Controlling Through Cinema

Backed by Lenin as, “the most important of all the arts for us” and campaigned for by Trotsky as “the weapon excelling any other”, cinema roared into the minds of the Bolsheviks and the eyes of the masses(1,2). The Bolsheviks believed that this new and revolutionary form of culture would be able to shape the masses and usher in a new era for Russia. Cinema went well with the Bolsheviks considering how new of a technology it was and how the Bolsheviks had a repeated emphasis on the future and future technologies. The Bolsheviks favored cinema as the new way of sending out their message due to the ease of distribution and the fact the that cinema can be widely understood, even by the uneducated. Cinema connected with audiences in Russia because much of the cinema was relatable and accessible. For instance, Trotsky stated that, “The passion for the cinema is rooted in the desire for distraction, the desire to see something new and improbable, to laugh and to cry, not at your own, but at other people’s misfortunes”(1). Cinema worked for the Bolsheviks because it allowed for an easily understandable medium to push propaganda. This meant that their messages within the cinema became ingrained in culture and he memories of the masses, and as an added bonus, they gained money out of the whole process.


However, early on in the Bolsheviks’ discovery of cinema, a few problems had to be worked out. The first of those problems included a lack of support from people in the movie industry. Mostly everyone involved in the production of cinema was anti-bolshevik and left the scene when the Bolsheviks came into power, thus creating a gap in people who could create successful cinema. The second large problem was the west. After the Russian civil war, western movies came rushing into Russia, with American movies becoming the most popular due the the high levels of excitement.(2) The third problem during the initial stages of cinema for the Soviets was the funding. There was often little money to make movies at all.  The Bolsheviks lacked money for equipment and money for the people involved in the cinema. They also lacked money for film schools. This compounded on itself since a lack of funding for schools meant that there was a lack of creativity and knowledge on how to create successful cinema and therefore a lack of meaningful, intriguing, or effective cinemas.

The hardships of Soviet cinema soon came to and end with the director Sergei Eisenstein and his movies Strike and Battleship Potemkin, and Douglas Fairbanks’ Thief of Baghdad. These movies became incredibly successful and popular throughout Russia. They marked the beginning of an era where cinema was the effective mode of Soviet propaganda as well as a popular and critical part of culture for the masses.



Works Cited:




The Revolutionary Train of Culture

With the Revolution of 1917, the culture of Russia began a transformation towards a theme of communism thanks to the victory of the Bolsheviks. With the rise of communism came a rise in the power of the state and their ability to control various aspects of life, including culture. One might believe that under a prospectively communist regime culture would be viewed as a source of rebellion and opposition, and therefore need to be eradicated. This however, was not the case,  and the Bolsheviks soon began the transformation of culture in Russia during this time period. It was changed from something that was by the people and for the people to something that was by the state for the people. The Bolsheviks began to transform culture into something that was used to help further their cause. The official name for this was agitprop; a way for the communists to spread their ideals through culture.  These various methods included movies, posters, newspapers, plays, and even a traveling propaganda train.

Soviet Agitprop(2)

The Sevpechat train was a was a Bolshevik agitprop train. It was “Armed with public speakers, writers, stores of books and pamphlets, even printing presses”(1). These trains traveled across the country to remote locations including Siberia in order to spread the Bolshevik agenda.These trains resembled old carnival trains in that they were covered in paintings and decorations in order to attract people to their cause. One they came to a village around the railroad tracks they would stop and hand out various forms of information and then talk about their cause. “During its trip the train circulated books, papers, and pamphlets worth more than a half-million rubles, distributed free more than 150,000 proclamations and leaflets, posted more than 15,000 posters, and supplied 556 organizations with various publications. About 90,000 workers, peasants, and soldiers from the Red Army attended the lectures, meetings, and conferences; about sixty lectures were organized on all sorts of burning questions”(1). The Sevpechat train was widely successful, bringing the communist ideas towards the country side and thus beginning a cultural change that would last almost the rest of the century.


Sevpechat Train(3)

The Bolsheviks believed that everyone in Russia should know about and support the communist cause, not just people in the cities. This was especially important because the poor peasant from the countryside had a tendency to support the communist ideals.  This propaganda train was one of their main methods for garnering support of the masses. However the Bolsheviks were also working on other creative methods to spread their cause to the masses. For instance, a newspaper during the time stated, “At the present time[1920], five more trains of this kind are being organized, also boats for a similar purpose on the Volga and its tributaries, and motor trucks which will make it possible to reach places where neither railroads nor waterways are available”(1).

Sevpechat Train(4)


Works Cited:

1.  A Soviet Report on Agitprop Trains(1920).