СССР на стройке

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Princeton University Library has acquired an almost complete set of the 11-year run of the Gosizdat illustrated magazine СССР на стройке, published from 1930-1939 and for one additional year in 1949. This set is missing 1936 № 10, and 1949 №s 4-6, 8, 11-12.

This periodical, initially conceived as an illustrated supplement to the literary magazine Наши достижения (Our Achievements), was published in 5 separate editions: the Russian-language edition for domestic consumption, and for-export editions in English, German, French and Spanish. In the magazine’s early years its primary target audience was existing or prospective Western business partners capable of establishing or maintaining the trade relationships critical for the success of the young Soviet state. A heavily illustrated large-format color magazine that was very expensive to publish, СССР на стройке/ USSR in Construction/ USSR im Bau/ URSS en construction/ URSS en Construcción was funded and distributed largely through the State Bank of the USSR (Gosbank), which oversaw all Soviet trade arrangements with foreign entities. All 5 editions were published in two distinct variants – a regular version and a luxury version with better print quality on higher quality paper. The expensive luxury issues were, as a rule, bought up by Gosbank and distributed free of charge to existing or prospective foreign business partners, while the regular edition was sold to other foreign populations (e.g. communist or socialist organizations abroad, communist-sympathetic persons and organizations).

Consisting primarily of photographic images, the magazine was presented as documentary rather than representational; if Communism’s detractors took issue with Soviet propaganda, in this new magazine they were presented not with inevitably inflected verbal or pictorial renderings, but with irrefutable mechanically captured images of a purely objective reality. The preponderance of image over text also had the advantage of lending the publication a certain versatility. The sparsity of text left interpretation to the mind of the beholder, allowing the magazine to communicate a range of messages to a diverse readership – from the politically neutral advertisement of the Soviet Union as an excellent trade partner and supplier of primary materials for a wide variety of industries, to more ideologically charged assertions of the inherent moral superiority of Communism or statements of the success of the Soviet project and its superior viability vis-à-vis its capitalist rivals.

The magazine was of great importance as a foreign trade relationship building tool in the early 1930’s. This was particularly true up until the U.S. recognized the Soviet state in 1933. Before that U.S. entities’ ability to trade with – and in particular to buy from or extend credit to – the Soviet Union was greatly restricted, which created a trade asymmetry disadvantageous for the Soviets who were major importers of American industrial technology. After the United States’ recognition of Soviet statehood corrected this imbalance, and with the rise in Germany of a regime aggressively hostile to socialism, the primary target audience for the deluxe edition of the magazine became the new Soviet high-level administrators and captains of industry. By the mid 1930’s, the Soviet professional elite culled from the pre-Revolutionary bourgeois professional classes had been replaced by one composed of citizens of more proletarian origins plucked from the lower ranks. From the mid 1930’s, some scholarship suggests, СССР на стройке was produced first and foremost to glorify the achievements and bolster the confidence of these newly elevated and therefore inexperienced leaders and promote the perception that the Soviet project of social, economic and industrial transformation was a resounding success. Particularly in the second half of the 1930’s, Constructivist artists such as El Lissitzky, Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova contributed graphic elements to the magazine and subtly gave the issues a more sophisticated rousing aesthetic, while not disturbing the illusion of their unretouched documentary immediacy. Images produced using various pictorial and other techniques nonetheless strove for a photographic or documentary realism, something that comes to the thematic surface of the magazine in the first issue from 1938, which is devoted to Soviet cinema and presents the new medium as one of a mechanical – and therefore unerringly objective – reproduction of reality.

This set of the Russian Language edition housed in the division of Rare Books and Special Collections includes all but 7 issues from the magazine’s 11-year run (1930-1939; 1949) and complements Princeton’s holdings of the English-language edition USSR in Construction in the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, which are missing only the issues for 1939. Combined these 2 form a complete set of the 131 issues published, the only complete set held at any institution in North America.

A purchase generously funded by the New & Expanded Fields fund, with a contribution from the Slavic fund.

Sources consulted:
Wolf, E.M. (2010). “USSR in Construction”: From avant-garde to Socialist Realist practice. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and theses. (Document ID 305184556).
Wolf, E.M. (1999). When photographs speak, to whom do they talk? The origins and audience of ‘SSSR na stroike (USSR in construction).’ Left History, 6(2), 53-82.

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