In this lesson we will learn about propaganda during the Russian Revolution of 1917. We will explore examples, including posters and slogans, and see how propaganda played a critical role in the spread of the revolution (and the battle against it).
The Russian Revolution
Imagine you're a factory worker when the Russian Revolution breaks out in 1917. You go to work one morning, and you see all kinds of posters proclaiming the coming of a ''people's revolution.'' The artwork on these posters is brilliant, and because you are poor and sympathize with the plight of workers, you find it very inspiring. In fact, it gets you thinking, and a few days later, you join the revolution.
This would not have been an uncommon scene in revolutionary Russia. Propaganda played a powerful role in the Russian Revolution. But before we explore propaganda, let's just very quickly highlight the Russian Revolution itself for some context.
The Russian Revolution was really two major revolutions that took place in Russia in 1917, resulting in the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the creation of the Soviet Union. See, the peasants and the working class people of Russia had been oppressed for decades. Power and wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few, while the vast majority of Russian citizens struggled on a daily basis.
By 1917 the masses had had enough and revolted against the Tsar's rule. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, Russian communists organized themselves into committees called Soviets. These Soviets were basically councils made up of ordinary workers. The communists sought to seize political power through these Soviets. After much internal struggle, a complete political and social revolution was brought about. Vladimir Lenin went on to become the first leader of the Soviet Union, the world's first communist state. The Russian Revolution is sometimes called the Bolshevik Revolution. The Bolsheviks were working class communists and followers of Vladimir Lenin. Many Bolsheviks worked in industrial factories. They were an extremely radical left-wing group committed to the overthrow of Russia's Tsarist government.
What Is Propaganda?
Propaganda has always been an important component of revolution. After all, the masses need to feel their cause is just, be inspired, and be united in their movement. Propaganda is an effective tool for this. Sometimes we think propaganda only refers to posters or print material, but this is not true. In its simplest form, propaganda is the use of any genre of media for the purpose of influencing the masses, usually in regard to a political or social issue. Posters, music, film footage, slogans, poetry, and other art forms can all be used as propaganda. However, posters and slogans are probably the most popular form of propaganda, at least in regard to the 20th century.
The Bolsheviks were highly successful in their use of propaganda. Their propaganda took many forms. One of the most popular forms of Bolshevik propaganda was to glorify their leader, Vladimir Lenin. Many posters were printed showing Lenin speaking to crowds. These types of posters often depicted Lenin as someone whom the common Russian could relate to, but also as a man who was a strong leader. Once the Soviet state was established, statues and banners of Lenin became popular, and Soviet propaganda became even more prominent.
Because the Bolsheviks were communists, much of their propaganda was intended to demonize non-communists. Anti-capitalist propaganda was widespread. Posters often depicted wealthy ''fat cat'' capitalists in a negative light. This was intended to incite rage against the privileged few. Sometimes posters even showed capitalists being harmed or their wealth being eliminated. Remember, the Bolsheviks supported a radical program of wealth redistribution. Bolshevik propaganda also portrayed their revolution as a glorious fight for equality. The rights of the individual were emphasized. Not surprisingly, the Tsar was also demonized in Bolshevik propaganda.
''All power to the Soviets!'' was a popular slogan during the Russian Revolution. Of course, the idea here is that the people, in the form of committees of workers, should control the government and have all power, so to speak. Another popular slogan was ''Peace, Land, Bread!'' Remember, the Russian Revolution took place in 1917, in the midst of World War I. The Bolsheviks viewed World War I as the capitalists' war, and wanted no part of it. In fact, once Lenin came to power, Russia withdrew from the war, even though other countries continued to fight. So the ''Peace'' part in the slogan refers to withdrawing from World War I. The ''Land'' and ''Bread'' components are pretty self-explanatory, but remember, the nuance here is that these resources should be basically stripped from the rich and given to the working classes and the poor. As you can imagine, anti-war posters were also a common theme in early Soviet propaganda.
The Russian Revolution sparked the Russian Civil War, lasting between 1917 and 1922, in which the Bolshevik ''Reds'' fought the conservative ''Whites.'' The Whites were basically monarchists, conservatives, and anyone else who opposed the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks weren't the only ones to make use of propaganda; the Whites produced a wide variety of anti-communist propaganda. Propaganda posters were printed demonizing the Reds, portraying them as forces of terrorism and godlessness. Some posters were used for recruiting purposes. One pro-White poster reads: ''Why aren't you in the army?'' Of course, many countries and groups have had very similar posters over the years. White propaganda was not nearly as effective as Red propaganda.
Let's review our key terms and concepts. The Russian Revolution was a series of two major revolutions that took place in Russia in 1917, resulting in the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the creation of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks and became the first leader of the Soviet Union. He was frequently glorified in early Soviet propaganda. Soviets were committees of workers. These councils were established to grant power to the people. Bolsheviks were working class communists and followers of Vladimir Lenin.
Propaganda is the use of any genre of media for the purpose of influencing the masses, usually in regard to a political or social issue. Bolshevik propaganda demonized capitalists and glorified their revolution as an epic struggle for equality. Popular slogans were ''All power to the Soviets!'' and ''Peace, Land, Bread!'' The Russian Revolution sparked the Russian Civil War, lasting between 1917 and 1922, in which the Bolshevik ''Reds'' fought the conservative ''Whites.''