Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monumental Power!

Moscow is the capital of the USSR
El Lissitzky, 1940

What an absolutely brilliant poster it is! It was created by El Lissitzky, who was one of the originators of Suprematism movement along with Kazimir Malevich. Lissitzky’s genius was versatile, as during his life time he managed to work and explore the boundaries of art in graphics design, photography, architecture, typographics using a wide range of techniques and methods. Here is his “Beat the Whites with Red Wedge” masterpiece.

This very poster has a quotation of Vyacheslav Molotov – one of the leading soviet politicians and diplomats of the Stalin era. He managed to live through repressions of the thirties, late forties and fifties and was dismissed from Politburo only in 1957, four years after Stalin’s death. He is most known for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Soviet Union and Germany in 1939, which not only declared non-aggression between the two countries, but also contained the secret protocols, which stipulated division of several independent countries of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania between Soviet Union and Germany.

Despite the Pact, Soviet Union was quite aware of the Nazi Germany’s plans to invade the country – after crushing France and invading Denmark and Norway the attack on the Soviets was obvious.

So the quote says: “Look how peacefully the five point stars of Kremlin glow! Look how far its clear light shines!
…But in case of armed assault on the Soviet Union the offender will experience not only all the iron might of our self-defense but also the power of ruby stars, which glare well beyond the boundaries of our Motherland”.

The photomontage poster shows a Kremlin panorama with the accented Red Stars on its towers. The perspective has nothing to do with the real map of Moscow. Marching people are holding red stars and Stalin’s pictures. The foreground is occupied by a giant statue of a man holding a red star in a heroic gesture.

This is a statue from the Soviet Union’s exposition at the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940. Russian pavilion and the statue at the entrance was designed by Boris Iofan – a Soviet architect, who was most known for his project of Palace of Soviets – an enormous building, which was to be erected at the place of Cathedral of Christ the Savior, demolished by Bolsheviks.

All the symbols on the poster make sense – the Red stars, being the symbol of Communism, are embedded into the heart of Soviet Union, which is Moscow. They belong here, but the proud Soviets are carrying their light abroad – and the statue, which for two years had been displayed in New York at the Fair, signifies it. All celebrates the greatness of the Soviet Union.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nowhere but in Mosselprom!

Nowhere but in Mosselprom
A. Rodchenko, V. Mayakovsky, 1925

This is one of the most significant Soviet advertising posters ever. This is a result of a collaboration between Vladimir Maykovsky – who was the most noted poet of the twenties, and Alexander Rodchenko – one of the founders of Constructivism movement. Together they created many works for Mosselprom, including not only graphics and slogans, but also advertising concepts along with promotion techniques unique for the time.

Mosselprom was a huge trust, which united flour-grinding, confectionary, chocolate, beer and tobacco factories. It was situated in a big house (pictured on the poster), which was one of the highest buildings in Moscow. The eleven-storey building was constructed before the revolution, but a part of it collapsed in 1913 due to flaws in building technology. The Bolsheviks restored it completely and gave it to Mosselprom. The administration of the trust occupied the upper floors, and the warehouses took the basement and the lower floors. The entrance to the wholesale warehouses was at the back.

By 1925 Mayakovsky was writing slogans for a great deal of Mosselprom’s products and Mosselprom itself. “Nowhere but in Mosselprom” phrase was brilliant, as many products were scare, so every customer knew where to look for in the first place. Mayakovsky and Rodchenko didn’t stop with that. They created the design for the Mosselprom building. This was a great idea, because all the shop owners were coming to wholesale depot in the building and saw the impressive artwork there. This was not an ordinary building graphics – the slogans and the color patterns were functional and attractive at the same time utilizing the building structure to make the impression. The products were grouped to form catchphrases thus making them better for memorizing like: “Beer-water” (meaning soda water), “Yeast-cigarettes”, “With Yeast – growing by leaps and bounds”, “Cigarettes – light smoke”, “Milk and beer “Stomach friend” and some others. The bright building remained for the next 10 years. Mosselprom was dismissed in 1937 and the building became an ordinary block-of-flats. Amazingly, in 1997 the original graphics were completely restored. Here are a couple of pictures: the front, the back – one and two.

The conception of making an advertising campaign which was absolutely functional on the one hand, and implied as many means of advertising as available on the other, was mind-blowing. Every part of it was carefully thought of, which was a great difference from the common advertising practice of the time. The result is evident: a great many of the Mosselprom slogans are well known ever since although Mosselprom and its brands vanished long ago.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Keep in revolutionary step!

Keep in revolutionary step!
V. Zhabsky, 1975

This is a poster from the seventies – and to my mind this is not the best graphical work of soviet poster heritage. But it is
certainly worth mentioning because of its distinctive style.

The slogan says: “Keep in revolutionary step!” This is a quote from The Twelve (1918) poem by Alexander Blok (1880-1921) – one of the best poets of Russia, known by his outstanding talent and innovative poetic styles. The poem continues:

Keep in revolutionary step!
The restless enemy in on alert!
Comrade, hold the rifle tight, don’t fear!
Let’s send a bullet in the Saint Russia!
Moth-eaten, backward, fatassed!

The poem was one of the first poetic responses to the October Revolution of 1917. Here is an extract from Wikipedia: “The poem describes the march of twelve Bolshevik soldiers (likened to the Twelve Apostles) through the streets of revolutionary Petrograd, with a fierce winter blizzard raging around them. The mood of the Twelve as conveyed by the poem oscillates from base and even sadistic aggression towards everything perceived bourgeois and counter-revolutionary, to strict discipline and sense of "revolutionary duty" [] In the last stanza of the poem, most controversially, a figure of Christ is seen in the snowstorm, heading the march of the Twelve.

The Twelve, with its "mood-creating sounds, polyphonic rhythms, and harsh, slangy language" (as the Encyclopedia Britannica termed it), promptly alienated Blok from a mass of his admirers. Accusations ranged from appallingly bad taste to servility before the new Bolshevik authorities and betraying his former ideals. On the other hand, most Bolsheviks scorned Blok's mysticism and asceticism and especially the mention of Christ”.

Indeed the poem was a shock when published. Although it did depict the revolutionary mood of the 1917 perfectly well, the Bolsheviks forced the author to replace the word Christ with a similar sounding Russian “Sailor” – thus killing the undertones. Nevertheless many of the words from The Twelve became popular catchphrases – like the one on this poster.

Another reference to the poem is the mosaic on the poster which is inlayed with an image of a Russian sailor with a Kalashnikov in his hands. The background has three revolutionary symbols – the Red Star, Hammer and Sickle and cruiser Aurora, which gave signal to the successful assault on the Winter Palace (residence of the Russian tsars), which was to be the last episode of the October Revolution.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Heavy washing

Go to banya after working hours
Unknown artist, 1932

Bid them wash their faces,
And keep their teeth clean.

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Coriolanus

Russians always liked bathing in banyas, which is a traditional Russian steam bath. It is quite similar to Finnish sauna, but not as hot. Usually it has three rooms – a steam room, a washing room and a lounge. In the steam room people not only perspire heavily in hot temperature and high humidity, they also slap each other with tied branches of white birch, which massages the body, increases blood circulation and therefore is quite pleasing.

But banyas were not only about personal hygiene. The lounge place in banyas was usually a club, where men were chatting, drinking light beverages and resting - much like in the Roman Empire. In the Soviet times banyas remained but the quality of bathing services was significantly decreased – now they were mainly about washing oneself.

This poster is a social artwork, which popularizes personal hygiene among the workers. Many of them had arrived from the country and were not familiar with regular washing. Also, working in heavy industry was always a far more dirty occupation than farming.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

I broke the traffic code

I broke the traffic code
Unknown artist, 1939

The poster shows a man with an inscribed red Russian letter “Я”, meaning personal pronoun “I” in Russian. The man is on crutches as his leg is lacking. This is why the letter “Я” doesn’t have a lower stroke, symbolizing that the man’s body is incomplete as well as his “self”. Obviously this is due to a traffic accident caused by violation of the traffic code.

Actually the man should be happy because in this traffic accident no one was killed or seriously injured except for himself. The traffic code in Soviet times was always quite strict so in case of life losses the liability of the culprit was easily changed from administrative to criminal, with a high chance of imprisonment after investigation and trial.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Better to feed one cat, than many mice

Bread for Motherland!
V. Kononov, 1978

In 1970 the new Five Year was being drafted in the same manner as the previous ones. But the worker’s riots at Gdansk Shipyard made the Soviet Government change its plans. The Prague Spring events and their dreadful political consequences when Soviet tanks suppress the anti-Soviet movements in Czechoslovakia were still fresh in the memory. To prevent the possible social distress Brezhnev decided to increase the production of consumer goods and foodstuff. Where to find the money to fund the undeveloped consumer goods industry and agriculture? The budget was dominated by huge military expenses, heavy industry investments and aid for the third world countries. These were the items no one dared cutting, although they were killing the economy.

So the export of raw materials like oil and diamonds was increased. The money was being spent on direct purchasing of grain and other products abroad, but not for development of domestic agriculture. The move may seem to be unreasonable, but it was not. Rather it has to be called short-sighted. The thing was that in the seventies return of investments in agriculture was negative due to the stagnated planning system. The diamond money would have sunk with no significant return.

So, the poster is ironic indeed: the artist was picturing a merry Soviet kolkhoznik, who was feeding the Motherland and got a sailor with a ship full of grain from the USA instead.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Here’s our profit!

Here’s our profit!
V. Koretsky, 1965

By 1964 Khrushchev’s reforms in industry and agriculture were not quite successful. Growth was slowing down, erection of Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile Crisis damaged greatly the image of USSR in Europe and worsen the relations with USA. The political course which implied renewal of the party staff received hostile reception in the Communist Party, which was enjoying relative peace after death of Stalin in 1952.

So Khrushchev was dismissed and Leonid Brezhnev came to power. To cope with the problems the economic reforms were announced in 1965. They implied giving industrial enterprises more control over their own production and some flexibility over wages. The reforms were aimed at turning the enterprises' economic objectives toward making a profit, allowing them to forward some of the profits either to motivate personnel or self-financing. Prime Minister Alexsey Kosygin believed that these moves could lead to significant increase in production output and to fundamental changes in the country’s economy in future.

But the political system and the planned economy remained unchanged and the suggested measures were partly buried into bureaucracy or just not carried out all. And although the growth did happen, the country was advancing on the momentum of the past, using up the previously built resources.

The poster shows a hand with a Soviet Ruble – in the sixties this was a monetary unit of a significant value. The coin reflects block-of-flats with signs like “Kindergarten” being constructed, factories and electric lines being built and some machinery. The message is quite clear – now it is the economical effectiveness in a form of money, which is the main goal of work.
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Monday, October 22, 2007

Down with scamps, who harass women!

Down with scamps, who harass women!
K. Rotov, 1930

Dictatorships do cut down on rape, and pillage, not to mention sexual harassment, by the simple expedient of sending people to labor camps for life or cutting off their hands without a trial.
Barbara Amiel

In the thirties industrialization required lots of labor force. Women were working with men side by side at heavy industry factories and works, where they could rarely be seen before the Revolution. There morals and manners were rough, so harassment of women at work became frequent.

The verse for this poster was written by Vladimir Mayakovsky:

Down with scamps, who harass women!
We will tighten up these studs with discipline!

This poster shows a bunch of hooligans who attacks a communist woman. She is pictured red (signifying here positiveness) as well as the giant hand, which protects her by squeezing the attackers in giant tongs of discipline. This is an illustration that it was the hard work that was not only building industry in the country, but also making people equal.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Can't reach Germany? Yeah, right.

Long live the mighty aviation of the socialism country!
V. Dobrovolsky, 1939

No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr. If one reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Goering. You may call me Meyer.

Hermann Goering addressing the Luftwaffe (September 1939) as quoted in August 1939: The Last Days of Peace (1979) by Nicholas Fleming, p. 171; "Meyer" (or "Meier") is a common name in Germany. This statement would come back to haunt him as Allied bombers devastated Germany; many ordinary Germans, especially in Berlin, took to calling him "Meier". It is said that he once himself introduced himself as "Meier" when taking refuge in an air-raid shelter in Berlin.

Another cool aviation poster of the thirties. Here we can see the parade on the Red Square in the center of Moscow. The name “Red Square” has nothing to do with communism symbols, as in the Old Russian “red” meant “beautiful”. To the left there is a Kremlin Wall, to the right there is GUM (State Universal Store - see a GUM-poster here). The big red building with small towers in front is the State Historical Museum – one of the most beautiful and interesting museums of Russia. Before the Revolution the right gate to the Red Square was occupied by Iberian Gate and Chapel but in 1931 it was demolished in order to make room for heavy military vehicles driving through Red Square during military parades. Both the Iberian Gate and Chapel were completely rebuilt in 1996. See the Red Square and its surroundings on the interactive Wikimapia here).

Down on the Red Square there are hordes of marchers carrying red flags and communist slogans. In the center there is a large portrait of Joseph Stalin. And above there fly the pride and joy of Soviet Aviation – the red Polikarpov I-16 monoplane single engine fighter (also seen on this poster) and the dark-green Ilyushin DB-3 bomber.

DB-3 was a twin-engine low wing monoplane, which first flew in 1935. With 400 km/h maximum speed and 3500 km flying range it became one of the most successful flying machines of the Soviet Union. And it was its later deep modification Il-4, which in 1941 started first bombings of Berlin.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Diarrhea, cha cha cha!

Our children must not have diarrhea!
G. Shubina, 1940

It is still just unbelievable to us that diarrhea is one of the leading causes of child deaths in the world.
Melinda Gates

The poster says: “Our children must not have diarrhea!” The text at the bottom gives direct instructions to prevent the illness: “Until 6 months age feed the baby with breast milk only. Then add supplemental feeding under medical supervision. Do not wean the baby in summer. In summer dress the baby in suitable light clothes. In summer while outdoors the baby should be in a shady place. Wash baby’s toys, plates and dishes and your own hands thoroughly. Protect the baby and its food from flies. Visit children clinics in time”.

The merry baby on this poster is holding a rattle in his hand. The blossoming branches indicate spring time. A good example of socialist realism it is, where the baby’s face expression quite resembles the one found on posters and paintings devoted to building of new Soviet factories or gathering an ample harvest.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No escape from the people’s revenge!

No escape from the people’s revenge!
I. Rabichev, 1941

In fighting against a guerilla warfare, the ratio is nine versus one or ten versus one.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - an Indonesian retired military general and statesman and the sixth President of Indonesia

In 1941 German forces were rapidly moving on the territory of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were in the zone of occupation. In July 1941 the Communist Party issued a directive which was organizing and regulating the partisan movement.

And it was organized well: the discipline was similar to the regular Red Army’s, all partisans swore partisan oath, the arms’ and ammunition supplies from the battlefront became regular starting from 1942. And of course the orders were given from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief’s (Joseph Stalin) headquarters.

Its goal of partisans was simple: to disrupt logistics of the German forces, to destroy valuable resources and to kill personnel and soldiers of the enemy. Their advantages were hard to beat as diversionist groups were formed of locals who knew the area well and were always supported by the civilians. Also partisan regiments were usually small and next to impossible to find and eliminate even with ample forces.

But one the keys to partisan's self-sacrifice and courage was the fact that very many of them had nothing to lose – as the occupation forces had left no roof over their heads and no relatives alive. This is why the partisan old man on the poster above stands in front of burning village houses and a gallows.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The power of ideas

The pipe of Stalin
V. Deni, 1930

Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?

Joseph Stalin

Stalin was an avid smoker. But unlike Winston Churchill who was a cigar man, Stalin liked pipes. They say he was not fond of the special pipe tobacco, but was filling his pipe with contents of “Gertsegovina Flor” cigarettes. Apparently these cigarettes were very different from those available for general public, so the overall quality of the Stalin’s tobacco was quite good.

On this poster tobacco smoke has another function besides pleasing Joseph Stalin. Used as a metaphor it blows away those who according to the official position were harming the development of the soviet society and state. The first one is the Saboteur, who slows down the fulfillment of the First Five Year Plan. Joseph Stalin upon seeing the draft of the First Five Year Plan (which already was an overestimation of the Soviet capabilities of the time) ordered to complete it in four years instead of five. Not only this could intensify the development, but also gave him a good excuse to punish for deliberately poor results.

The other one is Nepach or Red Merchant or NEPman. New Economic Policy launched by Lenin in an attempt to revive the economy implied permission of small businesses. But NEP was a forced temporary measure needed only to restore the country after the Civil War and the WW1. In the thirties NEP was already cancelled as “NEP contradicted with the communism values”.

And the last one is “Kulak” – an independent peasant who was “exploiting poorer peasants”. The policy of dekulakization (raskulachivanie) was one of the measures to strip the agriculture in order to fund the industrial development.

Stalin is portrayed as a stern leader with a piercing stare, who looks for those, who hinder the arrival of communism.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Down with kitchen slavery!

Down with kitchen slavery! Let there be new household life!
G. Shegal, 1931

In 1917 the majority of laws of Russian Empire were repealed. Instead the first Soviet Constitution of 1918 declared full rights of women in divorcements, private property, children wardship, work and profession opportunities, choosing of place of living, education and suffrage. A decree which was stating the equal payment for men and women was also issued that year. Finally woman has got the same rights as men. The flip side of the coin was that woman had to work as hard as men as well.

At the same time the reforms of the economy were hampered no only by the Civil War but also by the runaway inflation. To give payment to the workers the Government had to print more money, which only made the situation worse. So the commodity-money relations were partly abolished: instead of wages workers were receiving rations, necessities, canteen coupons. Rent and transport fares were cancelled as well as payments for other public utilities. Free trade of food and goods was prohibited. The state was mobilizing the workers and was giving them full allowance (sort of).

The thirties perfectly utilized this experience. The country needed as much workforce as possible to complete the first Five Year plan, so women who were nursing children at home and did the cooking seemed to be a waste of resources. A great many of day nurseries, large-scale mechanized canteens, kindergartens were being built to free soviet woman from household routine and make them work on the machines instead. For many of soviet woman who had just arrived from the country this was a significant step forward, as it implied getting certain education and hopes of better living in future.

The poster above is an illustration of this trend. The woman dressed in red working overalls and a kerchief opens a large window showing a woman exhausted by laundry a bright perspective with new modern buildings with signs saying: “Club”, “Mechanized Canteen”, “Nursery”.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Another brave new world

Let Pluralism Live Long!
Author unknown, Eighties

Those who hope that we shall move away from the socialist path will be greatly disappointed. Every part of our program of perestroika […] is fully based on the principle of more socialism and more democracy.

“Perestroika - New Thinking for Our Country and the World”, Mikhail Gorbachev, 1988

Pluralism of opinions” was one of the main slogans in the “Glasnost” campaign, which took place in Russia in the eighties. After the WW2 the internal contradictions in political life, social life and economy kept piling up for years. Stalin was cutting the knot with force, Khruzchev was improvising, but with no significant long-term effect, Brezhnev’s rule was called “Stagnation”, Andropov and Chernenko were too old not only to make any changes, but to live at all (Andropov – 68, Chernenko – 72, when elected), so only the relatively young Gorbachev admitted that the Soviet Union has got so many problems, which had to be solved.

But unfortunately no one knew what to do to solve the problems right. Anyway, the process was called “Perestroika” – “Restructuring”, and implied “Uskorenie” – “Speed up” in economy, “Glastnost” – “Openness” in politics and “Pluralism” in social life. “Pluralism” was to give the citizens freedom of speech and opportunities to express their own point of view, even if it contradicted with the “official” position, or positions of other citizens.

This poster is a brilliant illustration of this principle. It shows the four “Hammer and Sickle” icons which form the word “СССР” – USSR in Russian. The last “Hammer and Sickle” is inverted forming the Russian letter “Р” (and Latin letter “R” at the same time!). This creates the desired effect, as if one person (“Р”) opposes the majority (“CCC”). The slogan says: “Let Pluralism Live Long”. The choice of words is also deliberate – a great many of the communist slogans began with “Long Live…”, and this slogan although similar in meaning sounded fresh due to simple replacing of a word in it.

This poster gives an idea, that it is possible to improve the old regime and change the life of people for the better. Unfortunately, due to many reasons including incompetence of the leaders, painless switch to capitalism never happened and the initial enthusiasm died in a flow of social and economical distress of the nineties.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Telling fish stories

Purity – to Seas!
V. Karakashev, L. Levshunova, 1973

Only the gamefish swims upstream,
But the sensible fish swims down.

Ogden Nash, When You Say That, Smile

Here is a social poster which relates to the United Nations Conference held in London in 1973. During the conference the New Directions in the Law of the Sea were introduced. They were to prevent the pollution of the seas by ships. From now on every ship no mater the home port, should have had a certificate, which proved that no mechanics, hull or anything else could pollute or harm the sea or its inhabitants. Before that tankers were just dumping hundreds of tons of waste and oil right into the neutral waters. Other major pollutants were the sea-based oil derricks.

The poster shows pink salmon or humpback salmon which is a species of anadromous fish in the salmon family. It is the smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon – making it quite popular in Russia because of its relative affordability. It is very sensitive to the quality of water it lives in. The interesting thing about pink salmon is that during the life time it lives in the salty water of seas and then comes to fresh river water for spawning. As most of the rivers flow into seas and may cause the pollution if poisoned, the choice of a poster symbol, which is familiar with both saltwater and freshwater habitats is quite smart. Another interesting thing is that during the migration in quest for the right place for spawning, pink salmon cover tens of miles upstream often jumping out of the water. This is why the fish is flying high on this poster.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making no bones

All start with “Г”
D. Moor (Orlov), 1941

I want war. To me all means will be right. My motto is not "Don't, whatever you do, annoy the enemy." My motto is "Destroy him by all and any means." I am the one who will wage the war!

Adolf Hitler

This is a poster made in a form of political cartoon. Four distorted faces belong to Nazi officials: Heinrich Himmler (Minister of Internal Affairs, he controlled SS and security forces including Gestapo), Hermann Wilhelm Goring (minister of aviation and one of the most prominent political figures of the Third Reich), Adolf Hitler (the leader of Nazi Germany) and Paul Joseph Goebbels (Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda - known for his zealous oratory and virulent anti-Semitism). These are the Nazi politicians who were responsible for the WW2 and the war crimes which took place in its course.

In Russian all the four names (Himmler, Goring, Hitler and Goebbels) start with the same letter “Г” (pronounced “Gh”). In the right column of the poster these four letters consecutively form right-faced swastika - the symbol of Nazi Germany, and say “First Г.”, “Second Г.”, “Third Г.”, “Fourth Г.”.

The slogan says “All start with “Г”. It seems to be pretty irrelevant unless you know that in Russian “Г” with a dot is an abbreviation of “Говно”, or “Shit”.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

If the shoe fits, it's too expensive

Resintrust Galoshes
V. Bayuskin, 1925

Galoshes are waterproof overshoes made of vulcanized rubber. In the last century they were worn over boots and shoes to protect them in rough conditions. Nowadays in Russia they are used only with valenki (a traditional winter footwear) – to prevent them from getting wet in slush.

Galoshes were a popular accessory. The roads were often dirty, so when coming to an office or a house a respectable man had to take the muddy shoes off. Galoshes eliminated the need of a second pair of shoes and reduced changing time.

Before the Revolution tanning and shoe industries were hugely underdeveloped in Russia. There were only few shoe factories, and there were no machinery there – only manual labor. 90% of all shoes were made by individuals and small cooperation manufactories.

The situation after the Revolution did not change, so cheap galoshes which could protect expensive shoes were always in demand. Besides, those who could not afford proper shoes always had an option of wearing galoshes alone or with socks.

The poster shows a woman-worker in her holiday clothes. The advertisement says: “Resintrust. Moscow. Galoshes with Triangle trademark. Every cooperative store should have Resintrust galoshes on sale”.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Death to world imperialism

Death to world imperialism
D. Moor (Orlov), 1920

We must bear in mind that imperialism is a world system, the last stage of capitalism — and it must be defeated in a world confrontation. The strategic end of this struggle should be the destruction of imperialism. Our share, the responsibility of the exploited and underdeveloped of the world, is to eliminate the foundations of imperialism: our oppressed nations, from where they extract capital, raw materials, technicians, and cheap labor, and to which they export new capital — instruments of domination — arms and all kinds of articles, thus submerging us in an absolute dependence.

Che Guevara

Communism is the antonym of Capitalism and Imperialism is its worst implementation - that was one of the key Bolsheviks' ideas in the twenties. Basically Imperialism is the domination of people over other people. This domination may be economical or political; it may be territorial or national. Generally Lenin put forward several distinct features of that very Imperialism which was ruling the world in the beginning of 20th century. First of all the concentration of production and capital (which was necessary for industrial revolution) led to monopolization of economies: and this had nothing to do with free market, as always the most advanced and powerful multinational monopoly swept the board leaving nothing to the local manufacturers. And another thing was that now it was the financial capital and not industrial capital which was feeding these monopolies giving them enough power for rapid expansion and economical conquests. These two trends always provided plenty of opportunities to intensify the exploitation of workers, who were the second most powerful force in the country, Lenin’s support was based on. The main force was of course the peasants – they were promised property of land.

The poster personifies Imperialism as a giant serpent, which does not allow the workers to take control over production means – the factories and plants. In reality the nationalization was running wild starting from 1918, when “Nationalization” Decree was issued. All the major enterprises were already under direct control of Bolsheviks. The poster however relates not only to the internal affairs. One of the basic Lenin’s ideas was that the Socialist Revolution in Russia would spark the fire of worker’s revolutions in other countries, thus leading to the World of Communism without boundaries. So this poster gives the workers an idea that soon they would have to help their fellow comrades abroad.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Communism? Easy!

Lenin and electrification
Shass - Kobelev, 1925

“The economic historian Paul A. David […] noted that while the lightbulb was invented in 1879, it took several decades for electrification to kick in and have a big economic and productivity impact. Why? Because it was not enough just to install electric motors and scrap the old technology -- steam engines. The whole way of doing manufacturing had to be reconfigured”

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman

Another cool poster created after the Civil War was over. It says at the top: “Lenin plus Electrification of the Country”. The footer goes even more radical: “Communism is Power of the Soviets plus Electrification”. In the middle there is a call for Volkhovskaya hydroelectrical station to make the current. Volkhovskaya hydroelectrical station was the first power station build in the Soviet Union. The whole plan of electrical development of the country was called GOELRO (State Elecrificational Commission of Russia) and was considered to pave way for the economical development of the country. It implied not only building of power stations and lines, but also the plants and factories, which could use the power. Later it would be changed by Stalin and become the basis for the Five Year plans. But meanwhile as the country’s main goal was building of communism and the Soviets already took the power, the last obstacle was considered to be the underdevelopment. Hence the slogan: “Communism is Power of the Soviets plus Electrification of the Country”.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

That’s the way to shoot

That’s the way to shoot – every shell is a foe.
V. Koretsky, 1943

This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of my enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

US Marine Corps Rifle Creed (Full Metal Jacket)

Amazingly this poster features a real person – this is Vasiliy Zaytsev, a Russian sniper, who made 242 verified kills including 11 snipers between October 1942 and January 1943 during the battle of Stalingrad. He is the protagonist of famous Enemy at the Gates film.

He was born in Siberia, where hunting had always been one of the main sources of food. Since the age of four he accompanied his grandfather during his trips to taiga. His main weapon was a bow which he used to shoot squirrels for its fur. Short firing range and targets’ natural agility required excellent composure, persistence and a quick eye. At the age of 12 he was given his first rifle as a present. The shells were scarce so every shot had to be accurate. These two things – extensive bow shooting experience and lack of ammunition were the keys to Vasiliy’s excellent sharp shooting skills. In the beginning of WW2 he served in the Navy, but soon volunteered for front-line duty. There he gained fame as a perfect sniper and received order to establish a sniper school. Very soon the Germans got seriously annoyed by the sniper success, and sent a famous German sniper to stop Zaytsev. This very duel was portrayed in Enemy in the Gates. It took four days and lots of cunning and persistence of Zaytsev and his fellows to define the hideout of the German sniper and make the final shot.

In 1943 his eyes were seriously injured by a landmine blow. He got blind, but after several surgeries carried out by famous Russian medic Antonine Filatov he recovered and returned to the battlefield. He managed to survive the War and died peacefully in 1991. He was awarded a Hero of the Soviet Union medal for his courage.

On the poster Vasiliy Zaytsev is pictured with SVT-40 rifle in sniper version which replaced his famous Mosin-Nagant. Vasiliy is dressed in a camouflage cloak, which is a standard uniform for winter warfare. In his hand there are several empty shells. In the background the graves of German soldiers are marked with crosses and helmets.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007


Glory to the Soviet Science!
Unknown artist, 1957

The United States now sleeps under a Soviet moon.
Nikita Khrushchyov - the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin

50 years ago on October 4 1957 Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into geocentric orbit of the Earth. This ended Sputnik Race between USSR and the USA. In 1955 U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower announced that the USA would launch its satellite in 1957. The Soviet officials picked up the gauntlet and gave green light to the Soviet Sputnik Program. The main inspirer of sputnik launch was Sergei Korolev – the father of all soviet space missions. He proposed soviet ballistic missile R7 as a rocket carrier. R7 was developed in 1953-1957 with its first successful launch on August 21, 1957 only a month and a half before the version with Sputnik on board. So Sputnik-1 turned out to be another by-product of military science.

R7 – a 34 m long, 280 ton two stage rocket managed to carry the 83 kg Sputnik-1 to the orbit with apoapsis of 940 km above surface. Not a particularly hard task for a rocket with a payload of 5.300 kg. Nevertheless the sputnik itself caused a great stir in the world. Especially this hurt the USA: during the Cold war Soviet science was always portrayed as inferior and undeveloped, and the launch proved quite the opposite. Also this was a direct threat to USA’s security as there was a soviet object flying over the American territory beyond the reach of the USA. But this was a purely physiological threat as Sputnik-1 carried only radio transmitters on board. It was a 585mm diameter sphere, made of 2mm polished aluminum alloy, so that the glitter could be observed from the ground. He had four antennas between 2.4 and 2.9 meters, which were transmitting recurring radio-signal. The frequency was deliberately chosen so that radio hams around the world could pick it up – resulting in stronger reaction.

Listen to the signal record here:

The Soviet Sputnik-1 was a remarkable achievement. United States managed to launch their first satellite “Explorer-1” only in 1958, with weight six times less than the Sputnik’s. But although the Sputnik Race was won, the Cold War was in full swing and both countries were doing its best to slap the opponent in the face. The climax was reached in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world was on the brink of the nuclear war, which could be fought with the same missiles that transported the first artificial object in space – Sputnik-1.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings

Glory to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War! Glory to the Stalin’s falcons!
P. Vandyshev, L. Torich, 1941

This airforce poster was created in 1941 - right after Soviet Union entered World War 2.

In the foreground there is an aircraft gunner who operates ShKAS – a 7.62 mm rapid fire machine gun, which was designed in the thirties and entered production in 1934. It had a firing rate of 1,800 rounds/min for wing or turret-mounted versions, and was significantly more powerful than all its rivals, which could reach only 1.100 rounds/min rate for the best ones like MG-17 (Germany). In 1936 ShKAS was first used in Spain Civil War where Spanish Republic forces received aid from USSR opposing the General Franco’s regime, backed by Nazi Germany and Italy.

1936 Spain Civil War was also a first experience under fire for the aircraft in the background of this poster – the Polikarpov I-16. This was an advanced monoplane fighter with cutting-edge innovations such as retractable landing gear and a fully enclosed cockpit. Although being built from plywood (fuselage) and duralumin only in wings it was designed for speed: with 900 horsepower it could reach 462 km/h at optimal altitude. But it wasn’t the speed that made it a real pre-war champion-killer. The short plane had superb horizontal maneuverability although requiring special skills to fly. Even when the army started receiving new advanced aircrafts some pilots managed to fight the generally superior Messerschmitt Bf 109s on their “Donkeys” – the nickname of I-16 (“donkey” in Russian is “Ishak” which is similar in pronunciation to the “I-16”). And like real donkeys I-16s were very reliable as half of those plains not hit yet were still operational in 1943. I-16 could have up to 4 ShKASes in his wings – obtaining an outstanding firing density.

These two Soviet weapons got together on this poster in order to strengthen the morale of the Soviet people and show the fighting potential the country was capable of. Unfortunately it took another year to put this potential in practice – and finally stop the German offensive at the Battle of Moscow in the early 1942.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it

The best grape wine - The Soviet Champagne
N. Martynov, 1952

Soviet Champagne” has always been a part of every Soviet holiday and anniversary feast. It was the one and only brand available for the people.

The “Soviet Champagne” brand was created in 1928 after the Government ordered the soviet wineries to produce the sparkling wine affordable for the soviet workers. The original Méthode Champenoise was quite complicated and therefore expensive, as it implied fermentation in bottles for 1.5 years for the wine to fully develop its flavor. After that the lees settled in the neck of the bottle, got frozen and removed. Then the bottle was finally corked.

The Russian wine-maker Anton Frolov-Bagreev (1877-1953) managed to speed up the process and simplify the technology. Now the secondary fermentation of wine was induced in special champagne-fermenting water-cooled tanks of large capacity. This cut down the production time from 1.5 years to a month, and made removing of lees obsolete.

In 1936 the Soviet Government decided to build a number of champagne wineries across the Soviet Union as it was much cheaper to transport wine-materials than the final products. Several wineries were built and in 1942 Frolov-Bagreev was awarded the Stalin’s prize for his inventions. Reportedly before signing the list with nominees Joseph Stalin tasted the Soviet Champagne and did not liked it – as it was brut which seemed to be too dry to him. Another bottle with semi-sweet was brought in, and the Frolov-Bagreev finally got his prize. But this is probably the reason why nowadays Russians prefer semi-sweet wines over the brut which is popular in the world.