Internet insight into the party machine

February 5, 1999

The head of the Portuguese Association of Industrial Archaeology is leading an investigation into factory museums in Russia and other former socialist countries.

Anthropologist Antonio Eduardo Mendonca believes research into this field - little studied in the West - could pay dividends in the future as modernisation in eastern bloc countries threatens institutions that once played a key propaganda role under the old regimes.

Professor Mendonca said: "The development and role of company museums in these countries is a phenomenon that should be considered seriously now that many factory museums established in the old era have been closed or transformed."

He has launched an internet campaign for help in researching the museums.

The research project, still in its planning stage, will look at the two main types of museums: those set up as public relations vehicles for state enterprises, focusing on the development of their specialist product; and the trudovoi slavy - victory to the workers - type that served wider, ideological or party propaganda purposes.

His internet search has already elicted support from Washington DC's International Counterculture Archive at George Washington University, where curator Mark Yoffe is conducting research into Soviet and post-Soviet pop and counter-culture.

Mr Mendonca said: "Company museums are definitely out of fashion in the former Soviet Union. Very few people care about them, mainly old workers whose identity included their lives at the factory or people from the communist wing, cherishing memories of those glorious times.

There was no industrial archaeology tradition in the former Soviet Union and it seems to me their approach is still very different to that in the West."

Factory or company museums have had very different functions under capitalist and communist systems. Unlike western enterprises that sometimes set up such museums as "public relations, marketing and/or personal relations vehicles, focused on the history and/or development of the product in which they specialise", company museums in socialist countries served mainly a party ideological or propaganda purpose, Mr Mendonca said.

Museum displays in factories from the pre-revolutionary period specialised in presentation of displays demonstrating the extent to which their workers participated in the revolutionary movement, often revealing documentation, posters, handbills and photographs from factory archives.

A few company museums have tried to adapt to the tourist trade so that they can charge admission fees: the Red October chocolate factory in Moscow is the best-known case, Mr Mendonca added.

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