Joseph Stalin & Soviet Propaganda: Techniques & Examples

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  • 0:03 Revolution & Propaganda
  • 1:13 Cult of Personality
  • 1:54 Socialist Realism
  • 4:46 The New Soviet Person
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Penn

Michelle has a J.D. and her PhD in History.

In this lesson, we will learn about different techniques in Soviet propaganda under Stalin and look at some examples of such propaganda in posters, novels, and film.

Revolution & Propaganda

Imagine that a revolution has recently taken place in your country. You are initially opposed to the revolution because you think it is too extreme. Immediately after the revolution, leaders had allowed some political openness, but the gates to freedom of expression have recently closed. Now, nearly all the art, film, and literature that you encounter is some form of political propaganda. How do you react to being inundated with propaganda? Do you find it easier to begin to believe it? Do you only pretend to, to make things easier for you? Or do you outwardly oppose it, even though this decision means certain death?

Under Joseph Stalin, the dictatorial leader of the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until his death in 1953, such pervasive Soviet propaganda, along with the communist economic system, was meant to create a New Soviet Person. The New Soviet Person possessed all the desired qualities of a Soviet citizen. They cared more about the collective than themselves, they believed in the Soviet country and the Communist party, and they would help spread socialism around the world.

Cult of Personality

Soviet propaganda under Joseph Stalin took a variety of forms and used a number of different techniques. A lot of propaganda placed Stalin along with earlier communist visionaries, like Karl Marx, Joseph Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. This propaganda presented Stalin as the natural successor to these great leaders that were continually praised in Soviet newspapers, schools, and elsewhere in society. Over time, the portrayals of Stalin changed from simple praise, to taking the form of a cult of personality. Soviet propaganda portrayed Stalin as a brilliant and kind, all-knowing figure who would lead the world's people to socialism, calling him the ''Father of Nations.''

Socialist Realism

Most propaganda in the Soviet Union took the form of socialist realism. Socialist realism focused on glorifying the Soviet Union and communism. Many examples of Soviet socialist realist art praised Soviet workers, while others praised Soviet leaders. Socialist realism could be found in many different types of artwork, including sculptures, paintings, poetry, and novels. As a general rule, socialist realism is not very subtle. Socialist realist artists in the Soviet Union believed that art should be accessible to the workers and depict scenes from everyday life. Socialist realism required that the art be realistic (although it didn't depict things as they were, instead it depicted life as the Soviet state and party said it was), and that art serve the aims of the Soviet state and communist party.

In the Stalinist Soviet Union, subtlety and experimentation in art was often condemned as being ''bourgeois'' and counter-revolutionary. Because of the widespread censorship in the Soviet Union under Stalin, much of socialist realism can't really be described as art as most people think of art today, and is more rightfully classified as propaganda.

This 1940 poster celebrates the Soviet capital Moscow, which is led by a man in worker clothes who resembles an idealized version of Stalin, complete with mustache. He is holding a red star, a symbol of Soviet communism.
Moscow poster

Glory to the partisan heroes, who are destroying the fascist rear
partisan poster during World War II

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