Bee's Modern World History Blog

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Russian Propaganda

Russia during the early 1900s was on the verge of falling apart. There was a lot discontentment amongst the people to the government; at first to the Tsar and then to the Provisional Government.

Capitalism is one of the major issues the majority of the people in Russia wanted to put an end to. Capitalism is an economic system that allows people to make profit. The problem with this economic system is that it splits up two major different social classes: the working class (proletariats, peasants) and the boss. In capitalism there is no middle class. The working class and peasants work long hours (14 to 15 hours per day) but get extremely low wages. They could not support themselves; many were hungry and lived in overcrowded rooms with more than 10 people living inside. Aside from this, they could not own any land. However, life was very different for the capitalists (including the Tsar and religious leaders). The capitalists were making all the profit and always saw food on the table. They own land and never went through any of the struggles the peasants and the proletariats went through. Since the majority of Russia’s population is the working class a lot of discontentment was stirred in Russia. Obviously peasants wanted change. This meant the overthrowing of capitalism.

The use of propagandas is to convey a message using images instead of words. Like the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, using propagandas or pictures to present and persuade ideas is much more effective than words.

Capitalism in Propaganda

Either Death to Capitalism or Death Under the Heels of Capitalism
Artist: Deni, Viktor

“Death to Capitalism” is represented by the left side of the poster with a drawing of a man dressed in red, holding a gun and a red flag stepping on a fat man dressed in black with a tall hat. “Death under the heels of Capitalism” is represented by the right side with a picture of the same fat man, holding a black flag stepping on the man in red. The fat man in the poster represents capitalism or the capitalists. Capitalists are usually portrayed as fat because they are thought of as being greedy; taking all the money from peasants that work for the money. Also, capitalists own all the land and industry in Russia and are never hungry. The man in red with the red flag represents the working class and peasants. The color red is important in this poster because red is used to express Communism. The picture of the man in red stepping on the fat man is symbolic for peasants and the working class supporting the Communist regime, putting an end to Capitalism. The gun the man in red is holding can also be used to convey a message that proletariats must fight in order to gain freedom from the capitalists. The picture of the fat man stepping on the man in red represents the idea that Capitalists will continue to beat on the working class if Capitalism is not put to an end. Judging by the message it conveys, this poster was probably released by the supporters of the Bolsheviks; the most influential Communist party that wanted people to support them. The Bolsheviks probably released this poster to persuade people that it is crucial to unite with the Communist party and overthrow Capitalism because Capitalism will “kill” them if they do not.

The Goal of Capitalism is Always the Same
Artist: Ivan Semenov

The top of this poster is divided into three sections. The left side contains a picture of a man breaking rocks (perhaps mining). The center is a picture of three very thin people with straps around them, dragging something. The right side is a picture of a man lying on the floor in a pile of blood. Behind this man is a picture of a tank, an airplane and lots of barb wire. All three of these pictures have little gold coins falling from them; the small pieces of rocks the man work to break in the left picture turns into the gold coins, the sweat of the people from the center picture turns into gold coins and the blood from the man in the right picture turns into the gold coins that are all falling into a pile of money at the bottom. A man lies, with his arms outstretched over the money. The message of this picture is that all the work, the sweat and the blood the peasants use to make a living turns into money that the capitalists (man at the bottom) get. The right picture with the man in a pile of blood can also mean that peasants are the ones fighting in the wars for Russia. Yet, they do not get the respect they deserve for defending their motherland. This propaganda is titled “The Goal of Capitalism is always the same”. This “goal” that the title mentions is the fact that while the peasants work hard for money, food, and a decent place to live, the capitalists get most of the money and the land the peasants work for.

This poster is effective in turning against Capitalism because it shows how hard the peasants have to work for...nothing, except to keep the capitalists rich while they remain poor and in struggle.

Other Selected Propaganda

The message of this poster is expressed in a form of a pyramid. The bottom level of the pyramid is the peasants or the working class. The next level is the capitalists, sitting in chairs and dressed in suits. The next level up is the soldiers in the army. The soldiers are holding up the priests and other religious leaders. The religious leaders are holding up the government. The highest level of the pyramid is where the Tsar, the Tsarina and the royal family are. The message of this propaganda is that the working class out numbers any other groups in Russia and are having the hardest lives; holding up the whole pyramid while the capitalists are having some sort of party, and the royal family are having an easy life; sitting comfortably on the top. With this message, people in Russia, especially peasants and the working class may start to realize that every other groups above them (capitalists, soldiers, religious leaders, the government and the royal family) all depend on them and would not exist without them. This means that without them, Capitalists would not be rich, soldiers would not be respected, religious leaders would not be worshipped and the Tsar will not have power. Peasants may start to think that because the majority of Russia is made up of them, if they all work together to overthrow the government and the capitalists, or rather if they all simply refuse to “hold up the pyramid” (be the lowest class), the power the government and capitalists have would crush. The most effective part about this poster is that the message is represented in a pyramid.

The Tsar, the Priest and the Rich Man on the Shoulders of the Laboring People

This poster contains a similar message to the one above. While the Tsar, the priest and the capitalist rests comfortably on top of the human carriage, men, women and even children, poorly dressed and extremely thin are in chains holding up the Tsar, the priest and the capitalist. This shows that without the peasants and the working class, the Tsar, the religious leaders and the capitalists would not have any power and would struggle. The Tsar is sitting with the priest behind him. The priest looks menacing. This may have been done to discourage religion; showing that even priests who are suppose to be the answer to people’s hardships are actually taking advantage of the proletariats. This may make people turn away from religion. The capitalist is standing up in a proud gesture, holding a whip. His sword is blood stained. This sends a message that capitalists are tyrannical (the whip) and a bully. Skulls are scattered on the floor as well as bodies. This shows how hard life is at the bottom (the peasants’ lives), holding up everyone with the power. The background is dark; showing that Russia has always been a “dark” place. What makes this poster effective is how different the picture of the peasants is compared to the Tsar, priest and capitalist; showing extreme difference in class. It clearly shows how much the peasants are struggling while the Tsar, priest and capitalist are comfortably seated on the top, not doing any work. This propaganda can make the peasants angry at how hard their lives are compared to the Tsar, priest, and capitalists and realize that the people with power over them actually depend on them. This can fill peasants with the ideas of overthrowing the capitalists and the Tsar in power and convert people to hate religion.

Artist: Anonymous

The woman in this poster is drawn especially big. She looks very tough; with big arms and an expressionless face. This may have been done to show that women are as strong as men; not the weak and fragile figure men make women to be. She is holding a book in her right arm perhaps to show that women are intelligent. The woman is wearing a bandana; a symbol for working. On her dress are pictures of men clinging on to her, pulling her back. On the far side of the poster is a picture of the sun, perhaps showing that where this woman is headed is very bright; a message that Russia is headed to a bright future. The color red is also used frequently in this poster; representing communism and the bright future ahead is because of Communism. This propaganda seems to be directed to the women, especially peasants in Russia. The purpose of the poster is to persuade women to work so Russia can look forward a better future. It seems to say that women are strong and have the power to bring happy days to Russia. In the background there are trackers and factories; a message that the type of jobs women can have are working in farms or in factories. To convey these messages, the poster uses several techniques effectively. One is how big in size the woman is and how strong she looks compared to the men. Also, the color red appears a lot in the picture; a hidden clue that communism is the one to support. It is clear that the group that published this propaganda are supporters of the Communist party or the Bolsheviks. This is because the Bolshevik Revolution proclaimed the equality of sexes and encouraged women to work.

Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Scums
Artist: Mikhail Cheremnykh and Viktor Deni

A man in black, wearing a hat (Lenin) is standing on top of the globe, holding a broom. He is the biggest in the picture and is sweeping the Tsar (fat with a crown), the priest (on the left) and the Capitalist (with a top hat and a bag of money) off of the globe. This propaganda clearly supports Lenin and the idea of overthrowing capitalism, the absolute monarchy of the Tsar and religion. “Scums” mentioned in the title are the Tsar, the capitalist and the religious leaders. This sends a message that these people are the “bad guys” and Lenin is the “good guy”, saving Russia from them. Aside from the capitalist and the Tsar destroying Russia and the people in it, this poster also shows that religion is not needed. The priest in this poster is made to look like a witch, with a long, pointy nose and greedy with the fat body. The publisher of this propaganda probably supported Lenin and belonged to the Communist party; making people want to support Lenin who is doing the world (Russia) a favor by getting rid of the causes of discontentment in Russia. The simplicity of the poster is what makes this propaganda effective. It clearly shows what Russia did not need (Tsar, capitalists, and religion) and that Lenin is the one to support because he is cleaning Russia of what she does not need.

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It is clear that Russia during the 1900s needed change. The question was what kind of things needed to be change and who was going to change it? The use of propaganda is like using hypnotic powers to persuade people of what was needed to be done. Many propaganda posters in Russia during this time revolve around the issue of capitalism, communism, religion, as well as the equality of the sexes. This shows that these are the main issues Russia was facing during the early 20th century. Posters about capitalism usually show peasants working hard but the “fat people” (capitalists) are the ones getting all the money. Communism is mostly represented in good ways; overthrowing capitalism and people in red (the color of communism) looking victorious and happy. Religious leaders in propaganda posters are mocked; drawn fat and grouped with the capitalists and the Tsar. Women in propaganda are made to look strong and are working in farms and factories. Since Russia during this time was already filled with discontented people (peasants); unhappy about their living conditions, working conditions and most especially, the government, messages in propaganda were a big push towards a Revolution. If a revolution was to occur, what kind of government would take over? Most of the propaganda posters that presented messages about the issues in Russia also contain hidden details as to who should take over. The use of the color red is a way to express communism-telling all of Russia that the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) will mend all the problems that needed to be fixed. Also, the posters with women working, supports the Communist’s party’s proclamation of equality of the sexes. The propaganda with religious leaders portrayed as menacing are also the Bolsheviks’ annoyance to religion. It would seem that almost all of the propaganda in Russia during this time supported Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Communist Party. It would also seem that the propaganda did indeed affected people because for many years after, Russia remained Communists.


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