You don’t read Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (Tate) for the words, or even for its semi-accurate rendering of the Soviet Union’s bloody 74-year history as refracted through the visual arts. David King’s coffee-table-sized collection of arresting propaganda posters peters out long before the Leonid Brezhnev era, which, King rightly notes, “was generally as dull and sluggish on the visual front as it was politically.” A more historically faithful book would show communism’s spirit-crushing—and logically inevitable—tedium. It would also look like crap.
Instead, Red Star Over Russia delivers colorful, propagandistic eye candy mixed with less interesting documentary photography. Here you see reminders not only that early Soviet Russia teemed with artistic talent but also that genuine energy bubbled behind the earliest political sloganeering in home-grown communism. That enthusiasm initially ranged much further stylistically than the half-hearted Socialist Realism that followed.