The Anna Wilhelmina Kempkens Intourist Poster collection proudly presents
A Mirror Of The Big Idea - an outstanding overview of decades of Soviet advertising for travel to the largest territorial state on earth as well as the geographical diversity of the USSR from the mountains of the Caucasus to the Crimean peninsula and the Baltic States.
260 pages, more than 100 pictures are explaining the history of Intourist, and is giving an overview of the collection.
A Mirror Of The Big Idea
The Anna Wilhelmina Kempkens
Intourist Poster Collection
English, German & Russian
over 100 images
Order your copy via email at
“Money doesn't stink,” proclaims
the Roman Emperor Vespasian
to introduce a urine tax –
and doesn't suspect that he has
taken up the cudgels for
anti-capitalist travel agencies
of the future."
“…You have proved yourself to be Lenin's best and most faithful disciple,” says the letter Stalin receives from the Central Committee on his birthday in 1929. Two months after the first stock market crash of the 20th century, the General Secretary of the USSR is celebrating his 50th anniversary. The global economic depression begins in October of this year with the “Black Thursday” on the New York Stock Exchange and ends as the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world…
But at that time Stalin had more on his mind than a flourishing stock market. With the Great Break of 1928, he had already completely renounced the market economy principles of the West. In view of the reintroduction of an ideologically correct planned economy, sweeping reforms are now on the agenda to keep the Soviet Union on track. A five-year plan is drawn up to boost iron and steel production. Huge industrial sites are built almost overnight and are considered to be heroic achievements of the new Soviet man. In less than three months, steel mills in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk emerge out of thin air and are hastily connected to the railway network.
Not only the construction but also the very life among the smoking furnaces, is regarded as a an endurance test. In Magnitogorsk “nature” is not destroyed, what’s more, it is created from scratch for the new man. A steelworks proletarian, all covered with soot, stands among the flames of the furnaces laughing at the fate imposed upon him. He despises such needs as love and harmony stigmatizing them as foolish whimsies of the outdated human type – and defies the unwelcoming conditions of monstrous industrial areas. He tans under the sun blotted out by soot and breathes hot clouds of smoke as if it were a fresh sea breeze. The new man is bound to take shape, but the old one stands in his way.
The peasantry oppose the ideals of the communist leadership. Few farmers accept collectivization under which they are forced to give up their individual farms and join collective ones. The Soviet megalomaniac industrial projects can only be built with the help of thousands of forced laborers, and forced collectivization is used as an educational measure. Nevertheless, the article by Stalin published in “Pravda” newspaper describes the year 1929 as the beginning of the Great Break and states that the blame for delayed reforms lies with the kulak class.
With so much economic reorganization underway, even the communist Russia is in desperate need of one thing: money! The foundation of Intourist, a travel agency, is entirely due to this issue. As a matter of fact, the agency appears in the light of so many groundbreaking and revolutionary events but also in the light of its inconspicuous self-sufficiency.
Intourist was founded in 1929 by the Commissariats for Railways and Commerce in order to lure foreigners to the Soviet Union for vacation. This intention is already evident in the neologism Intourist, a fusion of the words “inostrannyj” and “turist” (i.e. “foreign” and “tourist”).
Seamless travel experience, pure comfort, entertaining activities: Intourist is to offer the capitalist all-inclusive model in a communist country. To this end, naturally, a different picture of the economic overhaul is in order: in the posters of the travel agency, the country of industrious heroes becomes a paradise for laughing globetrotters. Hard-working proletarians are replaced by exotic indigenous population groups in art-deco style.
The machines of the Soviet Union are usually portrayed in propaganda as icons of revolutionary progress. With Intourist, however, they turn into humble servants of a shrewd tour guide. The Soviet railway network was expanded from 80,000 to 106,000 kilometers during the Great Break. Freight traffic on communist tracks quadruples in a short time. The Soviet train is a rocket-like loco with a red star depicted on top. It is called the Red Arrow and appears in political posters with a blazing fire trail as the herald of the new age. In Intourist's advertising posters, however, it quietly transports a bunch of laughing capitalists.
Nevertheless, the travel agency's advertising posters are not cheap amateur works: under the supervision of the Chamber of Commerce, the painter Aleksey Kravchenko is in charge of the advertising campaign. Kravchenko is known for his post-romantic and impressive style as well as for illustrations created for stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Victor Hugo. Also, thanks to numerous Intourist competitions, artists such as Nikolay Zhukov and Sergey Sakharov developed a new style for the travel agency.
On the one hand, any influence of Western artists is strictly prohibited in Soviet propaganda. The degenerate expression of moribund capitalism in paintings by Adolphe Cassandre, on the other hand, can easily be incorporated into Intourist's advertising posters. While modern Western art is forbidden in domestic advertising, the end justifies the means when it comes to attracting foreign visitors. Stalinist Russia dominates the posters with socialist realism and at the same time advertises trips to capitalist tourists with pop-art-deco dazzle. The fusion of ideologically correct Soviet art with new influences of art deco style has given birth to a very peculiar new style of Intourist's advertising posters.
In addition to a successful poster campaign, advertisements are now also appearing in American magazines. A magazine under the headline Soviet Travel tells the story of a wildly liberated Russia resembling a description of an adventure park. The Soviet Union is presented here as a multicultural multiethnic project with no borders. Thus, the USSR does not stand for Russia alone but for 189 nations in 16 Soviet republics. The liberation of the peoples from the tsarist regime by the Bolshevik Revolution resonates in every sentence and image of the Intourist foreign propaganda.
And the concept works: until the Second World War, Intourist could win over a million foreign tourists coming to the Soviet Union for holidays. The business was so successful that Intourist quickly expanded to organize theatre and music festivals in Moscow and Leningrad. Western tourists can enjoy Russian culture in all its splendor and at the same time are gently persuaded not to poke their noses into the wrong corners by the trained staff.
Particularly in crisis regions such as Ukraine, careful tourist management becomes a must for a blissfully happy holiday: in 1932-1933, while Intourist's brochures brag about the rich cultural heritage and unique character of the Ukrainian nation, in the provinces of this very country millions of farmers die of famine. The Holodomor, the targeted killing by starvation, goes down in Ukrainian history as the genocide of the Ukrainian rural population. And while the granaries of the Ukrainian province are plundered by Soviet soldiers, the travel brochure describes “sunflowers on white-washed walls and fields full of golden grain”. The copywriter finishes his short abstract on beautiful Ukraine with the following sentence: “And when you return to Moscow you will have a better understanding of what the new order means for non-Russians....”
Cynicism or state doctrine? Unfortunately, this question can no longer be answered today. It no longer seems relevant for the successful expansion of the Russian travel agency, either. Intourist increases its international footprint in no time with its 30 new subsidiaries scattered around the world: Berlin, Amsterdam, London, New York… Intourist penetrates the heart of capitalist society and picks a few crumbs of the pie of Western decadence, for home consumption.
“Money doesn't stink,” proclaims the Roman Emperor Vespasian to introduce a urine tax – and doesn't suspect that he has taken up the cudgels for anti-capitalist travel agencies of the future.