Social Advertising in Stalinist Times

Contrary to popular stereotype, the majority of advertising in Stalin’s USSR were associated not with party and ideological propaganda, but rather with what we might today call ‘social advertising’. If during Tsarist times, ‘education of the populace’ was a role of the church, in the Soviet Union, this role was taken by the state, and the extent of educational works were magnified manifold: it was necessary to create a consciousness in the ‘new man’, to form a new way of life, a new quotidian, and to eliminate illiteracy.

Many directions of social enlightenment were first begun in early Soviet period. For example, in 1930 already there were anti-smoking posters.

Nicotine is poison! (One drop of nicotine kills a small animal. A person who smokes will, over 30 years, consume 200,000 cigarettes, or 160 kg of tobacco, which contains 800gm of nicotine)

And the posters already look completely professional, not only in the artistic but also in the informational sphere. Below is another poster from 1930:

Smoking is costly and dangerous for health and life.

As far as I am concerned, we don’t have nearly enough of such posters as the wonderful ‘Our ultimatum to adults‘ (1930):

Our ultimatum to adults! Adults – don’t spread tobacco fumes into the air we breathe; don’t set us a bad example by sucking on cigarettes; before you preach the ills of smoking, give it up yourselves!

‘Do not set us a bad example by sucking on cigarettes!’

It was probably in the USSR of 1930 that the first large-scale anti-smoking campaign was initiated, as indicated by the following poster which dates from the same year:

It is forbidden to smoke here… But I smoke.

Although ‘dry laws’ were abolished in 1924, there continued to be relentless campaigns against alcoholism in the USSR. (Below is a poster from 1929.)

There’s a play on words here. The ‘o’ in Sport gives strength’ while the ‘i’ in Spirt (spirit) gives death.

 Poster by N. Deni, 1930:

No point kidding with the drunk / He needs to be beaten / Culturally / severely / in fury, angrily / beaten every day / every step of the way / no breath should be granted the enemy.

From 1930, ‘What can be bought for kids at the cost of 1 litre of vodka‘:

Another social ill fought vigorously by soviet social advertising was prostitution. This was considered a legacy of exploitative society, requiring total eradication. But the problem was not that easily solved. The poster below is from 1929:

One of the issues faced by the Soviet regime was the emancipation of women, their conversion to active participants in the construction of the new order. Many works were dedicated to this theme. Here is one from the 1920s, ‘Woman – Learn to read and write!

Oh dear, mum, if you could read and write, you could have taught me!

From the 1920s, ‘Down with kitchen slavery!

It is possible that the USSR was the first country in the world to seriously turn attention to the problem of sexual harassment. Here is K. Rotov’s ‘Away with molesters of women‘:

In the 1930s appeared the first posters promoting the traffic code. Here is ‘Disobey the law – risk your life‘ (1930s):

Besides addressing the “negatives”, i.e. the evils of anti-social behavior, social advertising was distributed on a large scale to assert positive behaviours. It primarily promoted a healthy lifestyle as the most important attribute of the new Soviet society.

The struggle against poor sanitation at the time was very serious. Below is ‘Wash your hands after work and before eating‘, 1931.

Have a wash after work‘ (1932):

In the 1930s, one of the ideals of Soviet life was the garden city.

The duty of every worker is to bring sanitation to every house and every street.

In the USSR, there was enormous attention towards the development and propaganda of physical education and sport. Here is Alexander Deyneka’s 1933 poster ‘To work, to build, and not to whine’:

… you may not be an athlete, but you can certainly be fit

Here is A. Kokorekin, ‘Be ready’ (1934):

Be ready for work and defence.

Many of these posters are highly artistic works, almost masterpieces. My favourite is the following poster from 1947 by L. Golovanov:

And this – a total masterpiece: V. Koretsky, ‘Train!’ (1951):

If you want to be like me, train!

In the early post-war years appeared the first posters for mass tourism. Here is one from 1947, ‘Be a tourist on the weekend‘:

Be a tourist‘ (1949):

Be a tourist! Travel around your native country!

A special focus of social advertising in Stalin’s USSR was to entice the youth into new technologies and prestigious professions. The most prestigious, of course, was aviation. Here is G. Klyutsis’ ‘Youth – get in the planes‘:

At the same time, advertising morally encouraged people into the difficult, noble professions. Below is ‘Fame and honour to village doctors‘ (1948):

Perhaps it was pleasant for people in these professions to see such posters. Here is V. Koretsky, ‘Glory to the teacher‘ (1949):

One of the most ambitious projects of the Stalinist USSR was the so-called ‘cultural revolution’: the complete eradication in the shortest possible time of illiteracy (which had been 75% of the population in Tsarist times), the construction of an enormous network of libraries, clubs, cinemas, radio stations, the opening of new schools, institutes and universities. This huge work was reflected in poster art. Here is ‘Everyone to the library‘ (1929):

Every farm hand, peasant and poor man should become a reader at the library.

Here is ‘A good library for every Soviet village‘ (1935):

The book – our true helper on the Bolshevik path to a culturally rich and prosperous collective farm life. (The man’s got a Sholokhov, but note the book the woman’s reading – scintillating stuff! Stalin on Lenin (!))

There was promotion of high standards of service. Here is a poster from 1948:

We will cater culturally to every visitor!

By the way, it was found that even under capitalism, high standards of service did not appear by themselves, and needed to be inculcated.

There was the promotion of social activism and participation in various socially useful productive works. Here is ‘Join the volunteer fire service‘ (1952):

And, finally, social advertising in the Stalinist USSR promoted even such eternal and classless values and concepts such as ‘family honour’. Here is a poster by V. Govorkov (1949):

This is only a brief overview of some of the directions of social advertising in Stalin’s Soviet Union; an introduction to this huge subject. Of course, real life was quite far from beautiful posters; Soviet society under Stalin faced massive repression and years of hunger. But still these examples of social advertising demonstrate the main directions of state policy, its ideals, values and attentions. There is much that today’s world can learn from it.

[Translated from Социальная реклама в сталинском СССР, Visual History on LiveJournal, Feb 11, 2013.]

4 thoughts on “Social Advertising in Stalinist Times

  1. Fresh visual insights into post-war Stalinist Russia- the country which lost 25 million dead(40%
    of all deaths in WWII) & ‘tore the guts out of the German army'(Churchill)- I loved the poster of
    the man reading Sholokov(The Silent Don, Nobel Prize-winner 1966) & the woman reading
    Stalin on Lenin(Soviet equivalent of the Maoist little Red Book the bible of the Cultural Revolution.
    I was surprised illiteracy was only 75% in Tsarist times, that is the current illiteracy rate in Afghanistan!
    Thanks for an aesthetic & historical feast!!

  2. Pingback: The Pedagogical Problems with an Imaginary Classroom - Mr. Roberts

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