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propaganda, systematic manipulation of public opinion, generally by the use of symbols such as flags, monuments, oratory, and publications. Modern propaganda is distinguished from other forms of communication in that it is consciously and deliberately used to influence group attitudes; all other functions are secondary. Thus, almost any attempt to sway public opinion, including lobbying, commercial advertising, and missionary work, can be broadly construed as propaganda. Generally, however, the term is restricted to the manipulation of political beliefs. Although allusions to propaganda can be found in ancient writings (e.g., Aristotle's Rhetoric), the organized use of propaganda did not develop until after the Industrial Revolution, when modern instruments of communication first enabled propagandists to easily reach mass audiences. The printing press, for example, made it possible for Thomas Paine's Common Sense to reach a large number of American colonists. Later, during the 20th cent., the advent of radio and television enabled propagandists to reach even greater numbers of people. In addition to the development of modern media, the rise of total warfare and of political movements has also contributed to the growing importance of propaganda in the 20th cent. In What Is To Be Done? (1902) V. I. Lenin emphasized the use of “agitprop,” a combination of political agitation and propaganda designed to win the support of intellectuals and workers for the Communist revolution. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini also used propaganda, especially in oratory, to develop and maintain the support of the masses. During World War II all the warring nations employed propaganda, often called psychological warfare, to boost civilian and military morale as well as to demoralize the enemy. The U.S. agency charged with disseminating wartime propaganda was the Office of War Information. In the postwar era propaganda activities continue to play a major role in world affairs. The United States Information Agency (USIA) was established in 1953 to facilitate the international dissemination of information about the United States. Radio Moscow, Radio Havana, and The Voice of America are just three of the large radio stations that provide information and propaganda throughout the world. In addition, certain refinements of the propaganda technique have developed, most notably brainwashing, the intensive indoctrination of political opponents against their will.


See J. Ellul, Propaganda (1965, repr. 1973); T. C. Sorensen, The Word War (1967); T. J. Smith II, ed., Propaganda (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the dissemination of political, philosophical, scientific, artistic, or other views or ideas, with the aim of instilling them in the public consciousness and encouraging mass action. The main elements in propaganda are the subject (the social group whose interests are expressed by the propaganda), content, forms and methods, media or channels (radio, television, the press, or lectures), and the object (the audience or the social constituency or community to which the propaganda is addressed). To understand the propaganda process it is crucial to know the interests of the subject of the propaganda and how they correspond to the interests of society as a whole and of particular groups at which the propaganda is directed. These considerations determine the content of propaganda and have a substantial effect on the choice of forms, methods, and media.

In a narrower sense, “propaganda” refers only to political or ideological propaganda—the dissemination of views, ideas, and theories in order to develop in the masses a certain world view or certain ideas that reflect the interests of the subject of the propaganda, and in order to stimulate certain activities corresponding to these interests. A specific class ideology is the core of any political propaganda. Today, there are two opposing types of propaganda: bourgeois propaganda and communist propaganda.

Bourgeois analysts often deny that propaganda is determined by the character of class ideology. They try to portray propaganda as a universal means of manipulating mass consciousness in the interests of certain groups. However, in exploitative societies the ruling class uses propaganda to represent its group interests as universal ones, to distort the actual situation to serve its own purposes, and to impose false ideas and theories and biased information on the broad masses. The mass media, which serve these purposes, are controlled by the monopolistic bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. However, leading the masses astray and manipulating their consciousness are not the purposes of all propaganda but are merely an expression of the essence of bourgeois propaganda, which is a product of the antagonism of classes in capitalist society and of the contradiction between the fundamental interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the laws of contemporary social development.

The opposite of bourgeois propaganda is communist propaganda, the basic tenets of which were formulated and practiced by K. Marx and F. Engels. These tenets were elaborated and creatively developed in Lenin’s works and were most fully presented in What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social Democrats, Our Program, What Is To Be Done?, The Attitude of the Workers’ Party Toward Religion, and “Left-wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder.

Communist propaganda is a scientifically based system of intellectual activity elaborated by the Communist Party. Under the guidance of the Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist ideology and politics are disseminated through propaganda, with the aim of educating, training, and organizing the masses. The character of communist propaganda is determined by the character of the working class. Its interests, which coincide with those of all the toiling people, are expressed in Marxist-Leninist ideology and in the politics of the Communist Party. The content of communist propaganda is determined by several basic principles: a strictly scientific quality, partiinost’ (party spirit), a close relationship with reality, and unity of propaganda and organizational work. Communist propaganda has a number of social functions. It links the Communist Party with the working class and with all the toiling people and unites scientific socialism, as well as the ideological and theoretical activity of the party, with the working-class movement and the revolutionary and transforming activity of the masses. Communist propaganda unifies and organizes systematic communication among the various national vanguards of the working-class, communist, and democratic movements. Under socialism, it unites and establishes communication among all the classes, nations (natsii, nations in the historical sense), and social groups in society, as part of the process of their creative revolutionary activity. Thus, communist propaganda enables all of these groups to coordinate their actions and exchange experience and information on the problems and results of their struggles. Communist propaganda expresses the opinion of the working class and the toiling people and voices their interests and needs. It exposes the illusions and lies of bourgeois and revisionist propaganda and spreads the truth about socialist society.

At the level of society as a whole, the Communist Party, the socialist state, and the public organizations of the toiling masses act as the organizers of communist propaganda, which is one of the means by which the party directs the revolutionary struggle and socialist and communist transformations. Through the active, purposeful influence of communist propaganda on the masses, the illusions of narrow, everyday consciousness and antiquated views and traditions are eliminated, and scientific ideas and a program of practical activity are affirmed. The requirements of the stage of development through which society is passing are more fully expressed, and the forms and tasks of propaganda change accordingly. Communist propaganda tries to arouse the toiling masses and every individual and draw them into the practical struggle to build socialism and communism. As a process of spreading the ideas of scientific socialism among the masses, propaganda includes two relatively independent stages that must be distinguished. There are two corresponding forms of activity—propaganda and agitation. In this context, “propaganda” refers to the dissemination of ideas and theoretical knowledge expressing the fundamental content of the ideology. By contrast, “agitation” refers to a more popularized presentation of a single idea that is especially urgent for the movement and that presents an immediate task demanding mass action.

Communist propaganda cannot be effective and cannot progress without regular, organized feedback—that is, the study of the intellectual needs and interests and the opinions and moods of the masses, as well as the study of changes in these factors under the impact of objective conditions and propaganda. At the present time such studies have attained particularly great significance because of the growing ideological maturity, competence, activity, and initiative of the masses, whose views and judgments are important not only as a means of assessing the effectiveness of propaganda and correcting the propaganda process but also as an important source of knowledge of the processes of social development and of how to elaborate forms for regulating them. In the system of communist propaganda feedback plays an important role in further democratizing socialist society. Feedback has also become more important as a result of the development of the mass media of propaganda and information, such as the press, radio, and television, in which there is only indirect communication with the audience.

A knowledge of the psychological mechanisms involved in the perception of propaganda is of great importance in increasing the effectiveness of propaganda. The perception of propaganda is determined by the audience’s system of attitudes, as well as by its selective evaluation of the information that has been presented. One of the conditions for effective propaganda is reinforcement of the ideas, knowledge, and opinions disseminated, through practical action by the masses. Therefore, it is essential for party propaganda to observe the principles of concreteness, objective analysis of social reality, demonstration of real accomplishments, and criticism of existing shortcomings and difficulties in achieving goals. The central task of communist propaganda is to instill in the toilers the Marxist-Leninist world view, lofty ideological and political qualities, and the norms of communist morality and to encourage conscious, creative participation by all in the process of the socialist and communist transformation of society. The degree to which these goals are realized is the overall criterion of the effectiveness of communist propaganda, and the general index of this effectiveness is the level of public activity of the masses.


Lenin, V. I. Chto delat’? Nabolevshie voprosy nashego dvizheniia. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Plekhanov, G. V. “Russkii rabochii v revoliutsionnom dvizhenii.” Soch., vol. 3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Iadov, V. Taina Izhi: Zametki o teorii i metodakh burzhuaznoi propagandy. Moscow, 1963.
Stepakov, V. I. Partiinoi propagande—nauchnye osnovy. Moscow, 1967.
Arbatov, G. A. Ideologicheskaia bor’ba v sovremennykh mezhdunarodnykh otnosheniiakh: Doktrina, melody i organizatsiia vneshnepoliticheskoi propagandy imperializma. Moscow, 1970.
Voprosy teorii i praktiki partiinoi propagandy. Moscow, 1971.
Voprosy teorii i metodov ideologicheskoi raboty, fascs. 1–2. Moscow, 1972–73.
Efimov, A. G., and P. V. Pozdniakov. Nauchnye osnovy partiinoi propagandy. Moscow, 1966.
Psikhologicheskaia voina (collection). Moscow, 1972. (Translated from Polish.)
Sherkovin, Iu. A. Psikhologicheskie problemy massovykh informatsionnykh protsessov. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Axis Sally
[Mildred Elizabeth Sisk, (1900–) or Rita Louise Zucca, (1912–)] Nazi broadcaster who urged American withdrawal from WWII. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 449]
Haw-Haw, Lord
(William Joyce, 1906–1946) British citizen becomes German propagandist in WWII. [Br. Hist.: NCE, 1435]
Tokyo Rose
(Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, 1916–) Japanese broadcaster who urged U.S. troops to surrender during WWII. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 449]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the organized dissemination of information, allegations, etc., to assist or damage the cause of a government, movement, etc.
2. such information, allegations, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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