Soviet Union Propaganda During The Cold War

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  • 0:03 The Cold War and…
  • 1:39 Glorification of State Leaders
  • 2:37 Soviet Advancements
  • 4:38 Demonization of the West
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll learn about Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. We'll highlight prominent themes in Soviet propaganda, and we'll identify how and why they were used.

The Cold War and Soviet Propaganda

If you get a chance sometime, ask a parent, grandparent, or other older adult about growing up during the Cold War. Perhaps you've heard stories about what it was like attending school in the 1950s and 1960s. Many schools regularly practiced nuclear attack drills in which students were required to duck beneath their classroom desks and cover their heads with their hands. Or perhaps you've heard what it was like looking up into the sky at night and seeing the Soviet satellite Sputnik orbiting the earth. For many people, the Cold War was a period of anxiety and uncertainty.

The Cold War is the term we use to describe the period of tense relations between the United States and the Soviet Union between the end of World War II and 1991. Here's the thing: it wasn't an actual war in the sense that the two nations fought one another with men and tanks and planes; instead it was a ''war'' of ideas, threats, and bitter rivalry. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union tried to outdo one another in terms of power, influence, technology, and in pretty much every respect imaginable.

Not surprisingly, propaganda played a major role in the Cold War. The Soviet Union had already had massive success with propaganda even before the Cold War. During the Russian Revolution in 1917, in the years following, and throughout the Great Patriotic War (as the Soviets refer to World War II), the Soviets were highly efficient in the ways they influenced public opinion through media. Let's dig in and learn about Soviet propaganda during the span of the Cold War.

Glorification of State Leaders

Even after the Great Patriotic War (or World War II), the founder of the Soviet Union and its first leader, Vladimir Lenin, continued to be glorified in numerous ways. His image was found on plaques, busts, and paintings that graced homes and public buildings. He was highly visible. Parades were organized carrying banners of Lenin, and he was frequently the subject of large sculptures. This glorification of Lenin as a means of propaganda took place throughout the entire Cold War, even up until the fall of the Soviet Union on 1991. But in the aftermath of Great Patriotic War, another figure was also glorified in a similar manner: Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin had been the dictator of the Soviet Union during the war, and after the USSR emerged victorious, Stalin became a prominent feature in Soviet propaganda. Statues, banners, paintings, and other images of Stalin's face could be found everywhere.

Soviet Advancements

Under communism, the USSR was transformed into a modern industrial state. Agriculture had always been an important part of the Russian way of life, but now, the rise of industry was playing an ever-expanding role. As a result, Soviet propaganda artists emphasized the theme of industrial advancement. Paintings and propaganda posters frequently displayed excessively large factories, sometimes with rising smokestacks to showcase industrial advancement. Trains, automobiles, tractors, and other modern industrial advancements were commonly showcased. Even the symbol of the Soviet Union itself alludes to this: the hammer and sickle. The hammer represents industrial workers and the power of industry, while the sickle represents Russia's ageless stable: agriculture.

Enter the Space Race. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the race between the U.S. and the USSR to achieve space supremacy fueled Soviet propaganda. The USSR took an early lead in the Space Race with the launch of the world's first successful satellite, Sputnik I. This achievement was exploited through all kinds of propaganda, including parades, commemorative stamps and coins, posters, etc. The USSR adopted the stance of having a superior space program, and this guided 1950s and 1960s propaganda. This ''We're the best'' mentality was projected upon the general population, causing Soviet pride to swell.

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