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David Brandenberger

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Though most people would rightly consider capitalists to be the founders and masters of the science of “marketing,” communists had to try their hands at it as well. In the Soviet Union, they had a particularly “hard sell.” The Party promised freedom, peace, and prosperity; it delivered oppression, war, and poverty. So how do make people believe in what will be rather than what manifestly isDavid Brandenberger explores how the Party did it in his terrific book Propaganda State in Crisis: Soviet Ideology, Indoctrination, and Terror under Stalin (Yale University Press, 2012). The answer, in short, is badly. At first, the message they sent–clashing -isms, class struggle, “contradictions”–was too abstract for most folks on the street. The people wanted heros. So the Soviet propagandists gave them heros: flyers, arctic explorers, and, of course Lenin and the “Old” Bolsheviks. That worked pretty well until Stalin et al. began to kill the heroes in the Purges. The problem wasn’t that dead heroes don’t make good heroes. They do. Discredited dead heros, however, an another story. They can’t be heros at all. In fact, they have to be rubbed out of history  entirely. And so they were. So, once “the dialectic” campaign had failed and the “heroes” campaign had foundered, what was left for the propagandists to work with. Well, Stalin still worked, and he in fact crowded most everyone out of the picture (“Father of Nations!” “Universal Genius!” “Greatest General of All Time!”). But was that enough? Perhaps not. So the propagandists fell back on some very bourgeois totems: the Church and Nation. See how they did it in David’s wonderful book!

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