Art celebrating state power is interesting to compare and contrast between Socialist and Capitalist societies.
The poster below was printed for the 22nd Party Congress. This was in 1961, when NikitaKhrushchev promised the nation to build Communism by 1980. It shows a procession of Soviet people marching toward a bright future of social justice, spiritual perfection and material cornucopia.
What makes it uniquely pertaining to Real Socialism?
- The dominating presence of a sanctified person who is not a religious saint or an immortal being (Lenin)
- The importance of industrial scenery in the bottom right corner. Under Socialism, it’s a reassuring symbol of progressivist development, self-reliance, security and future wealth.
- In the center, a peasant is tasked with carrying around a sheaf of wheat, in plain sight for everyone. The Soviet Union experienced at least four famines during the first 30 years of its existence. I belong to the first generation of Soviet citizens who were not a “hungry generation”. It’s important that food here is presented in its basic form, as grain. Socialism acknowledges people’s need not to go hungry but frowns on foodies and drink connoisseurs.
- People walk in a very determined way in one direction, but have no map. Instead of a map, they use a Program of the Communist Party printed on an oversized sheet of paper. The only person who seems to have an item useful for orientation and measurements is the land surveyor with a theodolite to the right. But even he is looking for directions at the metal worker and harvester operator who are holding the Party Program.
- The journey to Communism is expected to be short. The welder didn’t even take off his headgear. Some wear their Sunday clothes. Women especially don’t want to be caught out with bad hair and in ugly dresses at the destination.
- One of the kids is bringing cut flowers for the big occasion. The other is carrying a huge model of a nuclear-propelled ice breaker he likely made himself. The little girl in her mother’s arms is preparing to cheer and wave her hands in excitement. Real Socialism is not a place for useless people. “He who doesn’t work, shall not eat.”
- Apart from the Scientist, no 2 from the right, no one seems to be older than 30. This is no land for old people.
Below, the painting “You are not forgotten”, by Jon McNaughton, from “The Empowered Man” series.
- The congregation is static. Under Capitalism, everyone is free to walk, run and crawl in any direction they want. The only way to achieve synchronicity is for everyone to stop.
- The nation’s leader does not need to physically show a direction. Holding speeches and showing up at ceremonies is most often enough to show leadership.
- President Trump is trampling a serpent of liberal treason. This is unusual for socialist-themed motifs in the USSR. In our place, the secret police were required to take care of traitors and enemies of the people well before the patriotic crowds entered the scene.
- There are many seniors in the picture. Under Socialism, if you are old, you are not allowed to enter such an artistic motif, even if you are the highest-ranking government official. (To depict Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, painters needed special permission.) Even more surprising is the wheel-chaired veteran in front of the public. There was not a single piece of patriotic art in the USSR where you could see someone with a disability.
- The gathering stands on bone-dry earth. This is strange. Under Real Socialism, even in devastated surroundings, the soil always remained full of energy, ready to rebound in a sudden burst of vegetation. It symbolized the bottomless creative force of workers and peasants—none of whom seem to be present here outside the White House.
- The family of three, front and center, are too melancholic—as is the President. It’s as if they are not sure if the tiny green plant they are watering is going to survive. Only the two police officers are applauding, the rest look like there is a burial going on. This lack of faith and enthusiasm is what always puzzled Soviet people about Capitalist ideologies.
- Apart from a few government persons, there doesn’t seem to be anyone with a college education. There are no signs of American industrial and technological might in the picture. An alien who doesn’t know anything about the country might deduce from this piece of art that America is a pastoral, not too educated country that mainly consists of the military, firefighters, police officers, elderly politicians, and silver-haired bikers.