Sunday, September 30, 2007

Still on duty

Our forces are innumerable
V. Koretsky, 1941

Victor Koretsky is the author of this poster. He is one of the most noted Soviet poster artists. His trademark technique was combination of black and white photos with pencil graphics and bright gouache fillings. This highly impressive technique was also quite practical in printing.

This poster was created in 1941, when the German forces were rapidly moving on the Soviet territory to capture Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev according to the “Barbarossa” Operation devised by Hitler’s generals. The situation was critical so all resources had to be combined to stop the offensive.

The poster was aimed at strengthening of morale of the citizens and soldiers, as the news they were hearing on the radio at that time were mostly cheerless.

In the foreground there is a soviet soldier – a private or most likely a partisan as his uniform is not buttoned up and he has got a beard. In his hand he is holding a 7.62 mm Mosin-Nagant magazine rifle, which was a standard issue weapon to Soviet troops due to its sturdiness and manufacturability. The man’s stare is full of determination and courage, but it’s the monument in the background which gives the poster gravity.

This is the monument which commemorates the deeds of trader Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, who were heroes of the Polish-Muscovite War (1605–1618). In 1611 Minin organized a fund collection among the people of Nizhniy Novgorod and together with Prince Pozharsky led the militia to Moscow kicking out the Poles.

It was Minin’s personal cunning and charisma which allowed him to unite Russians in order to free the country from invaders. And like always it was no holds barred event: all citizens were to give away one third of their property, otherwise all the belongings were confiscated and people with their families became bond slaves. Reportedly Minin gave all he had.

Minin’s words were: “We’d like to help the Moscow State, so no property should be spared, nothing should be spared – sell houses, pledge wives and children, and bless the one, who’s going to fight for the saint Orthodox church and would lead us!”

Minin and Pozharsky monument was set up in Moscow in 1818. Now it is situated on the Red Square right near the most beautiful Saint Basil's Cathedral (see it on Google Maps). On the pedestal there are words: “To citizen Minin and Prince Pozharsky. Grateful Russia. 1818”. And Russia is grateful indeed as even 300 years after his life Minin did not resign from being an inspirer for those protecting the country.

Friday, September 28, 2007

If we don't end war, war will end us

O. Savostjuk, B. Uspenskiy, 1969

This poster was created in naive manner which resembled children’s drawings. Hammer and Sickle on the red flag above celebrates the victory over the fascist regime in a form of thrown down black German banners at the bottom of the poster. The soldier holds his hand high in a gesture of joy because the long lasting War is finally over. He is not an ordinary private – on his chest there is a Hero of the Soviet Union star medal meaning that he obtained the highest honorary title after performing a truly heroic deed. Also he is holding a sub-machine gun PPSh-41 – the predecessor of AK-47. The famous war slogans and mottos written in chalk form the five-pointed Red Star – a symbol of communism. During the War people were often putting chalked notes and slogans on walls of the places they were passing by.

The slogans say (counter clock-wise, starting from 5 o’clock): “Have gone from Moscow to Berlin” (the Germans managed to get 30 km near Moscow and only after the Battle of Moscow in 1942 were thrown back), “The war way from Leningrad was complete on May 9, 1945” (The Siege of Leningrad, also known as The Leningrad Blockade of 1941-1944 is one of the most dreadful events of the WW2, with more than 1.2 mln of Leningraders starving to death there), “Kursk-Berlin” (The Great Battle of Kursk in 1943 won by Soviets despite the outnumbering Germans and leading to the final counteroffensive), “1945 – we have won”, “From Volga to Berlin” (The Battle of Stalingrad on Volga River, which being the bloodiest battle in human history exhausted the Germans and led to the Victory) . The soldier’s head is crowned with “Hurrah! Victory” words. And the last phrase to the right is written with no inclination and is actually the message of the poster: “Be free and happy – forever”.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When the train left the station

Beware of the wheels!
Unknown artist, 1926

Tramways were always popular in Russia. The first tramway line in Saint-Petersburg was built in 1894 – the rails were put on the ice of Neva River, so it was operational only in winter. Moscow received the first tramways in 1899, which replaced the omnibuses and horse-cars in no time. Tramway’s main rivals - cars and buses were expensive and unreliable, so until the WW1 tramways ruled the Russian cities.

After the Revolution tramways were still the main means of city transportation. The development of tramways networks was carried out at a fast pace – buses, although offering much more flexibility for the passengers, were far less affordable for the Soviet government. Above all the disadvantages of tramways were evident: the tracks occupied too much road space and the infrastructure was quite expensive to build and maintain. So the Government decided to solve the transportation problem once and for all: in 1935 the first Metro line was opened in Moscow. This was the beginning of the end of tramways: from now on they were moved from all the avenues to the suburbs and small streets. Today there are only a few lines still operational in Moscow.

The poster above says: “Beware of the wheels! In 1925 there were 200 people run over by tramways”. The deadly scull adds dramatic effect to the image. Nowadays the poster has new life, as “wheels” or “kolesa” also stand for drugs in tablets in slang, giving the whole artwork a new meaning. And bearing in mind the drug death statistics in Russia it is probably even more dreadful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to raise a child like Lenin

Don’t you lie – ever!
G. Shubina, 1965

Truth will triumph. It always does. However, I figure truth is a variable, so we're right back where we started from.

Galloway Gallegher, in "The Proud Robot" by Henry Kuttner

What a wonderful water-color poster it is! It gives a perfect opportunity to understand what Soviet educational system was about. Education is not only a social institution with kindergartens, schools, colleges and universities. These are the places where knowledge is passed on, but schoolbooks can not give an impression of what ideas all young soviet citizens were absorbing from the youngest age.

Honesty was one of the basic virtues. According to the point 7 of Moral Codex of Communism Builder approved at the 22 Soviet Party Convention in 1961, every Soviet Citizen was to be “Honest and sincere, was to be moral, was to be plain and modest in social and private life”.

In 1940 a talented Soviet writer Mikhail Zoschenko published his “Stories about Lenin” – a set of fiction short-stories abridged for children, with Vladimir Lenin as the main character. Every short-story was illustrating a virtue – kindness, courage, will, intelligence. The very first short-story called “Decanter” went back to Lenin’s child years. Once young Volodia went to his aunt where he occasionally broke a decanter. When asked neither Lenin nor the children he played with admitted the fault. Fortunately no punishment followed but Lenin’s remorse was torturing him for the next two months until he finally confessed to his mother. And only after that he managed to have a good sleep. A naive story told in a language simple enough for the young to read and comprehend it. So after the War “Stories about Lenin” became obligatory reading in all schools of the Soviet Union. The message was quite clear – Soviet leaders are the most honest and sincere people of the world and every Soviet child should do his best to be like them. Unfortunately in those schoolbooks there was no mentioning of the author of the “Stories”, as in 1946 Zoschenko was called the “most vulgar writer of all the Soviets’” for the humorous short-stories he was brilliant at writing, and got in disgrace. Again the bright fiction had loose connection with reality. Zoschenko was exonerated only after Stalin’s death in 1953.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Plowed ground smells of earthworms and empires

Break virgin lands!
V. Livanova, 1954

There was a time they loved an accordionist, and now the time has come when they love a tractor driver.
A Russian proverb

Here is another poster which proclaims developing of virgin land as main means of agricultural boosting declared by Nikita Khrushchev . The slogan says: “Break virgin lands” and is accompanied by a short quatrain:

These lands are priceless.
Year by year
We should raise more and more
Grain for people.

Before the
Revolution tractors were scarce as peasants did not have property rights on land they were cultivating and could not even dream about mechanization. And after the Revolution another problem occurred: the horses were all confiscated for army needs during the WW1 and the Civil War and the cows were all confiscated as a result of the War Communism policy. So when the whole thing settled down a bit, there were no draught means to plow and the peasants could not physically pull the plows themselves as during the war years the land became virgin. So in 1923 the first Soviet tractor “Zaporoshets” was built. It was an unsophisticated machine with three wheels, no cabin and torque engine, which worked on crude oil. The tractor was very simple to service and operate and it did play a great role in agricultural development of the country.

The caterpillar-tractor on the poster is the most popular model of the fifties called “
Stalinets – 80”. It was named after Stalin like many other things in the Soviet Union. The women behind are “plugary” – plow-operators. They were lifting the plow at turnabouts or in case there was a stone. This was an extremely hard work because of the huge clouds of dust and exhausts from the pulling tractor. Stalinets’ production started in 1946 right after the War. For Soviet workers and peasants this was a machine from heaven – it had a full metal cabin with folding canvas roof, tilting windows and a powerful diesel engine which was capable of 92 horsepower at 1000 rpm. It could pull 8800 kgf at a speed of 10 km/h. In 1946-1958 there were built more than 200 thousand of S-80 tractors which were working at construction of Volgo-Baltic Waterway, during Antarctic exploration, on Karakum’s channel, at Bratsk hydroelectric plant, BAM and many other ambitious Soviet projects not to mention regular duties like plowing and towing.

This is why tractors were always a kind of a fetish for Soviet propaganda - it were these simple machines which paved the way to the
Gagarin’s launch in space.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

God exists, but we do not recognize him

“Atheist at the machine sit” magazine. 1925 subscription.
D. Moor (Orlov), 1924

During the War Communism years the Communist Party was fiercely fighting with the Orthocox Church. The Church had always been a part of the state and was actively supporting monarchy. And above all before the Revolution the Church had been the second greatest landlord in the country after the Tsar having great influence on rural population. So not only the temples were confiscated for common needs like warehouses and orphanages but also the minds of the citizens became the arena for ideological battle.

On the forefront of anticlerical propaganda was “Atheist at the machine sit” Magazine. It was published in 1923-1928. Its editor-in-chief was appointed Dmitry Moor (Orlov) – one of the best graphical artists of the time. Very soon the magazine turned into a general edition which covered a great variety of topics like socialist society problems, new life, international news, medicine, agriculture, history of the revolution. It became very popular among all Soviet social groups. In every library and village reading room there was always a copy of the “Atheist” available. In 1925 the supporters of the magazine founded a “Society of militant atheists” with 3 mln members by 1939.

The Magazine artwork and articles were so impressive and high quality that the Magazine quickly got famous abroad. “The Morning Post” even appointed a journalist who was attacking the “Atheist” articles on a regular basis. Catholic Church hated the magazine and got it banned in several European countries. The Archbishop of Canterbury - leader of the Church of England - even condemned it at a sitting of English Parliament.

The main fictional hero of the Magazine was Antipka (Antip – a traditional Russian name) – a lively revolutionary-tempered boy who appeared in almost every issue of the “Atheist”. His image is on the poster above. Antipka has a budenovka on his head – a military cap, which was a part of Semyon Budyonny cavalry uniform. On his chest there is a badge with Lenin’s image. The bright slogan says: “I am an atheist”. Amazingly Antipka had a living prototype: once Moor met a ragamuffin who said a brilliant phrase - “God exists, but we do not recognize him”.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I call architecture frozen music

The advertisement of GUM
V. Mayakovskiy, A. Rodchenko, 1923

Another classic constructivist poster. Again Mayakovsky wrote the rhymed text and Rodchenko did the graphics. The poster says: “Guests from cities, towns and villages, do not waste your soles on searching – go to GUM, where you’ll find everything – fast, neatly and cheap!”

This poster advertizes the GUM (Gosudarstvenniy Universalniy Magazin) – the State Universal Store in Moscow. GUM was a common name for the biggest department stores in the Soviet Union. The GUM in Moscow is actually a shopping mall with unique architecture.

Before the revolution the GUM building was known as the Upper Trading Rows. They were built in 1893 by Alexander Pomerantsev (responsible for architecture) and Vladimir Shukhov (responsible for engineering). Shukhov was an engineering genius – some compare him to Edison and Eifel. He developed practical calculations of stresses and deformations of beams, shells and membranes on elastic foundation, which allowed him to build the first Russian oil pipeline, various oil tanks and refineries. But he was most famous for his architectural projects including about 200 original towers (hyperboloid towers) all over the world, the most famous being the 160-meter-high Shukhov Tower in Moscow (1922); about 500 bridges; the Kievskiy Railway Station in Moscow (1912-17); several constructivist projects, designed in collaboration with another world-renown architect Konstantin Melnikov, notably the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage (1926-28) and Novo-Ryazanskaya Street Garage (1926-29).

The Upper Trading Rows received Sukhov’s trade-mark feature – the giant glass-roof. This is a firm construction made of over 819 tons of metal with a diameter of over 14 meters. Illumination is provided by huge arched skylights of iron and glass, each weighing some 820 tons and containing in excess of 20,000 panes of glass.

In 1928 Stalin turned the store into office building but right after his death in 1953 the building’s original function was restored. During the soviet times it was one of the main sources for consumer goods with queues long enough to quit the building and reach the Red Square. All visitors from all over the country had the same list of Moscow places of interest – the Mausoleum, the Bolshoi (the big) Theatre and the GUM.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Forerunning Revolution

“The Battleship Potemkin” movie poster
Stenberg V. A., Stenberg G. A., 1929

The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe.
You have to make it fall.

Che Guevara

The Battleship Potemkin is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by a Russian film-studio Mosfilm in 1925. Potemkin has been called one of the most influential films of all time, and it was even named the greatest film of all time at the World's Fair at Brussels, Belgium, in 1958.

The film presents the Battleship Potemkin uprising, a real-life event that occurred in 1905 when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers during the reign of Tsar Nikolas II. The uprising was caused by the harsh discipline in the Imperial Navy and the low morale due to the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. The revolt was sparkled after the sailors were given rotten meat with maggots as their ration. The instigators were caught and sentenced to death. During the execution the ship was taken under control of the sailors and the officers were thrown overboard (as seen on the poster). Then Potemkin headed for Odessa where a general strike had been called. The demonstrations involved lots of clashes between civilians and troops throughout the city with plenty of causalities. After visiting Odessa Potemkin encountered a joint squadron sent for its interception. However the ships did not engage in the battle when Potemkin refusing to give up sailed right through the centre of the squadron. The crossed and lowered cannons on the poster depict the sailor’s deviation to fire at their brothers in arms. One of the squadron’s battleships - Georgiy Pobedonosets — even joined Potemkin in his rebellious quest. This is where the film ends. Later Georgiy Pobedonosets surrendered to the authorities and the Potemkin sailed to Romania where the crew went ashore as the supplies and fuel was all used up. After a while the Romanian government returned the ship to Russia.

The film was created to commemorate the 20 year’s anniversary of the first Russian Revolution of 1905. In Russia the film received mixed success however becoming a hit worldwide both among the general audience who was impressed by the violence level of the movie, and among the professionals of the cinema. The film was soaking with new ideas and techniques proving the revolutionary theories of Sergei Eisenstein. Take the last shots – the black and white panorama of the sailing Potemkin has the soviet flag, which was painted bright red by the film director himself. In the time of black and white silent cinema this was mind-blowing.

And indeed the film shook the cinema industry. Quotes from Battleship Potemkin are present in German cinema classic Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, The Godfather, The Untouchables, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult by Abraham brothers and numerous other movies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No holds barred

Father, kill the German!
Nesterova, 1942

In a couple of weeks we will be in Moscow. I will wipe this damned city off the face of the earth, I will dig an artificial lake on its place. The word “Moscow” will become extinct.

Adolf Hitler about Moscow

“Kill the German” – this a phrase from Ilya Ehrenburg’s article published in Red Star millitary newspaper in 1942. This article and leaflet based on the text is probably the most controversial piece of all Soviet WW2 propaganda.

The article had several extracts from letters of dead German soldiers with description of violent treatment of Soviet prisoners. The article ended with a call to kill Germans, which quite resembled the Nazi anti-Jewish and anti-Soviet propaganda:

“Now we understand the Germans are not human. Now the word “German” itself has become the most terrible curse. Let us not speak. Let us not be indignant. Let us kill. If you do not kill the German, the German will kill you. He will carry away your family, and torture them in his damned Germany. If you have killed one German, kill another. […] Do not count days. Do not count miles. Count your kills. Kill the German – that’s what your old mother calls for. Kill the German! – begs the child. Kill the German – cries the native land. Never miss. Never fail. Just kill!”

Antony Beevor (a famous British historian and author of “Berlin - The Downfall. 1945” book) attributed Ehrenburg's message as a motivating factor for the violence against German civilians which according to his sources took place as Soviet troops advanced through Nazi occupied territory toward the end of the war - thus encountering a great deal of criticism in Russia. The Russian ambassador to the UK denounced the book as "lies" and "slander against the people who saved the world from Nazism." O.A. Rzheshevsky, a professor and President of the Russian Association of WWII Historians, has charged that Beevor is merely resurrecting the discredited and racist views of neo-Nazi historians, who depicted Soviet troops as subhuman "Asiatic hordes" (citation from Wikipedia).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A sound body keeps a sound mind

If you want to be like me, just train!
V. Koretskiy, 1951

“Be ready for work and defense” (BGTO) – this was the basic physical training system in the Soviet Union. As it was declared, the system’s aim was to “strengthen people’s health, to allow them to develop fully and to make them ready for work to the benefit of the Motherland”. The training system was introduced in 1931 by Leninist Young Communist League of the Soviet Union (Komsomol). All sport clubs and training facilities had to have BGTO as the basic training. It included various sport disciplines: gymnastics, sprint and long distance racing, broad and high jumps, discus and javelin throwing, swimming, cross-country skiing (with cross-country running in the snowless regions) and sharp shooting. It had several stages according to the age – first stage for boys and girls below 16-18 years old and the second stage for adults age 19+. After you achieve certain standard results at a special competition event you receive a badge – here is a photo (100kb).

The poster above shows a soviet athlete and a boy. The athlete has a Coat of arms of the Soviet Union on his sport shirt, which indicates that he takes part in international competitions. The boy has a book with BGTO standards. Also he has a red tie, which is a symbol of the Pioneer organization. Actually it is a red kerchief with a special neck-tie. Its three endings symbolized unbreakable connection between three generations: the communists, the komsomol members and the pioneers.

The style of the poster is the same pre-war socialist realism. In 1953 Stalin was alive (he died only two years after the poster was published) and his personal cultural preferences still rulled the country.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The more bombers, the less room for doves of peace.

Long live everlasting, indestructible friendship and cooperation between Soviet and Cuban nations!
J Kershin, S Gurarij, 1963

The diplomatic relations between Cuba and Russia were established in 1902. They were terminated only during Fulgencio Batista’s rule, but were soon reestablished when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Soviet attitude to new Cuban government was neutral, until the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), when USA tried to attack Cuba in order to overthrow the revolutionary regime and retain control of its property nationalized by Castro. This attempt was in vain as it did not spark the rising against Castro - the attacking forces were easily scattered by the trained Cuban army. This generated even more tension in Cuban-American relationships. Now in case of an embargo, the USA-oriented economy of Cuba had to find support somewhere (also see a Cuban Poster on the topic). Soviet Union grabbed the opportunity as this was a good way to establish a military base in a close firing range of its main foe – the USA, which in its turn had previously set up a number of nuclear missiles in Turkey, covering many potential targets in the Soviet Union. The following confrontation is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), when the world was as close to the nuclear WW3 as ever.

In 1963 after the Soviet Missiles had been removed from Cuba Fidel Castro paid a visit to the Soviet Union. For a month he was traveling across the country observing the achievements of the soviet regime. The photo the poster above is based on, was made during one of the demonstrations (supposedly on the Red Square), where all the Soviet officials were present. It shows Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba, and Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union holding their hands in a greeting gesture. During this visit Fidel Castro was awarded “Hero of the Soviet Union” - the highest possible decoration in the country. On the photo above Nikita Khrushchev has one “Lenin Prize" medal and three “Hammer and Sickle” star medals (“Hero of Socialist Labor” decoration) on his chest. The irony is that Khrushchev received his “Lenin Prize” for “Strengthening of Peace in the world” in 1959, two years before the Cuban Missile Crisis took place.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Space... the final frontier.

While I was flying round the Earth on sputnik spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People of the world, let us preserve and never do harm to its magnificence! Yuri Gagarin.
A. Lozenko, 1987

First words upon returning to earth, to a woman and a girl near where his capsule landed. (12 April 1961) The woman asked: "Can it be that you have come from outer space?" to which Gagarin replied: "As a matter of fact, I have!"

On 12 of April 1961 spaceship Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1) was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Its pilot was Yuri Gagarin. After a circuit around the Earth the ship landed on the Soviet Union territory in Saratov region. While in atmosphere Gagarin left the ship and performed a parachute jump to avoid touch down, which could be risky. The first manned space flight took 108 minutes.

Gagarin was born on March 9 1934 in a small village in Smolensk region. His father was a carpenter and his mother a milkmaid. During WW2 the region was under Nazi occupation for two years. After the war the family moved to the city of Gshatsk (later renamed "Gagarin" in his honor), where young Gagarin received professional education and became a qualified moulder-caster. In 1954 he entered an aeroclub in Saratov. Next year he was drafted and sent to the First Chkalov’s air-force school. Two years later he graduated cum laude, and was transferred to the North Navy, where he continued flying until 1959, when he applied for the cosmonauts’ program. Four months later, after numerous checks and medical inspections he was enlisted into the cosmonauts’ training group. There were 20 candidates of them there, 6 best selected for the flight. That was a year of endless trainings in pressure chambers, centrifuges and altitude flights. Finally, the two candidates were chosen – Yuri Gagarin and German Titov. Four days before the flight the Government Commission defined the order – Gagarin flies and Titov dubs him in case of emergency. Later Titov became the second person to orbit the Earth.

So at 9:07 a.m. on 12 of April 1961 the chief soviet rocket designer Sergey Korolev ignited the engines and the first spaceship pilot Yuri Gagarin said his historical word “Poehaly” – “Let’s go!” marking the start of space era in the history of humanity.

Here is an mp3 dialog (450 kb) between Gagarin and Korolev during the flight.

Gagarin: Poehaly! (cut)
Korolev: “Cedar”, this is “Dawn”, how are you? This
is Dawn”. Ten-two, roger.
Gagarin: “Dawn”, this is “Cedar”. Feeling
well. Keep on flying. Acceleration grows. Vibrations. Handle everything fine. Feeling well. The mood is cheerful. I see the Earth through the illuminator Vzor”. There are creases of terrain, a forest. Feeling well. How are you doing? Roger.

Friday, September 14, 2007

This is my rifle

Work is essential, the rifle is near.
V. Lebedev, 1920

Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944), Russian painter, printmaker and art theorist.

“Okna ROSTA” – “Satirical ROSTA Windows” is a series of posters created in 1919-1921 by a group of soviet artists, who worked for ROSTA or Russian Telegraph Agency, which was the first state news agency in the young soviet republic. In Russian ROSTA is not only an abbreviation but the word has a meaning of its own – ROSTA means growth, giving group’s name a forward-motion flavor.

Working for a news agency implies rapid reaction on the pressing issues on the telegraph tape, so ROSTA posters were always bright, satirical and topical. Often they were done in comics’ manner. The series of posters were created by hand, later replaced with stencil technique, hence 2-3 color scheme and clear-cut images. Stencil allowed the agency to print small quantities of posters (typical circulation was about 150) without publishing houses and additional expenses. After printing the fresh posters were displayed in shop-windows across Saint-Petersburg. That’s why the group had “Windows” in its name. This was a great means of communication and propaganda – few could read and afford newspapers at the same time, and due to the shortages everybody had to spend hours standing in shop-queues.

Okna ROSTA group housed a lot of talented and revolutionary artists and poets like Kazimir Malevich - the pioneer of geometric abstract art, Aristarkh Lentulov - a major avant-garde artist, Ilya Mashkov, Dmitry (Moor) Orlov, Alexander Rodchenko - one of the founders of constructivism movement. The variety of artists resulted in wide scope of techniques used.

The author of the cubist poster above is Vladimir Lebedev (1891—1967) – a famous soviet graphical artist. He was one of the founders of Okna ROSTA group, where he created about 500 posters. Vladimir Mayakovsky – the futurist poet of the Revolution wrote a rhythmic and energetic text: “Work is essential, the rifle is near”. The poster has two meanings: the worker should work hard now, but in case of emergency, he is ready to fight. And another one is that those soldiers who were making the Revolution, were to start working and put their rifles aside.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

That's, Grandma, the Yuri's Day!

The First All-Russian Sheep Breeding Exhibition and Congress
A. Komarov, 1912

That's, Grandma, the Yuri's Day
- a Russian proverb

Cultural Background: On St. Yuri(George)'s day (November 26th), peasants were allowed to move from one owner to another at their own will. In 1590s, this right was put on hold, and completely cancelled in 1649. Obviously, the peasants waiting for their freedom day, weren't quite happy when that was announced.

In 1910 Russian wheat constituted 36.4% of the total world export of wheat. At the same time the agricultural efficiency was low, due to the land property contradictions. At the beginning of 20th century almost 90% of the total Russian population were peasants. And de facto they had no land in their property whatsoever. The two main owners of land were pomezchiki (ground landlords and the Tsar) and the Church. According to the Emancipation Reform of 1861 peasants were not only freed from serfdom but also received the right to cultivate their own land, which was to be alienated from the land owners. Of course land owners did not like the idea, so the payment for the land was established extremely high, and no peasant could buy a plot himself. So the land became a property of peasants’ communities (obschinas) in order to secure the redemption payments for the land. Technically after the reform the land belonged to all peasants in general, but to no one in particular. The plots were distributed between the peasants in community according to the amount of family members and other factors, which were defined at peasants’ meetings. Peasants could not leave the communities in favor of working at a factory, as in this case their plot of land would be redistributed between other community members. Or he had to pay smart-money to leave for a certain period of time. The peasants’ communities were not only killing the industrial development of the country but the peasants' dreams of better living as well.

Before the Revolution Russia was an agricultural state where prosperous land owners were introducing new agricultural techniques, buying machines and tractors to intensify the cultivation. At the same time the majority of peasants were using sickles, wooden plows and a community horse to pull it.

The poster above advertises the First All-Russian Sheep Breeding Exhibition and Congress held in Moscow on September 12-25, 1912. It contained several sections: living exhibits, sheep products, scientific section and on. And although this event was not intended for peasants, a peasant woman in a traditional full dress acts as a central figure on the poster.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I see red!

If you do a pointless chat, you are helping spying rat
Koretsky, 1954

Thank God somebody's doing it.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, of McCarthy's investigations.

The Cold War – a global confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union started on March 12, 1947 with a Truman Doctrine unveiled. The Doctrine shifted American foreign policy as regards the Soviet Union from Detente to a policy of containment of Soviet expansion.

The Cold War was fought not only in diplomat’s cabinets and on the battlefields of Africa, Middle East and East Asia, but also by means of propaganda. In the USA the main speaker of the anti-communist attitude was Joseph McCarthy – a Republican Senator from Wisconsin between 1947 and 1957. He was noted for making unsubstantiated claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the federal government. In 1950 during his public speech on Lincoln Day (February 9), he announced that he got hold of a list of 205 names of those “being members of the Communist Party” and working for the Soviet Union by “shaping policy in the State Department”. This started the unprecedented soviet spy witch-hunt, with private investigations of citizens’ loyalty, shadowing of all leftist organizations, and supervision of every political and publican figure, who ever mentioned anything positive about the Soviet Union. The most notable was a case of Charlie Chaplin – an English comedy actor and a living cinema classic. He had major success in the USA and lived there from 1914 to 1952. During the era of McCarthyism, Chaplin was accused of "un-American activities" as a suspected communist sympathizer. With the Government pressure building up, he decides not to return to the USA after his brief trip to England. He wrote after that: ".....Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States."

The situation in the Soviet Union was quite similar. The atmosphere of suspicion was evident with the graphical design playing significant role as usual. The poster above says: “If you do a pointless chat, you are helping spying rat”. On the poster the double faced undercover spy is portrayed with a monocle, which was considered to be a stereotypical accessory of German military officer from the WW2 period. Thus this fascist image was projected on the Western World.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How to rob a nation

Safe, Profitable, Convenient! Deposit in savings-bank!
Unknown artist, late forties

In Soviet times there were no banks available for public except for the Sberkassa. Here is a quote from Wikipedia: Sberkassa in Soviet Union is a financial institution to store the savings of the population. The term is traditionally translated as "savings bank", however sberkassas in the Soviet Union were not banks in common sense.

A personal document for keeping track of person's savings is a kind of a bankbook (Russian: "savings booklet", usually translated as savings book or savings-bank book). The track of deposits, withdrawals and accrued interest is written into the bankbook by a sberkassa clerk.

The man on the poster is holding this savings-book in his hand. But why to promote the one and only banking institution if there is no alternative whatsoever?

The thing is that after the war the money stock in the country was huge due to the military expenses of the WW2. And the rationing system seriously limited the consumption ability of the soviet citizens resulting in possible hyperinflation, which could completely destroy the weak financial system of the recuperating Soviet Union. So in 1947 the rationing system was abolished and a currency reform took place. It implied the exchange of all the old banknotes at a rate of 10:1 and the bank deposits at a rate of 1:1 for accounts below 3 thousand of rubbles, and at a rate of 3:1 for accounts with 3 to 10 thousand of rubbles. The reform significantly decreased the amount of money in circulation and hit hard those who were keeping savings at home. The only way for the people to avoid such personal finance crises in future was to keep money in sberkassa, hence making them available for governmental investments in heavy industry projects and agriculture.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Vietnam Lives, Fights and Will Finally Win!
Suryaninov R., 1970

According to Geneva Accords which granted Indochina independence from France in 1954, Vietnam was partitioned into two states – the North Vietnam (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and the South Vietnam. The Northern part has got the communists in power, and the Southern, which was to remain under temporary protectorate of France, was governed by political forces supported by the USA. The situation in the split country was far from peace and quiet. Between 1963 and 1967, South Vietnam was extremely unstable as no government could keep power for long. So in 1965, the USA with its president Lyndon Johnson made a fatal mistake of sending troops to South Vietnam to secure the country from the communist influence. The USA generals had very limited experience of guerrilla warfare in the jungle. Also the North Vietnamese partisans were armed with latest arms provided by Soviet Union and China, like loads of sturdy AK’s-47 and soviet aces on MIG-21 “Fishbed” jet fighters. In 1975 the South Vietnam regime fell and the country was united under the communist government. Of course in Russia this was considered to be the victory of Soviet arms over the Evil Empire of the USA.

The poster above celebrates the 25 anniversary of Democratic Republic of Vietnam proclaimed by Ho Chi Minh in on September 2, 1945.

PS. I have just started another blog, which may be of some interest for you. It is totally devoted to Videos of Unusual Musical Instruments - like strange bongs, giant saxophones and every other thing which can sound in skillful hands. Hope you'll like it. ;)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Everybody goes to BAM!

Baikal-Amur Mainline is the construction project of the century!
1977, Babin N. S., Ovasapov I. T., Jakushin A. B.

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (unofficial website) is the second largest railroad in Russia, with a length of 4,234 km (2,305 mile). BAM traverses Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East and runs about 600 km (450 miles) north of and parallel to the Trans-Siberian railway (the largest railroad in the world, covering over 1/3 of the circumference of the Earth with its 10,000 km (6 000 miles) tracks).

BAM was built in the course of 20th century as an alternative to the Trans-Siberian Railway, especially along the vulnerable sections close to the border with China. It has special durable tracks which are capable of supporting soviet rocket trains, equipped with nuclear warheads, which were designed to be a Soviet response to SDI.

BAM construction started in the thirties by Bamlag – a corrective labor camp and a part of notorious Gulag. During WW2 some of the BAM’s partly built tracks were disassembled to form strategic route to Stalingrad, where the biggest and the bloodiest battle in the history of human kind took place – the Battle of Stalingrad.

After Stalin’s death in 1953 the works on BAM stopped as there were no more Gulags with its free labor force and the project turned out to be too expensive. Only in 1974 when the Cold War was in full swing and there was increasing tension between China and the Soviet Union, the project was given a green light.

Huge funding was provided for BAM. It was called the “komsomol construction project of the century”, with numerous young komsomol members sent there to work for decent wages. The poster above was a part of BAM recruitment campaign.

The main part of the BAM was declared open in 1984, with some of the areas (like the ending bridge and the station in Yakutsk) are still being built.

BAM is a fantastic engineering project. It traverses 11 major rivers and seven mountain ridges. There were 8 big tunnels cut through the mountains. One of them is the Severomuyskiy tunnel (15 km), which is the longest tunnel in Russia (18th longest in the world). Also check picture of the “Chertov bridge” (Devil’s bridge), which shows the scale of the obstacles had to be overcome during the construction.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What do you think of these my man?

Do you look after your breasts?
Unknown artist, 1930

This is a very famous poster, which shows the versatility of topics covered by the Soviet poster art.

It says: “Do you look after your breasts? Temper your breasts in cold water daily!” In the late twenties industrialization in heavy industry and collectivization in agriculture forced many peasants to migrate to cities and to become workers at factories and plants. Rural habits were useless in industry centers, so peasants had to adjust themselves to new customs.

Hygiene was one of the most acute problems in the cities with rapidly expanding population. Nicolay Semashko (1874-1949) was the first Narkom (minister) of Health Service (1918-1930), who defined the principles of water supply provision, disinfection, personal hygiene and other social services necessary for healthy development of the society. During his life time Semashko wrote more than 250 of works covering these topics, established a chair of hygiene in Moscow State University, organized a separate Hygiene university later, and did a great job of improving social and hygienic conditions in underdeveloped and traditional regions of Chuvashia, Bashkiria, Tataria, Dagestan and other North Caucasus areas. His invaluable input was one of the reasons, why in the thirties he was not repressed like many other officials, but was promoted to become a member of All-Russian Central Executive Committee, with his main assignment to organize orphanages and to make maternity care system.

This poster was a part of the maternity care campaign, which not only promoted personal hygiene, but was also aimed at tempering of female organisms before delivery. At that time it was believed that cold water strengthens mammaries and makes them ready for breast feeding. And today this vintage artwork looks nothing but amazing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

And all the sweet serenity of books...

Book trade-exhibition in spring
Unknown artist, 1926

This was 1926, when the country was still recovering from the WW1, the Civil War and the War Communism, introduced by Lenin. To avoid loosing power due to national distress, Lenin launched New Economic Policy which implied restoration of private property on a small scale in a number of fields. NEP boosted the agricultural output, resulting in significant rise of living standards. But many true Marxists considered NEP to be a betrayal of the communist ideals, so after Lenin’s death in 1924 the number of NEP supporters in the party started to decrease. Stalin who after Lenin’s death was gaining power finally killed NEP in 1929, replacing it with a program of global industrialization in a form of a first Five Year Plan.

This poster advertises the book trade-exhibition held in spring in Moscow somewhere on Petrovskay street, starting May 15, 1926. In the Soviet Times such exhibitions were a perfect way not only to meet with favorite authors but also to purchase a rare edition. Quality books were one of the main means of entertainment in the country so popularity of reading was skyrocketing, resulting in kilometer-long queues to events like this trade-exhibition.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fire in the hole!

Let’s work, and build and never whine!
Alexander Deyneka, 1933

What a great poster it is. It was created by Alexander Deyneka – one of the most famous modernist and socialist realism artists of the twentieth century.

In the thirties physical culture was being promoted widely in the Soviet Union. There were two reasons for this. The first one was that the party was trying to control all the aspects of life, by enlisting citizens in various societies and communities. And the other was that physically fit people could be better soldiers, thus improving the defense potential of the country. This explains the choice of sports disciplines on the poster: a discus thrower woman on the foreground is accompanied by a sniper, a group of runners and several motorcyclists. Discus throwing is actually a very useful skill on the battle field as it provides for accurate grenade throwing. Sharpshooting is obvious, running adds power during the battle-marching and motorcycle racing impies not only excellent riding skills (many racers served as messengers during WW2), but also mechanical engineering necessary for fixing the machinery during the war.

The verse to the right says:

Let’s work, and build and never whine –
The way to new life has been shown:
You’re not obliged to be an athlete,
But sports are what you should be doing.

Note the composition of the poster: the foreground and the background meets in a way typical for photomontage. Deyneka was always famous for his composition, one of his works showed the close-up of a shot German ace just before he hit the ground. Definitely a Daliesque kind of painting.

Monday, September 3, 2007

What a sad look!

Have you laid up the fodder?
Govorkov V. I., 1965

Almost 60-odd years ago in Canada. I was studying agriculture, how to produce better chickens, better cattle, better horses — horses in those days — better fruit, better vegetables. This was in the early years of the Great Depression, and the thoughts crossed my mind that there wasn't a hell of a lot of use producing better crops and better livestock if you couldn't sell them, that the real problem of agriculture was not efficiency in production but the problem of whether you could make money after you produced the stuff. So I shifted from the technical side to, first, the study of agricultural economic issues and then on to economics itself.

John Kenneth Galbraith

In 1965 the land reform started. Khrushchev’s agricultural policy which implied extensive farming and no personal commitment of the peasants forcefully made the country to purchase the grain abroad.

So in 1965 several crucial measures were introduced: the government increased purchasing prices for the grain and goods, the 6 years procurement plan was given to the kolkozi along with 50% bonus for over-delivery. But most important was that peasants were allowed to do their personal farming, on a very small scale, of course.

But all those measures were useless, until the free trade could be introduced. And the government was constantly imposing new regulatory instructions for the peasants, like limiting the amount of strawberry crops one could plant on his small plot of land. So on one hand the profitability of kolkozi reached 34% in 1970, and on the other all the huge investments (more than 400 bln. of rubles in 1966-1980) did not bring significant gain in total agricultural output.