Friday, May 11, 2012


It’s amazing how every challenge to capitalism ultimately becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Even the most nefarious of threats—the dreaded Red Menace of Communism—has become a quaintly nostalgic meme to be either ridiculed, fashionably fancied, or dragged out of its tomb to scare those old enough to remember the Cold War. It seems the one thing we aren’t able to do with Communism is take it seriously.

But even stripped of its radical ideology (in fact, especially when stripped of its ideology) the raw visual power of Communist propaganda art is impossible to deny. The Soviets were such masters of the printed image, it seems now that the only thing holding the USSR together was its propaganda, usually in the form of the mass-produced poster, plastered on the bullet-pocked walls of its decaying cities.

The offset press was the perfect mechanism to transmit the ideals of the revolution to a mostly illiterate peasantry, hungry for hope and progress as much as for food. The artists of Soviet Russia created images that mobilized millions to the Communist cause, but what’s more, they created art that has outlasted the cause it sought to promote, art that has undeniably seeped into the cultural consciousness of western popular culture.

At first glance, one could easily dismiss David King’s Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin as a work of commie propaganda porn, a celebration and sensualization of images that were created specifically to mask the repression of a failing ideology. Yet even with its artsy, fetishistic trappings, Red Star constantly reminds its readers to see the posters as propaganda as well as art, so that the longview comes into focus...