The most operative and politicized art forms — holidays cities decoration, mass theater actions, special opening of monuments according to plan of «Monumental propaganda», political posters, agitation china and other art forms of political agitation played the main role during the first revolutionary years in Russia. The characteristic features of the time appeared in such mass, «square» forms of art creativity. Not counted for the long existence, they appeared together with quickly changed events and also quickly disappeared, having been shifted by other methods of art influence upon masses. It is known: every historical event is unique and unrepeatable, and the art, born by that time is unique and unrepeatable as well. If for the contemporaries the historical events are often burden-like and uninteresting, they get the undoubted meaning in the perspective. During the years, when the revolutionary moods were strong, many brave beginnings and interesting phenomena appeared in many kinds of art creativity. It is true, the studying of the unusual art phenomena, which people have never seen before, determined by the moment, such as agitation trains designs, posters, mass theater actions and other kinds of «agitation industry» art is difficult due to the bad security and also due to mostly full originals lose. To get the idea of them as forms of social functioning of this art, one can only by indirect events: those years periodic, films and photo documents, occasional sketches of street decoration and agitation trains designs, projects of exhibitions, sketches of brave architecture dreams and also by partially preserved poster and graphic production and designed ceramics of those years. That is why any documentation about the first beginnings in the art of revolutionary Russia together with the witnesses’ recollections gets the special meaning.
Unusual art forms appeared everywhere as the alive reflection of the masses to the revolution situation during those years. At the same time they were initiated and directed by the Soviet power, because they served to its reinforcement and the Bolshevism ideology introduction into the people’s consciousness. Every artist and every cultural source acted as they could. The abrupt qualitative and style drops in different attitude towards art traditions, which determines the paradoxical picture of art life of the 1920s, are characterized by that. At the same time all its phenomena have style similarity and originality, which are determined by unique features of that historic time. It was the creativity, filled with energy of utopian dreams, — faith into quick coming of light future for all the people on the Earth.
The development of agitation mass forms of art was the part of program of culture revolution in the undeveloped country, thought up by V. I. Lenin. Speaking to Clara Zetkin he spoke that it is impossible to create the new socialist society only by solving the question about «the daily bread» and on the basis of mastering of all the culture, accumulated by mankind. Everything, which is able «to make an interest … to shake peasants and workers from various sides, by any means» must help «to educate and bring up the people masses, especially peasants and workers». The greatest attention was paid to image means, which were able even to illiterate ones. In celebratory opening of monuments to «heroes and victims of revolution» and by other forms of agitation influence upon masses, especially by the newest at that time means, such as radio and cinematograph Lenin saw «the great possibilities of art propaganda» as «fascinating pictures, which give the pieces of life and which are full of our ideas». Thus he thought that «we imperceptibly have already reached the first aim — we have touched the soul of the illiterate person».
Brightly designed agitation trains and agitation steamers with agitation barges, surrounded by specific sound atmosphere, carrying agitators and lecturers, supplied with cinema apparatuses and theater agitation brigades, distributing many posters, newspapers and other printed production during all their route, have reached the most distant places and played the great educational role in the parted and ruined country, which practically did not have another means of communication and information about passing-by events. During route and frequent stops these bright sources of «new culture» attracted people’s attention. One could hear political and traditional humorous folk songs here, orators made their speeches, consultations have been held and many practical questions have been sold here. Actors played satirical and heroic plays in actual topics. A puppet theater with popular optimistic and all-conquering Petrushka had a performance here.
The primitive art language and naïve image symbols dominated in the design made by oils just on the boards of agitation steamers and railroad carriages as well as in printed and painted posters and decorative panels of the same style. The painted characters addressed everybody from the name of all.
Texts as the integral part of the art composition played important role in posters, magazines illustrations and agitation trains design. These texts served not only for explaining of what have been illustrated but also were the direct calls for action. Sometimes slogans sound too roughly for our present-day ear, for example, «We will depress all the enemies of the Soviet power», «Death to tsarist generals» and so on. But «one cannot put words out of song»; it was the ideological position of «builders of new world» of that time — Bolsheviks.
The topics and means of agitation art influence changed when the Civil War was over and the country adopted the new economic policy. Documental and acting cinematograph, various books and magazines production, systematically organized economics exhibitions had to propagandize the first shoots of achievements of young Republic of Soviets in different fields of peaceful life. The colorful sings and decorative panels, bright exhibition stalls, agitation sculptures, political and advertisement posters and other means of visual agitation played important role in organization of these exhibitions, especially during the first All-Russian agricultural and industrial exhibition in Moscow in 1923 and the Soviet departments of the World exhibition of decorative arts in 1925 in Paris.
Among the most interesting and unknown to present days documents one may name, for instance, the factual data about puppet theaters shows, which accompanied the agitation steamers and agitation trains in 1918—1920. Creators and participants of these shows were famous artists Ivan Yefimov and his wife N. Ya. Simonovich-Yefimova, artist V. V. Khvostenko, sculptors G. V. Neroda and N. G. Shalimov. There are also data that architects I. I. Rerberg, D. P. Osipov and A. M. Yefimov projected the art decorations of agitation barges. Famous producer V. E. Meierchold in his drawings and model of agitation barge thought about brave experiment in radical change of theater space to achieve the more close unity of stage show and a spectator.
All kinds of mass agitation art of early 1920s — from agitation trains and steamers designs to posters and theater shows — have clear features of Russian folk picture (lubok) and other phenomena of amateur creativity.
The stylistics of the 1920s Soviet posters accumulated and assimilated the image symbols and art techniques of other kinds of mass agitation art. That is why, at that time, everything was called a poster: huge bright decorative panels on streets and squares, manually painted and copied «Windows of ROSTA satire», lynoengravings from graphics, painting and sculpture works, printed in newspapers and magazines
From published documents and statements one can see how fixedly the power representatives watched and «corrected» the artists of mass agitation art. Thoughts of participants and witnesses, which show the effectiveness of visual agitation mass forms influence, are also stated here. M. I. Kalinin, N. K. Krupskaya, A. V. Lunacharsky, Ya. M. Sverdlov and other outstanding activists of that time spoke and wrote about it. The rapturous impressions of Czech writer and journalist Jan Olbracht and some foreign delegations about agitation trains designs are also published here. Sure, one can treat critically such impressions nowadays, but the fact of effectiveness of visual art propaganda influence is undoubtful.
Almost all the artists, despite of their art trends, took part in art decoration of towns, agitation trains and steamers designs, in brave exhibition expositions and other phenomena of «poster forms art» during the first years of the Soviet power. Some of them then became the prominent masters of art of the 20th century — K. S. Malevich, V. Ye. Tatlin, M. Z. Shagal, K. S. Petrov-Vodkin, B. D. Korolyov, I. I. Nivinsky, A. A. Osmyorkin, A. A. Exter, B. Ye. Yefimov, N. M. Kochergin, S. V. Gerasimov, D. S. Moor, M. M. Cheremnykh, A. A. Labas, A. G. Tyshler, N. A. Lakov, I. S. and N. Ya. Yefimovs and others. Many little-known and completely forgotten artists, who also greatly contributed into the mass agitation art of the first Soviet years, worked together with them. The names of some of them come back to life due to archives search of this collection compilers.
At that time many artists worked in agitation trains and street decorative panels designs, in posters and painted and printed graphics, in theater shows and exhibitions decorations. At that time posters and other kinds of mass agitation production were created not only in Moscow and Petrograd, but in many towns of Russian periphery as well. The collection has document materials about work in this field in ninety towns of the RSFSR. Many famous names can be met here. Among them there are El Lisitsky, V. V. Mayakovsky, V. V. Lebedev, D. S. Moor, M. M. Cheremnykh, N. N. Kogout, A. P. Apsit, B. M. Kustodiyev, Ye. S. Kruglikova, S. V. Chekhonin, A. N. Samokhvalov, A. A. Deyneka, Yu. I. Pimenov, V. F. Ryndin, I. A. Malyutin, N. N. Kupreyanov, A. I. Strakhov, M. L. Boychuk, A. G. Petritsky, V. D. Yermilov and many others.
Thinking nowadays about development of world art culture of the 20th century, one cannot pass by the original episode of history, connected with grandiose and tragic social experiment in revolutionary Russia. This instructive and, fortunately, already unrepeatable historical social experiment should be the warning to the whole mankind.