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Propaganda

Tony Blair's Address to Congress in July 2003 came at a time when his claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were being challenged by BBC reports. The U.K.-U.S. offensive against Saddam Hussein in Iraq had resulted in their dual occupation of that country, and plans for reconstruction were being negotiated. While the joint military operation appeared to be successful--at least as portrayed by Western news sources--their unilateral action in opposition to the wishes of the UN required skillful damage control on Blair's part to salvage his political career.

An accomplished speaker, Blair is both inspirational and articulate, with a natural gift for connecting with his audiences. His address to the U.S. Congress is an excellent example of rhetorical devices used to justify the joint U.K.-U.S. action in Iraq, and was both a message of support to the U.S. and a justification to the rest of the world.

Anti-Communism protest, Chicago, 1949

In our class discussion, we'll identify some of the significant rhetorical devices used by Blair to promote his interests, and explain how they contribute to his message.

Rhetoric--"the art of effective or persuasive speaking"--uses many devices to achieve its goals: everything from humour, to literary devices such as alliteration, allusion, and simile, to corruption of logic and reasoning (logical fallacies). The links below will provide useful guidelines for identifying the numerous rhetorical devices in Blair's speech to congress.

Propaganda in the Communist State

Communism Defeated by the Corporate State

Since the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most discussions of communism refer to its defeat at the hands of capitalism (where individuals should be free to accumulate wealth according to their abilities). And most commentaries on communism confuse its theoretical articulation by Marx, Engels, Lenin and later Marxist philosophers and critics with the political realities of communist states: USSR, China, Cuba, and North Korea being the main examples.

Fall of the Berlin Wall,1989; Carol Guzy

However, communism as an ideal of social organization where the people contribute collectively and collaboratively to the welfare of the state continues a healthy existence in social democratic countries such as Canada, Sweden, and Germany. The communist goal to redistribute wealth and end the exploitation of the working class (the proletariat) continues around the world through organized labour unions and communist political parties.

Adbuster's Corporate Rule campaign

The deeply-ingrained prejudice against communist ideology in the west obscures an awareness that those bastions of capitalism, the corporations, often require their employees to behave as if they lived in an authoritarian communist regime: absolute power at the top directs the culture, aesthetics, and working conditions of workers who are expected to promote company policy and smile while they work--or it's off to Siberia! Corporations--as the name implies--are required to build and mobilize a corps of workers while maintaining the illusion that self-reliance and individual initiative are valued. Ironically enough, images of corporate culture often appropriate the visual codes of communist propaganda--especially the "new athletes of labour" motif--to show the highly-motivated individual striving for the greater good of the corporation.

Propaganda and Transformation

S. Mirzoyan, A. Ivanov, 1929;Help build the gigantic factories

In Chapter 3, "Propaganda and the Communist State," Clark begins by arguing that communism as an ideology views "revolution as a continuous process which transforms consciousness alongside the transformation of social reality" (74). In the Soviet Union, propaganda was equated with education, and the eventual adoption of Socialist Realism as the official aesthetic of the party reflects the ability of that style to instruct in an accessible and populist way. As with the art of Nazi Germany, Socialist Realism valorized workers and peasants (as the salt of the Earth) and promoted its leaders through cults of personality. While Nazism glorified the mythic past, however, Socialist Realism looked towards a glorious future marked by progress and technological innovation.

As Clark tells the story of the Soviet social experiment, the progressive vision of the communist ideology after 1917 embraced avant garde and revolutionary approaches to art, including Suprematism and Constructivism. In time, the didactic goals of communist propaganda/education and the conservative influence of Stalin increasingly marginalized experimental art and replaced it, in 1934, with the officially sanctioned Socialist Realism. Both approaches, however, offered "communist" approaches to art: the capitalist model of patronage, elite audiences, and grand venues was to be replaced by state-funded, public, and populist art for a mass audience.

Black Square, Kazemir Malevich, 1913

As Malevich said of his Black Square painting (1914-15): "I have transformed myself into the zero of form and dragged myself out of the rubbish-filled pool of Academic art" (75). After the 1917 revolution, Malevich's personal liberation transformed itself into a more collective vision of transcendance, historical rupture, and the rebirth of the future out of the debris of the old order. The artistic community surrounding Malevich thought of themselves as sweeping away corruption, greed, and decadence (associated with the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class). Malevich and his followers believed that "divine knowledge will be revealed in abstract form, unmediated by language" (76); the Suprematist's notion of sdvig describes a sudden shift in perception and awareness sparked by bold colours and geometric shapes.

Lenin--as the architect of the Soviet state out of the theories of communist ideology--was not convinced that the peasants and working-class would be inspired by, or even understand the abstractions of Suprematism and Constructivism. Without prohibiting these revolutionary expressions, he favoured a more populist art for the masses that would further their education into the doctrines of socialism. By the early 1930s, Stalin, a more authoritarian leader, would turn this preference into its own doctrine, and any revolutionary artistic gestures invited imprisonment.

Agit-Prop

The education of the people in the ideology of communism was not limited to pictorial art. Street festivals and motivational theatre--agitation propaganda--derived from the festivals of the French Revolution, Russian Orthodox ritual processions, commedia del'arte, the circus, mardi gras, and the carnival. The playfulness of these street actions marked both their disruptive intentions and the belief that the revolution unleased creative energies that could transform both the society and the future. (For a discussion of revolution as festival or uprising, see Hakim Bey's chapter from the Temporary Autonomous Zone called Waiting for the Revolution. A contemporary example is the Burning Man Festival.) The notion of revolution as festival or spontaneous uprising is central to the strategies of the Situationist International: "One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive (literally drifting), a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects..." (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/theory.html) The key feature of agit-prop is mobility (through the streets), thus signifying the passage of the revolution from present abstraction to future reality. A similar strategy of education is used by demonstrators at trade liberalization meetings, such as the recent event in Cancun, Mexico.

Soviet agitation propaganda was supplemented by an on-going education in the arts through proletkults, "a network of proletarian cultural organizations....a movement of utopian adult education seeking to generate collective working-class culture from the roots" (78). As Clark points out, these grassroots education opportunities fell out of favour as Soviet leaders increasingly sought greater control of their "revolution."

Monumental Art

Model of Monument to the Third International, 1920

Lenin initiated the use of monumental art to educate the masses with a plan to construct giant statues of 60 historic revolutionaries to replace the Tsarist monuments. They would serve to elevate the public taste in art, and were to be done in different styles to signify the diversity of expression. Once again, however, the original idealistic notions of Lenin were appropriated by Stalin to further a cult of personality, and the resulting monuments are renowned for their brute physicality and lack of subtlety.

One of the enduring monuments to the spirit of the revolution--Tatlin's Monument to the Third International (1920)--was never built. The Constructivist structure was meant to be a centre for mass communication, crowned by a radio station to transmit propaganda. Cinema--preferrably made in the montage style being developed by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein--would be screened on its glass walls at night. Tatlin's monument reflected the avant garde's enthusuasm for mass-media technology; it was a "total design aesthetic for changing the behavioural habits" of the people, a mechanism for "organizing the psyche of the masses" (82). Unfortunately, this utopian vision, implemented by the wrong hands, conveys visions of social engineering rather than growing freedom from oppression. For equally ambiguous analogies in our own time, we might consider the impact of the CN Tower on our conception of Canadian culture, or the efforts to replace the World Trade towers with new, inspirational structures at Ground Zero.

Socialist Realism & New Athletes of Labour

By 1932, the coexistence in the USSR of avant garde and realist styles was about to end. First, the independent art groups and proletkults were abolished; then, in 1934 at the All Union Congress of Soviet Writers, Social Realism became the only officially sanctioned approach in art. Its advocates, backed by Stalin, claimed with some truth that it was merely a continuation of Russian cultural heritage, but with new responsibilities for the artist whose duty is "to interpret, reflect and change reality" (85). The rationale for prescribing one style of representation reveals the total work of propaganda that was required to shift sovreignty from the people to their leaders and the party: "The theory of Socialist Realism insists that the power to identify and control the direction of this historic progression, and therefore determine the correct representation of reality, is the exclusive property of the Communist Party." (85)

Socialist Realism can be identified by four defining principles:

Raising the Flag at Ground Zero

One of the most enduring set of visual codes to emerge from this state-sanctioned visual style portrayed the "new athletes of labour." Samokhvalov's Woman Metro Builder with a Pneumatic Drill (1937) and Ryangina's Higher and Higher (1934) reflect the Marxist belief that a harmonious, cooperative society would engender the fully developed individual. The "forwards-and-upwards" gaze of these new athletes shows how they are flush with the spirit of the future...and obviously good at getting the job done in the here-and-now. The Stakhanovites--named after the legendary coal miner Aleksei Stakhanov--were "work champions," and held up for universal admiration much like the NYC firefighters who searched the rubble of the World Trade buildings after 9-11. In Socialist Realism, sport signifies wholesome and improving effort, but without the same emphasis on physical perfection and beauty as found in Nazi Germany. Again, it is fascinating to compare this propaganda strategy with the portrayal of athletes, and workers as athletes, found in capitalist societies.

Despite its claims to reflect the realities of the revolution and its transformation of society, Socialist Realism always reflects an idealization of soviet ideology and values.

Links