Bolshevik Propaganda Corner

Image courtesy of Picryl

Context: This cartoon from 1919 depicts Lenin and Trotsky, two of the most prominent figures of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. The two men are shown here as lizards in a room with aristocrats. It was published in the New York Herald.

Icebreaker Prompt: Analyze the image. Brainstorm a list of questions. Are the questions closed, or open? Rank the questions in terms of your curiosity and discuss your rankings.

Student Response:

  1. Both men are drawn as lizards. What is the artist’s purpose in doing this? Are they meant to not look trustworthy?
  2. There is a picture on the wall of an eagle. Are they in Germany or Russia? What is significant about both of those countries at this time, and the presence of Lenin and Trotsky in them?
  3. Lenin and Trotsky are up on a stage and all the people in the room are looking at them. What is this meant to represent? Is the artist trying to say that wealthy people are being tricked by these revolutionaries?
  4. This cartoon appeared in an American publication and has text in English. Knowing the context of the time, what was the publication trying to say about Lenin and Trotsky? How would someone in the US react differently to this cartoon than someone in Russia would have at the time? How does the meaning of the cartoon changed based on who is viewing it?
Image courtesy of Picryl

Context: This poster is from 1937 and depicts Trotsky, a political rival of Stalin, being picked up and about to be beaten by a large figure meant to depict the Russian proletariat. Trotsky is grabbing for many papers and his hands are covered in blood. He is wearing one Nazi boot and one cowboy boot with a spur.

Icebreaker Prompt: Analyze the image. Are there any symbols? In what context do they fit, and how are they confusing?

Student Response:

  1. Proletariat in red: How does the size of this man show his power, in contrast with Trotsky’s size? What does the red suit symbolize in Russia at this point in time? Is there anything important about this man’s mustache? Which other important Russian figure had a big, beautiful mustache at this time?
  2. Papers: What do all of these papers represent? Was Trotsky more of an intellectual than the majority of the Russian people? Was this seen as a positive or a negative? How can we tell from this cartoon?
  3. Blood on Trotsky’s hands: Trotsky’s hands are depicted as claws covered in blood, how does this influence how the viewer is supposed to see him?
  4. Trotsky’s boots: With one western cowboy boot and one Nazi boot, what does this say about how the audience is meant to view Trotsky’s political alignments?
Image courtesy of Picryl

Context: Polish government anti-communist poster to counter Bolshevik propaganda from Russia during the Polish-Russian war, in 1920, showing People’s Commissar for the Army Leon Trotsky. Large caption reads: “Bolshevik freedom.”

Small caption on the right-hand-side reads: The Bolsheviks promised: We’ll give you peace. We’ll give you freedom. We’ll give you land. Work and bread. Despicably they cheated. They started a war with Poland. Instead of freedom they brought: The fist. Instead of land: Confiscation. Instead of work: Misery. Instead of bread: Famine.

Icebreaker Prompt: Drawing analysis. Quickly sketch the image: where did you start? What important parts did you focus on? Discuss with a partner and compare.

Student Response: The first things a student may notice:

  1. Trotsky as the devil, all red and pointy.
  2. All the skulls, standing on top of a massacre.
  3. Death on his shoulder, giving him advice?
  4. Gun and knife, dripping in blood.
  5. Fire in the background, showing more devastation on the horizon.

4 Replies to “Bolshevik Propaganda Corner”

  1. Interesting post Olivia. Fascinating that propaganda is designed to elicit certain emotions and perceptions of concepts, which can make political campaigns that much more influential in understanding historical events and how certain events came to arise. Also interesting that you focused on Trotsky, a figure that is often overlooked since Trotsky was less prominent for the rest of the 20th century compared to figures such as Stalin or Mao Zedong. I like that these icebreakers guide students to look for symbols. Well organized.

  2. Olivia, I love that you have propaganda images from three very different places; the US, Russia, and Poland. Each place had its own interests to protect and views on communism and its leaders. I love especially the inclusion of Polish propaganda. I think often when we discuss the rise of communism it is usually portrayed as a contest between capitalist America/Western Europe and Russia; here we see the views of a nation in Eastern Europe before it fell behind the Iron Curtain in the post war years. I think this gives students more context to understand early communism and its spread.

  3. I second Patrick and Bruce’s comments.

    A fascinating collection of political cartoon from sources we rarely see. Excellent use of scaffolding questions to guide the students. And just enough background information to not “give it all away” and still leave some historical thinking and discovery for the students.

    A unique learning activity – well executed.

  4. Wow what cool images you chose. Like Peter said, these are images we would rarely see unless we were deliberately looking for them. Very detailed responses to the icebreakers too. This would really help students further their understanding on Bolshevik propaganda pre-WWII, as well as the opposition. I also thought it was interesting you decided to focus on Trotsky, like Patrick said. Great post all around.

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