Virtual Museum of Public Service

Russian Cartoons & Posters: From Red Tape to Red Square (G-1)

This collection consists of items from the art exhibit “Bureaucracy in Russian Art: Posters and Political Cartoons" (2010), produced by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, School of Public Affairs and Administration,  in collaboration with the American University of Armenia and the Department of Sociology, St. Petersburg University, Russia. The collection features works that satirize bureaucracy.

Russian artists, like their American counterparts, have been calling our attention to conflicts between efficiency and ethics in organizational life, including ethical dilemmas faced by public servants; the unintended consequences for employees and clients of large bureaucratic organizational structures; and ways in which individuals are frustrated by, and cope with, large systems.

The exhibits in this gallery demonstrate the perception of the Russian artists that bureaucracy is dysfunctional, enervating, and inefficient, the antithesis of creativity, and a cancer in the social fabric. Their messages are, perhaps necessarily, negative. Their suggested solutions are seemingly superficial: use common sense, untangled red tape, treat people as human beings, and do not forget the organization’s objectives.

The display comprises primarily political cartoons and posters. Over a period of many decades political cartoons were disseminated in Krokodil (crocodile), a satirical magazine published in the former Soviet Union, as well as in other similar magazines. During the decades of the 1960s, 1970s and early in the 1980s a group of artists in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) known as the “Fighting Pencil,” produced anti-bureaucratic posters aimed to “open the boils on the body of the Soviet society.”

With the support of local officials, the anti-bureaucratic material was widely available throughout the Soviet Union and served to contend that bureaucracy was an obstacle to the success of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (the political and economic system), and warned that political and bureaucratic changes must go hand-in-hand.