After the Bolsheviks established the world’s first communist state during the Russian Revolution of 1917, its next goal, as dictated by the Communist Manifesto, was to extend its revolution around the world. Visual propaganda, especially in the form of striking graphic posters, became a crucial tool in this effort. You could find propaganda posters everywhere in the Soviet Union: in factories, offices, newspaper stands, trams, shop entrances, and building walls.
Nearly a century after the Revolution, Prestel has published a collection of 23 pull-out propaganda posters from the Soviet Union, dating from 1917, all the way to 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s implementation of perestroika made old-school political propaganda obsolete.
But more than just sublime wall art, these posters offer a visual history of the story the Soviet Union, told through its own lens. Early posters feature shining hammers and sickles and silhouettes of Karl Marx. World War II-era designs warn against the creeping Nazi menace (“Fascism is the Worst Enemy of Women! Rise up and fight it!”). Designs from the ’60s announce “Glory to the first woman cosmonaut!” and feature photos of Nikita Khrushchev hanging out with Fidel Castro a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Eighties designs are heavy on parodies of Uncle Sam, the bourgeois enemy.
Since 80% of the country was illiterate at the time of the 1917 revolution, designers relied on powerful visual symbols to communicate ideas simply and effectively. Even diehard capitalists might appreciate why these bright, bold compositions were so compelling. Editor Maria Lafont even goes as far as to say they represent the pinnacle of graphic design in 20th-century Russia.
Printed on heavy 11″ x 13″ cardstock in full color, Rusophiles and fans of the Little Red Book can pull them out and hang them on their walls.
Soviet Posters is available from Prestel here for $20.