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Russian Propaganda during WWI

During World War I, a critical part of the German Schlieffen Plan was based on the typical slowness of Russian mobilization. Russia had a large army, but it suffered from low morale, lack of equipment, transportation, and training. And, typical to form, the large but slow Russian army spent weeks rushing its troops to the war front. It did move faster then the Germans had counted for, true, but it was still weeks behind the other European nations, which were already in the blitz of it.

War propaganda was prominent in other European countries, but not seen very often in Russia at the time. Even before World War I had started, reaching back to 1905, Russia had been in turmoil and general strike. The czar was being forced to rapidly cede power to elected officials and the Duma; the people were in a messy riot, with student sitdowns, vandalism of government property, mass strikes and large protests rampart. Russia in the Great War was in the midst of a messy, massive, change.

The largeness of the Russian steamroller ensured that no drafts would be needed to fuel the army, so recruitment posters were never used. Instead, Nicholas II’s government released pamphlets encouraging people to buy government bonds to fund the war. Rates for the loans were standardized at 5 1/2% return per month. As Nicholas II was assassinated and his government destroyed during the revolution in 1917, all of the loans issued defaulted and lost all of their value.

“Buy 5 1/2% bonds – War Bonds for Victory.” The twin-headed eagle was the Russian czar's Imperial standard during WWI, as well as its coat of arms, and still is today. The poster also depicts modern double-barrel artillery (a design that increased weight but decreased recoil) and a covered rack of swords and spears.

“Everything for the War! – Subscribe to the 5 1/2% War Loan.” – Women saw an increasing role in the factory, not just during WWI but through the beginning of the century as well. Here, a peasant worker is depicted machining a cannon bore for the war effort. Because no general draft was instituted, WWI did not mean changes in the sex of the workforce, as it did for other European countries.

Gorodki – The Russian giant is depicted throwing sticks in a giant’s game of land domination. The pegs

he is knocking over are the capitals of opposing nations – including Berlin (Germany), Vienna

(Austria-Hungary), and Kraków (at the time the site of a militaristic Polish rebellion against Russia).

Military defeats and blunders on all levels of the Russian command increased anger in Russian society. Czar Nicholas II made matters worse by assuming personal command of the military in 1917 – he could no longer be assumed innocent of the defeats, and the Russian people lost all faith in him. Seeing an opportunity to take a major power out of the fight, Germany arranged for the return of Vladimir Lenin, a politically motivated dissident that had been exiled from Russia in 1900. Lenin and others, unhappy with the Russian Imperial rule, set up a new Communist Party that, with support from the general populace, quickly escalated to prominence. In the resulting February and October Revolutions, Nicholas II and his family were captured and held prisoner by once-loyal Bolshevik military forces, and eventually grimly executed against a wall in their palace, ending the role of the czar for good.

True to form, following the emplacement of the communists in place of the czar, the Bolsheviks petitioned Germany for a peace treaty to end the “Imperialistic” fighting. The Treaty of Brest-Livest cost Russia a large chunk of its Eastern European territory, but finally brought peace to the embittered nation.

During and preceding the October Revolution, many unofficial pamphlets and other other pieces of propaganda were circulated. Before Lenin came upon the scene, there were distinctive presses by the masses, not to abdicate Nicholas II, but to force him to give up rights to the Duma and elected bodies of the people. Things began to change, however, with involvement in the initially-failing Great War. Nicholas II’s choice of a wife in Princess Alexandra, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, mirrored Louis XVI’s choice of Marie Antoinette in disaster. The Russian people disliked her because she controlled her husband, persuading him to stand firm against the march of democratization, and because she in turn depended on Rasputin for the treatment of her son, Alexis.

Prince Alexis was born with hemophilia, a failure in clotting red blood cells that was not to be treated by even the best doctors on the continent. Rasputin was a mystic who came to the family and, miraculously, was able to cure Alexis of his disease. Despite everyone’s general distaste for the man, whose very name was an insult (meaning “debauched one”), Tsarina Alexandra convinced her husband to allow him to stay, and in fact through Alexandra he was able to control Russian foreign policy as a whole. Much dissent existed on his influence, and he was finally murdered by nobles in 1916.

Last but not least, the terrible losses suffered by the Russians on the front lines in World War I cost families many sons. Morale was lower then it it was even after defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. Although the conditions on the Eastern Front were not as much trench warfare as mobile artillery bombardment and rebukement, Russia ended up losing the most men of any nation in the war.

Rasputin the Puppetmaster – In this famously circulated poster one can see the dissent the Russian people felt for Rasputin. Here he is depicted a malicious puppet master controlling the czar and the tsarina.
During the October Revolution, the newly empowered Soviets circulated large amounts of propaganda posters denouncing dissidents of the “ideal” society, and portraying the common laborer as the keystone of Russia.

World’s October – In this propaganda poster, circulated during the October Revolution, factory

workers and peasants are shown uprising against and throwing out government officials, wealthy nobles, and members of the clergy.

The Soviets would become masters of the art of propaganda by the time of World War II. Following the October Revolution and the declaration of peace, the party and the War Ministry would spend their time cleaning up Russia of any dissenters, and began filtering news and information released to the general public. The years following World War I would see the bringing of Lenin’s young philosophy to ripeness.


http://www.cusd.chico.k12.ca.us/~bsilva/projects/russia/Nick_II/wwi.htm: Russia In World War I. Cori Ford.

http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/nicholasii.htm. Who’s Who in World War I: Nicholas II. Micheal Duffy, 22 August, 2009.

http://chumpfish3.blogspot.com/2007_05_01_archive.html. Maximum Advantage in Pictures: Propaganda As Art and History. May 31, 2007.

Nicholas V. Raisanovsky and Mark D. Steinberg , A History of Russia: 8th Edition. Oxford University Press, 710 pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-534197-3

David R. Stone, A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. Praeger Security International, 259 pp. ISBN: 0-275-98502-4

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