My colleague Josh Greenberg and I have just spent two very interesting days at the Wende Museum in Los Angeles. Our main goal during the visit was to photograph objects from the everyday life of the communist era in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union for our 1989 project. The Museum has quite the collection of artifacts–approximately 75,000 or so–that emphasize the material culture of communism, rather than the political/economic narrative that dominates so much of the representation of this era. In the years to come, quite a few very interesting dissertations/articles/books will be written from this collection.
Here are just two samples of the kinds of things we brought back with us. These two Soviet posters show just how much the regime’s attempts to deal with social problems was changing in the last years before 1989. The first poster is from 1972 and admonishes those who drink at work as failing the workers and the state. The second is from 1987 and simply says that drugs are destructive. The first is classic worker’s state propaganda, the second is more generalized and much less ideological. You may also notice, for instance, that the color red (central to the vast majority of communist propaganda posters) does not appear in the second one.
In the 1989 project, we’ll use objects like these, and others I’ll preview in coming posts, to help students come to grips with the ways that the regimes struggled to maintain some level of control over the social, cultural, and political agendas in their countries.