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). http://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/soviet-report-agitprop-trains-1920/

2.http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/library/report/2007/deep-politics-3-5-06.htm

3. http://www.dreadscott.net/works/making-revolutionary-archive/

4. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/culture-and-revolution/culture-and-revolution-images/#

4 thoughts on “The Revolutionary Train of Culture

  1. This propaganda train that the Soviet Union used is a great example of how they attempted to convert the entire country to their cause and their government. It shows just how far the leaders of the USSR were willing to go to ensure that the State was the most important part of people’s every day lives. Thanks for sharing this; I did not really know any other kinds of Soviet propaganda besides posters and speeches before I read this.

  2. The agitprop trains offer so much to the cultural historian! Thanks for highlighting their main activities and role during the civil war. The post below features a poster from the illiteracy campaign:
    http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/malw14/2015/09/03/the-autocratic-system-1917/
    It seems that the Bolsheviks definitely wanted to spread education as part of the revolution.
    I was thrown off a bit by the image in your post referencing Cosmonauts’ Day (which comes many decades after the revolution), but I’m thinking you see similarities with the artistic styles of the earlier images?

  3. This is a fascinating example of propaganda, echoed in several other places around the world (such as when Harry Truman campaigned from a train in 1948) that really shows the trend of faster movement of information changing the political landscape. We can see this effect more fully today in the form of the internet; crowd funding, grassroots and viral campaigns for commercial or political means are a perfect example of the more rapid transit of information having a huge impact on the shaping of culture, these first propaganda trains are a fine example of what happens when a group can rapidly spread its ideas.

  4. It’s incredible to consider how far the trains reached- even to Siberia and the countryside where literacy rates were probably low. I also think it’s fascinating that the success of the train spurred an expansion into other forms of transportation, especially in a country that was slower to industrialize. I couldn’t read the Russian captions, but great pictures, too!

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