The strange history of a futuristic Soviet propaganda plane

Decades before Twitter and Facebook, the Soviet state was a leader in perceptual manipulation technology. Meet the mighty flying propaganda machine of the 1930s: the Maxim Gorky.

One of Russia’s most prestigious cemeteries is set just south of downtown Moscow, adjoining a convent built in the 16th and 17th centuries. It contains the graves of Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and even Josef Stalin’s second wife, who killed herself in 1932 and is commemorated by a wistful white sculpture. Of all the numberless monuments, headstones and columbarium plaques, among the most beguiling is an enormous relief of an airplane that is affixed to the crenellated brick walls. A tablet gives the name of this machine as the Maxim Gorky, and although I lived across the street for several years and must have seen the memorial half a dozen times, the aircraft is little-remembered in the West except among aviation and history buffs…

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