A small but significant number of TASS posters were devoted to episodes drawn from earlier periods in Russian history. These images, which Sokolov-Skalia described as “dedicated to the history of our motherland” in March 1942, contributed to a notable trend in historical self-construction, a relatively novel concept in Soviet visual culture.
As early as 1923, the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment (Narkompros) forbade the teaching of nationalist history. During the years following the Great Terror (1936–38), when many of the Bolshevik heroes of the Civil War were purged, however, Russo-centric propaganda escalated to a fever pitch. In an effort to cultivate a pragmatic, usable past, the Soviet leadership developed a statist policy of “national Bolshevism,” according to which key figures and events from Russian history were rhetorically linked to contemporary advances in the Soviet Union.
On November 7, 1941, at an address in Red Square on the occasion of the anniversary celebration of the October Revolution, Stalin exhorted members of the military, “Let the valiant image of our great ancestors—Aleksandr Nevskii, Dmitrii Donskoi, Kuz’ma Minin, Dmitrii Pozharskii, Aleksandr Suvorov, Mikhail Kutuzov—inspire us in this war!” Although the Soviet administration may have agreed by this time on which key figures from Russian history to celebrate, there was no consensus about how best to incorporate them into contemporary propaganda. As a result, artists contrived all sorts of approaches to convey the relevance of Russian history to the present.
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalia. Three Knights, July 24, 1944. Ne boltai! Collection, 1011.