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The Bolshevik Poster Essay, Research Paper

The Bolshevik poster, a lithograph (105 x 71cm’s) published in 1918 as Bolshevik propaganda, portrays Bolshevism as a wonderful thing. A detailed poster, mostly graphical but with a small inclusion of text, it shows us what the Bolsheviks wanted the Russian people to believe through the use of symbolism. It is propaganda, defined as ’systematic efforts to spread opinions or beliefs’1. This poster certainly fits into this category. Present in this picture are the symbols of Tsardom, the eagle, robe and crown, trampled and crushed by the common people. The Bolsheviks make no claims of crushing Tsardom in this poster as they were in exile and away from Russia at the time of Nicholas’ abdication. Instead, the Bolsheviks chose to visually give the common people acknowledgment for ending the Tsars reign of autocracy. The presence of an abundance of red, in these wreaths, ribbons and curtains, is used to show the way Bolshevism surrounds, protects and perhaps even embraces the Russian people. The broken chains in the foreground symbolise Bolshevism as being the long awaited release from the bounds and imprisonment of Tsarism and Autocracy that the Russian people wanted. Perhaps the central point, and the most important of this picture, is the setting. Two men appear in the foreground, a worker and a peasant, guarding the way to Bolshevism and a better way of life in what seems to be a welcoming manner. Behind these men, through the arch, is seen the image of freshly harvested fields, a healthy industry spewing forth attractive, encouraging smoke in shades of pink and purple. In reality, industry at this time was poor. The production of coal had dropped from 29.0 million tonnes in 1913 to just 8.9 million, iron from 4.2 million tonnes to 0.1 million, steel from 4.2 million tonnes to just 0.2 million and electricity from 1945 million kWh to just 520 million making this representation unreliable and far from the truth. The people stand in the warmth and comfort of a rising sun, the dawning of a new day, and appear happy. Even a young couple, standing at the entrance to the arch, are present, holding up their baby so that it too can see the new world. The worker and peasant appear happy. Their inclusion is an unreliable piece of evidence as such people were not used by the Bolsheviks as tools for changing Russia. It was the Soviets, made up of the middle class workers, soldiers and sailors, that Lenin and his party used to create revolution and seize Russia. The inclusion of the peasant and the worker is an attempt to gain support from the lower class. The lower class was targeted by the Bolsheviks for support as they were a discontented people who could no longer tolerate civil war. The war was Russia’s reaction to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk – a treaty signed by the Bolsheviks and Germany surrendering Russia. This move met with much criticism from the other political parties in Russia and civil war ensued. This war was Red against White – the Bolsheviks, now Communists, against all other political parties in Russia. Through their promise to win the war, a function of this poster, the Bolsheviks gained support. A victory is suggested as the poster represents a new Communist world as well as the future. This is untrue and an unreliable piece of evidence as it is know that instead of winning the war, the Bolsheviks, on behalf of Russia, conceded defeat. The support was clearly gained as demonstrated by the results of the 1917 election in which the Bolsheviks polled nine million votes and the Social Revolutionaries, only twenty one. The peasant bears a sythe and the worker a hammer, both symbols adorning the Russian flag, as a symbol of unity between the people. They lean against these tools symbolising what it is that supports Russia and holds it up as a country – a healthy industry and productive agriculture. The graphic was mass produced after its drawing by Bolshevik employed artist, A. Apsit and used as propaganda. Apsit worked exclusively for the Bolsheviks, from 1918-1919, simply to produce artwork to be used as propaganda. The Bolsheviks, a party believing in the theories of Karl Marx, a German communist, was led by Lenin. Their intent was to implement the strategies of Marx and lead the people towards a new life in a country led by the general population. Lenin and his second in charge, Trotsky, lead the Bolsheviks and strongly believed that not only should Bolshevism, or communism, be the new leadership style of Russia but that in order for this to occur, an armed takeover by the Proletariat was required. The Bolsheviks believed that the Soviet was to lead Russia into the new day. This is demonstrated by Lenin’s statement ‘All Power To The Soviets’2, a piece of primary evidence used to persuade the people to follow him. He also stated, shortly before his return to Russia, that ‘History will never forgive us if we don’t take power now.’3 Lenin’s other promise to the people was that of peace, bread and land which was made during a speech delivered to attack and discredit the Provisional Government in which he stated ‘The people need peace; the people need bread; and the people need land. And they ( the Provisional Government) give you war, hunger…. and leave the landlords on the land.’4 ‘This was part of Lenin’s ‘April Theses’ – a collection of Lenin’s statements and Bolshevik policies collated on Lenin’s return to Russia in April, 1917 after years of exile in Germany. As much as the Bolshevik’s may have been liked, they were also strongly disliked. In a statement made by a German official in charge of transporting the Bolshevik leader back in to Russia, Lenin’s journey was compared to ‘the transportation of a deadly virus in a test tube. Once safely arrived in Russia, the test tube was broken, releasing the fatal germ to infect the body politic of Russia.’5 This representation shows that Bolshevism was not seen in a good light by all. It isn’t a reliable piece of evidence as it is quoted by someone who would be prejudiced against Russians and communism due to the effect of Russia’s role in WW2 against Germany.

A photograph taken in 1923 supports this point. It depicts a male and female peasant, both miserable, standing behind a table on which rests and array of body parts ranging from half a young boy to a mans head. The caption below this representation states ‘Russian Peasants Buying And Selling Human Flesh’6. This representation of starvation and cannibalism contradicts the Bolsheviks view of life at that time with the photograph being more reliable as a source of evidence and one which presents more difficulty in regards to manipulation. Propaganda was often used to persuade the Russian people as it was easily understood and interpreted. Due to the illiteracy of the common people, the exact group Lenin was trying to attract, all propaganda was graphical with as little text as possible so that the function of the work was successful as demonstrated by the following statement, ‘circumstances of major illiteracy… meant that particular emphasis had to be placed upon visual rather than printed or textual forms of communication or persuasion’7 Of course Lenin’s views and the ideologies of his party were not supported by all. Using the same technique as the Bolsheviks themselves, others published propaganda in order to end the growing support for this mad man and his ravings as well as to make it clear that it was indecent to support him. A rather effective representation of the argument against the Bolsheviks is the poster published at around the same time, date unknown, showing Lenin to be a psychotic leader and the policies of his party as evil. This graphic, presented in cartoon form, depicts a sacrificed woman laying before Lenin and other Bolsheviks at whom they laugh and mock. In addition to this portrayal of sadistic excitement is the worshipping of the image of Marx before them. The woman is used to symbolise the sacrifice of the Old Regime and the common people in favour of the evil Bolshevik party. Again, this piece of evidence is only as reliable as the Bolshevik poster in that both represent the biased views of opposing political parties. The problems with using available evidence to support or disprove history is that the evidence may be biased, outdated, manipulated, censored or simply obviously untrue as is demonstrated by the presence of happy, healthy people in the poster even though Russia was at war and starvation ran rife.words.

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