Lenin certainly understood the role of propaganda and determined the
newspaper to be one of the most important tools of a propaganda state. The
establishment of Pravda was one of the first tasks he undertook when he came
into power. Pravda achieved the goals of Bolshevik propaganda by motivating
the people and controlling the media available to them (Cole, 675). The
Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) also controlled the media
available to the public. Bolsheviks were basically the only political group
allowed to contribute; Mensheviks in particular were not allowed to submit
articles (Kenez, 28).
The role of the October 1917 revolution is a common theme in Russian
propaganda, as referencing this past event brings citizens to recognize the
root of their successes (and to some, their problems).
These early years were precarious for the Communists because although they
were in power, their mantra was not accepted or known about by everyone.
Contributory to this was the fact that there was not much money available
for the spreading of propaganda. The Bolsheviks lacked trained personnel,
paper, photos, and large distribution (Kenez, 45). To spread their
propaganda, “agit-trains” were sent throughout Russia with pamphlets and
even films to assimilate the peasants. This allowed the communists to see
things on a local level and take care of problems at the root, such as
school conditions and the secret police. These trains were especially
effective because they used films which fascinated the peasants. These films
brought the faces of Lenin and Trotsky to them and made them feel closer to
their leaders. Results from rallies held by those who ran the “agit-trains”
sent results to Moscow via radio. The trains themselves were often brightly
decorated with pictures of soldiers and slogans. These methods would lose
popularity but would be reintroduced during World War Two (Kenez, 60).
Reaching out to the military was a big deal to the Bolsheviks, and large
amounts of money were fueled into military papers, where distribution was
not a problem. Many soldiers would pass on reading material instead of
throwing it away, and the spread of communist ideas was commonly done this
way. The Political Department of the Army (PUR) was established to agitate
the soldiers. Communist newspapers were also printed for enemy armies in
hopes of undermining their movement (Kenez, 48). The founding of Komsomol,
the all-union Leninist communist youth group, in 1918 was also achieved to
assimilate the Russian youth into communism (Cole, 918).
To ensure that the communists secured the vote, voting rules were changed in
the early 1920’s. Now, votes were taken by a raising of hands. Obviously not
many people came out to vote under this method and a ‘secret’ ballot system
was instilled. All candidates were selected by the communist party (again to
ensure that they secured the vote instead of Mensheviks or some other
opposing group), making the voting meaningless since candidates were not
truly chosen by the people. To make matters worse, voting counts were
manipulated, making voter turnout appear higher.
The influence of these groups – the writers, the soldiers, the youth, and
the voters was to be accomplished through propaganda. To the Bolsheviks,
propaganda and education were two inseparable entities. Education quickly
became a state monopoly with the intention of promoting literacy and the
soviet ideal. Lenin (and later, Stalin) felt that a literate public would be
more vulnerable to propaganda of the state (Cole, 675). The literacy of the
poor was previously felt to be impossible, and Lenin understood the
difficulty in mobilizing an illiterate nation. “The illiterate person stands
outside politics. Without the alphabet, there are only rumors, fairy tails,
prejudices, but not politics (Kenez, 72).” The Bolsheviks dealt with this
problem by mobilizing literate peasants to read to and teach the illiterate.
This measure, however, was not successful as there was no compensation for
these peasants who barely had time to take care of their own affairs. In the
1920’s, literacy schools were created and laborers were freed for a few
hours each week to learn how to read (Kenez, 74). It is difficult to assess
the success of this literacy movement because statistics from the era are
exaggerated and figures were often made up. It is known, however, that many
soldiers and workers did learn how to read and write, so some success was
achieved, especially in the cities.
Lenin definitely used these means to promote his ideology, and his image was
often used in propaganda, although not to the glorifying extent that
Stalin's image was.