Tag Archives: propaganda

Soviet Anti-Alcohol Propaganda

After visiting the Museum of Communism in Prague, I have been fascinated with propaganda posters. They share attractive design and typographical movements from their brethren in advertising, but they are grounded in darkness. Advertisements appeal to desire, ambition, family, and goodness (to a laughable extent, seriously is there anything more candy-coated than a McDonald’s or a Coca Cola ad?) ; propaganda posters appeal to fear, resentment, social-approbation, and shame. Advertisements recede into history, but they retain their emotional glow—we still enjoy old neon hotel signs and Coca Cola ads on the side of brick buildings. Propaganda maintains its darker emotions too—some of the kinder ones, like Rosie the Riveter, have crossed into pop culture, but war bonds posters from WWI and racist posters from WWII have understandably vanished.

Propaganda posters from other cultures fascinate me because they contain grim honesty. What people were meant to fear and how that fear was instilled is telling. It seems to me that propaganda varies between nations more than advertising because differences are often the source of fear.

The publishing company FUEL has a series of interesting books about Russian and Soviet culture. Their book Alcohol collects dozens of Soviet anti-drinking posters. Some of their are stylish. Some are tacky. They depict every manner of disordered drinking–children drinking, drinking during pregnancy, factory workers drinking, drivers drinking, people drinking poisonous moonshine. These are distressing ideas; they must have occurred often enough to cause anxiety.

I’ve mentioned this book to several people, and they are always surprised to hear that Russia ever suggested drinking less. They find drinking and Russia to be synonymous. Most of these posters are from the 1980s, as part of an initiative under Gorbachev. If American perception is any measure, the propaganda seems to have been ineffective.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Writing prompt: Farming the Death Valley

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Farming the death valley”


Dad said I was a hero. Mom wouldn’t speak to me. I was going to go farm in the Death Valley, so neither of their reactions were really at the top of my mind. I went to the City Works, excited and nervous.

“These are the seeds you’ll take. I see you’ve done work in the local farms, so you probably know what you need to. Still, we have a training course for you. The conditions in the valley are a little different. Wetter. You’ll have to watch for rot more, but things grow there.” The representative spoke in slightly awed tones. Everyone seemed to.

“Different conditions… and different critters,” I remarked.

“Yes, different critters. That’s part of the course. I… didn’t want to be grim. You know most of the farmers survive, come back very profitable. The valley is supposed to be beautiful, like a paradise.”

“Most. So… more than 50%? How much more than 50%?”

She looked away. I snorted softly.

“It’s a good thing to do,” she said, with softness that spoke of conviction rather than the propaganda associated with her office. My sister went.” She paused, and I felt like she didn’t return. “The yields they can get in the valley… people like you keep children from starving.”

“That’s not why I’m doing it,” I said.

“Well, that’s not up to me,” she replied. “But we try to prepare you for the valley as best we can.”

“It’s mist. It comes in under the doors and takes you in the night. Is there a preparation for that?”

She looked away again.

Style: Soviet Propaganda Posters

The 20-40s really seem like it was a golden age for illustration. Color photos were not as vibrant as they are today, yet mass printing existed. Thus, beautiful and stylized portraits of life were used in advertising and propaganda (Alphonse Mucha did lovely art nouveau illustrations for advertisers since the late 1800s, I wrote about him here). Many of us have seen the posters created for the Great Depression and WW2 by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton.

When I visited the Czech Republic, Budapest and East Berlin, I was struck by their propaganda posters from the same period. There was such a contrast between the lovely illustrations and the content that we would likely find oppressive. It can be a window into history to understand how people chose (or were forced into) their path. For good collections of Czech or CSSR Propaganda, check out the Communist Musuem in Prague and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The featured image for this post is the poster for the Communist Museum; one of my souvenirs from Prague are some nesting dolls with this design.

To have more we must produce more (Wikipedia)

The Czech, Hungarian, and German posters seem hard to find, and I only know the languages a little (if anyone knows good sources, let me know!) I find the role of small countries in the early 20th century especially interesting since they are underrepresented. The countries of central Europe endured many of the worst hardships during the 20th century. There are many sources for Russian propaganda posters:


10 years since the revolution