"Every Blow of the Hammer is a Blow Against the Enemy!" (1920), a well-known early Soviet propaganda poster by Viktor Deni, depicting a proletariat smith hammering away at an anvil. The sparks have the shape of bullets and fire away at one of the czar's generals.

Viktor Deni was a Russian political cartoonist and poster designer. He was one of the first artists to make Soviet propaganda posters, which effectively promoted the regime like no other media did. During the interbellum and World War II he made countless cartoons, some of them using sequential narratives. His most iconic cartoon is 'Comrade Lenin Cleans the Earth from Scum' (1920).

Early life and career
Viktor Nikolaevich Denisov was born in 1893 in Moscow. His father was an impoverished nobleman. During the 1900s Denisov studied as a pupil of N.P. Ulyanov. Six years later his drawings were exhibited at the Humorists' Salon and the Independent's Association. Denisov was only 17 years old when his first drawings appeared in the satirical journal Budilink. In 1913 he moved to St. Petersburg to become a cartoonist under his shortened name "Viktor Deni". His cartoons appeared in magazines like Solntse Rossii, Vesna and Satirikon. He was art director of the humorous weekly Bich.

'Death to Capital or Death under the Heel of Capital', 1919. 

Soviet propaganda cartoons
In 1917 the Russian Revolution broke out. The centuries-old monarchy was abolished and Vladimir Lenin established the first Communist state in the world. Deni was employed by the Litizdat, an agency which brought all publishing companies under the new state ideology. In 1918 the Soviet Union established the Russian Telegraph Agency, often shorted to "ROSTA". It was part state news agency, part propaganda production. They made "Okna Rosta" ("Rosta Windows"): stenciled pamphlets featuring propaganda drawings, cartoons and comics with text in captions. Most focused on topical events, unavoidably promoting the Communist regime. Together with fellow artists like Yuliy Ganf, Dmitry Moor, Nikolai Kogout, Alexey Komarov, Alexander Mikhailov Rodchenko and Mikhail Cheremnykh, Deni made countless cartoons and posters which glorified Lenin and the Soviet Union and demonized capitalism, monarchy and organized religion. Others were more educational in nature and informed peasants of the benefits of learning to read and write, modern industry, basic hygiene, vaccination and health care.

Some of Deni's cartoons make use of sequential narratives. 'Death to Capital or Death under the Heel of Capital!' (1919) depicts a Russian worker waving the red banner over a defeated businessman in the first image, but warns in the second image that this situation could very well be turned around if people aren't united in the common cause. A 1920 cartoon shows a giant capitalist threatening a tiny Russian man, while the text underneath reads: "I will crush Soviet Russia in my fist!!!" In the next panel the Soviets have only become bigger, while the giant businessman has shrunk and the text underneath explains: "But it [capitalism] only clenches its fist in impotent anger!"

'Comrade Lenin Cleans the Earth From Scum', 1920.

Comrade Lenin Cleans the Earth From Scum
Deni's most famous cartoon, 'Comrade Lenin Cleans the Earth from Scum' (November 1920) was in fact based on an older newspaper cartoon by Mikhail Cheremnykh. The drawing depicts a giant Lenin on top of a globe, sweeping away a tiny king, emperor, priest and capitalist. The poster became one of the defining images of the era and was reproduced countless times. Not just in Soviet propaganda, but in international history books too. In the late 1980s Belgian cartoonist Gal (Gerard Alsteens) satirized it by depicting the same cartoon of Lenin and his globe, but now swept away by president Gorbachev and his social-political reforms.

Move from Leninism to Stalinism
In 1921 Deni became a political cartoonist for the state-controlled newspaper Pravda. Three years later Lenin passed away and Joseph Stalin gained full control over the country. Deni obediently followed the new Stalinist strong lines. Whenever politicians fell out of favour, like writer Leonid Trotsky, Deni tar-and-feathered them further in his cartoons. In 1933 he made another cartoon with two sequences: "The Success of the Five-Year Plan" (1933), which shows a capitalist laughing at the Five-Year Plan to turn the Soviet Union into a power state, until to be humiliated when the plan effectively works.

'To Moscow! Hoch! From Moscow! Oh!', 1941.

World War II
In 1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, which led to a massive retaliation campaign by the Russian army. Deni inspired his fellow countrymen through many powerful posters and cartoons glorifying the Soviet army and ridiculing Hitler and Nazi Germany. One of these, 'To Moscow! Hoch! From Moscow! Oh' (1941) is a "before and after" cartoon told in two panels. The first image shows Hitler marching the drum to conquer Moscow. The next image shows him bruised, battered and fleeing back home again. Deni's prediction eventually came true, as the Russian troops pushed the Nazis back to Berlin. He made two other "before and after" cartoons, ridiculing Hitler. In 1943 he drew one where Hitler is shown as a proud king in the first panel and beaten up, with a bandaged nose in the second. A similar joke can be found in '1941: to the East! 1944: to the West!' (1944). In the first panel - 1941 - the Führer looks determined, with a plaque around his neck, which reads "Slavery for the People". In the second - 1944 - he sulks under the Russian sword of revenge.

In 1932 Deni was honored with the title People's Artist of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (the forerunner of the current honorary title: People's Artist of Russia). 

Final years, death and legacy
Viktor Deni lived long enough to see his mother country win the war. However, a year later, in 1946, he passed away. His artwork is archived in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, and the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

'Despatches From The Front', 1944. 

Series and books by Viktor Deni you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.