Early Soviet posters
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The early years of the Soviet Union required a shift from the Old Regime, in which the Czar and the Church wielded significant power, to the Soviet regime, which vilified both. The Soviet regime demanded that its citizens start building a new country with an entirely new set of rules which included, in essence, a social and economic makeover with no religion, the creation of "a new man," and the rule of the Communist Party. Although Czar Nicholas II abdicated and the Russian Provisional Government was overthrown during the October Revolution in 1917, it took the Communist Party years to erase the old ways of thinking. In 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established and leaders worked to embed the new country's philosophy and ideology into everyday life through image-heavy propaganda aimed at the largely illiterate peasant population.
The images of the figures representing the Old Regime, including priests, noblemen, factory owners, and the Czar were portrayed as villains in an effort to encourage the population to shed their previously held beliefs in favor of a bright Soviet future that promised them work, better health, education, and community. Those "villains" were portrayed as "the enemies of the people" who exploited the unwitting masses by clouding their minds with religion, while pocketing profits. Those who clung to the old ways were accused of posing a threat to the cultural, religious, social, and economic aspects of the Soviet Union; however, anyone who did not fit the mold of the "New Soviet Man," might be considered a "socially harmful element."
In its effort to create the "new man," the Party took great interest in the upbringing of children, hoping that children, who knew no different and were raised with the Communist Party ideals, would act under the belief that the collective was more important than family loyalties. Education was strictly controlled and children were involved in Communist youth organizations which worked to eradicate illiteracy and to develop solidarity among the citizenry.
The Communist party placed the responsibility of the future of the Soviet Union upon its citizens, pinning any failure on the greed of aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, religious figures, former factory owners or business entrepreneurs, wealthier peasants ("kulaks"), and individuals. These "enemies of the people" could be arrested, executed, or exiled.
This collection includes forty-eight early Soviet propaganda posters which document the Communist Party's propaganda efforts to embed the new country's philosophy and ideology into everyday life. The posters which clearly show the Party's anti-religious and anti-capitalist views, as well as ideas for child care, are largely illustrative, with some including poems, songs, and childcare instructions.
This collection is arranged in four series: I. Anti-capitalist and anti-religious posters; II. Anti-religious propaganda; III. Promotion of the Communist Party and Soviet lifestyle; and IV. Soviet childcare and parenting rules. The finding aid includes detailed translation of the poster text from Russian to English; with original text in Russian in parenthesis. Within series, posters are alphabetized by English translation.
About a third of the posters (eleven) feature images that condemn religious authorities and capitalists at the same time (Series I. Anti-capitalist and anti-religious posters), implying that capitalists benefitted from the masses being distracted by religion. Fat men in top hats in these represent corrupt capitalists, the bourgeoisie, and kulaks.
Series II. Anti-religious propaganda consists of eighteen posters. Most of these address Orthodox Christianity in particular; and posters include negative images of Jesus, the Holy Trinity, Saints, priests, and angels.
The third series, Promotion of the Communist Party and Soviet lifestyle, contains five posters, and focuses on the development of the newly liberated and healthy Soviet. Two posters discourage the drinking of alcohol, one encourages exercise, one illustrates how women are liberated by the Soviet lifestyle (in particular daycare for their children), and one demonstrates the value of the worker's union.
The final series, IV. Soviet child care and parenting rules, includes explanations of what entails bad parenting and instructions on what mothers should do to ensure their children are healthy and growing up to be productive members of society. Several posters focus on hygiene, the need for healthy food, fresh air, a stable home life, and play. In addition, an importance is placed on reading and literacy and the need for all members of society to work for the common good.
The drawing style of these posters only begins to resemble the Soviet-look with which most people are familiar. Women pictured in the posters often wear head scarves, a remnant from the Czarist regime. Because of the visual nature of these posters, and because many were designed specifically for an illiterate population, researchers not reading Russian will still be able to gain significant impact from the posters themselves, especially with the English translations found in the finding aid. This collection may be of interest to researchers interested in what the early Soviet state wanted every Soviet citizen to unlearn, learn and follow; as well as propaganda tactics, more generally.
Gift of Thomas Woody.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Laura Auketayeva
- Finding Aid Date
- 2019 June 26
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.