Russian Cultural Studies: An Introduction

By Catriona Kelly; David Shepherd | Go to book overview

8
The Art of the Political Poster

STEPHEN WHITE

Maiakovskiicalled them 'flowers of the revolution'; and for the critic Viacheslav Polonskii, who helped to organize their production during the Civil War, they were 'more powerful than cannon and bullets' in achieving the Bolshevikvictory.1It was certainly difficult to avoid the presence of the political poster in early post-Revolutionary Russia, as a succession of visitors could testify. A German doctor, Alfons Goldschmidt, in Moscowin the spring of 1920, found 'posters on all the walls, in thousands of shops, on telegraph poles, in pubs, in factories, everywhere'.2The radical British journalist H. N. Brailsford, in the small town of Vladimir, 120 miles to the east, found 'posters in colour, posters in print and clever stencilled drawings, imprinted in black on the whitewashed walls', which 'formed your mind for you, as you walked, by their reiterated suggestion'.3 By 1922, Polonskii remarked, there was something like 'postermania', with designs of some kind being produced by 'virtually every institution with an agitational or educational function'.4

There was certainly no doubt that if the new Soviet government wanted to appeal for popular support it would have to rely on nonliterary means. According to the 1897census, only 28 per cent of the population of the Russian Empire aged between 9 and 49 could read and write. By 1920, when the next census was taken, things had improved somewhat, but still no more than 40 per cent were literate.5 In any case the printing industry had ground to a halt because of the lack of fuel and spare parts, public transport was in chaos, and stocks

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