The 1st of May has long been recognized as the International Workers’ Day or Labour Day depending on where you are in the world. Such is its importance that many countries have the 1st of May as a national holiday, a celebration of the working class and laborers.
The labor movement, anarchists, socialists and communists have long promoted International Workers’ Day, with the aim to make it an official holiday across the globe to honor labor. Of course, the focus of International Worker’s Day varies depending on where you are, for some it is simply a spring bank holiday, while for others it has become a focus point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups.
To celebrate International Workers’ Day, Widewalls decided to pick out 10 propaganda posters from the Soviet Union, created for the 1st of May. The former Soviet Union is of course famous for its striking and powerful propaganda artworks and there are plenty of examples for their Day of International Solidarity of the Working Class.
In the Soviet Union, the 1st of May became a symbol of class struggle, with workers protesting for better wages and conditions annually between 1890 and 1917, finally becoming a public holiday in 1918 known as Day of International Solidarity of the Working Class. During this period every city, town and village had compulsory workers parades, complete with balloons, flowers, flags, banners and of course, some fine examples of Soviet Union propaganda, in the form of posters.
The Cold War saw International Workers’ Day become an exhibition of military parades in the Red Square before coming to an end in 1990, with the day being renamed Spring and Labour Day in 1992.
To begin our look at propaganda posters from Soviet Union for International Workers’ Day, we have this delightful couple. They are pictured proudly holding aloft the classic communist hammer and sickle, representing industrial laborers and peasantry.
The symbol stood for their alliance with socialism and in opposition to foreign intervention and reactionary movements. Translated, the wording reads "long live the proletarian holiday 1st May".
This poster celebrating 1st of May is a stunning piece of Soviet Union propaganda art, with the poster proudly proclaiming Long live May 1st Labour Day.
The poster features an abundance of red, coupled with the workers celebrating by dancing in the background and the workers in the foreground proudly displaying a banner, a common occurrence on International Workers’ Day along with images of flowers which can also be seen in the poster.
The poster also illustrates a show of strength with the workers tools and the presence of the military and naval figures.
A simple but strong piece of Soviet Union propaganda poster art for 1st of May, declaring unity and that it is a holiday to share with friends. The poster features all of the classic images associated with the Day of International Solidarity of the Working Class, banners, balloons and flowers.
Combine these with the joyful looking gentleman calling out to his friends and you already know that 1st of May is a day you are expected to enjoy, as many of us still do.
Next up on our celebration of Soviet Union propaganda art is this beautiful example from 1920. The three main figures proudly standing, chests stuck out and carrying the tools of their trades for everyone to see as they celebrate International Workers’ Day.
Again they are surrounded by a mass of red banners and flowers, albeit in a more symbolic and decorative form than on some posters. One can only feel compelled to join in with the celebrations when confronted with such fine and solid figures, proud of who they are and what they do.
This stunning piece of Soviet Union propaganda art proudly informs us that workers have nothing to lose but their chains and a whole world they acquire. To back this up, the poster artwork has the classic banner associated with the International Workers’ Day embracing the globe, many parts of which are colored red.
The main figure, in red of course, is proudly pointing at the world while declaring the workers have nothing to lose but much to acquire, so celebrate and be proud on the 1st of May.
"Where there is work, go there, go where work is", is basically what this painterly piece of Soviet Union propaganda art is urging the workers for the 1st of May.
The beautiful technique of this poster portrays an industrial landscape, chimneys busy blowing out smoke and the fine, strong worker proudly standing with his hammer, urging people to find work where it is available.
Of course, red features strongly once again in the image, representing the blood of the workers and to honor the suffering and sacrifices of the proletariat.
A simple and bold declaration is the main feature of this dramatic piece of Soviet Union propaganda art - "workers of the world unite!". On the right we find the strong workers, carrying their red banners for International Workers’ Day, marching with music playing as they reach out to a comrade.
Emerging from the smoke of the factory in the top left is a ghoulish spectrum of a figure, no doubt a greedy businessman content to pay low wages and to make his workers suffer in bad conditions.
"Long live the fifth anniversary of the great proletarian revolution" this fascinating poster proudly declares. In the center, we find a proud worker complete with red banner along with hammer and sickle, an emblem that was originally created in 1917 in a competition started by Lenin and Lunacharsky.
The winning design also included a sword but Lenin objected to its inclusion because of its violent connotations. In the background, we find a host of workers from around the globe and various famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and Pyramids, joining to celebrate International Workers’ Day.
1920 was an important year for the Soviet Union, having just come through the First World War, Bolshevik Revolution and civil war. 1919 has also seen subbotniks take place, a day of unpaid labour often on a Saturday, aimed at uniting the masses.
However, it soon became apparent that is was just a way for the ruling class to get free labour and in 1920 on the 1st of May, the Communist Party started the first all-union subbotnik, which saw Lenin join thousands of people in removing building rubble from the Kremlin.
This poster seems to represent much of the feelings being demonstrated by the workers at that point, rising up against the ruling classes.
A strong and stirring finish to our look at Soviet Union propaganda art for International Workers’ Day and a simple declaration of "long live May 1st". The rousing piece of propaganda art features a worker stood atop a globe and breaking free from his chains in a symbol of workers power.
While for many International Workers’ Day has just become a national holiday to relax, one should not forget the blood of the workers and honor the suffering and sacrifices of the proletariat who have built the world we live in with little in return.