Curator Katya Rogatchevskaia discuses the techniques used in Russian propaganda posters and how posters can be used to campaign today.


A transcript of this slideshow is available below.

Who is talking?

Katya Rogatchevskaia - Head of Russian Collections

Katya Rogatchevskaia has a PhD in medieval Russian literature and a MSc in Information Studies. She has taught at universities in Russia and the UK and since 2003, has been working in the British Library as a curator of the Russian Collections.


For centuries posters have been used to communicate messages. They have also been used effectively by campaigners for a variety of purposes:

  • To inform people of a cause, such as this one for the Bath Protectorate Society (a campaign for electoral reform).
  • To inform people of a meeting, such as this poster to arrange a meeting about the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Of course, the biggest impact can be made by using vivid visual images, which communicate the message quickly and effectively. From this political map of Europe from 1877 you can clearly see who your allies and enemies are. Clear images were particularly important in Russia, where posters were designed to appeal to a mass audience, of which many were illiterate.

This poster shows Russian troops fighting with the Korean and Japanese armies during the war of 1904 to 1905. You are left in no doubt that the Russians are winning. This satirical cartoon from World War One was called Wilhelm’s Nightmare. Those who could read also could enjoy simple verses that accompanied the cartoon. ‘From darkness into light; from Battle to Books; from Misery to happiness’ – reads this poster. Even illiterate people could understand that the Bolsheviks aimed to improve education.

Traditional techniques learned from painters of icons (traditional religious images) were used in this image of Lenin, where he looks almost like a saint. The same techniques and references to religious images were also used by Lenin’s opponents. This poster shows how he and other Bolsheviks are going to be punished in Hell.

These two propaganda posters, issued by the Red and White Armies during the Russian Civil War (1918 – 1921) also show how similar techniques can be used to convey opposite messages. The anti-Communist White Army poster shows Lenin and his supporters feasting and drinking. The red colour is used to attract the viewer’s attention to those who suffer and those who made them suffer. This is also a critical reference to the name “Red Army” and their red banner. This opposing poster issued by the Bolshevik Red Army exploits the colour to present the most vulnerable figures. Red here is a symbol of struggle, suffering and fight.

The Russian posters communicated information quickly and effectively by using clear images and graphics. The same techniques are used in modern campaign posters, although the styles may look very different. Remembering your audience and using strong images targeted at them is a key aspect of an effective campaign poster.

  • Use eye catching images and colour if possible.
  • Use short sentences or few words - too many words or a busy design would distract from your message.
  • Use your logo, your colours, you slogan, your branding to identify your cause.