Soviet posters first appeared during the Proletarian
Revolution in Russia - they delivered Communist Party's slogans to the
masses and called on workers and peasants to fight for freedom and justice.
Most of us are familiar with Dmitry Moor's
famous poster "Have You Enlisted In the Army?"
The image of a Red Army soldier with plumes of black smoke rising from
the factory smokestacks in the background, bluntly questioning the Russian
worker about his contribution to the defense of the October Revolution,
became the iconic piece of Soviet propaganda. Posters took on a very
important role during the October Revolution and subsequent Civil War.
Very few newspapers were published in those days and often a poster
replaced the tabloid. Poster art was widely accessible to the masses,
the images it depicted were easily understood by everyone, and a short
and energetic accompanying slogan stuck in the viewers mind, as a constant
call for action. In time of Civil War, propaganda posters were sent
to the front lines in the same capacity as bullets and artillery shells.
They were posted on walls, in cities which were under assault by the
White Guard armies and foreign interventionists. The bottom of the vivid,
bright-colored poster usually contained a warning: "Anyone who
tears down or covers up this poster
– is committing a counter-revolutionary act". The poster
was a powerful weapon, and just like any weapon, it had to be guarded
with utmost care.
The most outstanding among the first revolutionary posters
are the works of D.S. Moor, V.V. Mayakovsky , M.M. Cheremnykh
and V.N. Deni. Each of these artists used unique methods
and techniques in order to create emphatic art with powerful propaganda
During the Civil War, "ROSTA Windows" ("Okna
ROSTA") – a famous project by
the Russian Telegraph Agency, brought together artists who turned telegrams
from Red Army
soldiers into posters within hours of receiving them from the front
lines. Renowned poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, became the soul of this undertaking.
He produced texts based on the most recent telegrams and accompanied
them with sketches. Mikhail Cheremnykh was also actively engaged in
the project. Soviet artists frantically produced dozens of posters overnight,
and every morning "Okna ROSTA" were posted in the empty storefronts
and windows (hence the project’s name), informing the citizens of
the latest news in vivid and sharp-witted form.
Victor Deni, a superb master
of political caricature of his day, introduced smashing satire to the
Soviet propaganda art. His posters mercilessly ridiculed capitalists,
corrupt politicians and spineless yes-man.
When the "great edifice of
Socialism" was being erected through the first series of Five-Year
Plans, propaganda posters could be found everywhere in the USSR –
they were posted on construction sites, collective farm fields, grain
elevator towers and massive concrete walls of the DneproGes dam.
A look back at the posters from that era creates a chronicled timeline
of Soviet Union’s creation and evolution. Each and every major event
in the life of the Soviet people is reflected in the legacy of socialist
Just within days of the beginning
of WWII, Irakli Toidze created another legendary Soviet poster, "Motherland
Is Calling!" Catastrophic situation faced by the USSR during the
first period of the war is well illustrated by the image of a bloody
Nazi bayonet, pointed at a mother with a child in her arms standing
among flames of fire in Victor Koretsky’s poster "Red Army Soldier,
Save Us!" Alexei Kokorekin’s poster "For Motherland!",
picturing a fatally wounded sailor throwing an anti-tank grenade in
the midst of his enemies, was another powerful artwork that stirred
up patriotic passions among the Soviet people. After the Red Army stopped
and eventually pushed back the Germans, Victor Ivanov in his poster
"We are Drinking the Water From Our Native Dnieper, Soon
Drink From Prut, Neman and Bug" created an image of a heroic soldier-liberator
quenching his thirst by scooping up the symbolically sacred river water
with a helmet. Alongside the Soviet Army, which continued to break
the chains of Nazi occupation over Europe, Dementy Shmarinov’s poster
"Red Army Brings Liberation" entered Polish, Czech, Hungarian
and Romanian cities. At the end of WWII, Leonid Golovanov commemorated
the victory by drawing a poster of a triumphant Soviet soldier in Berlin,
placing an inscription "We Made It!" on the walls of Reichstag.
Over the period of WWII artists
created thousands of posters, millions of which were reproduced and
launched into circulation. Just like during the Civil War "Okna ROSTA"
(renamed "Okna TASS" after the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union")
played a very important role in motivating the nation.
The distinctive style of the
Soviet poster art was coined during times of war and struggle. It was
always laconic, expressive and straight-forward. Even from faraway it
was recognized by a person walking at a fast pace. The poster usually
featured one or two figures whose actions were underlined by a characteristic
movement. Clear contrast of the central figures (group) compared with
the rest of the objects in the composition distinguished the best works.
Eventually the artists started paying more attention to the human nature,
and learned how to convey personality and emotions through facial expressions
of their characters - thus making the posters more vigorous and effective.
With the end of WWII, world
peace and friendship among nations became the main theme of the propaganda
poster. Young artists like N. Treschenko, O. Savostyuk and B. Uspensky,
along with such distinguished masters of the poster art as Victor Govorkov,
generated interesting and witty compositions agitating for USSR as the
force of peace in the world.
In the post-war period, the
Soviet movie industry achieved considerable success. Famous movie-poster
artists, such as V. Kononov, M. Heifitz, B. Zelensky and I. Hazanovsky
refused to simply "announce" the movie releases in their work. Instead
they explored artistic expression in order to reveal the film's content
and essence through printed images. Works of these artists won numerous
awards at international competitions.
The grandiose 7-year program for
the development of USSR’s national economy, declared at the 21st
Communist Party Congress, required renewed efforts from the propaganda
establishment and especially the poster artists. Once again, colorful
and visually engaging posters motivated the enthusiasm of working masses
to carry out the Party’s plan in the newly established agricultural
communities and on sites of glorified construction projects.
Soviet posters have always kept
pace with the times. They created images of role models for generations
of Soviet workers and soldiers, exposed international warmongers and
fought for world peace.