Soviet Propaganda Posters

The transformation of the former Russian Empire into a socialist state required the mass organization of people, material and minds. Such an upheaval demanded media capable of disseminating Soviet ideas to all reaches of the far-flung Soviet public. The Soviet propaganda poster was one such means of producing a mass public. The Soviet poster  drew both on the ancient visual traditions of the icon and popular woodcuts called lubki, and on the more recent precedents of the advertising poster, the satirical journal, and political caricature.  

Most of the posters on display here were collected by Dr. Harry Bakwin and Dr. Ruth Morris Bakwin during two trips to the Soviet Union, particularly to the Ukrainian SSR, at the turn of the 1930s. For this reason a number of the posters displayed contain text in Ukrainian rather than in Russian and concern the industrialization of the Don Basin in eastern Ukraine, one of the major targets of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans.

These posters call on the Soviet public to fulfill a number of duties, but primarily to be always prepared for war against capitalists encircling the USSR and to labor at heavy industry, to remember the perpetual proletariat struggle against capitalism. Repeated imagery includes scenes of exploitation of the proletariat class by capitalists (often in grotesque caricatures), the shining Soviet factory, and the lone Soviet fighter, ready to defend the young Soviet state to the utmost.

The posters also depict exhortations to remember leftist struggles beyond the borders of the Soviet Union: one poster displayed here praises the efforts of the German Rot Front (Red Front) movement; another commemorates the failure of the Paris Commune of 1871 as a precursor of Russia’s own successful October Revolution.

The posters take part in a range of artistic styles, from the abstract to the realist, from the avant-garde to the traditional. Pay attention to the multiple types of perspective used from poster to poster. Text—slogans, poetry, and more—is incorporated in ways that variously intrude on, interact with, and abstain from the poster’s central imagery. These posters were created right on the cusp of the imposition of Socialist Realism as the official artistic style of the Soviet Union in 1932 and reveal a moment of aesthetic diversity in Russian and Soviet visual art.