Red Merchants: Soviet Industrialization and the Founding of the World Market in Russian Religious Art


In the 1930s, the Soviet government offered for sale thousands of icons from destroyed churches and nationalized collections. This case explores the Soviet export of religious images. It is not, however, merely a study of one more Machiavellian dimension of Stalinism that placed the objects of a repressed church at the service of the godless state. By exploring the marketing strategies employed by Stalin’s red merchants to promote a new art commodity in the world market, this case challenges the stereotypical view of Stalinism as “marketless.” It adds to our understanding of the economy of Soviet socialism and its contribution to the development of the world art market. This study also encourages readers to think about extraordinary ways in which the government can make money to finance its ambitious projects and the implications of such state strategies for the national cultural heritage and international cultural exchange.

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