Krokodil - the limits of satire
John - a fascinating presentation, I really enjoyed it. It's extraordinary to think of a satirical magazine surviving the Stalin regime (and even, as you mention, outliving the Soviet Union itself!). Part of how it was able to achieve this delicate (!) balancing act is explained in your talk: the targets of its satire were foreign states and domestic malingerers (presumably, showing insufficient zeal toward the Communist project?). But those foils sound a little dreary - how many times could they repeat the same satirical points? - and normative, when satire is by its nature transgressive, it wants to go after power, and to test the limits of its subversive licence. So, my question is: did Krokodil never stray into satire of Soviet politicians, or of the Communist system (which would, surely, have provided endless comic material!)? Did it escape the purges unscathed? Amazing if it did - unless it was a Stalinist organ during the Terror?
Hi John, I really enjoyed your discussion of Krokodil and satire. A question comes up about this cultural rupture that was facilitated by the graphic world of illustrations. Would it be anywhere possible to find this rupture with photographs? And if not, why? Thanks again, Antonella
Thank you for a fascinating presentation. As the examples shown seem to be around the period of the turn from the avant garde to socialist realism, I am interested to know if the visual language developed into a more "realist" style after 1932.
Thanks, all! I can't see how to Tim's post, so I'll respond to all 3 questions in one post.
I think the western view of satire bundles a series of assumptions together which don't necessarily apply to Soviet satire. Would it be going too far to say that in the west it's assumed that the satirist will seek reform, if not revolution or regime change? State-sponsored satire is anathema, would you say? Also, would you say that it's a subconscious expectation that satirical caricature or satirical treatment of a recognisable individual's bodily form is one of the most incisive and critical forms of political critique?
This position, I think, was conventional in the US and the UK during the early years of the Cold War, and I think it's typical of the Western attitude to Krokodil. I think the logic of this position was solidified by 3 factors. First (to answer Jessica's question), the prominence of images drawn in realist visual language (on front and rear covers, and in centre-spreads) after 1945, so that by the early 1950s around half of year's cover images were realist in style. Second, the prominence of celebratory images and special issues on subjects of which the Soviet state was most proud (often conveyed in realistic visual language). Third, the apparent avoidance of representing the persons of Soviet leaders in the magazine.
For all sorts of reasons, I think that these factors are really important for reflecting and shaping the context in which Krokodil operated but they don't define its satire. Its satire was always more than these things, even if they appear to define it. In my book I explain the reasons for, and the implications of, these things, but (trying to summarise a couple of chapters here, so bear with me!) the effect on readers was different, depending on the readership. In the west, the effect was to render Krokodil irrelevant as a satirical force. Many event denied that it was satirical, and found other descriptions for it. In fact, Soviet politicians DID appear in the magazine, and the political discourses enunciated by the USSR's leaders were ever-present. The absence of Soviet leaders was as much a criticism as their presence might have been, in some ways. In the USSR, I think the effect was to reinforce the satirical messages of its cartoons. The constant reiteration (to answer Tim's questions) of the same critiques of capitalism reinforced the message that capitalism was doomed and incapable of reform. The absence of either Soviet hero figures or Soviet political leaders created an empty core at the centre of Krokodil's world, made it centrifugal and placed the performance of communism by non-authority figures in the prominent position. In this way, it critiqued AND denied the reality of the world it represented (which is why, to answer Antonella's question, photography plays such a very small part in Krokodil) and constructed a much more essential critique of the failure of the Soviet state's political project.
I should also have said that Krokodil survived as an institution, but several of its editors and contributors became victims during the Purges (5 from memory, including the famous journalist Mikhail Kol'tsov). Konstantin Rotov was arrested (I think in 1940) on the basis of a cartoon he'd drawn a number of years before. I've never managed to track down the cartoon, and I think perhaps it was never published, but his story is a fascinating project in itself.