July 14 2011: Soviet Union Magazine: Number 173 (June 1964)
Fashion, factories, international diplomacy, science, culture and proto-consumerism in these English and Russian language issues of the large semi-glossy format Soviet Union magazine, as published in 1964. While undoubtedly propaganda, they’re also clearly an attempt to equal the likes of Time and Paris Match, which they generally manage, albeit with a far less familiar set of criteria for including features: the old joke about Soviet news reports consisting entirely of statitistics for tractor production in Uzbekistan might be wide of mark, but there’s an emphasis here on engineering, science and agriculture that was to be found in Western periodicals of the same era (both Time and Paris Match would give regular prominence to stories about new transport systems, architectural and scientific achievements) but it’s a tendency seen here to a greater degree. As noted in relation to Jochen Weyer’s Youth in the GDR booklet, posted here on May 10, it’s easy to view the propaganda of a defeated ideology as mere propaganda, even as the virtually identical material circulating in our own media can be taken largely for granted.
One of the key differences between Soviet Union and publications like Time and Paris Match (one it takes a while for the mind to adjust to, it has to be said – we sense the strangeness before we quite realise what’s causing it) lies in the fact that Soviet Union contains no advertising: in this one sense, at least, it might actually be argued that it contains marginally less propaganda than a Western equivalent. Whatever the reasons, the photographs, spreads and stories in these 1964 issues of Soviet Union magazine are fascinating documents, and the fact that they come from a particularly optimistic phase within Soviet history, after Khrushchov had begun his mission to lift the shadow of Stalin and the Hungarian Uprising, but before Brezhnev decisively shut off that chink of light with the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia – a period that was (until recently) almost erased from memory on both sides of the former Iron Curtain – makes them all the more intriguing. The gallery of thumbnails that follows is only a small selection of photographs, page designs and news items, but hopefully gives a flavour of the wider content.