Commentary

The alphabet series of posters had reached the letter ‘K’, which stands for the first letter of the Russian military command, ‘stab’. The text urges the use of bayonet or grenade when called for. Despite its violent urgency, this poster has an aura of make-believe about it. The figures are almost two boys playing at war, emphasised by the childish alphabet motif. The idealised Russian soldier, replete with boyish charm, is deliberately contrasted to the terrified and vulnerable figure before him. The implied motif of contrast goes further: there is no time for childhood games in time of war.

Facts

TASS window
641
Title
Our Alphabet
Created
20 January 1943
Artist
M.M. Solov’ev
Writer
Samuil Marshak
Original dimensions
130cm x 86cm
Collection number
MS 281/1/1

War Context

In January 1943, Leningrad was under siege and the fierce battle for Stalingrad was underway. The situation on the home front was difficult. Six months before Stalin had announced the ‘not-one-step-back’ campaign, refusing to allow any further retreat before enemy forces on Russian soil. The loss of life on both sides was immense. This situation encouraged the no-holds-barred attitude toward the enemy illustrated in this poster as the struggle for Stalingrad reached its height. So desperate was the situation that hand-to-hand combat was not uncommon. By February 1943, the enemy had surrendered Stalingrad.

Artistic Roots

Based around simple notions of alphabet and contrast, this poster could almost have emerged directly from a children’s reading book. It probably owes most to classroom posters for instruction, adapted here to the serious purpose of war.

Artist

The artist M.M Solov’ev is responsible for 14 of the Windows in the Nottingham Collection, and overall he contributed more than 150 to the series. The idealised soldier in this early poster is echoed in his much later statue-like celebration of the heroism of Russian soldiers (TASS 1253).

Yellow and white add to the cleanliness and saintliness of the Russian hero. He casts no shadow while his victim writhes devil-like in his own darkness below.

Writer

Samuil Marshak was famous for his writing for children, and his approach here reflects that talent. His verse, calling the enemy ‘fascist’, is direct, rolling and imperative. The title has the ‘our’ familiarity used by teachers in the classroom. ‘Our’ is also a word emphasising the comforting difference between ‘us’ and the enemy.

In the play between image and text, there is a latent sense , however, that boyish things have now to be put aside, providing a serious frame to this poster.