About the Posters

The Russian Revolution through the Prism of Propaganda
About the Posters
 

About the Author

The collector, Arthur Woodburn (1890-1978), was an active member of the Scottish Labor Party, serving as its secretary from 1932-1939. He visited the Soviet Union in 1932 and brought back a collection of posters, which he later donated to the National Library of Scotland. Upon his return to the United Kingdom, he lectured on Soviet planning (see poster above), and remained active in Scottish politics, eventually becoming Secretary of State of Scotland. The Woodburn collection of Soviet posters may be viewed at the National Library of Scotland's Digital Archive.
Why study propaganda posters?
The Bolsheviks relied heavily upon visual propaganda to communicate their message because much of their audience was illiterate. Though literacy data for 1917 is unavailable, just twenty years earlier 83 percent of the rural population was illiterate, as was 55 percent of the urban population. Though vast numbers of townspeople and peasants could not decode the written word, most Russians could decode images with ease because of the highly iconic culture of the Orthodox Church. Posters and cartoons communicated effectively through pictures, which made them ideal mediums for the Bolsheviks to spread their message of revolution.

The first political posters came off the presses in August 1918. During the course of the Civil War, “about 3,100 posters were produced by more than 450 organizations and institutions.” These posters were printed by the millions. Litizdat, a poster publisher under the Political Directorate of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Russian Union of Federsated Socialist Republics, printed about 7.5 million posters and other propaganda material between 1919-1922. Gosizdat, the state publishing house, printed 3.2 million copies in 1920 alone. American journalist Albert Rhys Williams visited the Soviet Union in 1923 and remarked, “The visitor to Russia is struck by the multitudes of posters—in factories and barracks, on walls and railway-cars, on telegraph poles—everywhere.”

This website focuses on Soviet propaganda posters because the Bolsheviks relied heavily upon such visual media to communicate their message of revolution to the masses. Even as historians studying literate populations use textual materials as historical sources, historians of the Bolshevik Revolution may effectively use visual materials as sources in their narratives.

See Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin. (University of California Press, 1997), quotations are from pp 5-6.

About the translations

All translations found in this website are mine. Three of the four posters are written in verse. In propaganda, how the message is communicated is nearly as important as what is communicated. In the interests of preserving (as much as possible) the catchy rhyme and rhythm of the original Russian, I did not use a literal word-for-word methodology in my translations.

Image credits: Image of Arthur Woodburn is from Alba Publishing, Scottish Politics Research Unit.