The images themselves are predictably full of striking red tones. Often downtrodden, humble interiors are decorated with hammer and sickle motifs and giant portraits or busts of Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin. (Banning wasn’t surprised to see such familiar propoganda, but he was struck by “the dimensions of these old heroic icons, and the small spaces they’re cramped in now.”) In general, the photographs don’t mock or caricature this vanishing world, and instead present Banning’s subjects—a man half smiling next to an aged computer, a woman and man locked in conversation over what looks like a beer—in a matter-of-fact manner.
The decline of the communist party was particularly marked in Moscow, Banning said. Where once they dominated Russia, now they have much more modest accommodations. “They were happy someone was paying attention to them,” he laughed. But when Banning visited another headquarters in Strugi Krasnye, in Western Russia, he found a Communist Party outpost that was quite happy with its results in the country’s 2016 legislative elections (though still nowhere close to threatening Putin’s grip on power). The people he met there, Banning writes in the introduction to Red Utopia, tended to have a fairly forgiving view of the Party’s history, downplaying or denying the difficulty of life under Joseph Stalin, along with his repression and violent purges.