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02 June 2011

National-Socialist vs. Soviet Propaganda Posters

Some silly documentary arguing that National-Socialism and Bolshevism are essentially the same uses a comparison of National-Socialist and Soviet propaganda posters to support the claim. At first glance there are some striking graphic similarities, but the posters are only on the screen for a very brief time, so that they cannot really be scrutinized by the viewer, and of course since most viewers do not know German, they are really taking the narrator's word that these posters support the narrator's point.

I want to make it a little easier to see why these superficial similarities do not demonstrate the narrator's point.

The poster on the right is some Soviet poster with a slogan in Russian, obviously depicting a manual laborer. The man carrying a heavy tool on his shoulder always represents manual labor. 

The German poster on the left has a manual laborer, but also another man standing very close to him. Who is that other man?

The caption says, "WORKERS of the FOREHEAD, of the FIST, vote for the front-soldier HITLER!" "Workers of the fist" (Arbeiter der Faust) is a German expression meaning manual laborers. "Workers of the forehead" (Arbeiter der Stirn) means men whose work consists largely of thinking and planning. The reference to Hitler as "the front-soldier" (den Frontsoldaten) is a note of nationalism. This electoral campaign poster urges the unity of Germans as Germans, in spite of class differences, in voting for the German nationalist Hitler.


I am told that the caption on the Russian poster says something to the effect of, Be on the lookout at work.
 

Although, yes, the Soviet and NSDAP posters both portray a man carrying tools, the messages are certainly different. The NSDAP's campaign poster represents class-reconciliation, the exact antithesis of Marxist class-warfare and "dictatorship of the proletariat," as well as implicit rejection of internationalism.


These posters are also superficially similar, but if you see them for more than a second or two, you can't help but notice differences. These both seem to be urging a yes-vote for something. The most significant difference reflecting the different attitudes of National-Socialism and Bolshevism is that in the Bolshevik poster there is not just one but a whole mob of hands voting the same way. The Bolshevik poster is evoking groupthink, while the National-Socialist poster represents an individual, rational choice.

Superficial resemblances in the visual composition of propaganda posters do not signify that the ideas conveyed or promoted are the same. The Soviet Union under Stalin was notorious for copying Western models. They didn't just copy from the Germans, either. In particular there was a French war-propaganda poster with the caption On les aura! that was shamelessly plagiarized by Soviet propaganda. There was no reason not to do that, since people in the Soviet Union could never know.

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