Picturing Soviet progress

In 1931 Otto Neurath helped the Soviet authorities establish an institute of pictorial statistics in Moscow. It was named the 'All-Union Institute of Pictorial Statistics of Soviet Construction and Economy' or, more commonly, the Izostat Institute.

Over the next three years, Neurath and his colleagues, most notably Gerd Arntz, spent many months in Moscow training Russians in the Vienna Method and simplifying the design of Soviet pictorial statistics. The main task of the Izostat Institute was to communicate the claimed economic and social achievements of the Soviet Union to a mass audience. The institute produced charts in Russian and other European languages, and also created displays for Soviet holidays and celebrations.

In 1934, the working relationship between the Soviet government and Otto Neurath broke down. The Izostat Institute remained active until 1940, though its work no longer adhered to Vienna Method principles.

Six postcards showing Soviet pictorial statistics

These postcards, from a set of 70, highlight Russian experiments with the Vienna Method prior to the arrival of Otto Neurath and his team in Moscow. One Russian graphic invention was the drawing of a strip of film as a means of measuring data. This was the idea of Ivan Ivanitskii, who went on to work at the Izostat Institute. Marie Neurath later recalled that Ivanitskii 'acknowledged that our pictorial statistics were better, and he worked with us quite happily'.

From the set To Catch Up with and Overtake the Leading Capitalist Countries in Technical and Economic Affairs in Ten Years: Seventy Pictorial Diagrams on Postcards, Moscow-Leningrad: IZOGIZ

Oil output
Each oil tank represents 5 million tons of oil.

Growth of the working class
Each figure represents 2 million workers.

Production of sugar
Each sugar loaf represents 200,000 tons of sugar.

Production of combine harvesters
Each machine represents 5000 combine harvesters.

Growth of collective farming

Value of state farm production
Each bundle of notes represents 300 million roubles.

The Struggle for Five Years in Four

Neurath and his team had only been working at the Izostat Institute for a few months when this collection of statistical charts was published. Many do not strictly follow the Vienna Method and instead contain illustrations. In 'Growth in public food service in the USSR', for example, the artist has created a cafeteria scene, with tiled floor, dining tables and dinner plates. The collection's title refers to the Soviet Union's economic First Five-Year Plan (1928-32) declared complete in four years rather than five.

Folder of 64 statistical charts produced by the Izostat Institute, Moscow: State Publishing House of Fine Arts

Folder with charts

Coal output

Growth in public food service

Growth in capacity of city nurseries

Growth in number of students attending workers' universities

Fifteen Years since the October Revolution

These charts celebrate Soviet economic and social progress in the 15 years since the 1917 October Revolution, and in particular under the First Five-Year Plan (1928-32). The use of simple pictograms, few colours and no unnecessary illustrations reflects the influence of Otto Neurath and his team. The charts were supplied in a box and accompanied by instructions on how best to arrange them for display.

Set of 20 statistical charts produced by the Izostat Institute, Moscow-Leningrad: IZOGIZ

[not using]

'The transition of USSR workers to a 7-hour working day'
Each figure represents 10% of all employed people.

'Soviet machine construction'
Each circle represents machinery produced to the value of 500 million roubles.

'The rate of collectivisation of agriculture'
Each rectangle represents 10 million hectares of cultivated land.

'The construction of new housing in the USSR'
Each building represents 2.5 million square metres of newly completed housing.

'The production of tractors in the USSR'
Each tractor represents 10,000 tractors.

'The growth in turnover in the number of railway passengers and the length of railway lines in the USSR'
Each figure represents 50 million transported passengers.
Each section of track between semaphores represents 10 thousand kilometres of railway.

'The range of universal compulsory education in the USSR'
Each figure represents 2 million school pupils.

'Capitalists extinguish blast furnaces, we are building new ones'
Each symbol represents 25 blast furnaces.

'Coal mining in the USSR'
Each wagon represents 10 million tons of coal.

'Freight turnover on USSR railways'
Each wagon represents 50 million tons of transported cargo.

'Public catering in the USSR'
Each building represents 2000 cafeterias.
Each plate represents 1.5 million meals served daily.

'The growth of global unemployment'
Each figure represents 2 million unemployed.

The Second Five-Year Plan in Construction

One of the undeniable achievements of the Soviet government in the 1920s and 1930s was its campaign for universal literacy throughout the Soviet Union. This chart shows the growth of literacy using two very telling pictograms: an 'illiterate' walking figure appearing to arrive from out-of-doors to join a 'literate' seated figure in the comfortable, indoor activity of reading and writing. This book is a highpoint of Izostat work, published during the final year of Neurath's involvement with the Institute.

Book of 45 statistical charts produced by the Izostat Institute, Moscow-Leningrad: IZOGIZ


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