By 1932 Stalin was securely in power. That year the Communist Party abolished all artistic groups and created a single union of artists under Party control, paving the way for the establishment two years later of Socialist Realism as the officially sanctioned acceptable style.
In 1930, with the closing of VKhUTEMAS (renamed VKhUTEIN in 1928), Rodchenko lost his principal source of income. In early 1932 he signed a contract to supply photographs to Izogiz, the state art publishing house. From 1933 onward, however, he was enjoined from photographing without a permit. Thereafter his work was largely restricted to propaganda reportage--including pictures of sporting events and official parades--and a handful of personal pictures, including a series on the circus and portraits of Stepanova and their daughter, Varvara Rodchenko.
In 1933, attempting to reform in the face of continued attacks, Rodchenko accepted an extended assignment to photograph the building of a canal from the White Sea to the Baltic. His pictures appeared in the December issue of USSR in Construction, a lavish propaganda monthly. He also designed that issue and, often with Stepanova, other issues of the magazine as well. Rodchenko seems to have accepted the wooden propaganda about the building of the canal: that the hard work redeemed those who had strayed from Communist ideals. In fact, it was the first of Stalin's major gulags, in which some 200,000 people died.
In the mid-1930s the bold innovator who had renounced painting in 1921 began again to paint--not abstractions but imaginary circus scenes. These paintings, and his abstractions of the 1940s, signal the onset of Rodchenko's frustrated isolation, as the utopian dream that had fuelled his youthful creativity became a terrible nightmare.