Mass Manipulation

From Khrushchev’s first usage of the term to the umbrella that it has turned into, I have always been intrigued by various “Cults of Personalties” of regimes across history. A Cult of Personality refers to all the strategies, tactics, manipulation, and propaganda a leader and or government will use to maintain control and influence over its people.  No better example of a Cult of Personality is that of Joseph Stalin,  the man being responsible for the phrase coming into existence in the first place. Going through the 1939 module there were connections I made, as well as themes I picked up on I would like to address further in this post.

Throughout the module, there was consistent theme of rewriting of history. It appears the phrase “history is written by the victor” reigns supreme across time. This concept of rewriting history is so intriguing for a fairly recent historical time period. Something rewritten or removed from history from the 12th century is far harder to detect than information from the time period we are studying from less than 100 years ago. Not only in Stalin’s regime was history changed, people were flat out removed from photographs, something I remembered reading about once that I want to connect to the module. It was from a piece from the History Channel website, about how photos were weaponized as a political tactic by Stalin. Below is a photo from that article, showing Nikolai Yezhov flat out removed from the original photograph.

Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 6.53.54 PM.png

(Credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images & AFP/GettyImages)

I was previously aware of the photo edits done in this time period, but going further through that article I discovered the very famous photo of the Soviet flag being raised over Berlin at the end of World War 2 was staged. I never knew this but have seen this image multiple times, and finding out it was staged and not captured in the moment was crushing. Like discovering the tooth fairy was not real. Despite not being completely flat out edited, it is still a genius “marketing” propaganda/patriotic tool wielded by Stalin.

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(Credit: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)

This was a great article that I encourage anyone to check out! Here is the link:

https://www.history.com/news/josef-stalin-great-purge-photo-retouching

The module mentioned how Stalin was named “Man of The Year” by Time Magazine in 1939, something that in historical hindsight seems so intriguing / interesting to us in the west, or just across the world as a whole. Worth mentioning, as most people are probably aware, that Hitler was given the same title a year before. I would love in this class or another to discuss these controversial figures, and the process in which they were selected for these titles.

Important to note the rewrites carried into flat out executions and missing persons, a scary and sad effect of Stalin’s manic control of all things Soviet. The following quote from James Von Geldern’s subject essay sums this up: “The often bizarre accusations, reflecting the revisionist agenda of Stalinist history, were terribly unjust; but it must be noted that none of the victims had ever spoken out when earlier trials had devoured similarly innocent people.” This quote reminded me instantly of a very powerful poem I have came across many times about speaking out. There are a lot of variations of this poem, but I believe this is the original:

f29ffc35-3cd5-46b5-82ca-78164aaa5e3d.jpg

(Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the Socialists…”)

Going forward, another quote from Von Geldern’s essay seemed to reign true in the present day. “The idealized figure of Stalin represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in Soviet society.” Change the quote up a little, and would it not apply to the current Russian/US political climates?

The idealized figure of Putin represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in Russian society.

The idealized figure of Trump represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in American society.

The module mentioned how Stalin was named “Man of The Year” by Time Magazine in 1939, something that in historical hindsight seems so intriguing / interesting to us in the west, or just across the world as a whole. Worth mentioning, as most people are probably aware, that Hitler was given the same title a year before. I would love in this class or another to discuss these controversial figures, and the process in which they were selected for these titles.

 

Works Citied:

https://www.history.com/news/josef-stalin-great-purge-photo-retouching

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/cult-of-personality/

 

3 thoughts on “Mass Manipulation”

  1. Ethan, this is such a fascinating post, I love how you made connections between that time and today. I think that quote is startlingly accurate at describing both situations. Also, if you’re interested in the edited photos from the purges, I’d highly recommend looking at the book “The Commissar Vanishes”! It has before and afters of a ton of Soviet pictures that were airbrushed during the purges.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree! I have that book and it’s awesome. will try to bring it to class (note to self). You’ll want to delete the paragraph you repeat near the end of the post, but overall, this is really interesting. You’re making some sobering connections around the inflections of “greatness” — that’s what the person of the year recognizes, right? So it isn’t necessarily a positive commendation? What case can you make for both Hitler and Stalin being “men of the year?”
    As for the revision of history and the airbrushing of the visual record — this remains compelling in the present day. (Better sources than the History Channel, BTW) And having the courage to stand up….this is hard, when self-preservation is on the line. As I was saying last week, in a situation where there isn’t physical evidence – only a denunciation or confession, the rule of law and procedure become really important.

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  3. Great post, Ethan! I always have loved the saying of “History is written by the victors” and it was so interesting to learn more about the staging and editing of photos back then. It shows the lengths that they will go to to write history the way they see fit. It would be really interesting to explore the concept more and see more edited photos and dig in to why the photos were edited and what impact the photos had as propaganda!

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