In 1921, faced with food shortages and famine, Lenin announced the new Economic Policy (nEP), allowing private enterprise to operate on a limited scale. while agricultural and industrial production slowly recovered, many Bolsheviks saw the policy as a compromise with capitalism.
Rodchenko responded to these new circumstances by going into partnership with the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky as experts on advertising. Their clients were the state-run industries who now faced competition from the private sector, and they designed posters or packaging for products such as cigarettes, bread, sweets and biscuits. Against those who condemned advertising as irredeemably capitalist, Mayakovsky argued that ‘it is necessary to employ all the weapons used by our enemies’.
In their approach to advertising, book and magazine design, Rodchenko and Popova were able to adapt Constructivist principles and innovative techniques such as photo-montage. Even amid the compromises of nEP, such projects retained a sense of urgency and dynamism, and the critical approach to the visual that was one of the ideological hallmarks of Constructivism.
New everyday life
‘New byt’, or ‘new everyday life’ was a 1920s campaign aimed at transforming domestic life. The Constructivists responded with innovative designs for furniture, clothing, dishware and other household goods. This was seen as essentially women’s territory: the title of Trotsky’s Questions of Everyday Life (for which Rodchenko submitted a proposed cover) referred to the role of women in Soviet society, arguing for their emancipation from domestic slavery and the introduction of socialised childcare.
Political advertising and education
Rodchenko and Popova both produced propaganda and educational posters. The Bolsheviks recognised the importance of boldly designed visual materials in winning support for their ideas, especially given the low levels of literacy in Tsarist Russia.
Among Rodchenko’s projects was a series of posters illustrating the history of the Bolshevik party, incorporating archival images, excerpts from newspapers and other documents. Rather than imposing an overarching narrative, Rodchenko’s design encourages viewers to immerse themselves in the historical material, sift the evidence and make their own assessment.
This section also includes slogan-posters designed by Popova as projected elements for Earth in Turmoil 1922–3, a theatrical collaboration with Meirkhol’d. The production was intended to be the visual equivalent of a propaganda poster, with a montage of political quotations, party slogans and film excerpts providing an ideological commentary on the action.