Pamela Orlowska



The Use of Soviet Non-Literary Media

Pamela Orlowska

Artist Unknown. “The Bread one is working for”. Young man from the new regime refuses to sell bread unless the old regime shows work books – no work, no food. Courtesy Hoover Institution.


In 1917 the Bolsheviks gained power through the October Revolution and were almost immediately thrown into a civil war. They suffered from a political legitimacy deficit and attempted vigorously to hold on to their power. Their precarious position and the need for support led them to rely on different means of communication through the arts in order to persuade the people to embrace their ideologies and accept them as the official government. In doing so they also created a new culture, one that was based on experimentation, persuasion, utopia’s and marxist ideologies. Even after the Civil War the Bolsheviks and the intelligentsia continued their mass mobilization into the NEP era. They used many means at their disposal, including non-literary media such as the theater and the cinema which were advantageous because they were attractive to the masses and addressed the problem of illiteracy. These forms usually took on the role of agitprop and propaganda.

The goal of this research guide it to gather sources that pertain to the use of non-literary media, mostly theater and  cinema, by the Bolsheviks and the Soviets. Non-literary media meaning media that does not require the audience to read and instead focuses more on the movement, images and oral communication. The focus of this research guide will be on theater and cinema, however there is a small section dedicated to the propaganda poster. Besides these types of media, this research guide will also address the ideals that the Bolsheviks valued, different responses of the the community, as well as the interactions between the government and the respective arts. Key roles both in the government and of the artists themselves will be addressed and the different factors that affected the final products. In addition the evolutions of the use of this media for propaganda and Bolshevik agenda and ideals will be touched upon. The time frame of this research guide is from the revolution in 1917 to the end of the NEP Era roughly in 1928, although some of the sources give insight to the pre-revolutionary period that came before and the Stalinaztion one that occurred after.



Culture, Propaganda and Communication

The following series of sources are intended for a brief overview of the soviet culture, the different communicating methods and the propaganda designs that occurred during this period. Knowing the culture and the different approaches to reaching out to the people is essential to this study as it offers a backdrop to the situation that Russia and it’s citizens found themselves in.

Gleason, Abbot; Kenez, Peter; Stites, Richard, Bolshevik Culture, Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution. Indiana University Press, 1985.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Cultural Front, Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia. Cornell University Press, 1992

Bolshevik Culture is a collection of essays that center around the Bolsheviks attempts at creating a culture through various experiments. Some of the key topics and themes that are discussed are education, press, literature, conflicting utopia’s and iconoclasm. However it also encompasses some of the topics covered in this guide, namely Clement’s The Birth of the New Soviet Woman, Taylor’s The Birth of the Soviet Cinema, Tumarkin’s The Myth of Lenin during the Civil War Years. The two latter essay’s are based on book’s of the authors discussed in this guide. *See Taylor’s Politics of the Soviet Cinema and Tumarkin’s Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia.

Similarly Fitzpatrick’s collection of essays in the Cultural Front looks at the continuous struggles of cultural influence and political control in revolutionary Russia. One of the themes in her essays is the relationship between the old intelligencia and the new political leaders and their roles as bearers of political and cultural powers. This relationship is key to our topic since the intelligencia harbored most of the means of communication and cultural influence.  Fitzpatrick also discusses the cultural revolution, as well as some of the approaches with dealing with the role of intelligentsia and establishing a proletarian culture.

Stites, Richard. Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution. Oxford University Press, 1988.

In Revolutionary Dreams Stites explores the different Utopia’s that existed during the revolutionary period and how they co-existed, interacted, interfered and often misunderstood one another. She argues that the culture and experimentation that was so prevalent during this period was brought on by the utopia’s of the regime administrators, the intelligencia and the peasants. Upon exploring this array of utopia’s Stites also gives a glimpse into the different experimentations that were undertaken, from festivals to Lenin’s monumental propaganda’s, and how they were related to the Utopia’s (but also how they sometimes clashed against others).

Pethybridge, Roger. The Spread of the Russian Revolution: Essays on 1917. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972.

Pethybridge deals with the the spread of the russian revolution in six essays in which he focuses on different perspectives such as the press and the railways and how they affected Petrograd in and of itself. Although his analysis is focused on 1917, it gives a clear basis of the propaganda and communication that was occurring between the Bolsheviks and the people at the beginning of the Bolsheviks assertion to power.  Most intriguing is his analysis of the peoples reactions and responses to the revolution and the roles that these specific communications played in the political developments that occurred.

Kenez, Peter, The Birth of the Propaganda State. Cambridge University Press, 1917-1929.

The Birth of the Propaganda State focuses solely on the mass mobilization that was implemented during the Bolsheviks rule. Kenez sets about establishing that the mass propaganda that the Bolsheviks implemented, whether through cinema or the press, was an integral part of the society. He examines the roots of the basic features of the soviet indoctrinate and how slowly it metamorphosed to accommodate the various situations that occurred, from economic reconstruction to industrialization. He also pays close attention to the role of culture in the creation of these propaganda schemes as well as the roles of the propagandists themselves. His analysis also incorporates figures in the system such as Lenin and Lunacharsky and their roles, and often opinions, in the various propaganda like activities.


Organizations and Movements

There were several organizations and movements that influenced the soviet propaganda in the early soviet period. They varied in size, values and even duration of existence and influence. Some overlapped in terms of their ideals, utopias and members while others were disbanded through various means. The following sources give insight to some of these organizations and movements and their role in the agitation and propaganda during this period.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts Under Lunacharsky, October 1917-1921. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

The Commissariat of Enlightenment or Narkompros was charged with dealing with the organization of arts, education and anything else related to culture. Fitzpatrick’s The Commissariat of Enlightenment focuses on the agencies activities under Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky, a marxist revolutionary. Lunacharsky’s love of the arts makes him a unique case to revolutionary figures (although hardly not the only one), especially since he did little to hide his devotion. Fitzpatrick devotes her book to Lunacharsky, looking at the commissariat through his lenses. She weaves in the different groups that influenced the commissariat as well as how Lunacharsky’s views shaped the agency itself. Two of the more related chapters to our topic, “Prolecult” and “The Arts”, deal directly with the spread of the revolution via popular culture.

Mally, Lynn. Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990

The Proletkult, a political group that was born from “left-Bolshevism” and educational societies from before the revolution, was housed under Lunacharsky’s Narkompros and lead mainly by Alexander Bogdanov. In her book Culture of the Future Mally gives a general overview of the movement addressing their place in the new Bolshevik society, their dealings, interactions and views on the problem with social classes as well as the shaping and creation of leadership. In terms of the arts, Mally describes their vast and ambitious organizations that varied from theater to literature. She discusses their tactics in experimenting and creating this culture centered around the arts and the people that they tried to influence. Especially interesting is the Proletkult’s take on the education and creation of these artists and how even in a unified movement the different opinions and takes still existed somewhat co-dependently (although she later argues that it was one of the factors that led to their collapse). Also within Culture of the Future Lynn addresses the Utopia’s that existed within the organization and how those were tackled in regards to it’ activities such as the role of women and the upbringing of children.

Gooderham, Peter. “The Komsomol and Worker Youth: The Inculcation of ‘Communist Values’ in Leningrad during NEP.” Soviet Studies. no. 4 (1982).

Komosol is an abbreviation for All-Union Leninist Young Communist League which was a youth division in the soviet government. Gooderman looks at this groups involvement in spreading and maintaining the soviet values. He takes into account their influence and participation in the theater and cinema, and also their influence on their members, such as their value of social work. *For further reading see Kenez’s chapters on the Komosol in The Birth of the Propaganda State and Lynn’s Performing the New Soviet Woman.

Katerina Clark. Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution. Harvard University Press, 1998

In Petersburg Clark attempts to look at the social and political scene of the early soviet state by examining Petersburg and it’s flurry of tensions and experimentations in a series of essays. She argues that the culture was a product of both the intelligencia and the regime.  The first of these essays entitled “Revolution as Revelation: The Avant -Garde” explores the movement of Avant-Garde art and artists in the revolutionary period and their beliefs and experimentations in creating a new vision and enlightening the masses. Petersburg goes on to explore the different arts, especially theater, in terms of the tensions between different groups and aspects in creating the revolutionary culture.





Within their propaganda the Bolsheviks attempted to instill a variety of ideologies within the population through various methods of propaganda. The selected works within this section focus on some of these ideologies and manifestations often relying and reflecting on the different modes of propaganda that occured.

Tumarkin, Nina. Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia. Cambridge. Mass.: Havard University Press, 1983.

Lenin Lives analyzes the foundations and development of the Lenin cult that occurred in the early revolutionary years both before and after his death. The book overall is concerned with the propaganda and agitational actions of the state and certain individuals within it and how they helped manifest this religious like ideology. It also plays very close attention to the monumental propaganda that was involved in the creation of this cult both before and after Lenin’s death. Within the subject Lenin Lives also touches on the monumental propaganda that Lenin created himself.

Starks, Tricia. The Body Soviet: Propaganda, Hygiene, and the Revolutionary State. University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

In The Body Soviet Stark attempts to analyze the essence of the Bolsheviks attempts to promote health, hygiene and sanitation values within the society. His examination includes the origins and causes of this phenomenon as well as the different factors and individuals targeted. He does this so by examining the different modes of propaganda, from posters to theater troops, and the people and groups that established them. His study mainly focuses on the NEP period.


Neiman, Eric. Sex in Public, The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology. Princton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Neiman discusses the ideology of the Soviet Union in terms of sex in the early soviet period and the factors that affected it. He argues that the complexity of what exactly was encouraged and how it was encouraged was often misinterperted or misunderstood. He also discusses how during the NEP period and the cultural shifts that occurred officials were attempting to keep the society “pure”, a mentality he called “Gothic”. Neiman examines these topics by looking at a variety of literature, cinema productions and agitation strategies that were used during these shifts and implementations.


Corney, Fredrick. Telling October. Memory and the Making of the Bolshevik Revolution. Cornell University Press, 2004


Telling October explores the creation of the myth of the October Revolution through many means. Corney explores the question of how a revolution, that was frankly more of a coup d’etat, was transformed into one the most celebrated events of soviet history. He argues that the narrative of the story was carefully crafted and told by dramatizing the events themselves. He also looks at the attempts to personalize the revolution to the people. One of the most celebrated result of this establishment of the myth was Eisenstein’s film October filmed in 1928.


Different Forms


Agitprop trains were sent out into the country side with agitators to spread the word of the Soviet Union. These agitprop trains involved propaganda posters, printing presses, amateur theater groups agitki’s (short agitational films) and often included artists such as Mayakovsky and Vertov. This video gives a visual of these agitprop trains, the source material is unknown.


Theater was an important tool for the Bolsheviks. It addressed the issue of illiteracy and was manipulated easily in terms of the way it was presented. A couple of different theaters rose up after the revolution, most of them amateur theaters that varied from the spoken newspaper of the Blue Blouse to the agitation trials described in Woods and Cassidy’s books.

Lynn Mally. Revolutionary Acts: Amateur Theater and the Soviet State, 1917-1938. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 2000.

During the revolutionary period amateur theater boomed in the sense of popularity. Usually done my volunteers it usually helped express some of the revolutionary ideologies that were so prevalent. Mally Lynn attempts to follow the evolution of this theater in Revolutionary Acts and it’s relationship with the Bolsheviks as well as the people. She uses the amateur theater to look at the development of the soviet culture as time went on and how it affected the plays, the audiences and actors. Her examination is focused on Moscow and St. Petersburg and through these case studies she is able to construct a concise interpretations of the changing tendencies of this period.

Stourac, Richard, and Kathleen McCreery. Theater as a Weapon: Workers’ Theater in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, 1917-1934. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Although Theater as Weapon takes into account three different examples of worker’s theaters in three different countries, one of which is the Blue Blouse Group formed after the Russian Revolution, the book is best read overall for it looks at the similarities of the creation and development of these groups. It shows the relationship of a specific event, which in terms of Russia was the Revolution, and how it gave birth to the workers theater. Theater as Weapon traces the relationship between the state and the theater first the state’s reliance on the theater then the overuse of agitational propaganda in the theater itself. Stourac and McCreery seem to argue against agitational forms, at least those enacted by state, no matter what the foundation of the theater group was.

Von Geldern, James. Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1993.

The Bolshevik festivals were often festivals celebrating the revolution. In his book, Von Geldern looks at the collaborations of the many groups involved in creating this festivals, the three main ones being the state, the artists and the people. He constructs the essences of these festivals and the different factors that pulled it together (or sometimes apart). He also addresses the presence of futurism and the circumstances that led to it. Naturally within the Bolshevik Festivals agitprop and propaganda found their place. While describing the essence of the festivals Geldern gives a wider picture of where and how agitprop was implemented. He also looks at the role of the theater in these festivities, how slowly it progressed from one created by the Prolecult to it’s transformation into the mobile-popular theater. Alongside this theater the notion of circus theater cropped up with it’s own philosophy. Geldern also takes into account the struggles that artists dealt with in creating the symbolism for ideology, especially for the fact that often it was misinterpreted by people or the state.

Kelly, Catriona. Petrushka: The Russian Carnival Puppet Theater. Cambridge University Press: New York, 1990.

In Petrushaka Kelly looks at the Carnival Puppet theater called Petrushka and it’s evolution of folklore like entertainment to agitprop. The prevalent chapter to our topic is Kelly’s chapter titled “Sanitised Petrushka” in which she looks at the affects on the Petrushka theater after the revolution due to the pressure put on it by the regime, changes in culture and economic hardship. Analyzing some of the texts she notes the changes and improvisations that occurred but also the aspects that did not change. She then looks at what she calls the assault of Petrushka when it was manipulated for agitprop. She argues that those implementing the propaganda did not fully understand the significance of the theater, and how the incorporation of propaganda parallel’s the “assault of rural folklore” (208) after the revolution. However she makes key distinctions in the texts about the role of hierarchy and the proletariat individual. Kelly also looks at some of the texts in the early soviet union as a sort of satire of the society.

Wood, Elizabeth A. Performing Justice: Agitation Trials in Early Soviet Russia. Cornell University Press, 2005.

The Agitation trials were a form of theater where the persecution of individuals was played out in an attempt to educate the masses. The accused were usually guilty of random acts that were embodied by the state as anti-socialist. Wood analyzes these trials in the early soviet period and why they were so effective, taking in the complexity of their set up along with the intended effects on the society. The fact that the audience was able to vote guilty or not and sometimes play the lawyer or the judge brought them into the system while the complexity and morality of the accused made them search for the answer itself. However Wood also looks at the evolution of these trials as they changed over time to encompass more strict social rules and how they dealt with it’s victims in a cruel and punishing way. She also addresses the evolution of audiences, playwrights, actors and methods through this period up until the early 1930’s when the trials ceased to exist.

Lynn, Mally. “Performing the New Soviet Woman: The Komsmolka as Actress and Image in Soviet Youth Theater” Journal of Social History. no 1 (1996)

Lynn looks at the role of women in the Komsomol improvisational theater and how it was developed and created in a male dominated club. She doesn’t only focus on the women in the group but also their role in the plays themselves (such as being used for satire and being subjugated under the male). She analyzes the roles they potrayed in regards to the factory, the family and sex life.

Braun, Edward. Mayerhold: A Revolution in Theater. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Meyerhold was one of the most influential directors in the Early Soviet Period. He joined the Bolshevik party in 1918, served in NARKOPROS in the theater division and continuously influenced it from within. In his revised book from 1969’s  Meyerhold on Theater Braun looks at the powerful theater figure in regards to the work that he has done and the experiments that he attempted, especially after the revolution. He looks at the interactions between Meyerhold and the party, and the works that resulted from that. Although a revolutionary artist, one that had that had a role in Narkompros, Braunn also looks at the tension of this work with the on going trend of the avant-garde, and how affected his pieces.

Deak, Frantisek. “The AgitProp and Circus Plays of Vladimir Mayakovsky.” The Drama Review: TDR. no. 1 (1973).

Known mostly for his poetry and literary approaches in the revolutionary period, as well as his tendencies toward futurism, Mayakovsky is often forgotten as a figure in theater although his play Mystery-Bouffe was probably the first of the socialist kind. In his article Deak looks at the Mayakovsky’s role in agitprop production and circus performances of Mayakovsky as well as some of the propaganda posters that were created by the him.

Primary Sources:

Culture and Agitation: Theater Documents. London: Action Books, 1972.

Culture and agitation presents a set of Documents that center around the theme of Agitation. Although most of these documents center around other countries  “Outlines of Agitational Drama” explores the set up and innovations of the Improvised co-operative Proletcut theater. It describes two different examples of revolutionary episodes that are done with improvisation but also with the co-operation of the manger

Mayakovsky, Vladimir. The Complete Plays of Vladimir Mayakovsky. New York: Washington Square Press, 1968.

This collection of Mayakovsky’s plays gives an insight to the Bolshevik culture of the time, but also to the playwright himself. The collection includes Vladimir Mayakovsky, a tragedy, Mystery-Bouffe, The Bed Bug and The Bathhouse.




There was much enthusiasm in the use of the cinema to further soviet policies. Still being developed, Bolshevik officials acknowledges it’s use and attempted to shape it as propaganda to use to inform the people. Lenin once famously said “For us the most important of all arts is cinema”. The use of the cinema varied from the agitki that were often used in Agitation Trains and Ships to the movie productions of artists like Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin.

For a quick overview of the beginnings of the Soviet cinema, this Documentary summarizes the different aspects of this period as well as gives a condensed look at the films created.

Leyda, Jay. A History of Russian and Soviet Film. London: Allen & Unwin, 1960.

Kino is an overview of the evolution and changes of the Soviet film industry and it’s ups an downs. The text addresses the period before and after the revolution and is a good start for dipping one’s toes into the subject. The chapters focused on revolutionary russia offers a concise history of the Bolsheviks approach to the cinema industry.  Leyda discusses some of the opinions of the time both of those in the cinema and in the government to use cinema as a propaganda. The book is also an excellent source for cinema productions for it encompasses a (selected) list of works.

Kenez, Peter. Cinema and Soviet Society 1917-1953. Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Fleshing out his brief analysis of the cinema as soviet propaganda in The Birth of the Propaganda State, Kenez looks at the governments attempts to harness and use the cinema as powerful tool. In these terms he looks at the different problems they faced, from material shortage to reaching the peasantry. He seems to argue that they failed in grasping the full potential of the cinema to the extant that was possible. He also looks at the changes and innovations of the cinema style, production means, style and the such in terms of the revolutionary movement. Cinema and Soviet Society‘s first two chapters address this guide’s time frame where he looks at the changing tendencies and various groups and organizations involved.

Taylor, Richard. Politics of the Soviet Cinema. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Taylors Politics of the Soviet Cinema gives an overall account of the relationship of the Bolsheviks and the cinema and their interactions. He explores questions and problems that often occurred between the two and often incorporates the audiences as well, although those are usually limited to attendance and popularity of the films. He also takes into account the attitudes of the soviet leaders towards the art and some of it’s products. This would include the attempts at centralizing cinema and the creation and organization of the institutions tasked with this job, namely Goskino of 1922 and Sovkino of 1925. He goes on to cover the priorities of the different forms of cinema as well as the discrepancies between promise and performance.

Shlapentokh, Dimitry, Shlapentokh, Vladmir, Soviet Cinematography. New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1993.

Shlapentokh’s and Shlapentokh’s Soviet Cinematography concerns itself mainly with the presence of ideologies in the soviet films of the era. It looks at specific productions and analyzes the changes changes that occur through time in terms of the ideologies that are integrated within. What is most interesting about Soviet Cinematography is that it also takes into account the Anti-Bolshevik cinema pieces that appeared. The text looks at how these films were constructed to show their sentiments, their impact, and their evolution in regards to ideology, presence and state interference.

Mayne, Judith. Kino and the Woman Question. USA: Ohio State University Press, 1989.

Mayne analyzes the soviet scene in terms of the tension between the art of cinomography and the issue of gender and sexual politics. Her study encompasses five films: Eisenstein’s Strike (1925), Pudovkin’s Mother, Room’s Bed and Sofa (1927), Ermler’s Fragment of an Empire and Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (although she does incorporate Einstein’s Potemkin and Kushleshov’s By the Law when addressing the woman question). Through these films Mayne tries to establish the varying roles of the Soviet Woman (that she argues is never thoroughly and concretely defined) and the theme of sexuality and class that typically follows the theme of the role of the woman.


Gillespie, David C. Early Soviet Cinema Innovation, Ideology and Propaganda. Wallflower Press, 2000.

Gillespie looks at the top directors during the so called Golden Age: Kuleshov, Einstain, Pudovkin, Vertov and Dovzhenko. He looks at their political connections and the main pieces that they created but also pays close attention to their art as soviet propaganda. The book is divided as to analyze each artist but paints a broader picture of the soviet cinema in regards to the state and the art before the revolution.

Liber, George. Alexander Dovzhenko A Life in Soviet Film. British Film Institute, 2002. and

Keplay, Vance. In Service of the State, The Cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, LTD. 1986.

Alexander Dovzhenko was an ukrainian film director who started his career in the mid 1920’s. In his book In Service to the State Keplay looks at nine of Dovzheno’s films and his techniques in promoting the soviet agenda. He attempts to capture the duality of Dozhenko as a spokesman for tradition but also as a revolutionary spirit. Liber’s approach toward Dozhenko differs and looks at his character as one being trapped by the state. Although both works encompass the time period of rougly around 1926 to 1940 they give great insight to the NEP and collectivization aspects in Dozhenko’s work and the tensions in the films produced during the late 1920’s.

Goodwin, James. Eisenstein, Cinema, and History. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1993.

Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most popular directors in the “golden age” of Soviet cinema. He is best known for his film Battleship Potemkin and October, two very influential pieces that are based on historical events. Goodwin attempts to capture his revolutionary spirit in Eisenstein, Cinema and History. He argues that marxism is essential to Eisenstein’s work in capturing and defining historical event, that it is a part of his art more than his own attempt to incorporate it. He does this so by analyzing the films of Eisenstein regarding 5 components: history, materialism, dialectics, critique and ideology. He is also thorough in defining Eisenstein’s surroundings and influences of the time, but also incorporates his opinions upon looking back.

Primary Sources:

Vertov, Dziga. Kino-Eye the Writings of Dziga Vertov. London: University of California Press, 1984.

Kino Eye is a collection of Vertov’s writings, one of the best cinematographers of the time. He established the institution KinoPravda which produced a lot of the agitki for the agitational trains. The collection includes the writings of Vertov on KinoPravda, RadioPravda, his diaries notebooks and diaries and also some of his projects and proposals.

KinoPravda’s newsreel Series (unfortunately not captioned)

The Film Factory, Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

The Film Factory is a collection of documents on soviet cinema. It encompasses articles, documents and speeches by individuals such as Lunacharsky and Kuleshov. The documents are arranged chronologically by year and so the collection gives a good impression on the cultural shifts and changing opinions through the years.


The following collections of films are in no way meant to insinuate that they are the only one’s available. These four were chosen based on a variety of factors. The first three have to do with the Revolution and the different the use of

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Mother (1926)

 Pudovkin’s Mother is a film that is set in the 1905 Revolution and depicts the struggle of a mother who’s husband and son are in conflict, being on opposite sides of the revolution. After the death of her husband and only after her son’s arrests she joins the revolutionary movement. Ultimately the film leads to the attempt of freeing the prisoners by a mass, a conflict in which both mother and son lose their lives. The film draws on the association of the revolutionary movement with the common person and worker and is one of few films that draws on the use of past revolutions.

Sergei M. Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928)

Eisenstein’s October is the dramatization but also the account of the events of the October Revolution of 1917. It was produced for the 10th anniversary of the revolution. Similar to Pudovkin’s Mother it promotes the revolution and it’s ideologies, especially through it’s dramatization of the scene of the storming of the winter palace.

Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925)

 Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin depicts the mutiny of the crew of the Battleship Potempkin in 1905. It serves the same purpose as a revolutionary propaganda tool as the previous two films. As with Mother‘s death scene it also sympathizes with the revolutionaries, especially with the Odessa step sequence.

Dziega Vertov’s Soviet Toys

Vertov’s Soviet Toys, unlike the previous three films, deals with the present. It shows the ideologies of the USSR, especially the value of workers. It depicts the bourgeoisie man and women as greedy and unproductive. There is also the depiction of religion as unproductive. The Proletariat, on the other hand, are portrayed as working together, with the two workers solving the problem of the Bourgeoisie and  ultimately forming the society under the USSR.

Propaganda Posters

Another form the Bolsheviks used to communicate through the masses were the propaganda posters that were used both within the cities and in the agitational trains that visited the country side.


Bonnel, Victoria. Iconagraphy of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.

Bonnel looks at soviet political posters by focusing on four sets of iconographic imagery: the worker, women, the leader (usually Lenin or Stalin) and internal/external enemies. Through these analysis’s she also takes into account other aspects of the posters such as the visual syntax that related to the positioning of the being or object and the environment. How the receiving audience perceived, or at least, because of lack of evidence, how they probably perceived these posters is also touched upon although Bonnel focuses more on the changing of what she calls “official ideologies” in these presentation of iconographic images.

Bernstein, Frances L. “Envisioning Health in Revolutionary Russia: The Politics of Gender in Sexual-Enlightenment Posters of the 1920s.” The Russian Review. no. 2 (1998).

This article examines the propaganda posters that were meant to enlighten the society of sexual and non-sexual health. He explains the many different meanings of the concept sanitary enlightenment and what each poster that he analyzes is created for.  He also takes into account different themes such as the depiction of heroes and women in the posters and their place within the bigger picture. The propaganda posters he uses all vary in form so that there is also a clear emphasis in the different styles of these propaganda posters.

Primary Sources:

The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1980 from the USSR Lenin Library Collection. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985

This collection encompasses 138 posters that aim to tell the history of the soviet union. It contains both stenciled and printed posters from various national public houses.



Cassiday, Julie A. The Enemy on Trial : Early Soviet Courts on Stage and Screen. Northern Illinois University Press. 2000

In her book, The Enemy on Trial Cassidy attempts to analyze the social and political  show trials that occurred in the late 1920’s. These trials, which were legal, attempted to teach the masses of the Bolsheviks ideologies and beliefs through theatrical and cinematic elements of the time, including the avant-garde approach. In trying to establish the origins of these trials Cassidy offers a unique analysis of the theater and cinema and their propagandic attempts at swaying the audience. She also takes into account the different elements that existed within the the plays and cinema productions themselves and how they were used by the Bolsheviks to further their agenda.