The Art of Communism

God, I love this crap. He’s got a whole series of posters/pamphlets/propaganda – so interesting.

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33 Responses to The Art of Communism

  1. mitch says:

    Sheila – in Minneapolis there’s now a Museum of Russian Art. It has plenty of pre-1917 and post-1989 stuff, but naturally there’s a yuuuge collection of Socialist Realist stuff.

    I thought about you when I saw the place, given your writing about Stalin and so on.

    Next time you’re in town, you gotta go…

  2. John says:

    Mitch – does it have any Belov?

    I’ve seen several of those before. My favorite is the illiteracy campaign one with the traditionally dressed peseat walking off a cliff:

    “The illiterate is just like a blind man. Both of them await misfortune and unhapiness.”

  3. Emily says:

    I wish I knew what they read. I especially like the one of the guy marching off the cliff blindfolded.

  4. red says:

    John – I have you to thank for Belov.

    Seriously – when will there be a book published of his images? Or is there already such a thing??

    Marvelous stuff.

  5. red says:

    John – the third one down – with 1928 on it – looks very anti-Semitic to me. Can you tell me what the topic is, or what the words say?

  6. Emily says:

    Okay, how weird is it that John and I posted those comments at the same time?

  7. red says:

    Emily – hahahahaha I know!!!

    This is the glory of the web. Put a question out there and someone answers it at the exact same moment.


  8. Emily says:

    Isn’t it wonderful, Sheila? You can literally ask something like “I’m looking for information on the springtime mating habits of the one-spotted snail darter of Madagascar. Can anyone help me?” And sure enough, somebody who did their graduate thesis on the subject will find their way to you and tell you more than you even needed to know.

  9. red says:

    hahahaha exactly. Watch. If I leave the comments to this post open – some snail-darter expert will show up and illuminate us. I’ll give you a heads up when that happens.

  10. John says:

    It reads: “Five Year Plan Year of 1928”. The obviously Jewish Banker responds “Fantasy, delirium, utopia.”

    In the second panel, with the disappointed banker, the banner reads “Industrialization of the USSR”.

    The recruiting poster reads: “You – volunteered for service?”

    He has the translation for the Social Rev. party one.

    The Tiger / Bayonet one is not properly translated. It reads:

    “Kill the German Beasts! It is possible and it is our duty to destroy Hitler’s army.”

    The one with the high voltage workers reads:

    “We will consolodate the victory of Socialism in the USSR. We will ensure the technological reconstruction of the national economy”

    The loose lips one reads:

    “Be on the alert, in such days as these the walls are listening for someone to run off at the mouth and give something away. Shut Your Mouth!”

    Sorry, my Chinese is not good enough to get much off of the PRC one except the normal People’s Republic, One for All keywords , especially since it’s written in those simplified Commie characters they designed for semi-illiterates.

  11. red says:

    John – hey, thanks. That’s very helpful. I had a feeling – cause of the drawing in that poster – that it had to do with the industrialization plan, and their obsession with “wreckers” and all that crap.

  12. red says:

    Oh, and:

    We will ensure the technological reconstruction of the national economy?

    Yeah. Good luck with that, chumps.

  13. John says:

    Sheila – I’ve been hunting for that, becuase I know it does exist. One of my Russian teachers had one in 1988. I’ve not seen one since.

  14. John says:

    “We will ensure the technological reconstruction of the national economy?”

    Well, to give them their due, they did amazing things in the 1920s, they just broke everything in the process, so that they never got past the 1920s in many areas, even at the point when I was there during Glasnost and Perestroika.

    It was the greatest economic lesson of the 20th centurey, and the Socialist twits in the American Academy still haven’t learned it.

  15. red says:

    John- you’ve been hunting for a book of Belov? Is that what you refer to?

  16. John says:

    Yes. My teacher’s book is how I was introduced. Seems to be out of print.

  17. red says:

    Damn. Even when I Googled the guy i didn’t come up with much.

    Just fanTAStic stuff. I would love to see more. I’d also love to see his set designs too – I would bet they were pretty amazing.

  18. ricki says:

    I don’t know why, but I found the second one – which he translated the title on as “Meet the Five-Year Target Figures for the Production of Coal in Three Years” especially chilling. (“Do the impossible!”)

    Kind of like, I wonder what happened to the miners if they didn’t? Sent to the gulag?

  19. Emily says:

    That reminds me of a story from one of my old economics text books, Ricki. At some point during that time, the Soviet government was running some sort of incentive scheme for factories that produced shoes, since there was a shortage in the country. There was some reward for whichever one produced the most. The factory that “won”? Presented the government with like a bazillion pairs of baby shoes. Hey, they never specified what size shoe, right? I may have some of the details fuzzed, but I seem to remember that being the case.

  20. Nightfly says:

    The Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers in New Brunswick has a fabulous Russian art display (I believe it’s part of this permanent collection), moving from pre-industrial times, through czarist Russia, and right through the Soviet years. Simply amazing stuff. One very large display was dedicated to an artist whose name escapes me, who was permitted to sketch and draw while serving time in Siberia – on the condition that he use his talents for propaganda. He was also able to keep a diary and sketchbook at the same time and smuggle it out when he was freed after many years. He describes the degradations visited on the prisoners, especially those who were considered the lowest caste. He also goes into detail on the images he chose for the work itself and the meddling and revision forced on him by his overseers (he cooperated with the creation of the exhibit).

    The irony was that one of their main projects (which is was the artist’s job to promote) was to impress visiting brass of their dedication to the Soviet dream, along the lines of that “Five Years of Coal in Three Years” stuff – how they made their camp look like a garden or a well-tended factory (way out in the middle of Siberia!) peopled by happy and free workers, rather than by slaves doing make-work as political punishment; and the lined posters urging them to ever-greater deeds. The whole exhibit was fascinating, but horrible. (I don’t know if it’s part of the permanent collection or a temporary exhibit.)

  21. red says:

    Nightfly – wow – I should get my ass out to New Brunswick. Sounds fascinating!

  22. red says:

    I just checked out that link – and it looks like it’s a permanent collection. Or at least that they have a lot of Russian and Soviet art.

    Awesome – I should take the bus out there one of these days – it’s pretty close.

  23. Tom Sutpen says:

    I have to say, not entirely in mine own defense (more by way of explanation), that I honestly didn’t see any anti-semitic subtext to that image when I posted it. If I had, I would not have posted it, simply because I don’t want that crap (regardless of the vintage) on the blog. There’s a lot of sheet music covers with otherwise lovely graphics, for instance, that I won’t post because they traffic in really bald antebellum/Jim Crow stereotyping.

    Whether this was less-bald or I’m less sensitive to that strain of putrid imagery is for minds subtler than mine own to judge. I hope it’s the former. But seeing that poster in this light, the Banker is obviously a Jewish stereotype, and a pretty crude one. I’m only glad the translated text doesn’t reveal some openly anti-semitic message (that’s all I’d need). I’ll take it down in due course; replace it with something else.

    At any rate, I apologize if anyone was offended. Again by way of explanation rather than defense, I do have a tendency (particularly in a series such as that, where I can’t read the text) to let the graphical qualities (color, form, etc) overwhelm my comprehension of the content.

    In other words, blame it on my visual sense (without letting me off the hook unduly).

    (by the way, The Art of Communism is not intended as an endorsement of totalitarian states . . . just some of its poster artists)

  24. Emily says:

    I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I didn’t take your posting those images as an endorsement of anything other than the curious interest in them and their place in history.

  25. red says:

    Tom – I love that you post those images. They are artistically interesting – sometimes very beautiful – and I never get that you’re endorsing an ideology. These images are VERY influential, in terms of 20th century art.

  26. John says:

    It’s your site Tom, but I certainly wasn’t offended, and I think it should stay as a non-whitewashed version of what the Soviets put into art. Heaven knows that they did enough whitewashing themselves. I’m much more offended by the fact that it’s Communist propaganda, full stop. But then, I lived there. YMMV.

  27. John says:

    “Kind of like, I wonder what happened to the miners if they didn’t? Sent to the gulag?”

    That one isn’t Russian, it’s Bulgarian, I think, but in any case, they would have made up their numbers out of whole cloth like that lush Stakhanov. According to my sources (a mining family from near Orel who worked in the same mine) the reason that Stakhanov was picked to be the superstar was that the factory foreman knew he was such a fuck-up that he wouldn’t be missed when he was inevitably promoted and transferred. His mine’s real production numbers actually went up with him gone, IIRC.

  28. Ken says:

    Nothing to apologize for, Mr. Sutpen–it’s history. It happened.

  29. John says:

    OK, I got the time to translate the PRC one.

    Paranoia city, which makes all the happy smiling faces in the poster that much more surreal. The placard under Mao reads:

    “The People’s Liberation Army must support the Leftist masses. – Mao Ze Dong”

    The books, of course, say “The sayings of Chariman Mao”

    The lower inscription reads:

    “The Army and the People must unite as one to watch the land for enemies.”

    I learned some new Chinese characters, but still… Friggin’ cultural revolutionaries.

  30. Nightfly says:

    Sheila – just clue me in to when. I would love to see it again, and probably the Ladybug too. (Try to pick a night that the Anderson Council is playing locally, they rock.)

  31. red says:

    Nightfly – field trip?? How cool would that be. Let’s pick a Saturday in March, how bout??

  32. Nightfly says:

    If you can spare a Wednesday evening, March 28th is good – the train station is right downtown, within a short walk of the Zimmerli – and after that the Anderson Council rocks the Harvest Moon Brewery/Restaurant right on the other side of the tracks.

    (Heheheh, I’m insane about this band.)

    If not, we can aim for the 24th, which is an actual Saturday.

  33. red says:

    I love it – a little Soviet art, a little local band … great night!

    Let me look at my calendar – I might be out in Montauk that week – but it’s up in the air at the moment.

    It would be so fun!!

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