For those who don’t know, I am a very committed Russophile – I love everything about Russia: the food, culture, music, language, history, and people; as well as Soviet and Tsarist memorabilia. I’ve actually had an odd fascination with the country for years now, going all the way back to when I was a kid. Like most Americans, my first exposure to Russia was in the context of action films and video games, especially those about espionage and war. It’s interesting that even with the Cold War being long over, we still can’t seem to view the Russians in any other context besides that of rivalry, nefarious plots, and military intrigue (though I hear the feeling is mutual). It’s also curious to note we often balance this perception with another pervasive stereotype: of heroic Russian characters being tough, martially adept, and boorishly loveable,
In any case, I was always fascinated with this “other side” that kept popping up in so much of the entertainment and media I got into, and I began to develop an intense interest in everything having to do with that country, particularly towards the end of high school, when friends, family, and even casual observers took notice. To this day, I maintain my strange fascination, and have a disproportionate amount of books about Russian topics. I am still very much associated with the country by some of my closer friends, who almost reflexively share anything they find about Russia with me.
But by far a Russia-related topic that has always drawn my attention without fails has been propaganda, especially from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Though I love collecting and studying propaganda from all over the world, these two are by far the most refined and artistic in my opinion (if anyone begs to differ, then by all means share some others – I’d certainly be interested). The Russians in particular were master propagandists, which isn’t surprising considering the nature of Soviet rule and the pervasiveness of state involvement in people’s lives. A combination of a strong ideological foundation and a totalitarian state meant nearly-systemic attempts at influencing people’s thoughts, emotions, and actions – especially during the “Great Patriotic War” fought between the USSR and Nazi Germany during World War II.
So without further ado, here is a slideshow of some Soviet-era propaganda pieces, courtesy (once again) of one of my favorite sources, Foreign Policy.
The skill and creativity behind some of these posters is pretty neat. I find it fascinating how people can use art to appeal to human emotion and behavior, and in doing so impart all sorts of ideas and invoke all sorts of actions. The interplay of psychology, sociology, and art is perhaps what captivates me most. Propaganda requires a utilization of all these things in order to be effective, and the Russians seemed to once again be pretty innovative in this regard. It’s often argued that communist-inspired regimes in general seem to master this sort of thing, though plenty of fascist, democratic, and theocratic states have all utilized propaganda as well, in addition to commercial and religious interests.
To be clear, I am in no way trying to make light of either the manipulative nature of propaganda or the oppressive Soviet system that made use of it. I simply view it as an interesting art form, as well as a great case study in the way government and other ideological interests try to influence the public.