The date of this printed poster is just a year after the Red Army victory at Stalingrad on 2 February 1943. That victory over the German forces cost both sides many lives. The ferocity of the fighting etched itself deep in the Russian memory.
The strategy of this poster is to prevent the Red Army from flagging in its huge task. Recalling earlier victories evokes Russia’s heroic past, but a soviet imprint is placed firmly on this poster too.
This poster is dedicated to reminding Russians of their historical victories over the Prussians and to urging them on to further efforts. From February 1944 they were advancing into Ukraine against German occupied territories. The campaign to liberate Belarus began just three months later.
Historically, Prussia was the part of the German-speaking area closest to Russia, and consequently the Russians had come most into conflict with the Prussians, rather than the Germans. After the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 the area formerly known as Prussia became central to the German Empire. At the end of WWI Prussia as a separate entity effectively ceased to exist as its monarchy was abolished.
This poster draws on a combination of visual sources. It strongly resembles the popular print or lubok with its aims to commemorate historical events and/or tell a story. It is also close to a certain type of icon designed to illustrate a Biblical tale in a series of connected miniatures. Finally, the style also borrows heavily from Russian revolutionary art.
The presentation of a detailed text as here exemplifies the importance of text in the posters in general. In this example, part of the text comes from the highest level as it is the voice of Stalin. The words are accompanied by miniatures of soldiers in battle scenes from the different periods indicated. The detail is exacting (look at the different uniforms, the range of weaponry, even the historic buildings) and it draws the viewers right into the poster.
Aliakrinskii has an important mission to relate and illustrate the impact of Stalin's words. By borrowing from existing, recognisable Russian graphic sources he makes a solid case for a new soviet Russian victory. Revolutionary art supplies him with Kustodiev’s magnificent red flag from his 1919-20 The Bolshevik, which became a visible influence on patriotic illustration and is seen in several of the TASS windows (see TASS 1236; A Family Thanking Stalin).
This print also picks up the icon tradition. Early on, icons used text as identifiers for holy figures, and later the addition of a narrative text became a relatively frequent feature.
There may also be a strong link between the narrative function of icons and the development of the narrative texts which carry the story-telling aspect of the popular print or lubok. The lubok was also a cheap means for commemorating historical events widely among the populace.
Imprinted with the red of soviet politics, this print proclaims, in the end however, that soviet art is the true inheritor of Russian culture just as the modern army continues a glorious military tradition.
The 3-line quotation from Stalin takes pride of place. Stalingrad signalled the end of the Germans, it says, and they will never recover. The other victories referred to are: 1240-42, when Alexander Nevsky led the Russians against the Teutonic knights in Lithuania. 1558-1561 refers to Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) and his campaign to gain access to the Baltic sea. He had a major victory over the Livonian Knights who held territory on the East Coast of the Baltic (current-day Estonia, and most of Latvia).
In 1758-60, Elizabeth I’s forces defeated Eastern Prussia as part of a European coalition plan to carve up Frederick the Great’s territory. And then, of course, there was the Russian participation in the defeat of Germany at the end of WWI. It is an impressive record to raise morale among the soviet troops.