In this comprehensive study of the early development of the Soviet propaganda system, Peter Kenez describes how the Bolshevik Party went about reaching the Russian people. Throughout this book, Kenez is more concerned with the experience of the Soviet people than with high-level politics. The book is both a major contribution to our understanding of the genius of the Soviet state, and of the nature of propaganda in the modern world.
Historian Kenez, who in two previous works charted the course of the Bolshevik Revolution in southern Russia, here succeeds in a more ambitious task: an examination of the ways in which the revolutionary elite tried to bring its utopian message - that a better world awaited - to the mass of Soviet workers and peasants, many of whom couldn't even read. Kenez reminds us that "propaganda" - the means for transforming the common man's opinions and attitudes - wasn't always a pejorative word, and can only be properly defined within a specific historical context. And the context for his straightforward analysis of countless newspapers, books, posters, and films is nothing less than the formative years of what has become one of the world's most repressive states, where information is still controlled by a centralized government. From the early days of the revolution, the Bolsheviks exploited the burgeoning popular press, which provided a forum for the exiled and prolific Lenin, who insisted time and again that this form of propaganda should be "an instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat." After the October Revolution, this principle - which defined the goal of all forms of Soviet propaganda - accounted for the almost immediate censorship of the press, a story told in detail by Kenez. Illiterate Russians, especially those in the vast, nearly uncontrollable countryside, were the focus not only of catechismal-like indoctrination campaigns, which were to teach them how to read; they were also subjected to other means of coercion: an oral-agitational network that traveled by ship and train, and numerous "volunteer" organizations, such as the student group (the Komsomol) whose direct control by the Party Kenez carefully documents. Other, less successful forms of propaganda included the Soviet cinema during the late 20's when the great directors - Vertov, Pudovkin, Dovzhenko, and Eisenstein - were allowed to flourish, even though they failed to please the regime. Kenez has organized his voluminous research into a lucid, anecdotal narrative, complete with a user-friendly scholarly apparatus (glossary, bibliography, etc.). A must for Sovietologists, but students of popular culture and mass communications will also find much of value here. (Kirkus Reviews)