Great Expectations: Advertising and the Problem of Consumer Capitalism in Late Imerial Russia, 1905-1917

By Krista Sigler.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Historians have argued that Russia was somehow “different” from the capitalist West, and as a result of this difference, found its way into the Bolshevik Revolution. But prior to 1917, by at least one indicator of consumer capitalism, its advertising, Russia was fully in step with Western societies. The explosion of advertising in the years after 1905 testifies to the healthy development of consumer capitalism in imperial Russia. Moreover, the ads of this period show us what an emerging urban boulevard culture foresaw in Russia’s future: an ideal, modern world of plenty, populated with leisurely men defined by their sexuality, fashionable and sexualized women, children who could be romanticized and indulged, with barely a non-Russian face in sight, and all made possible by the boundless power of technology. We cannot discount the significance of the abrupt disappearance of many of these exciting images of change and hope during World War I, tangible evidence of the economic collapse of wartime Russia, and the regime’s inability to bring the rewards of capitalism to the population. In addition, the advertising that continued in the press through the war years offered themes that Soviet power would later seize on and continue: an association of modernity with technology, an imagined empire of the Russian nation, the male hero, and the association of women with all domestic work. This paper, analyzing advertising imagery in the major St. Petersburg and Moscow newspapers, with supporting evidence from boulevard signs and posters, will illustrate what hopes and expectations seem to have burst with the failures of the wartime economy. In addition, this paper will highlight which of these images and ideas would remain in the heads of the Russian populace as they experienced the building of Soviet socialism. Amongst the forces that unseated the Tsarist Empire and led to Soviet society, therefore, we cannot ignore the role of consumer capitalism.

Keywords: Advertising, Consumer Culture, Representation, Culture, Russia

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp.47-58. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.157MB).

Dr. Krista Sigler

Doctoral Candidate, History Department, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati, where I will defend my Modern European History degree in winter 2009. My dissertation is “The Kshesinskaia Mansion: Elite Culture and the Politics of Modernity in Revolutionary Russia,” a biography of a house, once owned by an imperial favorite and later the infamous headquarters of the Bolsheviks. My work is an examination of how different social classes’ competing visions of modernity played a part in the breakdown that was the Russian Revolution. My research focus is on the culture of late imperial Russia, with broad interest in how culture has expressed and refined ideas of identity.

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