Letter to the editor: Soviet posters showcased skewed views of socialism

Angelica Wallingford

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Dear Editor: The recent exhibit of Soviet posters at our fine art gallery on campus was a celebration of the restoration of capitalism of the former Soviet Union and the policies under the Gorbachev and Regan administrations that preceded it. These posters had previously toured the U.S. in the early 1990s with the aid of the Russian and American governments during the perestroika and glasnost era, portrayed by the exhibit as “the beginning of the cultural and political revolutionary period.”

Perestroika, or “restructuring,” was the euphemistic term for the restoration of capitalist social relations that eradicated the gains of the working class based on the October Revolution. But far from the flowering of democracy and affluence predicted by public intellectuals, perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet Union constituted a social counter-revolution that was an unprecedented catastrophe for the working classes of the former Soviet Union alongside the wholesale looting of public assets by an entire layer of parasitic bureaucrats-turned-
oligarchs.

Gorbachev is continually portrayed as a break with the Stalinist past, a bold reformer prepared to sweep the Augean stables of Soviet administration. He proved to be nothing of the sort and represented the interests of a privileged layer that enriched itself from the plunder and theft of social wealth under capitalist restoration.

A thorough examination of the complex factors that led to the fate of the Soviet Union is beyond the scope of this piece, although it should be stated outright that the equation of Stalinism with socialism or Marxism is factually dubious. There was no straight line which led deterministically from 1917 to the gulags to 1991. The rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy was not unchallenged in the 1920s and ’30s, particularly by the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky, who was committed to the restoration of workers’ democracy and a humane and rational implementation of industrialization. For the Stalinist bureaucracy, its grip on power ultimately had to be defended with political terror.

For all its attention to Soviet censorship and propaganda, one is struck by the irony of the exhibit’s uncritical and conformist adherence to Cold War anti-communism. Many of the contemporary posters assume a propagandistic character as they turn reality on its head by conveniently ignoring the U.S. backing of a fascist-led coup in Ukraine and invoking tired tropes of an expansionist Russia.

We must ask ourselves: Why after 25 years have these posters been dusted off for a second U.S. tour? Nearly every poster equates socialism with Stalinism, conformity, environmental destruction, housing shortages and violent repression. An immense amount of effort has been expended to dissuade the public from considering any alternative to capitalism, despite the horrific realities facing society, and especially youth today.

The author directs the community to wsws.org, the daily news publication of the Socialist Equality Party, and our youth and student chapter, the San Diego IYSSE.

-Norissa Gastelum, Art history

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