A critical analysis and comparison of two propaganda posters, one Bolshevik and one nazi. The aim of this essay is to analyse and compare two works of propaganda from the 1939 period, one from the Russian Bolshevik party and one from the German Nazi party (see Appendix). The essay will focus around three main questions; Why was the poster produced? What is the intended effect of the poster? How has this effect been achieved? In addition the essay will strive to look at the similarities and the differences in the two pieces and comment on the success they may have had.

“For even propaganda is no more than a weapon, though a frightful one in the hands of the enemy”. (Hitler. A. Mein Kampf. 1969) In his autobiography Hitler goes on to talk of the functions and the essentials. He suggests that propaganda should be used to put ideas and facts into the field of vision of the masses who were previously unaware. He goes on to say, ‘… its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a limited degree at the so-called intellect’. Two of Hitler’s other main beliefs or premises of Propaganda were that the greater the audience, the simpler the message had to be.

And also that if a lie is to be told, it is best to tell a big one, in that it is more likely to be believed. A point that was backed up by his right hand man, Joseph Goebel ls, “Any lie, frequently repeated, will gradually gain acceptance”, (Zeman Z.A.B. Nazi Propaganda. 1973). However the aim of this essay is not to talk about propaganda but to analyse the two sources. This essay will start by taking a closer look at the Bolshevik poster.

The poster features a mother and child being threatened with a bayonet (dripping with blood), that has the nazi logo, the ‘swastika’, emblazoned at the base of the blade. Despite popular beliefs, at the time of the war many Russians weren’t that keen on war and many actually sympathise d with the Nazi Fascists. “Such defeatism seemed to have been quite common, especially among peasants, who hoped that war would precipitate the end of Kolkhoz y (the collective form of farming) “, (Davies S. Popular opinion in… 1997). Sarah Davies goes on to reveal how many popular opinion was that money should stop being thrown at Spain and Mongolia and China and Russia should put an end to its own food shortage.

“Attitudes to fascism and Hitler were not unequivocally negative during this period, despite or perhaps because of Soviet propaganda”, (Davies S. Popular Opinion… 1997). Hitler represented ‘dynamism’, ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘economic success’. So its easy to see how by 1939 propaganda had a big job to enforce the anti-nazi feeling.

Instead, what the Soviet machine has done in this poster is not to demonise the nazi’s but instead to demonise their threat to the motherland. This link to mother is important, ever since the revolution of 1917 there was a very deliberate attempt to fuse the women of Russia to the concept of ‘motherland’. Although the image of mother had being constantly changing since the revolution through the ‘babushka’, then the slim fit attractive working woman, in 1939 it had returned to the motherly figure (mainly in order to stimulate population growth after the famines and political ‘prosecutions’. In her essay ‘the modernisation of Russian motherhood’ Elizabeth Waters suggests that through times of political upheaval and ‘constant flux’ and the disappearance of many institutions that motherhood was the one continuum, .”.. the iconic conflation of mother and motherland, family and state served to humanise and legitimize the party”. (Waters E. The Modernisation… 1992).

This is one aspect where the propaganda of the two posters share similarities, in fact, identicalness. Both of the posters aspire to dehumanise their opposite factions and turn them into forces of malicious soulless evil. .”.. the content of the poster should be entirely comprehensible without reference to the text; the subject of the drawing should be concrete and unambiguous; the drawing itself should be simple and prominent, the text should be short, convincing and easily memorable”. Writes one contributor in ‘Vest nik agitatsii i propagagandy’. (White S. The Bolshevik Poster. 1988) This statement was part of a wider feeling that by 1931 the posters of propaganda in Russia had lost there way and a simpler more effective poster was needed. Another popular misconception of Russia is that it is by nature a cold, bold and simple place and people.

“Russian film posters of the 20’s and 30’s bear unique witness to the artistic creativity of the former Soviet union in the years before Soviet Realism became the official art doctrine under Stalin” (Pack S. Film Posters… 1995). However we do see a distinct likeness in this poster to some of the earlier film posters by the Stenberg brothers et al. The look of sheer terror in the woman’s eyes shares a spooky likeness to that in the eyes of an actress reproduced with the same photographic likeness for ‘The secret life of Peter Vinograd’ (See Appendix). The Nazi poster”; I betrayed my own country, not from political motives, but to save my own skin… “.

(The road to Berlin). As with the Bolsheviks, the nazi’s were trying to unify the country and persuade their people that it was worth dying for the cause. But instead of focusing on the innocence and defenselessness of the women and children they chose a different way. “Belying the empty promises and illusionary scenes painted on posters was the actuality of a merciless program designed to dehumanise not only the enemy in the field but the entire populace in the east, degraded and debased as worthless sub-humans (unter-menschen’s), condemned as the pestilential carrier of the Jewish -Bolshevik incubus… “. (Erickson J. History today, 1994).

They linked the Bolshevik threat to the Ayr an supremacy and the Jewish threat. Embodied in this poster by the Grim-Reaper, named in the text as the Bolshevik Threat, which is unlike the totally symbolic Russian poster whose text reads ‘soldiers of the Red Army; Save us’. In the language of semiotics we could say that the iconic image of the skeleton combined with other signifies such as gravestones, fires of hell, some kind of hanging frame and a blood covered sword all point towards what is signified; death. The sign is the poster, death walking through a hell on earth that he has created. According to Barthes however there is a deeper level of which we should be aware, .”.. that of myth, the next level of connotation”. (Hall S. Representations.

2000). This is where the sign has become the signifier and the new sign is the myth that Bolshevism is a soulless, inhuman force that will reap death and destruction if not confronted- by you! ‘You’ in this case being the German public, Hitlers vision of the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’, a classless and united Germany. David Welch suggests that there were four main aims of Nazi propaganda; this poster is the third, to convey and instil, “a hatred of enemies which increasingly centred on Jews and Bolsheviks’. (Welch D. Nazi Propaganda. 1994).

Bibliography

Erickson J. History today. Nazi Posters. London. 1994 Erickson J.

Breaking the Equilibrium. The Road to Berlin, London. Phoenix Paperback Ltd. 1983 Davies S.

Popular opinion in Stalinist’s Russia. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1997 Hitler A.

Mein Kampf. London. Hutchison and Co. Publishers. 1980 ed.

Waters. E. The Modernisation of Russian Motherhood. Soviet Studies. University of Glasgow. Vol. 44 1992 Welch D.

Nazi Propaganda. Modern History Review. 1992.

issue 44. London. Winter S. The Bolshevik Poster. London. Yale University Press. 1988.

Zeman Z.A.B. Nazi Propaganda. Citing Goebbels J. 1931.

London. Oxford University Press. 1973 ed.

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