The Cold War – from Communist Propaganda to Capitalist Persuasion

from Communist Propaganda to Capitalist Persuasion

The victorious allies of the Second World War – the Soviet Union and the West led by the United States – soon fell out as differences emerged about the post-war order in Europe and the rest of the world. The clash was, in essence, about two contrasting views of organizing society: the Soviet view, inspired by Marxism-Leninism, and the capitalist individualism championed by the USA. The defeat of Nazism and militarism of Japan was accompanied by the US-proclaimed victory of democracy and the creation of the United Nations system. Though the 1947 General Assembly Resolution 110 (II) condemned ‘all forms of propaganda which are designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression’, both camps indulged in regular propaganda as the battle lines of the Cold War were being drawn (quoted in Taylor, 1997).

Soviet Broadcast Propaganda

In the same year, the Soviet Union revived the Comintern (Communist International) as Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), to organize a worldwide propaganda campaign orchestrated by the Administration of Agitation and Propaganda of the Communist Party Central Committee (AGITPROP). Communist propaganda, a central component of post-war Soviet diplomacy, was primarily aimed at the Eastern bloc, and, increasingly, to what came to be known as the Third World.
During the Cold War years, TASS remained a major source of news among the media in eastern bloc countries. The news agency which began as the St Petersburg Telegraph Agency (SPTA) in 1904, underwent a number of name changes before becoming Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) in 1925. In 1914, it was renamed the Petrograd Telegraph Agency (PTA) and in 1917, the Bolsheviks made the PTA the central news agency; a year later the PTA and the Press Bureau, also under the Council of People’s Commissars, were united to form the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA).
Soviet propaganda – in heavy polemical Marxist terms about the ideological clash between communism and imperialism – was couched in the language of the class struggle between the capitalist bourgeoisie and the global proletariat, ideas which fell on receptive ears in countries colonized by European powers.
However, one of the first major propaganda battles the Soviet Union waged was in 1948 against a fellow socialist country – Yugoslavia, where Marshal Tito’s efforts to chart a foreign policy independent of dictates from Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, resulted in a massive propaganda effort to overthrow the leadership in Belgrade. Another test of Soviet propaganda in Eastern Europe came with the crisis in Hungary in 1956, where it had to fight hostile Western propaganda and protect a client regime. Similarly, during the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries under Moscow’s orders, Russian broadcasts to Czechoslovakia jumped from 17 hours per week just before the August 1968 invasion to 168 at the height of the crisis, falling back to 84 by September (Hale, 1975: 24).
By the late 1960s, Moscow Radio was the world’s largest single international broadcaster – between 1969 to 1972 it broadcast more programme hours than the United States. In addition, it used more languages – 84 – than any other international broadcaster, partly because the Soviet Union itself was a multilingual country. Between 1950 and 1973 external broadcasting from the Soviet Union grew from 533 hours to around 1950 hours per week. This is comparable with the whole of US external broadcasting – the world’s largest – including the official Voice of America (VOA) and the clandestine Radio Liberty (RL) and Radio Free Europe (RFE) – at 497 hours per week in 1950 and 2 060 in 1973 (Hale, 1975: 174).
Soviet broadcast policies were aimed at countering Western propaganda and promoting Moscow’s line on international affairs among the world’s communist parties, which became increasingly important in Soviet thinking after the Sino-Soviet split of 1968. The Sino-Soviet split – more influenced by geo-strategic than ideological-differences – led to mutual propaganda battles between the communist giants, with Radio Moscow increasing its Chinese language broadcasts from 77 hours a week in 1967 to 200 hours in 1972, while China, which by early 1970s had become the world’s third largest international broadcaster, also increased its broadcasts criticising Soviet ‘revisionism’.
While Soviet broadcasts – known more for their party line than professional journalism – had little impact in the West, in contrast to the popularity of Western broadcasts in the Eastern bloc, they nevertheless set the news agendas in Eastern Europe. The Soviet presence was also evident in the way the news media were organized in many communist countries and among socialist nations of the South.
However, Radio Moscow was no match for Western broadcasters in terms of the power of its transmitters and the availability of broadcasting outlets outside the communist world. Apart from broadcasters in Eastern Europe, Soviet broadcasts had only one other outlet – Radio Habana in Cuba, which was suspended after the ending of the Cold War. With their worldwide network of relay stations, the Western powers had a distinct advantage and were able to beam propaganda with little interference (Nelson, 1997). Since there was scant interest among Western populations for Russian international broadcasts, Western governments did not have to worry about jamming them. In contrast, the authorities in Moscow tried to interfere with Western broadcasts, seeing them as a network of ‘radio saboteurs’ subverting the achievements of socialism.

US Broadcast Propaganda

Although the Voice of America had been a part of US diplomacy during the Second World War, with the advent of the Cold War, propaganda became a crucial component of US foreign broadcasting (Sorensen, 1968; Lisann, 1975; Rawnsley, 1996). The key instruments of US international broadcasting – The Voice of America, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, and the American Forces Network – were all state-funded. The VOA was the official mouthpiece of the US Government, the largest single element in the US Information Agency (USIA) and ultimately answerable to the US State Department. Unlike the BBC World Service, it depended on official comment as it only used VOA staff for commentaries, thereby restricting the range of opinions expressed by its programmes and thus straining its credibility as an international broadcaster.
An early indication of the increasing use of radio for propaganda was evident in the way VOA was used to promote US President Harry Truman’s ‘Campaign for Truth’ against communism, following the outbreak in 1950 of the Korean War. The campaign was aimed at legitimizing US involvement in the Korean War, which claimed more than a million lives and became the first test of superpower rivalry in the developing world, a pattern repeated in several other Cold War-related conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
A year later, in 1951, Truman set up a Psychological Strategy Board, responsible to the National Security Council, to advise on international anticommunist propaganda. In 1953, his successor President Dwight Eisenhower appointed a personal adviser on ‘psychological warfare’ – resulting in an increased stridency in the anti-communist rhetoric emanating from VOA.
In the United States, propaganda was part of what John Martin, a former researcher for the USIA, called ‘facilitative communication’ which he defined as ‘activity that is designed to keep lines open and to maintain them against the day when they will be needed for propaganda purposes’ (Martin, 1976: 263). This included press releases, seminars, conferences, and exhibitions, as well as books, films, educational and cultural exchange programmes and scholarships for technical and scientific research.
VOA operated a global network of relay stations to propagate the ideal of ‘the American way of life’ to international listeners. The nodal points in this worldwide network linked to the control centre in Washington, included Bangkok for Southeast Asia; Poro and Tinang in the Philippines for China and Southeast Asia; Colombo for South Asia; Tangier in Morocco, for North Africa; Rhodes in Greece, for the Middle East; Selebi- Phikwe in Botswana, for southern Africa; Monrovia in Liberia for Sub- Saharan Africa; Munich for Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Woofferton in England (leased from the BBC) for the former Soviet Union; Greenville in the USA for Latin America; and Punta Gorda in Belize for Central America (see map).
The transmitters were chosen for their strategic locations, close to the target zone to ensure a stronger and more stable signal and to overcome possible jamming. In many instances the locations of transmitters remained a secret as did the broadcasting of subversive and misleading information to confuse the West’s Cold War adversaries.

You may also like