Bolshevik propaganda was one of the main tools used to influence and control mass consciousness and ideas. The uniqueness and peculiarity of Bolshevik propaganda was agitation. The aim of this approach was the dissemination of ideas and ideals, teaching new ideological values and concepts. Communists hoped to achieve, and that was why they had more and more concentrated their propaganda efforts on the boys and girls and the young men and women.
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The Bolsheviks propaganda organization was well equipped to deal with complex situations, including rebellions and strikes. It employed many thousands of instructors–known, misleadingly enough, as ‘agitators’ whose sole function it was to explain to the ordinary citizen what was the current line of party policy and to justify it by whatever arguments were most likely to be effective1. No doubt these men and women found the explanation and justification of the switch concerning Stalin their hardest assignment up to date2.
The ordinary Russian was conditioned to believe what he was told to believe, he neither could nor wanted to think for himself in political matters, and if he was bewildered by the gyrations of communist doctrine, he was all the readier to listen to and accept, even if he did not understand, the ‘agitator’s’ explanations. In this particular case, propaganda was all-powerful over people’s minds and went too far beyond the facts3.
Using unique messages and visual representation, Bolsheviks portrayed the threat of force and thereby terrorize population. Propaganda gave them the feeling that they were deserted by their friends and had no hope of rescue. Above all, propaganda badgered and bludgeoned the population with slogans, banners, and loudspeakers, so that they were never allowed an opportunity for peaceful meditation or relaxation4.
One could not escape from mass propaganda. No play was produced, no film was shot, which did not in one form or another convey a propaganda message in favor of communism and Bolshevism. If plays in the standard repertory were included, they were accompanied by interpretations designed to bring out some kind of Bolshevist moral. Even music and painting were not immune: though the communists were unable to tamper with the accepted classics yet they were not hesitated to interfere on avowedly political grounds with the works of contemporary artists and composers, and the standard point of discussion of any new work turns not on whether it was good or bad art but on whether it was progressive and democratic or bourgeois and decadent5. “Painting was used directly for political propaganda, which meant that most works were stilted or conveyed blatant untruths about collectivization”6 (see Appendix 1,2).
The communists have succeeded in carrying the operation much further in that no practicing artist, whatever his nationality or race, can be confident when he produces new work, that it will be judged on its artistic merits; on the contrary, he is liable, as he knows, to be arraigned by the authorities and forced to confess to errors and deviations from the communist norm. It is not surprising that the arts do not flourish under a communist regime7.
Add to that the exclusion from the newsstands of all but communist-controlled newspapers and from the bookshops of all but communist-approved literature; add, too, the more or less compulsory attendance at parades and mass demonstrations and indoctrination classes; all of this on top of the kind of terrorism which makes it necessary to watch one’s tongue even when talking to friends and relatives; and one can understand how the spirit of independent thought is for most people choked by a stifling blanket of boredom and despair. And this is doubtless the conscious object of the communist leadership so far as the middle-aged and elderly sections of the population are concerned8.
In order to reach the illiterate population and disseminate revolutionary ideals, Bolsheviks used posters located in trains, aircraft, and trams. The visual messages were commented on and explained by radio. “Message to them had to be kept simple, striking and memorable”9. But the normative, the ideological, were also important: the manipulation of symbols ( Stalin, the hero of socialism), the image of the future (‘socialism in one country’), and the propaganda (‘the most democratic constitution in the world’) all played a role as great, if not greater than terror, in ensuring the active compliance and mobilization of the population. One of the more extravagant claims of the program was that Soviet growth would ‘surpass the USA’10,
Propaganda could not convert the population, but it could perhaps stun them into inertia. First, they were likely to believe unquestioningly in the simple dogmas of Marxism, as also in the current slogans of the communists concerning the threat from the West or the iniquities of colonialism11.
And secondly, they were likely to become so habituated to the all-pervading barrage of communist propaganda as to accept that too as an inevitable part of everyday life. In both these ways, the communists hoped to train up a body of citizens throughout who would be as docile and gullible as is the great majority of Russians. The regime tried not only to weaken the Church but also to eradicate belief in God which it considered a superstition12.
In the early post-revolutionary years, violence and sacrilege had been perpetrated against the Church. From 1923, the Communist Party attempted to develop new ways of anti-religious propaganda. These included the publication of ‘popular scientific’ literature devised to explain the origin and class nature of religion; the organization of anti-religious propaganda put across by lectures; the setting up under the party of anti-religious study circles, and the inculcation of materialist natural science among the masses. Government suppression of the radical press possibly continued to curtail reports on the revolution. The otherwise incompetent military regimes proved quite effective in suppressing radicals13.
Government reports from early 1919 reveal its vigilance against “extremist” propaganda. The government continued to suppress publications that promoted “social change,” family revolution, and the ‘sanctity of labor’14. Anarchists advocated a social revolution that was more authentic because they believed in both imminent social transformation and popular mobilization to that end. Anarchist activity took the form primarily of cultural and propaganda activity, but they were also the first among radicals to engage in a labor organization.
In sum, propaganda was used by Bolsheviks in the form of agitation, directed and conveyed threats before capitalism and the West, and suppressed rebellious ideas and actions of the population. The best methods which helped Bolsheviks to reach illiterate citizens were posters and radio programs, theater, and cinema.
Cohen, S. F. Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917. Oxford University Press, USA, 1996.
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Fitzpatrick, S. The Russian revolution. Oxford University Press, 2001.
Lee, S. L. European Dictatorships. 2nd edition. Routledge, 2000.
Kenez, P. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- Kenez, P. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. (Cambridge University Press, 1985): 111.
- Ibid, 183.
- Kenez, P. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. (Cambridge University Press, 1985), 65-66.
- Lee, S. L. European Dictatorships. 2nd edition. (Routledge, 2000), 67
- Ibid, 67
- Ibid, 67.
- Cohen, S. F. Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917. (Oxford University Press, USA, 1996), 84.
- Fitzpatrick, S. The Russian revolution. (Oxford University Press, 2001), 124.
- Lee, S. L. European Dictatorships. 2nd edition. (Routledge, 2000), 164.
- Kenez, P. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. (Cambridge University Press, 1985), 186.
- Ibid, 76.
- Ibid, 183.
- Ibid, 184.
- Kenez, P. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. (Cambridge University Press, 1985), 170.