The Power of Propaganda
Every leader, from Alexander the Great to the modern presidents of democracies around the world, has faced the difficult task of persuading the people in their village, city, or country to follow them to pursue their vision or goal. Although most of the ancient leaders worked on the basis of persuasion using violence, modern leaders have realized that persuading the public into an idea requires a strategic communication form; one focused on implanting the idea on the public and reinforce it constantly until it becomes part of their identity. In modernity, this strategic communication form has been term propaganda, and it has been used to persuade people to both do good and evil. Formally, propaganda is defined as a form of communication intended to to influence the attitude of a community toward a position or cause. Propaganda has three important aspects that differentiate it from other forms of communication: 1) it requires a mean for broad dissemination of the message (i.e., it targets the masses), 2) the message must be consistently repeated, and 3) the message must not be countered or oppositions to the idea encouraged. Propaganda’s means of dissemination include all forms of messaging, such as television, radio, print, oral, and even social media. As a form of communication, it will continue to evolve as new mean of communication emerge.
The person in charge of the creation of the propaganda, referred to as the propagandist, searches to benefit by affecting the public’s perception in a negative or positive approach.
After the World Words, propaganda has received a negative connotation, since it was used as a tool to disseminate negative ideologies and to indoctrinate people to adopt ideas against their original moral values. For this reason, propaganda has also been defined as information deliberately expressed order to harm or hurt a person. The deliberate spreading of such information leads to persuasion to do things that are not the regular scheme of a person. An example of persuading society in order to hurt others with negative propaganda was that used in World War II. The Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, claimed propaganda should be as accurate as possible, but at what price? In this essay, we discuss Goebbel’s method of propaganda and how they played a big role as influencer of other big socialist propagandist campaigns, such as Cuba’s Castros and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. We will discuss how each of them have influence each other to better their strategies of manipulation and persuasion and compare their forms of communication such as symbols used, imagery and other tools.
Nazi Propaganda and Joseph Goebbels strategy
During Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, Germany was virtually controlled by one of the most sophisticated propaganda machines in modernity. Propaganda was the tool by which nearly every facet of German life was dictated. While Hitler’s party, the Nazis, ruled on everything from politics to military, and education to the economy, their most successful sphere of influence was in promotion of anti-
Semitism. Germany educated its citizens to make them believe in the existence of a so-called master race. In order to bring together and gain support from the majority of the nation Hitler praises the mythical importance of Aryan race:
Everything we admire on this earth today”science and art, technology and inventions”is only the creative product of originally perhaps one race. On them depends the existence of this whole culture; if they perish, the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them.
Hitler was attempting to profess to the German people their race and culture was superior to all others and Aryans were invincible. Hitler wanted to create a sense of pride, unity and stability among the people because stability was not a strong factor among the masses that felt they had nothing to lose after the war. Consequently, Hitler called his political cause “the movement.”
Joseph Goebbels became Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister in 1933. He was the person in charge of controlling the portrayal of the movement in the media. Goebbels first propagandist activity as minister was known as book burning. Books that disagreed with Nazi beliefs were burnt in public; loyal Nazis ransacked libraries to remove books considered offensive, including Jewish, communist, and liberal texts. This soon led to more active demonstrations of Nazi ideals, including Kristallnacht and concentration camps. When predicating the movement, Goebbels developed strategic plans in order to succeed. He later founded the newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack) as a propaganda vehicle for the Berlin area, where he published printed cartoons depicting Jews with stereotypical features and personalities. Also, films where used in local theaters and played an important role in advocating racism, anti-Semitism, the superiority of German military power, and other central Nazi ideals. Nazi films often portrayed Jews as subhuman creatures infecting an Aryan society. For example, on the film The Eternal Jew, Jews are shown as wandering parasites consumed by sex and money.
To ensure everyone could hear Hitler speak, Goebbels also organized the sale of cheap radios. Radios were known as the People’s Receivers (Volksempfanger) and could be purchased for under a hundred marks. A small radio cost just thirty-five marks. Goebbels believed it was necessary for the German people to hear Hitler’s speeches. Loud speakers were put up in city streets so the Fuhrer’s speeches reached all Germans. Cafes and restaurants were also ordered to broadcast the speeches. However, men and women weren’t the only ones being targeted by anti-communist, anti-Semitism and anti-capitalist propaganda. Children books and schools syllabus had to depict Hitler’s philosophy. The racial theory and the Jewish problem were included in the material required for class. For instance: “the Jews are aliens in Germany; in 1933 there were 66,060,000 inhabitants in the
German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the per cent of aliens?” is an example of a math problem found in schoolbooks, such as, Judenfrage im Unterricht (The Jewish Question in Classroom Instruction) or Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom). One of Hitler’s most prominent quotes on the need to disseminate the Nazi’s message is provided by his writings of the Psychology of Propaganda on Mein Kampf.
All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to, consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.
Posters were also used as a very powerful propaganda tool. Hitler and Goebbels agreed to avoid abstract ideas and appeal to the emotions of the Germans. They accomplished this by designing a series of posters with emotional imagery and stereotyped phrases in order for people to remember them. The use of repetitive imagery and slogans was characteristic of the Nazi propaganda. The symbol was always used to differentiate the poster and the messaging.
In addition, the continuous critic of the opponent was a basic principle for Hitler and Goebbels. The constant depiction of Jews and capitalists groups in propaganda posters is seen throughout the entire Nazi movement.
Comparison to Fidel Castro’s Propaganda in 1950’s
The revolution began in 1953 as an armed revolt, headed by Fidel Castro against the U.S. supported authoritarian government of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The revolutionaries used numerous tactics to achieve their goals including, violence, warfare, andmost importantlypropaganda and prints. Unavoidably, the forces and revolutionaries led by Castro were outnumbered, and lacked great power. Thus, they had to find a way to influence the citizens to support their cause, which would be partially achieved through the use of prints and posters. The posters were created to serve three main objectives; bring awareness, support the revolutionaries’ cause, and create frustration and aggression toward the government and U.S. policies. All things considered, the prints did help accomplish this goal as more Cubans began to support the revolutionaries and their ideals.
Though these prints are meant to serve a political purpose they also showcase Cuba’s Culture and ideology. The bright colors and designs were typical of most Cuban artwork during the time of revolution. When observing from a political sense the posters and prints can seem fairly hostile and forceful. They are trying to portray a message in the most blatant way possible. However, when evaluated aesthetically we see that most of the prints use various techniques to make them more presentable and pleasing such as bright colors, the use of illustration and soft lines. They embraced a color-drenched, sophisticated Pop Art style more in tune with U.S. contemporaries as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Peter Max. Therefore, they where glamorizing the revolutionaries with a different approach: a visual one.
The style of poster and other forms of propaganda in Cuba during the 1950’s might have been a little different than Goebbels strategy in 1933. The use of imagery, color and activities was different, however the message was surprisingly similar. Both movements are utilizing the power of propaganda, ultimately focus on the enemy, and turn the masses against them. In Castro’s rule, the capitalists were the enemy, and the propaganda was utilized to spread the anti-capitalists’ message.
Both movements portrayed their enemies as monsters and the dictators as heroes. While doing so, they targeted specific audience groups such as rural communities, generating concern and panic among the public. On the other hand, by lifting the revolutionaries and showing inspiring slogans, they managed to create a sense of national identity and pride among the people.
However, propaganda in Cuba didn’t end with the Revolution. Nowadays, the Cuban government controls all magazines, newspapers, and broadcasting facilities. Billboards and graffiti with pro-Cuba sentiment litter the landscape, and strict law enforcement and community groups are used to minimize the expression of conflicting views.
How Chavez Bolivarian propaganda was influenced by both Nazi and Castro’s propaganda
Bolivarian propaganda describes a political campaign created in Venezuela used to promote Hugo Chavez’s Revolution. It is known for toying with emotional sentiment in order to gain attention, exploiting the fears of the population, making external enemies for scapegoat purposes, forcing the feeling of nationalism within the population, and causing thoughts of betrayal for extending support to the opposition. Similar to Nazi’s propaganda strategy of utilizing as many mediums as possible, Bolivarian propaganda is advertised through all outlets: TV, radio, Internet, magazines, newspapers, murals, billboards, memorabilia (action figures, T-shirts, posters), schools (through the lesson plans and books), movies, festivals, and public service vehicles, food, etc.
When Chavez began to promote his revolution in 1999, he decided the best way to do so was through print, just like Castro. He started endorsing his message mostly in local newspapers, such as Barreto’s Correo del Presidente, advertising messages about a promising transformation of Venezuela to a first World nation within ten years.
As an apprentice of Castro, he had key tools to pursue the Venezuelan population. However, he might have had other influences that helped him achieved what today is the Bolivarian propaganda. One key example of this is Chavez’ way to address the public. Just like Hitler and his radio broadcasts, Chavez officiated permission to interrupt television broadcasting in Venezuela with cadenas, or obligatory televised transmissions. The cadenas would interrupt television programs and various topics ranging from visits from current world problems to tours of tractor factories, with the program lasting until Chavez wanted to stop speaking. This way, he would create a personal connection with the public and seem more human.
Another example of both Castro and Nazi propaganda influence is the anti- capitalist message. We see over and over, the same message and slogan preached by Venezuelan officials. Nation, socialism or death, it is the most popular among
the Bolivarian revolutionaries. The depiction of capitalists’ countries such as the USA is commonly seen in Chavez campaign.
Based on these three examples, we can see how propaganda has been used to persuade a population against their self-interests. Over the past 70 years propaganda undergone a major evolution, which has made the communication form a weapon for totalitarian governments. It is important to note that future information consumers need to understand the most important characteristics, which as discussed and exemplified previously include: a message targeted at the masses, a consistently repeated message, and the elimination of counterpoints or arguments against the propagandist message. People must be aware of these messages and strive to avoid propagandist messages while looking for well-rounded sources that come from multiple sources. We must all become informed and savvy information consumers, so that we can become beneficial members in society.
“A Goebbels Election Speech (31 July 1932).” Calvin College – Minds In The Making. https://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/goeb61.htm
Bolivarian Propaganda, Wikipedia. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Bolivarian_propaganda#/citenoteLIbeyond2
Brian Galindo (2013), 18 Cuban Propaganda Posters From The ?60s And ?70s. Buzzfeed.com.
Gott, Richard (2005), “Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution”, New York: Verso Books, 2006.
Holocaust Encyclopedia . “Nazi Propaganda.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Web. 26 Feb 2012.
“Nazi Factory Propaganda.” Calvin College – Minds In The Making. https://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/aniliner.htm
Montaner, Carlos (2017), Castro And Chavez: The Delirious Relations Between Cuba And Venezuela, Interamerican Institute for Democracy