Friday, August 31, 2007

Nobody has died because of not smoking, but why take a chance?

Tobacco is a poison. Quit smoking!
Ignat'ev N., 1957

This is a very famous soviet poster dated 1957. It already became a part of Russian culture and launched a powerful meme known to everybody.

The bold yellow letters say: “Tobacco is a Poison. Quit Smoking!” The small information block in the center declares: “Nicotine extracted from 4 cigarettes kills a rabbit, and it takes only a 100 cigarettes’ worth of nicotine to kill a horse”. Images of dead animal bodies complete the heartrending picture.

Immediately after the release of the poster numerous jokes were born. They involved animals consuming various substances with deadly consequences, like “A drop of nicotine kills a horse, or blows a hamster up to infinity”.

The pack of cigarettes in the right upper corner is one of the major tobacco brands popular in the Soviet Union: “Kazbek”, named after the Kazbek Mountain on the Caucasus. The pack layout features distinctive horseman and the mountain’s background. This is another truly brilliant graphical work, which could easily compete with the famous “Gitanes” design… if only the tobacco was good. But it was not, as at that time rural population was smoking home-grown tobacco of an awful quality and even in the cities filters were not common until 80s.

The big burning cigarette on the poster is a typical cigarette design of the era – small tobacco fill and a large empty tip made of cardboard. A smoker had to crumple the tip in a certain way so that tobacco grits did not get into his mouth while inhaling.

And now this poster has new life, as many smokers, who dream about quitting the deadly habit nowadays, often hang reprints of this poster at their workplaces because of its humorous nature and historical background.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.

Every strike of hammer - hits the enemy!
V. Deni, A. Dolgorukov, 1941

Due to the attack of the Nazi armed forces, which could not be stopped at the moment, a great many of Soviet industrial works and factories had to be evacuated to the east, so that the invader could not make use of it and increase its power, which was already ample due to the capture of French and Polish industry and resources. The task was unbelievable – more than 1500 of works and factories with machinery along with the 10 mln of personnel had to cover thousands of kilometers to the new places where there was no infrastructure at all. And they had to start operation there as soon as possible, as the battle-front was in great need for the arms and munitions. Adults and children were working 12 hours a day without weekends, in order to protect the Motherland.

This incredible efforts paid off well: although in the second half of 1941 gross industry output dropped down 2.1 times, in the beginning of 1942 it started to grow at fast pace, fully eliminating the industry superiority of fascist Germany in 1943.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I sell guns to every army but the Salvation Army!

A still of the Soviet trade and industry exhibition in Colombo Litvinov N. K., 1972

In the Seventies Russia was not only providing financial and technical help for countries, loyal to communist ideology (like Cuba, Yemen, Vietnam, etc), but was also entering world industry markets with the products and machines, which were sometimes based on the technologies from the defense industry. These were new alloys, precision machinery, high-tech materials. But the competition was fierce and the main source of hard currency income has always been and still is the raw stuff – like oil, gas and timber.

On May 22 1972 Ceylon was declared the Sri Lanka Republic. The country being a British colony for a long time had always been economically dependent and now was seeking new markets and trends. The soviet officials well realized that Sri Lanka had a perfect strategic position in the East-West and could become an outpost of communism in the region. So the new trade preferences were opened for Sri Lanka: now there was excellent Ceylon tea present on the shelves of every soviet store and there it matched well the cigars imported from Cuba due to the USA embargo.

Another thing was organizing an international Trade and Industrial Exhibition in Colombo in November 1972, right after the Sri Lanka Republic was established. The event was to show all the advances (military and industrial) which Sri Lanka could get if it only stuck to socialism and communism. To Sri Lanka’s credit they got the most of the situation: without making firm commitments on ideology they purchased some of the soviet arms and established very profitable trade relations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Trust me, I know what I'm doing!

A. Hammer. American Industry Concession. Pencils and Pens. Moscow – New York.
Unknown artist, 1927

In the early twenties Soviet Union desperately needed ample funding to restore the economy. The hopes for foreign investments were vague, as gross nationalization had been only three years before. Moreover the process of international recognition had just started and there were only a few countries the diplomatic relations were established with.

But as the large international consortiums were cautious about doing business in the USSR, those young and ambitious were trying to snatch a roll. The Soviet Government was selling out masterpieces of art, furs, jewelry, caviar. Armand Hammer – a young businessman from New York had huge plans for purchasing some of those valuables for cheap. He came to Soviet Union with medical supplies for soviet citizens and made several deals with Lenin for importing of furs. Later he moved to Russia to supervise those operations, opening his most famous venture – a pencil factory. Although these factory products made him quite famous as every pupil in the country dreamt about getting Hammer pencils, which were of excellent quality, Hammer’s main source of income was in oil and coal. Somehow, he managed to talk Lenin into granting him exclusive rights to develop several asbestos and coal mines.

He returned to USA in the early 30s but his business ventures in the USSR remained. Although it is not known how Bolsheviks and Hammer shared expenses and profits later, but Hammer was the one and only multimillionaire, who had personal acquaintances with all the leaders of the Soviet Union starting from Lenin (died 1924) up to Yuri Andropov (died 1984) – 60 years of successful business in Russia.

Note the way the Armand Hammer's logo is emblazed on the red flag on the poster above. Instead of the original “Hammer and Sickle” is has got colors of the Star Spangled Banner and the Statue of Liberty image. This was quite a familiarity doing such things with a national anthem, but nevertheless Hammer could get away with it, as his enterprises were too valuable for the Soviet Union.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Visit the Zoo!

The Zoo has received a big lot of new animals
Bulanov D. A., 1930

The ad on the elephant’s forehead says: “The Zoo has just received a big lot of various animals, the Zoo is improved and expanded, the animals now live in new cage-houses, shows for children are performed at holidays”. The bar held by elephant’s trunk below gives a profound description of services offered for the grown-ups: “Public cinema with season thrillers is available in the Zoo, tickets 30-60 kopeeks, admittance to the Zoo included, “Petroraihrabkoop” (Petrograd’s Workers Society) bar – hot and cold lunches, snacks and refreshments, string band”.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

All men are created equal...

Say “No to Fascism!”
V. Koretsky, Year Unknown

As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.

Abraham Lincoln
Letter to longtime friend Joshua F. Speed (24 August 1855)

The topic of fascism was frequently taken up in the soviet poster art after WW2. No surprise, the victorious Soviet Union could not tolerate this ideology based on suppressing ethnical and racial social groups. But unfortunately some of the actions of the soviet political leaders could be considered fascist in essence. Lenin being a revolutionary idealist of some sort did think that the leaders of national minorities should be picked out in their communities, as they really understood the needs of their fellow citizens. Stalin on the contrary thought that the power should be consolidated in his own hands, so all the officials had to obey his orders only.

After the war great many people from the occupied territories were deported to new places so that no nationalist and separatist movements could show up. These were thousands of Lithuanians, Letts, Estonians, Ukrainians, Chechens, Kalmyks, Volga Germans, Tatars, Ingushes and Russians as well.

During the War Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was set up. It was organizing political and material support for the Soviet fight against Nazis and played significant role in forging of victory. After the war JAFC became the center of national unification and put forward the idea to create a Jewish autonomy in Crimea or on Volga. Immediately JAFC was called a “Jewish proamerican conspiracy” and very soon its leader Solomon Mikhoels – a famous Soviet Jewish actor, died in car crash framed up by the MGB (a predecessor of the KGB). Other members of the Committee were arrested and convicted. This started the anti-Semitic policy in the Soviet Union.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Building a peaceful world on empty stomachs.

D. Moor (Orlov), 1921

This is a very famous poster by Dmitry Moor (Orlov) – a classic political poster artist. His style was based on black and white ink drawings with the emphasizing color accents. His pseudonym Moor was taken from Friedrich Schiller’s melodrama “The Robbers”, and suited his temper well – he was stern and energetic, lacking humor sometimes.

“Help!” shows a Russian starving peasant and a broken wheat crop. By 1921 the Civil War between the Red Army and the White army was almost over. The war seriously destabilized the country’s economy: the population decreased by 10 mln people, industry output was 7 times smaller compared to the pre-revolution level, all consumer goods were in permanent shortage. The Communist Government tried to replenish the income by the same old measures – through extraction of food from peasants. But the War Communism years exhausted the agriculture. There were not many kulaks (prosperous peasants) left, so the farming was not effective. Besides the peasants lacked incentive – why work harder, if the yield was to be confiscated anyway. The government responded by increasing the quotas for food requisition putting forward the famous slogan “Those who don’t work – don’t eat”. The peasants were left enough food to barely survive, so when the draught of 1921 emerged, the fierce famine struck.

Lenin made the most of the situation. The famine was weakening the peasantry, which still was the major political force in the country and it also allowed to attack the Russian Orthodox Church: the churches were striped on the ground that the valuables would help the starving victims. Also the communists were receiving international aid and kept selling their own grain abroad at the same time, as they desperately needed funding to retain power. The famine took millions of lives and along with the Kronshtadt Rebellion forced Lenin to change the political course and ease the extreme tension in the society. This new policy was called NEP.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gotta jet!

To fly higher than all, farther than all, faster than all!
D. Pjatkin, 1954

The poster dates 1954, a year after Stalin’s death. After the victory Stalin did not cancel research and development of new weapons. On the contrary soviet military base was rapidly growing after receiving reparations from Germany. War reparations to Soviet Union were to be USD 10 bln of the total 20 bln, as it was the soviet country, which suffered the major losses. Besides, the allies agreed to this demand at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 partly in exchange to Stalin’s promise not to expand the communist regime on the liberated territories and further. This sum was paid not only in cash but also in machinery, intellectual property and labor of German captives.

In 1944 the Messerschmitt Me 262 “Schwalbe” ("Swallow") became the world's first operational turbojet fighter aircraft. Russians were behind in development of turbojet engines, although the piston aircrafts fought German machines pretty well. The first soviet turbojet prototype “BI-1” took off in 1942, but unfortunately in 1943 upon hitting 800 km/h speed fell into a spin and crashed. Actually, Me 262 suffered from the same aerodynamical problems – it even had a special instruction for pilots prohibiting speeding over the deadly 800 km/h mark.

Nevertheless, the German reparations (documentation along with the people who created it) allowed Russians to fill in the technological gap.

So MiG-9 Fargo and Yak-15 Feather became the soviet first generation turbojet fighter and attack aircraft hitting the skies in 1946 and 1947. The perspectives of the turbojet aviation were bright and ample resources were invested in the development. The propaganda responded correspondingly as you can see on this “Fly High” poster.

The pilot in the foreground is a soviet ace of the WW2, flying on a piston aircraft. The red stars on the fuselage are his kill score. And the jets in the background are a collective image of a modern soviet jet fighter of the fifties.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

That's the way to advertise!

Read “Young Guard” Magazine
A. Rodchenko, V. Mayakovsky, 1924

This is another work by constructivist classic Alexander Rodchenko and soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. This is an advertisement which promotes “Young Guard” literary magazine. Russia was always a country where literary magazines (or “thick magazines”) were extremely popular due to fast publishing cycle, as some times it took years for a book to hit the stores.
Besides even the most remote libraries always had those magazines available.

In the early twenties “Young Guard” magazine was formed by members of “Young Guard” literary society. Its members were writing revolutionary articles and books as well as speaking in public promoting education and revolutionary values.

In the sixties and seventies the magazine was a symbol of stagnation, publishing conservative socialist-realism fiction and bad science-fiction stories.

But the name “Molodaya Gvardia” – “Young Guard” became well known in Russia because of the WW2, and it was not the magazine, which had set the stone rolling. During the war "Young Guard" - an underground anti-fascist organization formed by young Komsomol members from Ukrainian town Krasnodon were performing guerilla actions against occupation forces of Nazi Germany. They were betrayed, tortured and finally executed. After the war revolutionary writer Alexander Fadeyev wrote an exciting fiction book based on the event. The film followed. And finally the “Young Guard” heroic myth was born. A publishing house, a huge bookstore, a pioneer camp and numerous other facilities, goods and things were named “Young Guard”.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Spiritual leaders of the Soviets!

Courageously and irresistibly we fight and stab,
We are Suvorov’s grandchildren and Chapaev’s sons.
Kukryniksy, 1941

Here is a good one. This poster is dated 1941, when the Fascist Germany was attacking Soviet Union, and the Russians could hardly stop the offensive.

Joseph Stalin quickly realized the propaganda potential of cinema. He personally supervised all the movies, which were produced in the country. In the late thirties the chances of war were high and Stalin ordered a number of large-scale movies based on historical events to be filmed. Among them there were three keystone biopics, which rapidly became part of Russian culture.

Alexander Nevsky” (1938) - a masterpiece created by Sergei Eisenstein (a revolutionary Soviet film director and film theorist) was about Alexander Nevsky - a talented medieval Russian military leader and politician, who managed to smash well equipped German invaders in 1242 at The Battle of the Ice.

“Suvorov” (1941) depicted life of Alexander Suvorov (1729-1800) who was a brilliant Russian general and strategist, reportedly not loosing a single battle.

“Chapaev” (1934) was about Vasily Chapayev – a hero of Russian Civil War, who did a great job of defeating the Whites. Due to this film Chapaev became a cultural phenomenon and a hero of thousands of jokes, which are still popular in Russia.

You can see these three historical figures in red inspiriting soviet soldiers on the poster.

Of course all these historical events were heavily edited to bring forward the main idea: Russian army is truly invincible, guided by “the great helmsman” Joseph Stalin.

The poster was created by a caricaturist group “Kukriniksy”, which were extremely popular in the Soviet Union. “Kukriniksy” is a collective name of three artists – Mikhail Kupriayanov, Porfiri Krylov and Nikolai Sokolov. Their satirical works bashing fascist leaders received international acclaim during the WW2.

P.S. I have just started another poster blog: Posters of Cuba - The Crimson Dawn Island. It will be updated 2 or 3 times a week. You can subscribe here. Cuban posters are not as known as the Soviet or, say, German propaganda, but in no way they are less inspiring. They are bright, colorful, energetic. I am sure you'll like Posters of Cuba project.

And many thanks for coming! It is a pleasure that you all like this beautiful poster art! ;)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Here we come again!

Come along with us to the new lands!
Seleznev V. P., 1954

In 1953 Stalin died. After a short race Nikita Khrushchev came to power. By 1954 the country was an industrial state with 70% of all population working in heavy industry. Agriculture on the other hand was in rather poor shape. So Khrushchev proposed developing of new virgin lands as the main means of boosting the agriculture of the Soviet Union. As always the great plans were implemented by the heroic work of soviet people.

In 1954 30 000 of party members and 120 000 of farmhands were sent to the virgin and wild lands. And it took more than 5 years to develop 42 mln hectares of land, resulting in 34% increase in agricultural production.

Friday, August 17, 2007

So hard to break apart

People and the party are undivided.
Luk'janov M. V., Karakashev V. S., 1978

“People and the party are undivided” – this is a famous soviet slogan. It appeared in “Pravda” on the 8th of March, 1953, 3 days after Joseph Stalin’s death. Later it was widely used in propaganda. This is probably the most creative illustration of this phrase. The face of Lenin shows through the rows of banners, carried by soviet citizens who take part in a march or a parade. No matter what you do, Lenin’s maxims and ideology exert influence on you.

But this poster was created in 1978, when stagnation was in every part of the soviet life. Brezhnev’s was 73 already and not in best shape, planned economy exhausted itself, the iron curtain was preventing information exchange with the western countries.

So, common folk used to joke like “People and the party are undivided indeed, except for the things they eat” implying that many goods were in shortage and the party officials could get them in special stores without problems.

Check these vintage posters at!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Welcome to Soviet Marlboro Country!

Smoke Captain’s Cigars!
Sakharov S. G., 1939

This is another distinctive tobacco poster. Dated 1939, right before the WW2, it promotes smoking of “Glavtabak” tobacco products. By this time all separate tobacco factories got consolidated under the “NarkomPischeProm” Ministry (National Food Industry Ministry), which was forming state orders to produce certain quantities of goods. It were the governmental officials, who were defining what soviet citizens could eat, drink, wear and smoke.

In 1935 Stalin declared that “It is people who are the most valuable asset”. This give way to the petty-bourgeois pleasures, like dancings, jazz, flowers on streets. Several recreational parks were opened, with the Gorky Park (named after famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky) in the center of Moscow. They were called “Parks of Culture and Recreation”, reminding that they are not about recreation only.

Nevertheless, the soviet society was heavily stratified. The majority was working in kolkhozy and on factories for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for the wages which weren’t enough to buy ample food and to get rid of shabby clothes. On the other hands, the officials, trusted folk and young professionals were allowed to get goods at low prices or for free and visit resorts.

Check these vintage posters at!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Liberation War

Soldier of the Soviet Army, save us!
Koretsky V. B., 1942

This is a very famous poster by Victor Koretskij. It captured the soviet people’s attitude to the Fascist aggressors after the start of WW2.

In June 1940 Nazis started developing the Operation Barbarossa plan. It was based on Blitzkrieg doctrine (also called Lightning war or flash war). According to Operation Barbarossa, Russians were to be caught by surprise, its main economical and political centers captured within 4-6 weeks from the start of the operation. This was a very ambitious plan, which was altered by the heroic actions of the Soviet Army.

Soviet soldiers did have something to fight for. German Generalplan “Ost” implied not only making the country a German economical colony, but also ethnical cleansing of the population. According to the Generalplan “Ost” more than 120 mln of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians were subject to resettlement and genocide.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Run, Forrest, Run!

The finishing ribbon says: all world records must to be ours.
Govorkov V. I., 1935

In the thirties Russia finally became a totalitarian state. The Communist Party was imposing regulations on all the political, social, cultural aspects of life.

One of the main means of soviet citizen’s unification was creation of numerous public organizations. People were guided from childhood to the old age by consecutively enrolling in Pioneer organization, Komsomol, Communist Party.

Trade unions played significant role in the ideological education of the soviet people. Everybody had to work, and every worker had to be a member of a trade union, which did not bother representing his rights, but was organizing various activities and providing political education instead. This was obligatory, of course.

This poster announces the Second Soviet Trade Union Sports Event. Joseph Stalin initiated building of sports training organizations and clubs all over the country, making sports extremely popular among the soviet people. Athletes, record holders, football players all were heroes of the time.

These sports clubs were an excellent selection system for sportsmen, which were to represent the country in international events. In 1936 there were held XI Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. Because of the increasing tension between Soviet Union and the Fascist Germany (War in Spain of 1936) Russian sportsmen boycotted the Games. Instead, in 1937 in Antwerp the III World Workers Olympic Games started. The antifascists were arriving from 15 countries, with about a 100 of sportsmen only from the Soviet Union. No wonder, this was a triumph of the soviet sports training system, with a number of world records set during the event.

Check these vintage posters at

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fast train coming!

The train goes from the Socialism Station to the Communism Station

Sokolov-Skalja P. P., 1939

Powerful allegories are a distinctive feature of the poster art. This poster is aimed at general audience including the most down-to-earth people.

The header says “The train goes from the Socialism Station to the Communism Station”. Below there is a slogan “The experienced driver of the Revolutionary Engine – Comrade Stalin”. On the left margin there is a schedule of the Bolshevist Train with stations passed though: Iskra (official newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, established in 1900), Russian Revolution of 1905, Pravda (the chief newspaper of the Soviet Union, established in 1912, note that the name is written in the same font as the original newspaper’s header), the October Revolution of 1917 and Socialism – no year specified. To the right there is another schedule showing the way the train is currently covering – moving from Socialism to Communism stations.

The interpretation of original Marxism and works of Vladimir Lenin have been altered by every political leader of the Soviet Union. This was due to the impossibility of carrying out the main Communism principles. In the Soviet times the country was living in two dimensions – the real one, where people were working hard, making industrialization a reality, and the fiction other – where the bright future life has almost worked out well. This is why the Socialism and the Communism stations on the poster have no year of arrival. No one dared asking about the exact time, because the goal was still far ahead.

This logical dissonance was well masked by the train itself. This is a famous JS-series (IS) train, named after Joseph Stalin. This was a powerful and fast engine with 3500 horsepower and cruising speed of 115 km/h. In 1932-1942 642 of these gorgeous machines were built. In 1938 an experimental aerodynamic train based on JS-model reached 155 km/h speed mark.

The fast-moving train on the poster not only showed the progress the country had made, but also promised great achievements to come. And according to the soviet propaganda it was the only man who could guide the country forward - Joseph Stalin, along with the great theorists of Communism - Lenin, Engels and Marx (pictured on the red flag).

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Free love - and the communists too.

Emancipated woman – build up socialism!
Strakhov-Braslavskij A. I., 1926

In the Romanov’s times Russian Orthodox Church was part of the state, not only being one of the biggest landlords of the country, but also imposing various restrictions and customs on the everyday life. In 1918 Lenin signed a decree, which declared state independence from the Church. This resulted in drastic changes in the society, especially for the those, whose rights were traditionally limited. Besides gaining the right to vote, women took advantage of the civil marriage institution, because in the monarchy times the Church allowed divorces only in extreme cases.

The early Bolsheviks tended to taking all new ideas to the extreme. A popular theory called “Glass of Water Theory” completely denied the marriage institution and proclaimed that a communist woman should throw off all the traditional gender relations, killing uncontrolled emotions, but promoting free love and sexuality based on mutual respect both to the woman’s and men’s needs and desires. This was a complicated concept, which implied serious changes in mentality, and of course the common folk simplified the whole thing, taking out the only idea, that in the communist times having sex would be as easy as taking a glass of water. Hence the “Glass of Water” Theory.

Later after Lenin’s death in 1924, all the social experiments were cut down. Joseph Stalin was a far more pragmatic person and got rid of all the utopians and theorists. Every soviet woman’s goal was to be the same as the men’s: to make communism a reality, to build factories, refineries and shipyards.

Get a hard copy of this poster here!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Shine on, you crazy diamond!

Exhibition of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Works
Alexei Gan, 1931

I shine with all my might -
and once more day is trumpeted.
Shine all the time,
forever shine.
the last days' depths to plumb,
to shine - !
spite every hell combined!
So runs my slogan -
and the sun's!

An Extraordinary Adventure by Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Vladimir Mayakovsky (pictured on the poster) is one of the most notable Russian poets of the yearly 20th century. He was a member of Russian Futurism movement and was constantly exploring the boundaries of poetry. His famous works include “Listen!”, “A Cloud in Trousers”, “My Soviet Passport”, “Left March!”, "Conversation with Comrade Lenin", “But could you?.

The October revolution brought new trends not only in politics but also in art. Many artists worshiped Communism ideology, as it was so fresh and new, compared to contemporary art of the past. Very soon Mayakovsky became the poet of the revolution. His distinctive style was based on brisk and energetic verses which were ideal for propaganda.

In the twenties Mayakovsky was one of the few soviet artists who were allowed to travel freely, so his voyage across the world, including a trip to the USA, was a great inspiration for him. However in the late twenties Mayakovsky’s disappointment grew as the avant-garde movements in art were moved aside by socialist realism and Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality. The revolutionary values got buried under bureaucracy and formalism. All this along with a series of failures in his personal life led him to shooting himself in 1930. Later speculations arised that Mayakovsky was in fact murdered by Stalin’s order.

Mayakovsky’s poems were full of catch phrases which quickly became widely used. Even now almost 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union everybody recognizes his: “Say your word, comrade Mauser” (meaning shooting of a mauser gun) and “I pull out of my wide trouser-pockets duplicate of a priceless cargo. You know: read this and envy, I'm a citizen of the Soviet Union!” (people always modify the first verse like “I pull out something resembling a long cannon barrel.”)

During the soviet times popularity of Mayakovsky’s works was skyrocketing. In 1935 Stalin said: “Mayakovsky has always been the best, the most talented poet of the soviet era. It’s the indifference to his works and heritage, which is a crime.” This canonized Mayakovsky, entering his poems in all the school books of the country. And children still study his poems, because despite the communist propaganda, Mayakovsky’s works are bursting with energy and life.

This poster was created by Alexei Gan, a close friend of constructivism classic Alexander Rodchenko. In fact Alexei Gan was the man who introduced the term itself by publishing his book “Constructivism” in 1922. Gan’s life turned out to be as tragic as Mayakovsky’s. Although he was not subjected to Stalin’s repressions, the drinking habits which he desperately fought during his lifetime, finally undermined his health and brought him to the grave in 1940.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

You don’t smoke or drink – oh my! Do you think, you'll never die?

Everyone smokes!
Unknown artist, 1923

In Russia tobacco and alcohol has always been quite popular, being one of the main sources for state treasury income. Tobacco was brought to Russia in the 16th century during the reign of Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible. Later smoking was strictly prohibited, as it supposedly caused a vicious fire which burned down Moscow in 1634. Infringers were subject to chopping of their noses. During the next 50 years Russian rulers were prohibiting and legalizing tobacco, until realizing that monopolization of the tobacco market could result in fantastical profits.

After the WW1 the Bolshevics were in financial trouble, as the country economy struggled to survive the nationalizing and planned economy measures. Tobacco and alcohol were the most significant financial drivers for the young soviet government, so massive advertising campaigns started – promoting tobacco and smoking. Although nationalized some factories were still operating under old brands.

This poster says: “Everyone smokes! Donskaya State Tobacco Factory (fomer Asmolov and Co)”. And this was sad but true – more than 90% of the adult population were smoking tobacco in the twenties. Later, this figure went down, albeit slowly, resulting in 70% of smokers among the adult male population nowadays.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Lenin forever!

V. Briskin, 1970

The author of this poster is Veneamin Briskin - a brilliant illustrator and a graphic artist, whose best works included Maxim Gorky and Mark Twain books. He created a series of posters called “Europe after the War” and illustrations to “Vasili Tyorkin” – poem about a soviet soldier by famous poet Aleksandr Tvardovsky.

This poster was created for international exhibition “Satire Fighting for Peace”, held in 1971 in Moscow. In the early seventies War in Vietnam was raging and the relations between USSR and USA was tense, so Soviet Union kept propagating positive image of the Soviet Union. One of the means was taking part and organizing of various events, which despite being politically biased, did exhibit many modern works of art.

The poster’s style is laconic. It was designed for European audience, bearing no slogans or sayings by soviet leaders. The red word «Lenin» refers to the first leader of Soviet Socialist RepublicVladimir Lenin, whose ideas and works formed the basis for communist ideology in Russia.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Never step back!

Motherland is calling!
Irakli Toidze, 1941

This is undoubtedly the most significant graphical work of the twentieth century Russia – “The Motherland is Calling!” poster.

It was created in July 1941 during the first days of Great Patriotic War between Nazi Gemany and Soviet Union. Since then the poster has been printed millions of times becoming the ultimate symbol of Russian liberation fight. It also influenced many aspects of Soviet live, inspiring artists and sculptors to design memorials like “The Motherland” – an 85 meter 8 000 ton sculpture (Google map).

The poster was created by Irakli Toidze, who was one of the most famous socialist realism artists of the time, personally noted by Joseph Stalin. In the early thirties he portrayed him on a large painting “Joseph Stalin is reciting a poem by Shota Rustavelly “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”, which became a nice contribution to the Stalin’s cult of personality.

Irakli created “The Motherland is Calling!” on the spot. After hearing radio-announcement his wife Tamara rushed into the studio, crying out “War!” Irakli asked her to freeze and stay still. Her distinctive posture is now on the poster.

Tamara says: “When the War was declared, I got mortally feared for my children. I ran into Irakli’s studio… I should have had such a face, that Irakli commanded to stop where I was – and immediately got down to sketching”.

Alexander Toidze, their son: “Woman’s image on the poster has been generalized in many ways. My mother was stunningly beautiful, so father simplified it, made it intimate and comprehensible for everyone”.

Joseph Stalin knew all too well that propaganda was vitally important for boosting morale of the soviet troops. He was personally ratifying every graphical work, every theatrical play and song released in the country. Upon seeing the “The Motherland is Calling!” poster, he immediately ordered printing of 5 thousand of copies and sending them to every commandant’s office and recruiting station in the Soviet Union.

And the poster is magnetic indeed. This is the mother of every soldier standing in front of the bayonet wall, ready to lead her children into the liberating battle. Soldiers were holding cards with “The Motherland” in his chest pockets along with the photos of their families and their Communist Party Membership cards. When retreating, they often took the posters with them, protecting from the enemy like military flags. After the War this poster was frequently displayed in official places near images of Lenin and Stalin.

The document in Mother-land’s hand is the Soviet military oath (1939-1947). Every soldier had to swear allegiance to the nation, Soviet Motherland and Workers’ and Peasants’ Government. They were swearing to protect the country, whatever the cost. And millions of Soviet people did have to pay with their lives for that.

Monday, August 6, 2007

ABC for everyone!

Do you help to eliminate illiteracy? Join “Down with illiteracy” Society!

Unknown artist, 1925

Russia has always been an agricultural state - before the October Revolution is was one of the biggest grain suppliers in the world. The landlords were not interested in educating of its peasants, because it would result in flow-outs to the cities.

So illiteracy was everywhere, and it were the Bolsheviks, who started global educational programs after the October Revolution. In 1919 the “Elimination of Illiteracy” decree was signed by Vladimir Lenin. The payment for education was abolished once and for all, and those refusing to enter the elementary schools were subject to prosecution. Everyone from 8 to 50 years old had to learn reading and writing either in Russian or in their native language. Lenin knew, that his revolutionary ideas could be understood only by educated people, so elemental education became obligatory for every soviet citizen.

In 1923 the society “Down with illiteracy” was founded. The funding was ample, so general census of 1926 showed twofold increase in literate population – up to 60% of the soviet nation. And by the census of 1939 the literate population reached 90%, which was a great achievement, indeed.

The poster above is dated 1925. It asks rhetorical question “Do you help to eliminate illiteracy?” and invites people to join the “Down with illiteracy” Society. The left margin contains one of the Vladimir Lenin’s maxims: “We should celebrate the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution with final victory over illiteracy”.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dummies for all ages!

Never ever better dummies one can hold
Gonna suck them till I’m old.

Sold everywhere.

Mayakovsky V. V., Rodchenko A. M., 1923

This is one of the masterpieces of the era – The Dummies Poster. It was created by Alexander Rodchenko, a brilliant photographer and graphic designer. He is most famous for being one of the founders and apologists of constructivism – an avant-garde art and architecture movement, which denies art for art’s sake and proclaims manufacturing practicability as the basis for creation.

The text was written by Vladimir Mayakovsky – a talented Russian poet, who was one of the most notable representatives of early Futurism. Futurism is all about future – denying past and present, worshiping shoots of aftertime in our lives. Futurists of the early 20th century were discovering new means of self-expression, new techniques and methods to impress, to strike, to startle. In Russian the verse on the poster sounds vigorously and brisk – an unusual way to advertise baby products.

Those two talents worked together in 1923-1928 when Soviet Republic was recovering from WW1 and the Civil War. That period of history was very unstable as the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921 and other global resistance actions by workers and peasants, provoked by rough communist regime, were destabilizing the country. Famine and shortages were everywhere, unemployment was severe, those who were lucky to have jobs did not care about their duties as it was impossible to convert the pay into goods.

The Communist Party and Vladimir Lenin were forced to give the people a break. The communist ideology remained but small businesses were allowed under control of the state. Farmers could save and trade part of their yield, which was a substantial advantage over War Communism years, when they were forced to give away every single grain – leaving no reserve for seeding. This was the beginning of New Economic Policy (NEP).

Get a hard copy of this poster here!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Young and Ambitious!

Hardworking Youth of Soviet Union
Votrin V., 1986

Komsomol (Communist Youth Union) was a communist organization for young soviet people. One could join Komsomol only after being Oktyabrenok (age 7-9, organization name derived from October revolution) and Pioneer (age 9-14). Komsomol was the last step before becoming a member of Communist Party, which was obligatory for those, who wanted to get well-paid jobs and career opportunities.

Komsomol was a political organization, which guided and introduced youth to the communist values. To enter one should have passed an exam on C.P.S.U. history and have perfect personal references. Also, Komsomol was an excellent source of labour resources for ambitious soviet projects like BAM (Baikal Amur Mainline). When you are young it is always so inspiring to go to nowhere and to make great deeds, so soviet youth was carried away with enthusiasm. Many older people recall those days of Komsomol as the most beautiful days of their lives, despite the fact that they did have to work really hard there. Besides the payment was generous, so Komsomol work camps were the best way for a young man to make a living without parental assistance.

The poster above says: “Our youth is hard-working indeed, it is performing notable feats, our youth is devoted to Socialism”.