the big lie

The new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago is a look at Soviet poster art , propaganda posters, from the 1940′s. Its a voyage back to Orwell and 1984. But, a closer examination,  of Orwell, would show that 1984 attacked our enemies, but the same thesis with minimal adjustment could have been aimed squarely at the basic assumptions of our own system, which most of us smugly embrace. While the Soviets said don’t disobey, we in the West defer to authority and its systems apparatus in a more nuanced manner. American propaganda posters of the WWII period have an eery similarity. The central difference  appears in our creative use of political debate or dialogue that ostensibly encompasses a broad palette of options- an expression of our individuality- but in fact is played out over sharply curtailed parameters. These basic assumptions of what Chomsky referred to as “necessary illusions” are plausibly the basis of our own propaganda system, with an acceptance of the system being the door of entry into this Aldous Huxley type phantasmagoric “doors of perception.” Ken Kesey is de rigeur, Ginsberg was a hipster, but MLK well, we know what happened.The vilification of our enemies and the laying of blame always seems to be permeated by the “lone gunman” theory with dovetails nicely with our sense of “individualism.”

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So, the big lie is part and parcel of what we are willing to accept, or in retail politics, what the traffic will bear. In Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, there are several examples of lying. Stalin and Hitler are the featured examples, and the concern Arendt articulates is not only in lying but in its effects as well.Sort of the side-effects of the medication. This is coherent with Arendt’s thesis that lying has always been favored in politics, but the circumstances have changed.  Arendt asserts that the modern lies are so huge that they must be swallowed because the opposite would appear to be almost of  miraculous stature. To Arendt,  not Stalin’s and Hitler’s expertise in the art of lying but the fact they  were skilled in  organizing the masses into a collective unit to support their lies with impressive magnificence, exerts a form of endless fascination tied to ritual, pomp and the pretensions of a viable individual identity.

Read More: A 1943 poster (“The Red Army Broom Will Completely Sweep Away the Scum”) by Viktor Deni at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In Theodor Adorno’s theory, the lie and propaganda becomes a pretext for  inner hate and inner evil to be projected outwards: onto nature, woman, or marginalized undesirables like jews or gypsies. Adorno perceived self-hate and resentment being exteriorized. It appears then that wickedness in its pure form  is not a necessary condition for doing evil, it just needs a structural basis organized around complicity to propagate.  Arendt can at least be thought to have developed counter-argument to subjective evil. She emphasized that our faculty of thought is connected to telling good from evil and right from wrong, in which case an “activity of thinking” could sublate innate wickedness, thus providing a condition against evil-doing….

Read More: ---A single image required dozens of stencils, outlining curly tresses on murdered babies and gleams on bayonets. “Works representing dire, despicable or terrifying subjects were lovingly crafted,” Ms. Bugajski and Cher Schneider, a paper conservator, write in a catalog essay. As the war dragged on, the quality of the painters’ materials declined. When stockpiles of paint thinner and turpentine ran out, Ms. Bugajski and Ms. Schneider write, “the studio tried acetone and finally bedbug pesticide.” Stubbly, hand-ground pigments and air bubbles in the brush strokes created “a subtle pockmarked appearance,” they note.---

Eve M. Kahn:During World War II, Soviet artists stenciled posters to keep up public morale. They drew scenes of Russian heroes overwhelming Nazi cowards under slogans like “The Time for Vengeance Is Approaching” and “Sweep Away the Scum.” Tass, the Soviet press agency in Moscow, produced the newsprint sheets, up to 10 feet tall, in editions of a few hundred each. A new design emerged almost every day. The government hung them in storefront windows and occasionally sent them as gifts to leftists in Britain and America. a

Image: ---The artists kept up their spirits with black humor. In the Art Institute show, a 1943 image of a German medic callously shooting a fallen compatriot in the head is titled “First Aid.” In a 1944 beach scene, scrawny Nazis cower behind a rowboat under the headline: “The End of the Resort Season.” ---

The classic East West cold war theory was that  two great propaganda systems agree on some doctrine, it requires effort effort to escape its being dragged into the morass. The basic doctrine is that the society of Lenin and Trotsky and later by  Stalin and and beyonds had some connection to socialism in some meaningful or authentic  sense of what it was conceived as.  The only relation is one of radical  contradiction. Hence, according to thinkers like Chomsky is obvious why both major propaganda systems insisted on supporting this illusion. Almost from Day 1, the Soviet State by whip and carrot tied to shackle the energies of its own citizenry and oppressed people world-wide in the service of those who took advantage of the popular uprising  in Russia in october 1917 to seize State power. The central ideological weapon employed to this end has been the claim that the State managers are leading their own society and the world towards the socialist ideal; an impossibility. The Soviet posters reflect this lie of  stupendous proportions, the Permanent Revolution as leitmotif since the earliest days of the Bolshevik regime. The posters show this  attempt to gain legitimacy and support through exploiting the aura of socialist ideals and the respect they deem worthy, to mask a ritual and intentional practice of massacring  any  vestige of socialism. As for America, association of socialism with the Soviet Union and its client base served as an  ideological arm to enforce conformity and obedience to prevailing power complex since the alternative lack any compelling features. Pax Americana. The Soviet leadership tportrayed itself as socialist to protect its right to wield the big stick, and Western ideologists  have plausible adopted a variant of a similar pretense in order to forestall willy-nilly, stonewalling and dawdling over the risk of a more free and just society.For example vis a vis China today.

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“Despite the tyranny of Stalin, creativity flourished” in the former Soviet Union as artists felt motivated to contribute to the war effort, said Jill Bugajski of the Art Institute, one of the curators of the exhibition of some 250 posters, paintings and mementos that continues through October 23.

“I want the pen to be on par with the bayonet,” wrote poet and poster contributor Vladimir Mahakovsky, who wrote captions and poems that adorned the posters.

A cache of the now-brittle posters were discovered in 1997 sitting on a shelf in one of the Art Institute’s storage closets during a renovation. Two paper rolls and 26 parcels containing the forgotten works were unfolded, restored and some placed behind plexiglass for the exhibition…. 1997, 26 tightly wrapped brown paper parcels were discovered deep in a storage area for the Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Prints and Drawings. Their presence was a mystery, their contents a puzzle. As conservators and curators carefully worked to open the envelopes, they were surprised and intrigued to find that they contained 50-year-old monumental posters created by TASS, the Soviet Union’s news agency. The idea for a major exhibition began to take shape. Impressively large—between five and ten feet tall...

…Three hundred artists and writers produced some 1,400 poster designs in Moscow’s TASS’ studios, which was part of the telegraph and news agency.

Using up to 60 stencils for each poster to layer still-bright paint on cheap newsprint, many of the 800,000 TASS posters produced were lost or forgotten.

They were intended to “create a mood of urgency while visually aggrandizing the Soviet solder, defining the Nazi enemy as vile and subhuman, and emphasizing the woeful suffering of the Soviet people,” museum exhibitors said.

Inspired by the prewar mocking of “degenerate art” by the Nazis, who also put on an anti-Bolshevik art exhibition, the Soviet artists took liberties with Communist “social realism” to create shocking, sometimes humorous, images. Read More: a

Image: ---Chomsky:The political system is closely linked to economic power, both through personnel and broader constraints on policy. Efforts of the public to enter the political arena must be barred: liberal elites see such efforts as a dangerous "crisis of democracy," and they are intolerable to statist reactionaries ("conservatives"). The political system has virtually no flow from bottom to top, apart from the local level; the general public appears to regard it as largely meaningless. The media present a spectrum of opinion, largely reflecting tactical divisions within the state-corporate nexus. True, they are never obedient enough for the commissars

Chomsky:Well-behaved party hacks were guilty of no such crimes as anti-Sovietism. Their task was to applaud the state and its leaders; or even better, criticize them for deviating from their grand principles, thus instilling the propaganda line by presupposition rather than assertion, always the most effective technique. The commissar might say that leaders erred in their defense of Afghanistan against “the assault from the inside, which was manipulated” by Pakistan and the CIA. They should have understood that “it was an Afghan war, and if we converted it into a white man’s war, we would lose.” Similarly, a Nazi ideologue might have conceded that the “encounter” between Germans and Slavs on the Eastern front was “less than inspiring,” though for balance, we must recall that it was “a total war between rival nations for control of a territory both groups were willing to die for”; and for the Slavs “the terms of the conflict” were “less mortal” than for the Germans needing Lebensraum, “staking not only their fortunes but also their very lives on the hope of building new lives in untried country.” The Slavs, after all, could trudge off to Siberia. Read More:

Image: guard doctrinal purity, it is not essential to demonstrate that JFK intended to withdraw from Vietnam. Rather, it is important to ensure that debate over the US war be constrained within the dove-hawk spectrum: the permissible choices lie between international terrorism (allegedly JFK) and full-scale aggression (LBJ, the Kennedy advisers who stayed on). And all choices must be sanitized: they are defense against "the assault from the inside" in JFK's words -- in fact, as he knew, the "assault" by indigenous guerrillas against a terrorist client regime that could not survive political competition. If these goals are achieved, the propaganda system will have done its duty.


Read More: Chomsky:In 1921, the famous American journalist Walter Lippmann said that the art of democracy requires what he called the "manufacture of consent." This phrase is an Orwellian euphemism for thought control. The idea is that in a state such as the U.S. where the government can't control the people by force, it had better control what they think.. The Soviet Union is at the opposite end of the spectrum from us in its domestic freedoms. It's essentially a country run by the bludgeon. It's very easy to determine what propaganda is in the USSR: what the state produces is propaganda.

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