Early Soviet Advertising: "We Have to Extract All the Stinking Bourgeois Elements"

By Tolstikova, Natasha | Journalism History, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Early Soviet Advertising: "We Have to Extract All the Stinking Bourgeois Elements"


Tolstikova, Natasha, Journalism History


This article unveils the roots of Soviet advertising and the sources for its inspiration, some of which resided in Russian revolutionary visual propaganda as well as in capitalist advertising. It analyzes the 1920s, which was when the idea of socialist advertising was seriously discussed and utilized in the media. Zhurnalist, a trade publication for print workers, was closely supervised by the Communist Party, which considered advertising a wasteful economic activity peculiar to capitalism and incompatible with socialism. However, the magazine took a pro-advertising position that probably resulted from the overall interest in advertising on the ideological level. The article argues that the advertising in Zhurnalist reflected the authorities' desire to utilize this traditionally capitalist tool for the benefit of the socialist economy.

The expression "Soviet advertising" appears to be an oxymoron. In the Soviet Union, the state was totally responsible for all production, including consumer goods. Although brand names were present, there was no competition amongst goods. Therefore, at first glance, there would appear to be no justification for the use of advertising. However, the evidence suggests that advertising existed in the Soviet Union throughout its entire history. What was the nature of this advertising? Did the Soviets have a theoretical foundation for socialist advertising? How instrumental was its application? What was the relationship of advertising to economic and political situations and cultural and social conditions?

This article examines the roots of advertising in pre- and post-revolutionary Russia and offers a detailed account of it in the 1920s. This was a period of Soviet interest in advertising that was particularly reflected in Zhurnalist, a trade periodical for print workers that displayed an editorial affinity for the topic of advertising.1 During 1921-28, Lenin's government removed barriers to previously illegal private trade and created conditions for competition between the state and private businesses. At the same time, the proponents of socialist advertising attempted to establish the ideological base and the rationale for Soviet advertising. This study documents and analyzes the early trade advertising efforts and how the Soviets theorized the purpose of advertising and its value to the socialist way of life.

Primary sources for this study were Zhurnalist (Journalist), which has not been used by researchers, as well as what the published memoirs of artist Aleksandr Rodchenko and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky revealed about their advertising activity during the 1920s. A number of secondary historical sources also were checked for triangulation. Whereas most of the Russian advertising phenomena has been well researched, described, and analyzed, the day-to-day common trade advertising that quietly but persistently appeared in 1920s magazines and newspapers, as well as the enthusiastic attitudes toward the idea of socialist advertising coming from its defenders, has received little attention.2 This study analyzed every advertising-related article in the magazine, established emergent themes, and interpreted their significance by contextualizing them within the secondary historical data.3

The October Revolution of 1917 ruptured the gradual development of advertising in Russia. The roots of the advertising can be traced to the seventeenth century when oral announcements by market place criers, trade signs, and crudely made folk pictures were used in commercial advertising.4 The folk art style "lubok," which had crude and primitive figures and rhymes, was later "borrowed" by Mayakovsky when he worked in the political agitation genre. Until 1861, Russia had a predominantly agricultural economy and the right to publish commercial advertising was reserved for government publications.5 After the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the country's economy had rapidly moved toward capitalism. …

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Early Soviet Advertising: "We Have to Extract All the Stinking Bourgeois Elements"
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