As the dust of WWII settled, the uneasy peace between the Western superpowers and the USSR was faltering. Tensions escalated as both sides built ever bigger nuclear arsenals. But, artists weren’t confined to the sidelines. They were fighting an ideological war, using propaganda to win the hearts of their own people and to sway opinions beyond their borders.
Soviet Cold War Propaganda Posters
The three most common themes in Soviet Cold War propaganda posters were to promote the superiority of the socialist system, demonize the United States, and to shore up support for the Soviet state.
- Soviet Achievement Propaganda Posters - The Soviet Union sought to present itself as a model socialist state, superior to the United States in science, sports, technology, and culture. Soviet propaganda posters emphasized the successes of the Soviet space program, the achievements of Soviet scientists and artists, and the superiority of the socialist economic system.
- Anti-American Propaganda Posters - Soviet artists portrayed the United States as an aggressive, imperialist power that sought to dominate the world. Soviet posters frequently depicted racial discrimination, financial crises, and unemployment in the United States, all of which were identified as failings of capitalism. “And you lynch Negroes” was a form of whataboutism, a skeleton in America’s closet whenever the USSR was reproached for their own economic and social failings.
- Unity & Fraternity Propaganda Posters - The government sought to present itself as the defender of the socialist cause and called on all citizens to support the state in its struggle against the United States. Soviet propaganda emphasized the importance of patriotism, loyalty to the state, and sacrifice for the common good.
American Cold War Propaganda Posters
The four most common themes in American Cold War propaganda posters were to create anti-communist sentiment, promote American values, justify foreign interventions, and reaffirm the need for increased military spending to ensure national security.
- Anti-communist Propaganda Posters - The United States saw communism as a threat to its way of life and sought to portray it as an evil ideology that had to be defeated. American propaganda emphasised the dangers of communism, portrayed communist countries as oppressive regimes, and depicted communist leaders as evil dictators.
- American Values Propaganda Posters - The United States sought to present itself as a beacon of democracy, freedom, and capitalism, in contrast to the repressive, authoritarian Soviet Union. American posters emphasized the achievements of American society, including the American Dream, freedom of speech, and the abundance of almost everything.
- Foreign Intervention Propaganda Posters - The United States sought to promote its interests around the world and often used propaganda to gain public support for its interventions. American propaganda portrayed the United States as a defender of democracy and freedom, and its interventions as necessary to protect these values.
- National Security Propaganda Posters - The United States saw itself as the world’s police, the defender of the free world. American propaganda emphasised the importance of national security to protect itself from external threats. This led to an increase in government surveillance, restrictions on civil liberties, and the development of nuclear weapons.
Posters are yesterday’s history. The methods and mediums of modern propaganda have been upgraded with the rise of social media, deep fakes and generative AI. Today, propaganda is more accessible, ubiquitous and even more subtle. Stay sharp Comrade!