist citizenship. Trotskii names Lenin as the father of the Party and the working class. In contrast, Stalinist propaganda from the mid-1930s took pains to portray Stalin as a father of all people of all the Soviet nations, with this extending to the ‘liberated’ nations after the Great Patriotic War, and the entire world during the peace movement of the years of the Cold War. By extension, once class conflict had been eliminated and socialism achieved, Lenin too could be seen as a founding father of the whole nation.
The notion of the powerful male leader as a father to his people is widespread and, as David Hoffmann points out, even in Britain in the 20th century, the king was depicted as the father of the people with the nation taking on a female persona as a motherland, and compatriots seen as brothers and sisters.131 The relationship of father to son encompasses several notions: the father raises the son to be a successful and dutiful citizen, the father nurtures and protects the son, the father teaches and guides the son, and the son reciprocates by being successful, showing gratitude and respect, and by making the father proud. In Stalinist society, particular emphasis was laid on the civic duty of parents to correctly educate their children in the spirit of communism, even instilling in them a willingness to lay down their lives for their country.132 In order to carry authority and enhance legitimacy, it is important that the leader be seen as a father to the citizenry, rather than as a sibling or peer. This is particularly important in a regime like that of Soviet Russia, where the traditional father, the tsar, had been overthrown, and a power vacuum existed. The father figure must be rapidly replaced and re-established to prevent chaos. The Soviet population were so accustomed to thinking of Stalin as a father figure that many people were stunned when Stalin addressed them as ‘brothers and sisters’ in a speech in November 1941.133
Viewing Lenin and Stalin as fathers of the people had a further dimension. For a child, a parent has always existed and atemporality is a feature of both the cult of Lenin and the cult of Stalin. For Lenin it is embodied in the famous words of poet Vladimir Maiakovskii: ‘Lenin lived! Lenin lives! Lenin will live!’134 and in the tale of Khitryi Lenin.135 For Stalin this timelessness was a prominent feature of many ‘reminiscences’ of ordinary people’s encounters with him, bearing in mind that the authenticity of these accounts cannot be verified (i.e. they may have been written by propagandists rather than genuine ‘simple folk’): ‘He was talking so persuasively, clearly and simply, that many of us at that moment felt as if comrade Stalin had been with us not for one month, but for many years, that we had already heard those words a long time ago and that they had taken deep roots in our consciousness.’136 This phenomenon is also particularly apparent in the reactions of citizens to Stalin’s death.
A happy childhood
The use of the Father archetype in depictions of the leader enables the symbolic persona to convey both authority and benevolence simultaneously, as well as inherently encapsulating the notion of a reciprocal relationship of rights and obligations. One of the most interesting ways in which this is manifested is in the propaganda posters on the theme of the happy childhood. These posters show happy, well-fed children in joyous mood, expressing their gratitude to the man responsible, the fatherly figure of Stalin. As Catriona Kelly observes:
‘Happiness’, traditionally understood as a state of fortuitous delight descending on a person unexpectedly, by act of God as it were, now became the just desert of all Soviet citizens, but above all children. But ‘happiness’ still had to be earned; pleasure was the reward for subordination of the self.137
Happiness in Soviet terms did not refer to the emotional state of the individual or to the pursuit of individual fulfilment. Happiness, like everything else, was conceived of as a collective principle.138 Universal happiness was a duty, and to be happy was an act of loyalty to the state and to the leader. Nadezhda Mandelstam recounts:
Everybody seemed intent on his daily round and went smilingly about the business of carrying out his instructions. It was essential to smile — if you didn’t, it meant you were afraid or discontented. This nobody could afford to admit — if you were afraid, then you must have a bad conscience.139
The theme of ‘A happy childhood’140 was adopted for the 1936 May Day celebrations in Moscow.141 One of the more interesting manifestations of this propaganda theme was announced in an Izvestiia article of 1937: ‘The Moscow Bolshevik Factory is preparing special varieties of high-quality cookies to be called “Happy Childhood” and “Union”. The cookies will be packaged in beautifully designed boxes.’142 The first propaganda poster on this theme appeared in 1936. Viktor Govorkov’s ‘Thank you beloved Stalin for our happy childhood’ (Fig. 3.12) carries one variant of the iconic slogan, ‘Thank you dear Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood!’ This slogan appeared everywhere in the world of the Soviet child — over nursery doorways, on walls in schools, on magazine and book covers — and was chanted by children at celebrations. Govorkov’s poster shows Stalin dressed in white (suggesting purity, simplicity, and also making him appear full of light), surrounded by children with toys, flowers and artworks. In the background, children play in miniature cars and on scooters, watched by their mother, who is of secondary importance after Stalin.143 Stalin’s figure dominates the poster, his gaze is focused on a young boy who shows him a drawing of the Kremlin. Other boys hold model ships and aeroplanes, while the girls are passive and express gratitude by gesture, and by the gift of flowers. The colour palette is mostly muted and pastel red, green and white — the colours of festivity, which emphasises the relaxed and idyllic nature of the scene. Though happy and relaxed, the children are also orderly. From the mid-1930s onwards, the ideal Soviet child was consistently depicted as obedient and grateful.144
In the 1937 poster ‘Thanks to the Party, thanks to dear Stalin for our happy, joyful childhood’ by Dmitrii Grinets,145 Stalin adopts a fatherly pose with three children. The portrait format of the poster emphasises the intimacy and physical closeness of the scene, which is reminiscent of a family home. By depicting such a scene, with Stalin standing in as the father for non-related children, the suggestion is made that he is the father of all children of all nationalities of the USSR, intimately concerned with the prospects and fate of each child in his care. Stalin holds the smallest child against his chest, while his focus is keenly on the elder boy who plays the violin for him. The youngest boy shows ambition to join the armed forces, wearing military garb and clutching a toy aeroplane in his right arm. The older boy wears a Pioneer scarf and will be a successful musician. It is only the young girl, wearing traditional headdress, who is given no costume or prop to indicate her future vocation. Perhaps her gratitude and devotion are a sufficient contribution. The caption of the poster, which is in Ukrainian and occupies the bottom third of the poster, reinforces this notion of gratitude, and is uncommon for its time in that it emphasises the thanks owed to the Party, as well as to Stalin. The word ridnomu (and its Russian equivalent rodnomu) does not translate precisely in English. Used as a term of endearment, the word also connotes a kin or familial relationship with the person to whom it is applied.
The 1938 poster ‘Thank you Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood!’, by Nina Vatolina, Nikolai Denisov, Vladislav Pravdin and Zoia Rykhlova-Pravdina, features a similar colour scheme and several of the same objects as the Govorkov poster of 1936. Significantly in this poster, the action takes place in front of a New Year tree, which had been banned since 1916, but was reinstated in 1935.146 The tree in the 1938 poster is decorated with traditional candles and garlands, but also with small aircraft, parachutes and red stars. The model aeroplane and ship are typical Soviet toys, inspiring boys to emulate Soviet heroes in aviation and exploration.147 By including these toys in the poster, oblique reference is also made to the great Soviet achievements in these fields. Stalin is not only providing a happy childhood, but also offers the children the potential for happy and fulfilling futures. In the 1938 poster, Stalin is surrounded by fair-haired Russian children who are situated on the same level in the picture plane as he although, by virtue of his status as adult male, he looks down on the children protectively. The scene is relaxed and informal, with four of the children gazing up at Stalin with affection while a fifth child has his back turned to Stalin and gazes directly at the viewer. The implication is that a Soviet childhood is a time of sacred innocence, unbounded joy, and material plenitude (the flowers in the bottom right-hand corner are a further indication of material wealth). As the slogan suggests, all of these things are provided by the dominating paternal presence of Stalin, who is, by association, a kind of secular Father Christmas. This association is not spurious, as on 30 December 1936 Stalin appeared on the cover of the newspaper Trud148 as Grandfather Frost, usurping the traditional role of the secularised version of Saint Nicholas, and making literal his role as mythical children’s benefactor.
In 1935–36, Stalin began to appear with children more frequently in newspaper photographs. Plamper dates the launch of the image of Stalin as father to a newspaper article in 1935 in which he appeared with 11-year-old Pioneer Nina Zdrogova on the tribune of the Lenin Mausoleum, saluting a physical–cultural parade.149 The image of the ruler with devoted child was to become one of the most significant genres across the various media in the cult of personality. One of these newspaper photographs, V. Matvievskii’s ‘Young girl and the Leader’, 1936,150 became particularly iconic, with copies posted in schools, children’s clubs and institutions. It even appeared in a later propaganda poster as an icon.151 The photograph was taken at a meeting between Party leaders and a delegation from the Buriat–Mongolian ASSR.152 Gelia Markizova, aged seven, the daughter of one of the delegates, presented Stalin with a large bouquet of flowers, and he reciprocated with a kiss.153 In this, and other newspaper reports of children meeting Stalin, such precise details of the ritual exchange were always noted.