REVOLUTIONARY SOURCES, PART I: PROPAGANDA. “The Peasant Woman and the Transformation of Soviet Propaganda: 1917-1930.”

By Ben Cushing

Note:  this is the ninth of several articles posted to The New Contemporary that feature writing from this Fall’s Havighurst Colloquium, “Russia in War and Revolution.”  Each student in the class had to select an object from the Andre de St.-Rat Collection in Miami’s Special Collections and write about it.  These writings, as you will see, spotlight the incredible collections in our library.  They also highlight how the Russian Revolutions in 1917 involved a battle over meaning:  through these primary sources, one can read the words, see the images, and therefore gain more insight into the experiences of revolution.  Other papers have been posted to the History Department’s new online journal, Journeys Into the Past:  http://blogs.miamioh.edu/hst-journeys/category/essays/.  Special thanks to Masha Stepanova, Miami’s extraordinary Slavic Bibliographer.

Bibliographic Source Information:  N. Mikhailov, “In Our Kolkhoz [Collective Farm] There is No Place for Priests and Kulaks.”  Soviet Poster, 1931 (Original printed in 1930).  Moscow:  Moskovskoe izd-skoe Ants. Ob-vo AKhR.  Printed in run of 40,000.

 

The peasant women poster was created by N Mikhailov as propaganda for Stalin’s first Five Year Plan. This plan was announced in 1929, and began the process of collectivization of farms in the countryside, which directly caused famine in Ukraine, later referred to as the Holodomor. The Holodomor in the years 1932 to 1934 caused at least 4 million Ukrainians to starve to death.[1] The poster presents the Soviet government’s image of collectivization. It reads: “In our Collective Farm there is no room for priests and kulaks”. The poster depicts a large peasant women looking menacingly at priests and kulaks, while protecting the peasant workers on tractors and the collective farms in the background. Mikhailov’s depiction of the peasant women and other symbols grew out of earlier Bolshevik propaganda, and when Stalin rose to power in 1927, he changed propaganda tactics to “sell” collectivization to Soviet citizens.

When the Soviet Union was formally established in 1922, it relied heavily on propaganda to spread its messages, so much so that one prominent historian later called it the world’s first “propaganda state”. The Soviet government developed propaganda to sell the planned communist paradise to its citizens. As Stephen Norris articulates in A War of Images “the Soviet government devoted more attention to posters and other forms of persuasion then the tsars had… making posters and their contents part of the new “propagandist state””.[2] This short essay will provide background on this poster of a peasant women poster as well as trace the development of Soviet propaganda from the Bolshevik’s seizure of power through the time when this poster was circulated during Stalin’s collectivization plan.

An important aspect of the Bolshevik’s policy was developing and filtering propaganda throughout its cities and the countryside. The first images of propaganda did not focus on peasantry or women (as is the case in Mikhalovna’s poster), but, as Victoria Bonnell has written, on establishing a worker identity which was distributed throughout the countryside.[3] At the time, the Bolsheviks were forming an identity for workers to gain popular support, and to further advance their vision regarding industry. These early propaganda sources often featured larger-than-life figures such as Red Army heroes and workers.[4] In doing this, the Bolsheviks sought to portray the importance of the Red Army during the Civil War and the important role the worker had in developing the early Soviet state. However, peasants were not featured as larger-than-life in these early poster prints, their appearance came later as the Soviet Union’s political and economic goals shifted.

While peasants were not as prominent in early Bolshevik propaganda, Lenin and the Bolsheviks understood the importance of gaining peasant support to legitimize their regime and to win the Civil War. In a speech announcing the New Economic Policy (NEP) in March of 1921, Lenin articulated the need of peasant support to achieve socialism saying, “We know that so long as there is no revolution in other countries, only agreement with peasantry can save socialist revolution in Russia”.[5] The Bolsheviks had to persuade peasants during the revolution and Civil War that they best served the peasants goals. Aaron Retish asserts that the Bolsheviks’ propaganda “worked to shape peasants’ identities, their hearts and minds, and act within the Bolshevik worldview”.[6] Bolsheviks attempted to sway the peasants toward their view through propaganda that included holidays, speeches, and images.

red ploughman

Source: Manuscripts and Archives Division, The Now York Public Library. “Red Ploughman” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed December 7, 2016.

 

The few posters that represented the countryside during the Civil War period represented the male muzhik (male peasant) as the center theme, not women. A 1920s print that demonstrates this is “The Red Ploughman”. Printed in Moscow, the poster features a male peasant wearing a red shirt to symbolized he is affiliated with the Bolsheviks. He is ploughing a field that contains the ruins of the Tsarist, capitalist government, and the caption indicates that he is harvesting happiness for Bolshevik workers. This poster is attempting to persuade peasants to work for Bolshevik interests, and harvest food to feed the state’s workers.

 

The events of 1917 and the Civil War assisted the early Soviet Union and later Stalin in creating propaganda for workers and peasants, but the shifting political and economic situation changed the forms propaganda took. In 1929 Stalin announced the first Five Year Plan, which focused on establishing collective farms throughout the USSR. To accomplish this, the state developed new propaganda, such as Mikilhaov’s peasant women poster, to get Soviet citizens engaged in collectivization. Depicting the peasantry was of paramount importance of Soviet propaganda, and Stalin’s collectivities transformed how women peasants were depicted. Similar to the Bolshevik’s propaganda campaigns during the Civil War, peasant women became Red Heroes.[7] Mikhailov’s peasant woman towers over the priests and kulaks protecting the collective farm, marking a return of the Bolshevik articulation of Red Heroes.

By 1930 the peasant woman had become an important figure in Soviet propaganda. Victoria Bonnell collected data on the frequency that peasant women appeared in posters from 1930 to 1934, and found that women were featured in 61% of rural posters.[8] Women’s importance in Soviet propaganda came from the need for the Soviet state to win peasant women’s support. By showing strong peasant women in the collective farms, it hoped to garner popular support for Stalin’s collectivization. Mikhailov’s protagonist was depicted to show Soviet peasant women were protecting the farms against enemies of the state. The Soviet state knew that women’s support was central in achieving the Soviet’s collectivization plan, and so Soviet propaganda created posters with peasant women as their central theme in the 1930s.

While the woman in the poster was an idealized version of a Soviet heroine, many Soviet citizens did respond to these appeals and saw themselves as builders of the new rural order.  Pasha Angelina, for example, was the founder of the first all-female tractor brigand in the Soviet Union, and helped achieve Stalin’s collectivization. In her memoirs, Angelina adores Stalin, and provides a positive description of her tractor brigand helping to execute the first Five Year Plan.[9] Angelina wrote in her memoir about working on the collective farms as a tractor driver: “It is much more than a “job” for me—it is my place in the struggle for five-year plans…the source of my happiness, prosperity, and fame”.[10] Her passion for working on the collective farms is similar to the peasant women and the line of tractor drivers present in Mikhailov’s poster. The Soviet state hoped propaganda would mold Soviet citizens, like Pasha, to work and defend Stalin’s Five-Year Plans for the Soviet state, and do everything possible to ensure its success.

Propaganda was an important part of the Bolshevik and later Soviet system to project ideals through powerful imagery. When the Bolshevik’s seized power in October, 1917 their construction of propaganda had yet to be fully formed, and the subsequent years were sought creating and perfecting Bolshevik icons such as the worker. After the Civil War and the establishment of the Soviet state, propaganda transformed into new icons. These new figures, including peasant women, helped to achieve Stalin’s aims while borrowing from Bolshevik and earlier Soviet propaganda techniques. Mikhailov’s peasant women demonstrates this. She is red and larger than life figure, which is similar to many icons in earlier posters. However, Mikhailov making the peasant women the center piece of the poster shows a shift in Soviet propaganda. As was mentioned earlier, Soviet peasant women after 1929 became a focal point in propaganda for Stalin’s collectivation. Mikhalovna’s poster not only shows idealized form of Stalin’s collectivization, but also the evolution of propagandistic themes that began to develop under the Bolsheviks.

Bibliography

Bonnell, Victoria E. Iconography of power: Soviet political posters under Lenin and Stalin.

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Daly, Jonathan, Leonid Trofimov. Russia in War and Revolution, 1914-1922 A Documentary

             History. Hackett Publishing Company, 2009.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila, and Yuri Slezkine. In the Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian

 

Women from 1917 to the Second World War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,

 

 

“Holodomor 1923-33.” Connecticut Holodomor Committee. Accessed November 18, 2016.

http://www.holodomorct.org/history.html.

 

Norris, Stephen M. A War of Images: Russian Popular Prints, Wartime Culture, and National

 

Identity, 1812-1945. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006.

 

Retish, Aaron B. Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War: Citizenship, Identity, and the

Creation of the Soviet State, 1914-1922. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

 

Books that could also be helpful when researching collectivization and Soviet propaganda:

Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State

Lynn Viola, ed., Contending with Stalinism

[1] “Holodomor 1932-33,” Connecticut Holodomor Committee, accessed November 18, 2016, http://www.holodomorct.org/history.html.

[2] Stephen Norris. A War of Images: Russian Popular Prints Wartime Culture and National Identity, 1812-1945. (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006), 171-172.

[3] Victoria Bonnell. Iconography of power: Soviet political posters under Lenin and Stalin. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 22.

[4] Ibid., 103.

[5] Johnathan Daly, Leonid Trofimov. Russia in War and Revolution, 1914-1922 A Documentary    History. (Hackett Publishing Company, 2009), 303.

[6] Aaron Retish. Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War: Citizenship, Identity, and the Creation of the Soviet State, 1914-1922. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 214.

[7] Victoria Bonnet Iconography of power, 103.

[8] Ibid., 101.

[9] Pasha’s memoir appears translated here: Shelia Fitzpatrick and Yuri Slezkine In the Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women from 1917 to the Second World War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000),

[10] Ibid., 307.

Ben Cushing is a junior majoring in Secondary Social Studies Education and History.

This entry was posted in Essays. Bookmark the permalink.