Soviet Propaganda Posters

Soviet propaganda posters played a vital role in

In the midst of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Vladimir Lenin was asked which propaganda tool would be the most important to the new Soviet government. He replied that he thought film's potential was just starting to be realized, and that that medium would probably be a more essential propaganda tool than any other. However, as the decades of communism ground on, no propaganda was more vital in getting the Soviet message across than the propaganda poster. Cheaper and more easily transportable than film, the "educational" poster became an everyday part of the average citizen's life.

The first Soviet posters were necessarily about World War I and the civil war between the Tsarist government and the Bolsheviks that was raging inside Russia. A typical poster of the day depicts a train steaming down the tracks, red banners flying, and said, "Long live the Red Army!" Another shows three soldiers in different uniforms, standing atop a globe and embracing, and exhorts, "Proletarians of all countries, unite!" Even this early on, Russian women were considered to be an important part of the revolution, and many posters addressed them exclusively. "Women, adhere to the cooperation," said a poster depicting a peasant woman hauling grain. "Liberated woman, Join the collective!" exclaimed another.

Agriculture was huge part of the Russian economy, and the Soviet government overhauled the entire system of farming, forcing collectives on unwilling peasants. While millions of peasants were starving to death, brightly colored posters urged the same people to "Cultivate Vegetables!" Several Five Year Plans were put into action in the 1920's, and posters encouraged farmers, "Come comrade, join us in the collective farm!"

In the factories, propaganda was just as insidious. Apparently the Soviets felt there was a hygiene problem, because many posters ran along these lines: "You must sweep the floor every day," and "Don't spit on the floor and don't make a mess." Recruiting peasants from rural areas to come to the cities for industrial work, one collage-type poster said, "Let's send millions of qualified worker cadres to the 518 new factories and production units." Industrial posters tended to be the "scariest" of the posters, to Western eyes""full of cold, hard angles, depicting gray factories and grim-faced workers. "Eight million tons of pig iron!" just doesn't sound like a very seductive slogan.

These frightening images, however, were set off by other, more comforting visual messages. Communism did not stop cults of personality, and both Lenin and Stalin were glorified in propaganda posters. Lenin was the stern taskmaster, pushing Russians to win the war, and promising so much in return. Stalin, by contrast, was often portrayed smiling or embracing children""just a cuddle-bear at heart. At other times he took on a more regal bearing, and posters screamed, "Long live the Great Stalin!"

During World War II, Soviet posters demonized Hitler and dehumanized Germans in general. Hitler was often seen standing atop a globe, blood dripping from his hands or even his mouth. Soviet manhood was challenged by depictions of raped Soviet women and murdered children. An elderly Russian woman pleaded in one poster, "Son, you know I can do nothing. Save me!"

The one constant enemy portrayed in Soviet posters was the capitalist. He almost always looked the same: a big fat guy in an expensive tuxedo and top hat. A white bushy mustache, monocle, and stereotypically Jewish features were optional. Some of the favorite things of the Capitalist Guy were lending money to Hitler, withholding grain from starving peasants, and running poor children over with his big shiny car. He, too, was often perched upon a globe.

Unlike some repressive regimes, the Soviet Union encouraged literacy, the better to read its propaganda. Illiterate peasants were portrayed as blind men walking off cliffs. In a poster aimed at women, a child sat at the kitchen table doing her homework, and said to her mother, "You see, Mama, if you had known how to read, you could have helped me with this." Another poster read "Literacy is the path to communism," and no one who sees these posters can deny that it was, at least for a time.

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