Propaganda As A Means Of Social Control

By Paul Rawdon


Propaganda in its many forms is part of every day life, turn on a radio or television and we’re bombarded with advertisements pleading for us to buy some goods or services. In the West, this would be about the closest we would get but to people living in the former Soviet Union, propaganda would have a different meaning. Correctly used, propaganda is a mind control device; some of the reasons why propaganda was manufactured will be discussed together with the techniques the Party used to administer it. Inter-country relations could also be influenced by black propaganda, an incident where the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti – Committee of State Security (KGB) deliberately manufactured black propaganda about a plot against the then President of Indonesia by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will be used to show the extent the Soviets were prepared to influence international relations. A propaganda war of a different type was waged on the world’s airwaves; to maintain the credibility of the locally produced propaganda, the Soviet authorities went to extreme lengths to jam incoming shortwave radio broadcasts that would have contradicted what the people were being told by the state. In his book ‘1984’, George Orwell accurately summed up Soviet propaganda efforts through the ways that language could be used as a control device and some of these methods will be discussed. Despite all the efforts the Soviets made to control information, the possibility existed that at some point they would have been undermined. An extraordinary example of where this happened was after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when a news reader in the English Service of Radio Moscow gave his views on what was happening. An assessment of the effectiveness of propaganda will close this discussion. It would be useful first to gain some understanding of what propaganda is.   


Propaganda – a description

Opinions differ about what propaganda actually is, some may term television and radio advertising as propaganda with the incessant bombardment of reasons to buy a certain product. Or, the output of a religious broadcaster may be regarded as propaganda by others. There might be more sinister forms of propaganda like that broadcast by a clandestine radio station broadcasting programming designed to subvert a lawful government. Hazon (1976, p.9) offers some clarification, he suggests propaganda is an action orientated process where its aim is to control the behaviour of its audience by changing or preserving its attitudes or opinions. Hazon cautions that the term is often misused, overused and misunderstood. If the propaganda is subtle, the populous might not even be aware they were being manipulated or controlled. On the other hand, the propaganda might be blatant or totally ‘off the wall’ like that displayed by ‘Lord Haw Haw’ (William Joyce) during World War Two. Hale (1975, p.ix) provides an example of subtle propaganda that occurred with the release of the 1939 Greta Garbo movie Ninotchka which told the story of a grim Soviet official who travelled to Paris on government business. Hale added the movie was released in Italy immediately prior to a crucial election for the Italian Communist Party in 1948 and that the movie did more to turn people away from communism than any other method attempted. Of note is that the movie was nine years old by the time it was released in Italy. Its release date so close to the election might just have been a coincidence or, there might have been a deliberate attempt to influence the election’s outcome. In common with other states, the Soviet Union had its propaganda ministry who were responsible for the manufacture of propaganda.


Propaganda manufacture

No one department had responsibility for propaganda production; each state organisation had responsibility for producing their own. Benn (1989, p. 24) shows the extent of the propaganda apparatus. A highly complex network of institutions that included the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education, State Committee on Television and Radio and the Telegrafnoie Agenstvo Sovietskavo Soiuza (TASS) news agency. The Propaganda Department, Benn added had responsibilities that were not made publicly available except for education which involved the provision of politically orientated courses that were designed for people at all levels of Soviet Society and control of information supplied to the media. Benn notes that an enormous communications apparatus had one very predictable result, a massive indoctrination of Soviet Citizens by the Communist Party’s message. Benn concludes by giving an example of the size of the operation where radio and television services reached 95 percent of Soviet families and a huge circulation of newspapers which had seen a rise in circulation from 38.3 million copies in 1940 to 198.1 million in 1986. To gain maximum use out of these vast resources, it would be important to deliver a consistent message; this however was not always the case.


Consistency of the propaganda and an imaginative delivery are two important considerations. Hill, (1989, p.149) highlights some possible shortcomings of the propaganda apparatus. He suggested the development of a uniform set of values and beliefs caused problems and that over time, the official line on many issues changed. An example he gave was when the Pravda newspaper wrote about the party first secretary as being a true son of the people and a devoted exponent of Marxism – Leninism. The next day, the paper announced his sacking and a few days after, the same official was described as lacking imagination. Hill concludes saying that children learnt different interpretations of historical events from what their parents and older siblings were taught and that this inconsistency led to scepticism if not cynicism about so-called claims that the party was always right. Hill means that damage could be caused to the Communist Party’s indoctrination ideals because in the end, with the story continually changing, the people would not know what to believe.



Types of Propaganda

The types of propaganda vary and they depend upon the source of the information. Dearth, (2002) provides the following summary, white propaganda he suggests is a type of propaganda where the source is known while with grey, the truth is still told but the source of the information is masked. The more sinister propaganda type is black where the message could either be true or false or could be a form of deception. Covert methods might also be used where the information was provided by a less creditable source and credited to a more believable source. An example of this would be when news from a less attributable organisation was credited to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) whose reputation, for accurate reporting is known around the world. Crumm, (1996) is in agreement with Dearth but adds black propaganda gives a false source, lies, fabricates the facts and deceives.


The Five Year Plan

Stalin introduced the first Five Year Plan introduced the Five Year Plan in 1928. It was designed to increase production to levels that were as good or as better than the West. (Inkeles & Bauer, 1959 p.102). It was intended to reach the goals regardless of cost. Stalin manufactured ‘news’ to persuade the people to work even harder. Propaganda was an essential element in the success or failure of the Five Year Plan. Workers were the prime targets and propaganda was designed to encourage workers to do their best so that targets would be met or exceeded. Harrison (2004) describes the Five Year Plan concept as a means by which the leaders of the Soviet Union sought to impose their preferences on the economy. Gregory & Harrison (2005) provide evidence of the measures used to increase output. They talk about the measures the Communist Party took to force more work out of the people. They indicate it was believed that a wide range of problems could be solved by using force. Stalin was the chief instigator where he carried out experiments designed to boost economic growth. Collectivisation of the peasantry to boost agricultural output was tried which resulted in famine. The authors continue saying Moscow could control the amount of acreage sown and the State’s share in the proceeds but not the harvest. As yields fell, the state’s share increased which resulted in the countryside being stripped bare of grain. A farmer faced being charged with a capital offence if they were caught keeping back some of their own grain for food. Gregory & Harrison conclude outlining a further measure where it was made a prisonable offence for a worker to have an unauthorised absence from work for longer than 20 minutes. During this period, the main vehicles for propaganda would have been via the print media and the production of posters designed to encourage workers to work harder. A sample poster is below, (Fig1)

Fig. 1 The slogan reads “Fight lazy workers”


New Economic Policy

Stalin’s use of propaganda as a tool is well documented; Lenoe (2004) provides a useful insight when he wrote about the transformation of newspapers during the new economic policy era 1925 – 1930. It should be noted that in 1925, radio broadcasting as we know it today was in its infancy and the newspaper would have been the main form of mass communication. Lenoe indicates that Soviet newspapers came under pressure from party leaders to mobilise society for the huge task of industrialisation. Everyday labour was presented as an epic battle to industrialise the Soviet Union and to remove shirkers and saboteurs from within. Leone continues adding that up until the 1930s, the styles of the Pravda and Izvestia newspapers were similar to their western counterparts where they carried a similar diet of news. By the early 1930’s, the contrast of presentation Leone concludes was bizarre, exclamation points, commands, military metaphors and congratulations from Party leaders to factories for passing their production targets dominated the pages. The papers castigated its readers like angry parents or exhorted them to battle for or the proclamation of worker triumphs and the mobilisation of young communist workers. Leone’s account suggests that the newspapers became not much more than propaganda posters.



No political police can function effectively without constantly resorting to provocation and violence as a working tool writes Pustintsev, (1996, p. 531) who adds for decades, the Soviet political police operated in conditions of perpetually growing terror where is conscientiously served the ruling elite that carried out a policy of total terror towards its own population. Pustintsev is referring to the Stalin era when the ruling elite employed force to make the population comply with government policy. (Gregory & Harrison 2005).   The Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti – Committee of State Security (KGB) was formed in 1954 following a reorganisation that took place after Stalin’s death (Dalziel, 1997) who adds that one of the main functions of the KGB was to ‘wage war’ on dissidents like Solzhenitsyn and Bukovsky. An additional function was to monitor the local population a major function of the KGB was its international work.


A separate section of the KGB had responsibility for external operations Rose (1988, p.24) indicates the KGB had a major role in the dissemination of misinformation and had the responsibility for restoring the international image of communism that was tarnished and damaged by Stalin’s excesses and distortions. Hazan, (1976, p.49) adds the KGB also had responsibility for organising special courses for propaganda and disinformation with many graduates from these courses being placed in the ‘information agency’ that was responsible for the preparation of written and photographic material that concerned the Soviet Union’s domestic and foreign affairs for the foreign mass media and to provide material for broadcast by Radio Moscow’s international shortwave service.


The KGB played a role in the production of black propaganda Barron, (1974, p.420) Notes that the Soviet Union had for years sponsored grand deceptions that were calculated, mislead, confounded or inflamed foreign opinion and that some of the subterfuges had considerable impact on world affairs while at the same time, damaging Soviet interests. An example he cites was with the KGB’s approval and support, the Czech Statni Bezpecnost (StB) (the Czech equivalent of the KGB), initiated a vast deception campaign to arouse Indonesian passions against the United States when they supplied President Sukarno, forged documents and fictitious reports that conjured up CIA plots against him while another ‘revealed’ a joint American – British plan to invade Indonesia from Malaysia. Barron continues adding that the unstable Sukarno responded with anti – American diatribes which some Indonesian journalists on the KGB and StB’s payroll amplified and Radio Moscow played back to the Indonesian people. The fictitious coverage Barron concludes incited mobs to besiege the American offices in Djakarta and anti – American hysteria raged throughout the country. The example shown would no doubt, would have damaged the Soviet Government’s reputation because after the truth had been made known, their credibility would have been lowered and it is likely that incidents like this, could have had a cumulative effect that in the end could have had a bearing on the downfall of communism.


The Orwellian Experience

George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ was in fact a Cold War document writes Herman (2005). He adds Orwell himself suggested the ‘1984’ plot could be used as such when he wrote his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ which illustrated how the meaning of what was said could be changed by the selection of words being used. Bennett (1985) expands on this, he suggests that the predictions Orwell made in ‘1984’ about ‘Big Brother’s’ surveillance and the corruption of language and the control of history had already come about to a great extent in communist countries. Bennett draws some interesting parallels between the plot of ‘1984’ with what had happened in a communist society. The Ministry of Truth could be likened to the propaganda machine in a communist state where history had been falsified and people that did not comply with the thought of the day were dropped down the ‘memory hole’. Bennett’s description of ‘Big Brother’s’ use of the ‘thought police’ to ensure people in the inner and outer party were kept under control could be applied to the techniques Stalin used to control the Soviet people. The ‘Hate Weeks’ that were organised against Goldstein, the leader of the alleged underground opposition in ‘1984’ could be likened to the propaganda attacks against the Western governments or, in Hill’s (1989) example of when the Communist Party’s first secretary fall from grace. The examples given demonstrate the amount of power available in a totalitarian state where power is used to control the actions of people and if necessary rewrite history to fit in with the party view.


It is interesting to consider what ‘1984’ was about, it was written at the start of the Cold War in 1948. The story was supposed to describe the world as it was then. According to Pacheco (1997), Orwell modelled Oceania on the Soviet Union with its gulags (forced labour camps), purges, contrived trials and the KGB. Assuming that this was indeed Orwell’s intention, Big Brother could have been modelled on Stalin, the Thought Police on the KGB and the ‘Party’ the Soviet Communist Party. Pacheco cautions that it would be a serious mistake to interpret ‘1984’ solely as a critique of Soviet Communism and that we should not loose sight of the fact that Oceania was an English speaking state with the capital called London. Chomsky, (1987) makes a valid observation suggesting that Orwell was writing about the world as it was in 1948. He points out that if the last two digits were transposed you end with ‘1984’. Chomsky believed the transposition was deliberate because it would have been likely that Orwell would have had problems getting the book published because it would have been seen as a critique of society at that time. Chomsky concluded observing that in totalitarian society, propaganda does not try to control people’s minds, it just gives the party line saying “Here is the official doctrine, do not disobey and you won’t get into trouble. What you think is not important and if you get out of line, we will do something to you because we have the force”.


The Cold War and the Battle of the Airwaves

When the Cold War actually began is open to disagreement writes Gustainis (2002) he suggests that some historians attribute the date to Sir Winston Churchill’s speech in 1946 when he spoke of an Iron Curtain had come down in Europe. Gustanis adds the period of the Cold War was an era of struggle where nations battled on economic, political, diplomatic and cultural levels. Propaganda production would have supported each level Benn, (1989, p. 230) is of the opinion that propaganda played the role it did was because it was both inexpensive and relatively free of risk and that it did more to reinforce existing attitudes by convincing the Soviet and Western publics of an external threat that was real or imagined rather than it did to win converts. Benn concludes observing that there was little sign that propaganda had ever shifted the East – West power balance and that often, it became an obstacle to meaningful productive debate. The Cold War was largely a propaganda war and shortwave radio broadcasting provided a relatively inexpensive stage.


Propaganda – on – air

Throughout the Cold War, a war of a different sort was raging on the world’s airwaves. Each of the major powers possessed an international shortwave radio service and this technology was used to its utmost. The BBC World Service, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, Radio Beijing and Radio Moscow were among the largest broadcasters devoting vast resources for programming in Russian, English or other Eastern European languages. A shortwave radio listener during the Cold War would have had great variety of programming available. There was however, one great disadvantage. Throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the local authorities maintained a large network of jamming stations. The noise these stations transmitted could be likened to a noisy petrol engine and along with interfering with the targeted station; the jammer interfered with broadcasters on adjacent frequencies too. Quite often, the station being jammed would be heard clearly in the target area while the jammer would be heard throughout most of the world. (Casey 1978, p110).


The reason for the jamming was to prevent opinions from the West that differed from that of the local authorities being heard in the target area. The objective of propaganda was to control the local population and if a different opinion was heard, this would reduce the effectiveness of the propaganda message. On the surface, preventing ‘enemy’ stations from being heard would have been a straight forward exercise had it not been for one important consideration. Shortwave radio waves travel around the world by bouncing between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere. Depending on the target area, several signal hops could be involved and this is where problems would have occurred for the jammers. It would have been a relatively easy exercise to prevent reception of a station in a city like Moscow. To cover the majority on the county, a network of jamming stations was used. It is only since the fall of Communism that details of how vast the operation was have come to light.


The Soviet jamming network was administered by the Second Department of the All-Union Ministry of Communications writes (Pleikys n.d.) he adds that a veil of secrecy surrounded the jamming operation. Quoting 1986 figures, he said there were 81 local jamming stations that held 10 to 20 transmitters each. In addition, he added there were 13 high powered jamming stations that were used for jamming broadcasts beamed to specific areas. Pleikys concludes by adding that these stations were supplemented by using transmitters situated in other Eastern Bloc countries. Casey (1978, p.111) adds that in addition to Pleikys’ example, the Soviets also used ‘Mayek Jamming’ which was a badly distorted relay of Radio Mayek the Soviet Union’s second radio network. The size of the jamming operation was enormous because of the necessity to control all information being transmitted into the country. The World Radio and Television Handbook for 1985 provided an example. On a typical day at 0300 Co-ordinated Universal Time which would roughly correspond to the breakfast listening peak in the Soviet Union, a total of 46 frequencies were in use that were used by several broadcasters including the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty to transmit Russian language programmes to the Soviet Union. (WRTVH, 1985). Each of these frequencies would have to be jammed and in some cases, more than one jammer would be required on the same frequency to ensure as greater part of the country was covered. (Pleikys, n.d.).

Fig 2 Jamming transmitting station at Moscow


Who and What Was Being Jammed?

The level of jamming depended upon the political climate at the time, (Wasburn, 1992, p. 30). Briefly, The Soviets jammed Russian broadcasts from the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty. From China, Russian broadcasts from Radio Beijing were jammed as were Chinese broadcasts from Radio Moscow. Some of the Soviet jamming was selective where only portions of a programme would be jammed. For example, the Soviets monitored the output from the Voice of America around the clock. Hallas (2000) provides an interesting insight from the time he worked at the Sitsi Hill Radio Centre into how the jamming operations were conducted. He said the radio bureau operator would be monitoring the incoming broadcast and would instruct the jammer operator via telephone when to commence jamming. Hallas adds that because the transmitting equipment at his station was not of a very high quality, the transmitters had a tendency to drift off frequency which left the targeted broadcaster clear of interference. Casey, (1978, p. 112) notes that occasionally, gross mistakes would be made which would lead to the jamming station targeting Radio Moscow broadcasts that were directed overseas. Of interest in Hallas’ article were the photographs of the equipment used. Quite a number of the radio transmitters and communications receivers used to monitor ‘enemy’ broadcasts were of Western origin.


Two broadcasters located in Germany, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe run by the American Government and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were responsible for broadcasting anti Soviet propaganda to the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union. Right from their inception in the late 1950s, both of these stations were the targets of heavy jamming. (Casey 1978, p.114). The prime purpose of these two broadcasters was to domestic and international news which would supplement the version adapted by the Soviet authorities for local consumption. Casey, (1978, p.114) provides an example of news the authorities would not have broadcast. On 15 December, 1970, monitors for Radio Free Europe were monitoring the domestic output from transmitters on a Polish synchronous frequency, (two stations broadcasting the same programme on the same frequency in two separate locations) one of the stations (Gdansk) broke from the network to broadcast an appeal for local calm which indicated that a state of civil unrest had occurred in the area.


The ‘Afghanistan Affair’

Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979; listeners to the English Service of Radio Moscow would have heard the official party view on the subject. That was until May, 1983 when monitors at the BBC’s Monitoring Station in the United Kingdom were startled when English language newsreader Vladimir Danchev castigated the Soviet assault on Afghanistan calling it an invasion and urging the Afghan people to resist. (Herman 2005). The incredible thing about this incident was that Danchev was able to ‘modify’ Radio Moscow’s news coverage for five days before it came to the attention of the authorities. Sennitt, (2005) continues this remarkable story adding that after five days of monitoring the broadcasts, the BBC monitors who up until then had decided not to draw attention to what was happening for fear of the serious consequences that awaited the newsreader, decided the story had grown to big to ignore. It was only then that the Soviet authorities realised what had happened that Danchev was removed from his post and sent for

‘re-education’. It was implied by Soviet authorities that Danchev had suffered a breakdown and required psychiatric help. The immediate consequence for Radio Moscow Sennitt concluded was that all live news reading was stopped and the bulletins had to be recorded in advance and the contents passed by someone senior before they were transmitted. A side note that Sennitt gave was that after his ‘rehabilitation’, Danchev returned to work at Radio Moscow but not as an announcer. Sennitt suspected a possible reason for why he was not more seriously dealt with was because Danchev’s Father was a Party official.


Did the Propaganda Work?

The question must be asked weather or not the propaganda worked, it is obvious that as a mind control device the answer must be yes, for a time. Benn, (1989, p.223) believes that on the whole, the past Soviet propaganda effort was not one of the systems major strengths and that paradoxically, the government ignored or suppressed any findings from psychology or the other social sciences that would have improved it effectiveness. Because of this, Benn continues, their sustained propaganda effort did not achieve the thought control that was depicted in Orwell’s ‘1984’. Benn concludes observing together with ignoring the psychological aspect, the government appeared to have remarkably little interest in the empirical study of human motivation and that this might be a reason why the government overrated their ability to control public opinion. It would appear from Benn’s commentary that despite the ongoing propaganda campaign, the government failed to control Soviet society because they failed to recognise the role that psychology played and they may have forgotten the beliefs that Marx and Lenin had that propaganda was not all powerful.       



Used correctly, propaganda can be a powerful weapon, through its use; it is possible to control a person’s mind. Throughout its existence, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union relied on party propaganda to ensure the people complied with Party doctrine. The KGB was on hand to ensure that Soviet citizens complied. In addition, the KGB had responsibility for supplying disinformation to agencies overseas. An example of where the KGB supplied false information to the Indonesian government and the consequences that resulted from this gave an indication of the effects manipulation of the facts could have. A propaganda war of a different type was waged on the world’s airwaves when Soviet authorities jammed incoming radio broadcasts that would have undermined the message the Soviet Government was giving. An incident that occurred at the English Service of Radio Moscow showed that even in the most regulated societies a possibility of dissention existed. For a time it appeared that the propaganda machine did work but the government failed to realise the implications of not following psychological methods that eventually led to their downfall.






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Figure One: Fight lazy workers. Retrieved 16 July 2005 from


Figure Two: Skip Distance/Skip Zone. Retrieved 15 August 2005 from


Figure Three: Moscow jamming station. Retrieved 16 July, 2005 from