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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

Anti-communism in the Cold War

La femme qui avait vu Staline

Andre Liebich

Texte intégral

La femme qui avait vu Staline [“The woman who saw Stalin”]. The first picture reads in French: “La vie Parisienne. Film soviétique. Prix Staline” –[“Paris life. Soviet film. Stalin prize”]. The second picture reads: “Arrivée à Orly de Nina, la femme la plus heureuse du monde : elle a vu Staline“  - [“Arrival at Orly of Nina, the happiest woman in the world – she saw Stalin”]. The third picture reads: “L’enthousiasme des Parisiens qui acclament la femme qui a vu Staline” – [“The enthusiasm of Parisians cheering the woman who saw Stalin”]. The fourth picture reads: “En vertu du plan Marshall, on emprisonne tous les Français qui ont vu la femme qui a vu Stalin“ - [“Under the Marshall Plan, we imprison all the French who saw the woman who saw Stalin”].  Black and white leaflet, printed by Paix et Liberté [s.d.]; 5 x 19.5 cm.

1In the 1920s and 1930s there was a popular song entitled, “I knew a girl who knew a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.” That is the spirit underlying this cartoon strip. Whereas there was a considerable literature in the Soviet Union recounting meetings with Stalin in early revolutionary days, the cult of Stalin’s person came into its own only in the post-World War II years. It may have been enhanced by Stalin’s reclusiveness in these last years of his reign. Although the cult of Stalin drew the line, reluctantly, at the thaumaturgic powers once attributed to kings, he was regularly compared to the sun and poems about Stalin reached new heights of lyrical obsequiousness.

2This cartoon strip thus pokes fun at the inordinate cult of Stalin, widespread in the Soviet bloc and among Western Communists and Soviet sympathizers. It is ordinary “Parisians” not just French Communists who react deliriously to the arrival of “the woman who saw Stalin.” As for “Nina,” “the woman who saw Stalin,” she is a typically Soviet woman of peasant or worker extraction, with an old fashioned kerchief on her head. The unlikelihood of such a person travelling – by plane! – to France at a time when the Soviet Union was practically hermetically sealed so that no ordinary Soviet citizen could possibly dream of crossing its borders, seems self-evident. The glint in Nina’s eyes suggests madness rather than eroticism and betrays the anti-Communist thrust of the cartoon strip.

3The first cartoon holds the key to the sequence that follows. What we are witnessing here is ‘Paix et Liberté’’s portrayal of a Soviet film which purports to present “Parisian Life” and does so in full accordance with Stalinist norms. This is confirmed by mention of the “Stalin Prize” that the film has won. Instituted in 1941 and renamed, after 1954, the State Prize of the Soviet Union, the Prize was awarded in a number of categories, from engineering to cinematography. Among the recipients are individuals as diverse as Andrei Sakharov, father of the Soviet Hydrogen bomb (and later human rights activist), Lev Theremin, one of the creators of electronic music, the cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein, Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the eponymous machine gun.

4That the cartoon strip is a satirical look at Soviet representations of reality is confirmed by the emaciated look of the Parisians shouting frantically against a background of a still devastated capital city and the last strip portraying them behind bars linking, improbably, the Marshal Plan with their enthusiasm about “the woman who saw Stalin.” The absurdity of the last cartoon should have been obvious to any French reader.

Bibliographie

Dominique Desanti, Les Staliniens : une expérience politique 1944-1956, Paris : Fayard, 1975.

Annie Kriegel, Les communistes français. Essai d'ethnographie politique, Paris : Seuil, collection Politique, 1968, (2e éd. revue, augmentée et mise à jour 1970).

Derek Spring and Richard Taylor, Stalinism and Soviet Cinema, New York: Routledge, 1993.

Table des illustrations

Légende La femme qui avait vu Staline [“The woman who saw Stalin”]. The first picture reads in French: “La vie Parisienne. Film soviétique. Prix Staline” –[“Paris life. Soviet film. Stalin prize”]. The second picture reads: “Arrivée à Orly de Nina, la femme la plus heureuse du monde : elle a vu Staline“  - [“Arrival at Orly of Nina, the happiest woman in the world – she saw Stalin”]. The third picture reads: “L’enthousiasme des Parisiens qui acclament la femme qui a vu Staline” – [“The enthusiasm of Parisians cheering the woman who saw Stalin”]. The fourth picture reads: “En vertu du plan Marshall, on emprisonne tous les Français qui ont vu la femme qui a vu Stalin“ - [“Under the Marshall Plan, we imprison all the French who saw the woman who saw Stalin”].  Black and white leaflet, printed by Paix et Liberté [s.d.]; 5 x 19.5 cm.
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