February 28, 2012

WW2 PROPAGANDA: WAR OF WORDS Part 3 Soviet Propaganda

Stalin speech on November 7, 1941 (with English subtitles) (00:06:48m)

Stalin - the very name continues to evoke controversy today. He rose to power on a wave of deception and murder and became one of the most feared and dangerous despots of all time. Throughout the thirty years of his reign, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions of people yet the Russian people revered him as a father-figure and demi-god. It is astonishing to note that some Russians today still praise his legacy.

It is not difficult to perceive how this demon rose to the heights of demagoguery.  Stalin was among the progenitors of the 1918 October Revolution
driven by the theories of Marxist-Leninism. It appealed to and galvanized a nation through slogans idealizing the struggle of the "proletariat" against the oppressive masters of imperialism and capitalism. However it only replaced one power elite with the tyranny  of another.

The above video documented Stalin's address on November 7, 1941 to the Soviet military forces, in the wake of their overwhelming losses to the "German brigands". The Nazis had spearheaded Operation Barbarossa in June of that year in an ambitious campaign to conquer the Soviet Union and though they had achieved initial successes it would be short-lived. 

The above Soviet propaganda poster appealed to the patriotic sentiment of the nation by referring to the legendary victories of the Russian armies; in wars against the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of the Ice in April 1242, against the Prussians in 1760 when Russians captured Berlin during the Seven Years' War,  and the pivotal October Revolution, in which the government was overthrown and power seized by the Bolsheviks.  It proclaimed that Russian victory would again be achieved despite the assault of the Nazi German hordes. In this illustration a Russian soldier slays a German soldier who is depicted as a demon (made apparent by the addition of little horns on his helmet) and a sluggard (by the lack of any weapon except that of a bottle of alcohol.)

This Soviet poster speaks for itself. It depicts
comical images of Hitler and his generals running for their lives from the approaching convoy of Soviet tanks. It was meant not only to demoralize and ridicule the Wehrmacht but assert Soviet confidence that military fortunes were shifting in their favor. In the early stages of this war, German forces succeeded in penetrating Russian-occupied territories through eastern Poland and the Baltic states and captured Leningrad and then Smolensk. By autumn 1941 the Germans were poised to attack Moscow but the onset of a Russian winter literally froze them in their tracks.  It was then that Stalin was ready to launch a fierce counteroffensive with troops he had called in from Siberia and the Far East, supported by an ample supply of new tanks and weapons. The battles ensued for four more long years until the Red Army was able to defeat the Nazis all the way back to Berlin.

In this poster Hitler was portrayed as a miniature version of "Napoleon" and bearing a tiny pistol which was hopelessly inadequate against the butt of a big Russian rifle. The implicit message was that Hitler would suffer the same humiliating defeat as Napoleon. The background shadow of a farmer's pitchfork with the date 1812 referred to the Patriotic War during which Napoleons armies attempted to conquer Russia. It was an historic battle of epic proportions but which ended with catastrophic results and the decimation of Napoleons' Grand Armee. The caricature of Hitler holding a shredded document represented the Non-Aggression Pact signed between Germany and Russia just prior to the outbreak of WWII - an outright condemnation of Germany as the aggressor.

The caption of this "Defend the city of Lenin" was an attempt to rally the support of the Russian people in the defence of their "fatherland" from the German invasion. It depicted two Russian military men who symbolized the Red Army of the army and naval forces, accompanied by the a poor farmer and his wife - symbols of the "proletariat". All four stood united against imperialist invaders in the struggle to defend Leningrad and the military-industrial complex. It was as much an ideological war as it was a military one, defending the city which was named after the leader of the October Revolution.

The caption roughly translated means "Join the army of front-line women! Women at arms are soldiers, helpers, and friends!"  When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 thousands of Soviet women volunteered to enlist in the Red Army but were initially turned away by government officials.  It was not long afterwards that they were permitted to enlist, serving primarily in medical and auxiliary capacities. Eventually Russian women were deployed; as pilots, machine gunners, tank crew members and snipers and bore their share of the burden of WW2, or what came to be known as the Great Patriotic War. Of the 800,000 Russian women who served in the Red Army, about 200,000 received military decorations and in time 89 women would receive the highest decoration of the country, the Hero of the Soviet Union. This was in sharp contrast to the role that German women played during WWII. German culture and tradition was such that women were expected to remain in the home and pursue their roles as wife and mother. German women did indeed receive medals from the Reich but it was to reward them for having the most children possible.

This poster entitled, "Set Europe Free" (1944) was the work of the famous Russian artist, Viktor Koretskij who produced many striking, iconic images that were used by Russian propagandists.  Europe, represented here by the image of a courageous and stoic woman has just been liberated from Nazi bondage. Though it is barely perceptible, the shackles on her wrists bear the engravings of Nazi swastikas.  The combined military power of the allies, as illustrated by the swords bearing the flags of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union share in her liberation, although not equally.  The Russian sword is significantly larger alluding to the fact that Russia employed more military resources and suffered heavier casualties than that of the other allies' combined.

This poster designed by Viktor Deni in November 1920 was entitled "Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth" Lenin is depicted as sweeping (purging) the world of elements opposed to communist ideology; the imperialists, the capitalists and the Jews. This image belies the reality of the Red Terror. Anyone daring to oppose the Bolsheviks was arrested, tortured and subjected to summary executions. Prisons were overflowing with men and women deemed as "enemies of the state". Lenin claimed that the real terror emanated from British imperialists and their allies, such as Yudenich (a commander of the Russian Imperial Army and leader of the anti-communist White movement during the Russian Civil War), Kolchak (a Russian naval commander who became the supreme ruler of the counter-revolutionary anti-communist White forces) and Marshal Jozef Pilsudski (Poland's Chief of State from 1918-22) who was largely responsible for regaining Poland's independence in 1918 after 123 years of national oblivion. When Stalin reached power in 1924 his own brand of terror far exceeded that of Lenin's.

This photo taken in the 1930s is an example of the kind of propaganda used by the Stalinist regime. The top photo showed the image of Nikolai Yezhov walking with Stalin. Yezhov was head of the NKVD, an ardent Bolshevik and close confidant. He was arrested and put on trial for suspicion of plotting to assassinate Stalin. Though he pleaded innocence he was sentenced to death and was executed in 1940 in one of Stalin's Great Purges. The bottom photo shows that the image of Yezhov had been airbrushed out, a common practice of the time. Moreover,Stalin had declared him damnatio memoriae, which entailed the complete eradication of the name Yezhov, and the very memory that he ever existed.

Bearing similarity to that of Nazi Germany, the Russian government had installed a department named Glavlit, to take over all state media and control its dissemination through censorship and propaganda. Publication of all books, newspapers and the like, as well as radio and TV broadcasting came under ts harshest scrutiny. All undesirable information was vigorously censored and history was virtually rewritten, by the elimination or fabrication of information, to comply with the demands of the communist elite.

The caption proclaimed, "Under the Leadership of the Great Stalin - Forward to Communism" depicting Stalin at the helm of the vast empire stretching farther than the eye can see. He was portrayed as a beloved saviour and father-figure. To Russians who had grow up during his regime, they came to believe that the nation and the people would collapse without him. He commanded devotion, respect and even love from a people who were terrorized with the fear that they would be subjected to his murderous reprisals if they failed to demonstrate a sufficient degree of fawning. Like Lenin, Stalin created this cult of personality around himself to establish unquestioned authority over, and obedience by the masses. After Lenin's death his image still figured prominently in propaganda posters, along that of Stalin. That Lenin's embalmed body was put on perpetual display seemed almost to evoke the myth of "sainthood", given the evidence of an uncorruptible body.(In January of 2011, the United Russia party set up a website inviting the Russian people to vote on whether Lenin should be buried. Two-thirds of the respondents voted "yes" however no definitive action has been taken.)

This poster depicts a large raised hand which overshadows and contains the hands and faces of what constitute the masses. It undeniably affirmed the complete authority that Stalin exercised over the Russian people. The poster`s message, "Soviet Hands - We'll execute the plan for the great works." which reinforced communist ideology and extolled the value of workers as the "vanguard" in the business of nation-building. The reality however was quite different. In 1922 the industrial production in Russia reached only 22% of what it had been at the start of WWI. Through Stalin's intervention a marked recovery was achieved but not without considerable reduction in public consumption so that re-investment of capital could be directed toward industrial development. Central to Stalins policies was a ruthless expropriation of wealth from the kulaks. By 1933, workers' incomes plummeted to one-tenth of what it had been in 1926. Criminals and political prisoners were forced into unpaid labor, and between 1930 and 1932, over 520 factories had been constructed.


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