When discussing Russian propaganda with a Russian, the term is called, agitprop. Propaganda is defined as information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view (Oxford Dictionary). Just like any art piece, the picture is targeted at a specific group of people. For this paper, I will be looking at World War I and how it affected Russia.
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Governments during the first world war put in extensive resources and severe amounts of time and effort to produce the material designed to shape the people’s minds internationally (4). This resulted in some of the most successful propaganda, and it also shaped attitudes towards propaganda itself after world war I concluded. Propaganda became a weapon in the war! Propaganda was not only targeted on the common person but now in other countries. Many times it was to bring down the rival nations and help influence the neutral countries. It was also deployed to help manipulate public opinion and to direct global processes, setting them in train, or changing their direction at the moments deemed necessary (3). A century later, the true motives of the ideologues who employed this propaganda to achieve their goals have become more apparent. Military propaganda relies on an understanding of the emotional world, and this alone allows whichever idea to be made accessible to the masses in a psychologically understandable format. This was the way to find the route to the heart of millions (1).
How does one persuade the Russian army to hate the German soldiers? There is no doubt at the time that Germany was one of the biggest powerhouses in the world; they would annex any country that came in their way. The Russian government and propaganda did this by telling stories about uncivil things that Germans had done to make people rise and want to join the allies and help out in the war (3). The enemy would have to look particularly bad and would have to arouse particular anger and hatred, or else war would be inconceivable from both the moral and psychological points of view. This was a great way to help get the army going, however many of the tales were untrue.
This poster is a typical iconic example of Russian propaganda that was from 1917. There is a Russian knight hacking at a serpent which depicts the leaders of Germany and the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. I find this to be a great piece of propaganda the Russian homefront. Russia had problems with the Ottoman Empire back when Catherine the Great was in charge. What was even worse was that this Ottoman Empire joined in with the German army one day after Germany declared war on Russia. This was a planned secret treaty between the two, which is why this picture shows two powerhouses as a dragon or a snake-like creature. The other thing that is so great about this photo is here we have the Russian knight looking like a hero his horse is in mid-air as he is slaughtering German and Ottoman leaders. What I like about this propaganda is there is destruction all over the bottom half of it where predominantly Germany and Ottoman’s are and in the top half we have the Russian knight who has light coming down from the sky depicting him as a god-like figure. Even though this piece of propaganda is something fascinating and beautiful Russia ended up signing a treaty called the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, which was with Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.
The next question I want to address is, how did propaganda affect people on the homefront. Most of the time, it was to promote war bonds which appealed to patriotic feelings. So if you were not out there fighting you should be doing your part by providing for the war. Everyone had a job when it came to war, as people who did not want to risk their life would be paying the soldiers who were; it was quite a fair trade-off. The only thing was sometimes if you would pay for bonds and not go to war, you were looked at as a coward. It was the duty of every member of society to contribute towards victory. This realistically makes sense, because not only are you paying for guns, ammo, and food for the soldiers. You are now also paying for medical care, nurses, and supplies. Just in the years from 1917 to 1918, more than 100 bond variations of propaganda posters appeared. This massive increase in bond propaganda was most likely because the United States had just entered the war, and they believed that propaganda was the best form of getting people to enlist. Russia did this in many, but the most successful one was cartoons mocking other leaders from opposing countries.
One of the reasons why propaganda was prominent during the war was because so many men had to leave to go to war that it leads to many newspaper companies shutting down and since there were no phones at the time this is how people received their news. Propaganda was a great way to keep people in the loop and to know what was happening. Not only did it have an influential view on the people, but now it also has a knowledgeable and a learning aspect to it.
There is no doubt that propaganda was a vital component of the culture of World War I. It was most commonly used through the state-controlled media to excite the homeland and bring down the moral of the enemy (6). Propaganda, in most cases, took the form of images which were stereotypes from folklore about the enemy or went back to one of the nation’s exceptional moments (6). The Eastern Front took forms of propaganda of opera, film, theater, war novels, and graphic art. However, another interesting point I was able to find through research was that it was not just the countries coming up with propaganda; it was also anti-war organizations.
Vladimir Mayakovsky published an article saying that only Russian vanguard artists could deal with the subject as challenging as war (1). Game in Hell incorporated lithographs by Goncharova and by Rozanova. Realism hit home though rather than rhetorical when the war broke out, attitudes in art changed drastically. Around this time is when the era of propaganda began. Today it does not even have to be related to the military; it can be woman’s rights or political campaigns. This was because many artists were hooked in the wave of patriotism and propaganda, many revisionists joined the war effort, allying with the political and cultural forces that have been opposing for years (1). Propaganda had a purpose at the time, which was to urge soldiers to fight, while people on the homefront continued to help out industrially. Mayakovsky was the primary source for coming up with these new large posters which showed satirical representations of real battles accompanied by rhyming captions (1). Modern lubok prints were distinguishable by their bright colors, jingoistic content, and dynamic style reminiscent of magazines and had originality and distinctiveness that made them stand out amongst the avalanche of mass production (1). This is a huge reason why I find propaganda interesting; it stands out, it is colorful, it is patriotic and makes you want to do something. When people think of war or when you see pictures of it, it is discouraging and is typically in black and white or dark. Propaganda is a great way to influence the common person to either join the war by fighting or to help by producing ammo, or by other forms such as clothing, food, and spreading the word around whether that is through literature or art! The modern lubok prints differed from the new books because they challenged cultural and social conventions through their ugliness and nonsense (1). This is also an essential part of history because we have looked at many social and cultural themes so far in the class. These themes were represented in our class by showing social criticism with conditions of the poor and how culturally Russia has changed through the periods of who was ruling and what they allowed to be acceptable as a representation of a Russian.
Russian soldiers, including peasant women, were depicted as brave and mighty heroes in propaganda recruitment pictures. I think this is interesting because in class we have seen many peasant pictures, and I can tell you not a single one had them looking brave or as a mighty hero. The images we saw during the nineteenth century were of peasants who spent their days out on the farm and sad. Through research, I found that the reason why we saw those paintings was that, in the early nineteenth century, many artists painted peasants as an iconographic motif with a social significance. However, now in the twentieth century, these same peasants are portrayed as a hero! The other thing about this that is interesting was in France’s military propaganda for the woman they depicted them as victims or abstract symbol of the republic.
This picture here is interesting because not a single woman participated in the military art squad which went to the front of art painting at the time of 1915 to produce artworks based on frontline events (1). I find this odd because I learned that there was apparent equality of the sexes that characterized Russians and that it came to no surprise that woman shared with their male colleagues motifs of conflict, battle, and destruction. So why would they not be interested in painting military art squad pictures? To add to this, there is also no known woman artist who took part in any painting of the battle of the great war. This evidence shows that the absence of woman artist means that the public representation of war was still male territory.
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During propaganda, there was still a difference between the common man and woman. What I mean by this is men would take the role as the soldiers while woman would be the heroic nurse caring the wounded. This lead to classes to be exclusively feminine and lead to a significant spike in paintings of nurses. This also, however, lead to many school artist to drop out and become a nurse, which shows the power of propaganda, woman wanted to be heroes too.
This photo was of the empress and her daughters in 1914. This is what many nurses liked at the time. Since many women dropped from art school to become nurses, this could be an explanation of potentially why woman did not paint pictures of the military art squad or the great war. Maria Bochkareva was one of the most famous woman Russian soldiers. She was a peasant who wanted to join; she wrote a letter of petition to the Tsar who ultimately granted her access to join the military, and she became a soldier. She also established approximately 1000 female volunteers which a group called the Death Battalion.
Without a doubt, every piece of propaganda that took place during World War I had an impact on every single individual that lived during this period. There are many different themes of propaganda out in the world today, but they all started in the early twentieth century. The World War was something so significant that even in neutral countries, they knew what was going on because it was a world war. Propaganda was useful in many ways, whether it was bonds, political, or enlisting, all of them were helpful in one way or another. They impacted society and socialism in the time by getting people to stand up and doing their part for their country, and that is the real power and manipulation of art and propaganda!
- Bowlt, John E., Nicoletta Misler, and E. N. Sudakova. A Game in Hell: The Great War in Russia: Graphic Art and Photography from the Collection of Sergey Shestakov. London: GRAD, Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, 2014.
- Kingsbury, Celia Malone. For Home and Country: World War I Propaganda on the Home Front. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
- Lasswell, Harold Dwight. Propaganda Technique in the World War. Greenville: Coachwhip Publications, 2015.
- Lutz, Ralph Haswell. Studies of World War Propaganda, 1914-1933. Chicago, 1933.
- Obiedkov, I. V. Activity in USA during World War I. Vol. 6. 2014.
- Prochasson, Christophe. “Aviel Roshwald Et Richard Stites (éds), European Culture in the Great War. The Arts, Entertainment and Propaganda, 1914-1918, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, 430 P.” Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 55, no. 01 (2000): 171-73.