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For a new and different perception of pivotal Soviet events, read on...

The Lenin Propaganda Train
Slogan on the Lenin Propaganda Train: "The dictatorship of the proletariat will bring us from capitalism's gloom and oppression to a radiant future [under communism"].

PROPAGANDA IN THE PROPAGANDA STATE

When the Bolshevik party came to power in the October 1917 revolution it immediately began creating the world's first modern propaganda state. This is not at all surprising. Before 1917 many Bolsheviks lived the life of underground agitators. As underground men they devoted their days and nights to propaganda. They operated by avoiding the tsar's secret police and by stirring up factory workers with leaflets, slogans, songs, and speeches. Bolshevik leadersBolshevik leaders toiled as journalists, pamphleteers, and lettered instigators long before they seized state power. As revolutionaries, making messages gave their lives meaning. As human beings hackwork gave them the means to buy bread i.e. to live. Many a professional revolutionary who lived outside of Russia, most in European cities (Paris, Geneva, Warsaw, London, Berlin, Krakow) wrote about revolution long before he or she dirtied their hands making one---let alone running the new state born of revolutionary upheaval.

In a series of newspapers, Lenin hammered out party doctrine. Political debates, challenges to his ideas and emerging cannon filled the papers. Swift and savage ideas flew like sharp arrows. Newspapers written abroad, away from the heavy hand of Tsarist censorship substituted for free exchange in a common civic space. Revolutionaries printed illegal newspapers on thin almost tissue paper for easy smuggling across poorly guarded borders into mother Russia. In cities and towns those who reported back on local events and those who distributed papers, Iskra, Pravda, became party organizers. Readers became party members. Factory workers paid attention to party papers. Picture of Lenin in a suit and tieAt the front in World War I trench newspapers-highly illegal and highly prized (once read they could be ripped up and rolled into cigarettes) cleverly fomented dissent, disobedience of officers and demoralized discontent with the 'overlong imperialist war.' A repressive regime made an easy target. The acid pens of the properly dressed Bolshevik gentlemen (Lenin preferred a three piece suit, tie-even if it was stained and stale) promoted a popular strategy: overthrow the old lords of the old order. The best party pressmen (and a few women) developed a keen sense of how turn a tactic into an effective slogan. To find the lowest common denominator was a mission, not a mistake. If a rival radical group coined a catchy phrase, the Bolshevik took the highroad of their revolutionary creed-highway robbery. Steal it and spread it, make it the Bolshevik's own operated as the operative unprincipled principle. The end justified the means.

The Bolshevik banners read simply: BREAD, PEACE & LAND. All Power to the Soviets. As they rode waves of radical spirit and popular support, notably in Petrograd, Lenin pushed for bolder action. Soviet people reading a newspaperImpatient, unwilling to wait out the polite democratic discussion he marshaled his words to put nerve and backbone into the Bolsheviks leadership. Lenin wanted determined, violent action to seize power. He avowed himself a scientific socialist. Yet at crunch time he felt the moment. Succinct when it counted he explained, "The government is tottering. We must deal it the deathblow at any cost. To delay action is the same as death." The means of communication-the telegraph office, the telephone exchange, and the radio gear on the cruiser Aurora, the telephones at the Winter Palace-were ordered seized as a priority. The Military-Revolutionary Committee moved swiftly to take over printing plants, too. To hold the means of communication denied them to enemies. Public opinion mattered; making sure rivals could not get their message out mattered more. The only fairness doctrine was the Bolsheviks retaining state power. The Bolsheviks understood the power of the mass media. Their problem would not be the media, but the masses.

Communism, whose by-word was "Workers of the World Unite!", surprised itself by coming to power in a backward, peasant-dominated country. The scientific plan of Karl Marx and its endless elucidation by Marxists envisioned the proletariat taking power in an advanced Capitalist country. Even its workers had the stench of peasant mud on their boots. Ties to village life, the village way to find a wife, and not so sober vices remained strong. Soldiers who went Bolshevik at the front to get away from the frozen hell that was WWI largely were just peasants in uniform. Those who did not vote with their feet against the status quo (fleeing home as soon as discipline broke down) soon wanted to leave their Red leaders for the joys of raiding manor houses near their native village, too. 1917 was, the Bolsheviks soon realized just an incredible year; in the heat of revolution they forged amazing partnership with workers, with peasants-turned soldiers. But in their heart of hearts the Bolsheviks knew it just was not supposed to happen this way in this country. Yes, Russia had pockets of advanced industry concentrated in a few dense cities. Indeed the most technologically sophisticated metalworking plants, perhaps because of their scale and alienating organization produced some of the most revolutionary working class men. The peasants simply outnumbered everyone else. The people in whose name the Bolsheviks took over needed-well to put it bluntly they needed culture; they needed to overcome ignorance, superstition, stupefying traditionalism. The Marxist handbooks may have said otherwise, but the men atop the one country where revolution had triumphed looked out at a land tired, drained by five years of WWI. They could only realize their propaganda challenge in overthrowing the old order was the easy part. Propagandizing the citizen of the would-be socialist society, winning over the people of the people's republic would require a massive effort.

A propaganda broadcastThe utopian streak in Marxist thought impelled the founders of the world's first socialist state to create a new kind of society, a new kind of country inhabited by new kinds of people. This first-ever kind of social order would need new kinds of glue, new myths, new gods, and new beliefs to hold it together. Because they wanted to realize a radiant future on earth, the Bolsheviks really were future oriented. They wanted to do new things in new ways. Cutting edge technology in and of itself spoke of progress. So they were eager to show off whatever glimpses of a future world that they could. Cutting edge in 1918 was Edison's invention the gramophone. An early movie houseNewer yet was film. Movie houses had sprung up in Moscow and other cities before WWI. The vast majority in the countryside hadn't even heard about movies. So the Bolsheviks, who knew they had to win a broader base of support, marshaled their few technical resources to take their message to the people.

A brightly-colored propaganda imageAs practiced propagandists the Bolsheviks had mastered the notion - KISS - keep it simple stupid. They believed most ordinary Russians thought in images. Exposure to European culture forced them to recognize that Russian lives were drab. Communist visionaries were willing to experiment with bold artists. Graphic masters of new kinds of art embraced the liberation revolution brought. Art enlisted in the cause. Brightly colored propaganda trains carried the city based idea that "the times they were achangin'" across the land.

Stark contrasts served the Bolsheviks well. New=good; old=bad. Reds meant progress-most anything else equaled a return to a hellish existence. In the civil war that quickly followed Lenin's rise to power, the Bolsheviks did reach the masses. The idea of the fighters for human justice and equality, the Bolsheviks, were battling against all odds, against all the world's armies that had come to destroy them received widespread attention. The theme of the new kind of socialist life form doing anything it could to survive in a hostile encirclement of enemies was created during the civil war. This theme would be revived periodically as a leitmotif. To survive a civil war the Bolsheviks acted ruthlessly. Again, the end justified the mean. Equally important, their enemies, former tsarist admirals, generals, counts and liberal politicians (backed by British, French, American, and Japanese troops) refused to court public opinion with any kind of effective attempt to persuade mass groupings to side with them. White disdain proved fatal. The Bolsheviks with the propaganda field to themselves got a message out that opposition armies, the Whites, wanted to return the country to the old order. Most who would decide, decided to risk the promise of the unknown over a return to the past. (Some of course exhibited total cynicism: A well-know civil war anecdote relates that in a village one peasant shouts: "hurray for the incoming troops." Then a neighbor asks the question "whose side are you on?" he answers: "The ones riding IN.") The propaganda campaign, plus of course some brilliant military leadership and absolute ruthlessness in dealing with any perceived enemy won the Bolsheviks an against all odds victory.

Bolshevik crowdsThe civil war created the idea that Bolshevism could do the impossible. It gave rise to a slogan "there is no fortress Bolshevism cannot storm", that embodied a 'can do' mentality like that of the U.S. Marines. Also as a formative experience the civil war (1918-1921) provided the seed bed for new images of heroes and all the metaphors of war campaigns, fronts, volunteers, even vanguards issuing commands, dictating what was needed to stave off destruction by the hostile bad guys. The incredible result of the civil war validated for masses of people, the Bolshevik's political power grab in 1917. Moreover, it created a matrix for how propaganda makers shake and shape attitudes. It reinforced the idea, if it needed any reinforcing, that propaganda was a powerful tool for protecting the newborn proletarian state in an aggressively anti-Soviet Russia world.

Another trait the propagandists called on was a pre-Revolutionary role that the well educated had played with the masses: as teachers, ENLIGHTENMENT-providers. Well before Marxism marched east, Russian radicals had a long established a tradition of "going to the people", the peasants as volunteer teachers. Latter in cities how did believing Marxist intellectuals make friends with real workers? Factory hands, after all, lived in different parts of town, worked long hours, and enjoyed different habits of life from those whose heads swam with a sea of abstract ideas. Before the revolution it was not easy; the Tsar's secret police, street police, and factory police kept keen eyes out for agitators, especially those trying to incite the masses. They met first in adult education classes for workers. After the revolution the empowered Bolshevik wanted to repeat their role as ENLIGHTENMENT-providers on a grand scale.

Workers moving a large bellEqually important, propagandists realized that if they wanted to build a new society, one imbued with new myths, new rituals, new icon Communists had to do away with the old. To make room for the new they had to tear down the old. Sometimes this entailed the most literal meaning of the word: iconoclasm-old icons were torn down. Churches lost their bells. To change the very soundscape of Moscow (think of the 1812 Overture-the piece of music played on 4th of July and other times when fireworks are displayed--Tchaikovsky wrote it to include the sound of Moscow's many church bells) radicals tore down church bells; later some would try to create a new 'proletarian orchestra' sound by setting off factory whistles everywhere.

The church was a prime target for the 'tear down the old' campaign. It offered an alternative faith to Bolshevism. WorkersCommunists brooked no competition in the struggle for hearts and minds. The new officially atheistic state hated the Orthodox church for its long subservience to the Tsars. Russian radicalism, long before Lenin and company had a strong atheistic streak. From the mid-nineteenth century on radicals embraced science against faith. There was a practical side to be considered, too. Churches had gold in a country racked by WWI, then a revolution, and then a civil war. Plus going after church buildings could be construed as a 'new campaign', a heroic battle like the civil war. This 'religious front' approach gave those too young to have a role in the earlier battles a chance for glory...not to mention an outlet for youthful energies harnessed by propagandists.

At the very same time that the new regime began pulling down longstanding institution, it co-opted fundamental elements of the way Russians believed the world was ordered. A concept of political authority seen in personal terms, a wise Tsar taking care of his little people transmuted easily. Popular sayings held:

"Without the Tsar, the country is a widow" or "the people are the body, the Tsar is the head." After the revolution trust in the wisdom of the party became paramount. Seven decades of Soviet socialism only changed the forms of how fundamental ideas are expressed. In his interview, Boris Efimov said, "we simple people, we didn't do politics. Those who sat at the very top did politics." Those on top drew authority from the sacred symbol of the new faith, Lenin. He became the center of a cult, not only as a replacement for the Tsar but as a selfless Communist, one who exhausted himself to bring the revolution into being. Lenin died in 1924. His passing gave a new kind of regime a chance to create new rituals. Following all those traumatic years, the passing of the man who guided "Ten Days that Shook the World" was a cathartic experience. Mass mourning created as well as vented extreme emotions. Organized ceremonies took place across the land-the first mass mobilization in peacetime of ordinary citizens. By preserving Lenin's body for veneration Soviet science created a sign that it could overcome nature, the decay of death. Lenin's resting-place became the central showplace, ground zero for the Communist movement uniting workers of the world.

Lenin lived as the man who brought the future into backward Russian homes. Before he died the revolutionary decided a great symbol for what communism could deliver would be creation of a nationwide electrical system. Naturally, the propagandist in him made a slogan out of his techno-idea: "Communism=Soviet Power+Electrification of the Whole Country." When the Soviet Union became wired up with light bulbs, called by one his nicknames-"Ilych lamps" enlightened and changed millions of peasants' lives. It was a change and a propaganda coup that won many over as loyalist of a new state, one that drastically changed things. Lenin's idea transformed lives and became a foundation myth of the scientific regime.

Parts of a 1924 poem by the Blue Blouse Workers' Theater gloried:

Electrification

Picture of a larger transformer We, the workers and the peasants
Swept the tsarist throne away.
We twist a socket in the ceiling
And it shines the night away!

In the hut of the widow Natalka
Something's shining through the night.
I'll be darned, I'll be darned
Moonlight sure don't shine that bright.

Electricity and steam
Reap and mow and forge for us
Soon electricity not brains
Will do our thinking all for us!

Soviet school childrenTeachers of new generations built on the cult of Lenin as a tool for shaping the minds to a new Soviet way of thinking. Indoctrination came in the guise of school age "young pioneer" organizations. Pioneers pledged to fulfill his legacy. That legacy proved very malleable. Lenin slogans, praise of the proletariat, love for the red socialist-cause were memorized. Sugary poems about his pure spirit and dedication to Communist revolution go adorned classroom walls, community centers, even the toy stores. Lenin's ruthless critical approach to thinking quickly passed into the dustbin of history. Just as many American school children know just a formula about their founding father George Washington (wooden teeth, could not tell a lie, chopped down a cherry tree, fought the British, maybe owned slaves) Soviet children internalized limited notions of how the 'revolutionary genius" behaved. A Lenin code of conduct became the model to be copied. Potted histories of the Communist party where Lenin always played the lead role served as primers for understanding history. Lenin associated rituals regulated daily behavior.

The pledge of allegianceChildren pinned on badges depicting an angelic "baby Lenin." Boys and girls raised their hands above their faces vowing to be "always ready" as Lenin had been (as heroes in the civil war, too had been) to defend and to extend the revolution. Lenin-centric Pioneer activities organized children's lives. The best emulators of the best Lenin earned a summer at the best-equipped, most prestigious summer camps. Of course, as a socialist country summer camp, like many things for kids, including medical care was free. Still prestige counted: so did a sense of belonging, a sense of place among peers, a sense 'you had made it'...you were normal and accepted. The social and development psychology played a very important part in the lives of Soviet school children. Pioneer rituals marked important turning points in the lives of generations of youngsters who did believe that they were building a new kind of society, a socialist society. Receiving the Pioneer's symbol the red tie, mixed joy in growing up and pride in joining the ranks of patriots of the new kind of state-the Communist state. Young Pioneers holding signs and bannersTatiana Vorontsova explained the pride: "Once you had the tie you had well, pride, it was like a flag. It is like when the flag flies. When you see the Olympics and they start to raise your flag, you feel proud. And that pride is what we felt as children. You felt, "you've got the tie!"

In the massive social experiment that was the Soviet Union raising a new kind of person, Soviet man (Homo Sovieticus), remained of paramount importance. New generations held the key to realizing 'a radiant Communist future.' For those Marxists who insisted on creating the world's first classless society children meant everything. Adults would repeat, "Under communism there is only one privileged class-the children."

Collective responsibility to a party (comparative) elder was learned from more senior classmates, the best teachers of Lenin dogma proud to assert correct-thinking leadership that would keep others in line and bring them privileges. Well-indoctrinated kids brimming full of propaganda could be mustered to help the Bolshevik leaders deal with their fundamental problem-that the masses, the older generations, remained backwards. Pioneers and members of the more select older Young Communists League (Komsomol) became agents of change. Propaganda put images of the glorious fight for revolution and against the enemies of the state in the heroic period, the civil war in many heads. When Stalin, having consolidated power in the 1920's decided to launch a 'revolution from above' to mark a new decade, to collectivize agriculture, he tapped the energies of young 'true believers' as well as those who went along simply with the well-organized pressure of their peers. Agriculture represented the worst hang-overs from the old regime. Inefficient, tradition-bound, manpower intensive, the peasant agrarian world represented the drag of the Russian past on the Soviet present. Stalin and his circle declared a war (as in the civil war) against the counter-revolutionary forces, traditional peasants, and called the young to the front lines. Often Pioneers confronted a familiar enemy: their parents.

As during the civil war, the Communist party decreed, in effect: desperate times require desperate measures---the ends justify the means. The evilness of the means shifted the Soviet propaganda and mythmaking apparatus into overdrive.

The result was a new cult especially created for Pioneers. Propagandists knew they needed a simple story, something bold, stark and memorable. They conjured up the legend of a Soviet secular saint for kids-Pavlik Morozov

The story of little Pavlik Morozov (or affectionate versions of his name Pasha, Pavlushka, Pash) or more precisely the legend of Morozov is emblematic of Stalinist times in the Soviet Union. The Pioneers taught generations of Soviet school children about Pavlik, the boy who informed on his father, a rich peasant. Statue of Pavlik MorozovPavlik denounced his dad to the NKVD, the secret police for hoarding grain (most likely next year's seed for crops). The rich (read: bad, counter-revolutionary) endured a quick show trial, then disappeared into the GULAG. Soon there after, all this is in 1932, his uncles murdered Pavlik in an act of revenge for squealing. Propagandists for party newspapers reported the tale. A cult of the maniac denouncer received the top culture stamp of approval in a speech by Maxim Gorky (1868-1938) at the 1934 Soviet Writers Congress. Gorky, the one-time foe of Bolshevik excesses cited Pavlik as a paragon of Soviet virtue. He became T.H.E. model of correct orthodox behavior. School children adulated him, adults especially those inclined to stray from prescribed party orthodoxy feared his very name.

Part of "A Poem about Hate" that Pioneer's Pravda published in 1933 conveys a flavor of the Morozov cult:

Pavlushka won't be going
To the Pioneers anymore
Joyful and curly,
He won't come to school.
But his great glory
will outlive everything.
"Pavlik is with us,
Pasha the Communist!"
Out in front, like a banner
Friendly and merry.
(That's how
Everyone should live).
How much
Every schoolchild
Resembles him.
Somehow.
All of their shirts.
Are abloom with red ties:
"Pashka! Pashka! Paska!
Here! There! Everywhere!

Portraits, statues, and badges of Morozov became omnipresent. Under the sly smile of treacherous Pasha a psychosis of denunciation took firm hold in Stalinist USSR. Propagandists built the cult on a base of distortions and lies. Recent research shows that Pavlik, who was not a pioneer by the way, did not report on his father for hoarding grain as the story went. Reality was rooted in the quarreling Morozov family. Pasha had got back on his dad for abandoning his family. Pavlik lived with his mother. He ratted on his dad, who was chairman of the village Soviet for taking a bribe so as NOT to deport a family as rich peasants!! Pavlik may have been put up to the classical denunciation by his uncles who couldn't stand their brother-in-law and wanted to be chairman themselves. Pavlik's father was arrested in late 1931 and disappeared into the Gulag. A few months later in '32 someone found Pavlik and his brother murdered in the forest. Exactly who dispatched the two lovely little devils isn't clear. Those accused included his paternal grandfather and grandmother, a young Morozov cousin and two of his uncles. Nice Soviet family values. Until the fall of the Soviet Union almost no one knew this. Generations venerated the model young Communist who did his duty, turned in an enemy of the state and became a Soviet martyr.

By the way some young pioneers in the 30s were attacked by Orthodox (believing children) for wearing red scarves (devil's whiskers) and (less often) for violating the commandment to honor thy father and mother. The more Stalinism took hold, the fewer such cases of suspect behavior are known. To survive people conformed. They kept silent. And the continuous propaganda worked.

Young Pioneers at campAs a schoolgirl in the 1950s Tatiana Vorontsova remembers she learned the Morozov lesson in the fourth grade. "So he died like a hero. We, of course, would also have liked to be heroes and at that time if I had been in the same situation, and my father had done something against the Soviet state, of course, I would simply have gone and reported him, just like that."

In the terror filled days of his most ruthless rule Stalin kept his own cult going. As he signed the death warrants for uncounted large numbers of his comrades and countrymen, the newspaper writers hailed him as the gentle wise leader. Stalin ordered the party purged. Professionals and leaders from all walks of life, army officers, astronomers, engineers, rocket scientists, writers, painters, were exiled to the GULAG if they were not shot. Terror filled whole apartment buildings, whole streets, whole towns as the NKVD suddenly appeared to drag people away to unknown fates.

The very irrationality, unpredictability, and illogic of arrests, beatings, executions and exile made people feel the terror pervasively. State violence defined the Stalinist State. Denunciation or the possibility of denunciation even by one's own children plus the suspicion that devices such as radios could listen as well as transmit through wired speakers were daily reminders of the possibility of terror visiting a family, a neighbor, a friend. Of course, by plucking off so many top leaders and lieutenants in most every field of endeavor Stalin created a huge number of job openings. The new generation of people coming of age and education since the revolution seized (and loved!) the chance for upward mobility. Yet through it all Stalin encouraged worshipful respect of his portrait-it was everywhere-as Lenin's heir and wise interpreter of scientific socialism.

Painting of Stalin from a propaganda filmStalin had himself depicted by artists, writers, and propagandists as the knowing caring lover of Soviet children and virtual equal of the Soviet deity, Lenin. Those who knew about the terror, even prisoners themselves as true believer took comfort in thinking that Stalin couldn't know. The arrests, the GULAG, the shots at KNVD headquarters were deemed an aberration.

Makers of mass media messages faced special problems. Individuals praised one day, were in Lubyanka, the dreaded secret police headquarters the next. One brilliant Bolshevik who Lenin had once praised as the party's fair-haired boy went from being editor of government newspaper Izvestiya, to being branded an "enemy of the people", then put on display in a elaborate show trial and executed. The campaign to hunt out "enemies of the people" signaled a time of Communist party cannibalism. Stalin's Communist party killed off the Communist elite. Old Bolsheviks lauded as righteous fighters in the underground struggle against tsarism suddenly were listed as foreign spies. Communists lauded on the front pages of Pravda and bedecked with prestigious medals for exceptional work in building that key to a workers' state, heavy industrial plants, suddenly landed on page one accused of "treason, wrecking, and preparation of terrorist acts against industry." Everyone everywhere, in Pioneer meetings, in neighborhood organization, in work-place gatherings, began searching out "hidden enemies." "A pillar of socialism one day, an exposed evil agent the next" mania swept the USSR.

Brother of Boris EfimovTo survive propagandists, especially those engaged in providing news to the masses of the mass media, the big newspapers, the newsreels, and the radio learned to tack and to jibe quickly in the Stalinist wind. Pravda's masterful cartoonist, Boris Efimov, who had a long career as the Soviet equivalent of Herb Block, understood the capriciousness of terror. His brother, the newspaper's editor, had been purged-i.e. dragged from Communist party's top press organization, accused, and shot. Boris Efimov survived by not questioning, by following orders, "…my job as a political cartoonist was also to expose or make fun of or brand as a disgrace whichever of our enemies the given occasion demanded."

Historians constantly had to rewrite history books to take out people who were no longer people; people made unpersons-made unmentionable in public after being purged. Because political arguments and political legitimacy rooted itself in history, the past had to be rewritten frequently. The suppression of unpleasant truths-- such as Lenin's 1923 'testament' where he said, "Stalin is too rude" and should be shifted to a less essential position in the leadership-became a major industry. George Orwell based his idea of "the memory hole," in the novel 1984 on this quintessential feature of Stalinism.

Stalinism forced photographers to master retouching skills. Image manipulation became as important to camera totting journalists as picture taking. Falsification by airbrushing (a pre-digital age technique for deleting) is a hallmark of Stalin era photography. Other simple methods, including taking a scissors to a negative helped erase visual memories of Stalin's victims.

Edited photo of Felix Dzerzhinsky at his desk

Felix Dzerzhinsky's photograph (above) was taken as he sat at his desk in Lubyanka in 1922. Around him sat the secret police leadership. "Iron Felix" and the man to his right who succeeded him as head of the NKVD had died by the time of terror. But there are 14 people in the original picture, many were sadistic killers who carried out Stalin's purges and were then killed themselves. One especially nasty killer, Genrikh Iagoda stood next to Dzherzhinsky's chair (opposite his bald secretary-bodyguard Abram Belenky-a onetime propagandist himself, in 1917 he ran the Bolshevik Party press in Petrograd) disappeared into the black background with a simple darkroom trick. Others vanished when the picture got cut up.

A photograph of leaders might appear in a newspaper one day and then when one of people was purged, a photographer's trick would erase him from visual memory-he was quite literally put out of the picture. And it wasn't just a Stalinist art form to change representations of those engaged in current events. In a land where intellectuals bitterly noted, "you cannot predict the past" retrospective retouching was equally, if not more important. As the two photographs below show how comrades could be removed from the pantheon of Lenin's closest collaborators.

Before photoAfter photo

Soviet school children grew up with schoolbooks filled with photographs of Lenin. Many of the most famous and familiar depictions were falsified photographs. Stalin's archrival, Lev Trotsky was taken out of the picture. Generations of Soviet Pioneers for whom this photograph is as familiar as Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington, never knew that a man they had been taught was an 'enemy of the state' in fact had stood by Lenin in this shot as Lenin's left-hand man.

In painting, of course, it was even easier to make representational art lie. A few deft brush strokes and in the phrase of David King, the great expert on this Stalinist phenomenon, the Commissar vanishes. This Stalinist retouching of reality had a long half-life. The author of this essay saw a huge oil painting of the Soviet leadership in an important art museum when he lived in Moscow during 1977-78. A week after intrigues forced a veteran member of the Politburo to "retire", the same painting showed freshly dried paint where more background covered the old comrade. Note too, that in the first few years after the last general secretary of the Communist party, Mikhail Gorbachev, came to power his official photographs-hung throughout the country-- lacked any trace of his trademark birthmarks that are prominent on his bald head.

During the forty odd years before Mikhail Gorbachev together with President Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War, the view from Red Square promoted by the Kremlin's propagandists emphasized the evil image of America as a aggressive Capitalist enemy of mankind and the Soviet Union. Psychological warfare may have compelled Communists always fighting off a bad rival, but the "bade" was not always the United States. True, the infant Bolshevik government resented the actively hostile policies the US government took against the new revolutionary regime. American soldiers landed in Russian Ports, as one of the foreign armies that tried and failed to overthrow the Bolsheviks. More irritating, Washington played 'Ostrich' for 16 years (1917-1932) refusing to recognize the new Soviet government. During the formative years of the Soviet Union there was no American embassy, no ambassador, no American consulate in Moscow. Most other industrialized nations already had busy official relations with the Kremlin. Nevertheless there were Americans in the country. During the horrific famine of 1921 and for the next two years American Relief Administration under Herbert Hoover brought in enough food to feed some 11 million starving socialist citizens.

Absent an official US presence until 1933, Americans still made a showing in the Soviet Union. Even as Soviet filmmakers grew into world famous cinema pioneers, inventing techniques such as montage (Sergei Eisenstein) American movies and movie stars dominated Soviet screens. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Buster Keaton were incredibly popular. Lenin called film, "the most important art," but until 1928 the most popular movies in his country were made in the U.S.A. Many captains of industry, finance, and business (Henry Ford, W.Averell Harriman, Armand Hammer) came looking for resources and in doing so helped the new land that opposed their capitalism by building factories there. Capitalists endured ridicule in the press. Yet, Americans often represented efficient ways of working, modernity, and technological progress. Russians, especially those in the cities greatly admired American inventiveness-Thomas Edison, George Eastman, Alexander Graham Bell were held up as paragons of applied creative virtue. American made cars and trucks were copied and cherished.

Soviet farm equipmentEnergetic factory workers sometimes got written up in local papers as our Russian-Americans. These propaganda terms of praise encouraged others to copy the "Americanisms": speedy, efficient work skills and willingness to adapt to new ways of doing things. Pravda, long the written propaganda bellwether noted in 1935, "Comrade Stalin teaches us to combine the broad scope of the Russian Revolution with American efficiency…For us America ought to be that standard according to which we can constantly test our technical attainments." By Communist conviction Soviet citizens believed that their nation's approach which stressed equality and social justice always overshadowed morally America's selfish, exploitative Capitalist system. After the Wall Street collapse of 1929 and the great depression of the 1930's, those in the rapidly growing land of the Soviet Union's economic miracle believed they were well on their way to catching up and overtaking oppressive America. To many disillusioned Americans--including unemployed automobile workers, black sharecroppers, leftwing activists who moved to the Soviet to find jobs-the Soviet Union represented a better way of organizing an economy and a society. However mixed the message about American achievements and inherent evils (especially racism and capitalism) before World War II, on the propaganda front, the news front, and in the mass media the far off US was merely a sideshow. Propaganda focused on problems at home and essential foreign issues in the Soviet backyards, Europe and to a lesser extent China.

The atom bomb explodingThe atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima also shook the Kremlin. Propagandists who had lauded the Soviet Union's great ally in the battle against Hitler--its helping hand with Lend Lease, its talented General Dwight D. Eisenhower, its manufacturing prowess---changed course quickly with the Cold War changing party line. Soviet propagandists emphasized the Soviet Union's encirclement in and by a hostile world. Rapacious America that had tried overthrowing the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution, the propagandists reminded their people as well as foreign audiences. America, they stressed was at it again. Under the "petty shopkeeper" President Harry Truman the US was trying to roll back the post WWII spread of socialism. The former ally America quickly became the warmonger of the world.

Political cartoon of greedy Capitalist warmongersDollar signs came to represent death signals. Stalin banned that very American music form jazz. Censors curtailed showing of American films (even though Stalin loved cowboy movies); contact with foreigners was outlawed. In the last years of Stalin's life a Soviet citizen could be arrested for talking to the few American citizens left in that land. More than ever under the autarky, the economic isolation of the 1930s, late Stalinist Soviet society was cut off by the Iron Curtain and by its iron fisted "Man of Steel" leader (that is the translation of Stalin's name) from the rest of the world. Instead of admiring American inventiveness the propaganda apparatus cranked up immense lies. Moscow reporters claimed that baseball, the electric light, telephones, television and submarines had all been invented in the Soviet Union.

As a typical teenager in the 1950s Tatiana Vorontsova remembered going to the movies as a school girl where she watched a newsreel before the main feature, "You would see this big globe, on the globe appeared the words, Soviet Union...the narrator said, "...there was a lot of milk [here]…Always the best was told, the best always....everything was good...And then suddenly [the narrator] would say, 'In the United States, for example, people are starving' and there was a strike somewhere, and something else somewhere else-but it was all bad. So there everything was bad, but we had it all good. So we went to the movies and I watched it ...and was proud that in my country, my homeland everything was good and everything was great."

In the 1950s and on into the 1960s the propaganda worked pretty effectively. The facts of real achievement helped. Propagandists made sure everyone knew what millions could see for themselves: the state rebuilt housing destroyed by the Nazis. Cosmonaut space walkingThe mass media bragged of a Soviet Atomic bomb, an H-bomb, Sputnik, the fact that the first man in space was a Soviet man, and that the first man to do the amazing-walk or float in space as Alexei Leonov did in March 1965-was another cosmonaut. These accomplishments buttressed political pride in the spread of socialism to China, Vietnam, Cuba and not to mention Eastern Europe. In the 1950s and 1960's Soviet citizens felt, "the future is ours comrades!"

However, sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970's the "new Soviet man", more urban than his father or grandfather, more likely to catch some western propaganda more eager for things instead of promises, turned pessimistic. The Soviet State started by Lenin was running out of gas. New generations, the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who made the revolution did not want to wait for "the dictatorship of the proletariat" to deliver the radiant future of communism. What they wanted Brezhnev's Soviet Union could not deliver. No amount of bombast, lies, or distortions could mask failings. Those trying to reform the Propaganda State brought about its destruction.

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