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From my understanding of the history of USSR, it was successful enough to dominate in the ideology about events of 1910s-1920s on its territory. In particular, the official party doctrine, the books, the songs, the movies - everything would skew you towards the opinion that during the Civil War 1917-1922 the Red Army were heroes and their competitors, most prominently former Empire (White) Army were the evil forces only focused on returning the oppressor monarchy regime to power. Nowadays it is much easier to have an understanding that the truth is somewhat less primitive. Yet, for almost 70 years the USSR was able to maintain the image of the Civil War they wanted through any available media.

What I am interested in are comparable examples. Yes, the history is written by the victors, but sometimes that does not work too long. For example, Germany of 1930s-1940s is not a proper example, since it's pretty much a story of just one generation, even with one leader only. In contrast, USSR history spanned several generations with several somewhat diverse leaders.

So the requirements would be:

  • sustainable regime (several generations, preferably several leaders)
  • one-sided take at history, especially around the birth of the regime (they did this wrong, we did this right)
  • most of the country population takes this ideology to be the right one, especially those born to and nurtured by this regime
  • most of the historians agree that this ideology is extremely one-sided
  • the country admitted to having such a period in its history, at least in the people's consiousness

As you can see some of the requirements imply that such a regime won't have a freedom of speech. For this reason I am particularly interested in examples from the history of countries that have this virtue now, and such a history has already been accepted by the people of that very same country. Example does not have to come from the recent history.

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    Would North Korea fit what you are looking for? Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 10:12
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    It might just be a matter of opinion where "national myth" becomes "propaganda"....so it's possible this might be said of any country.
    – Spencer
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 11:43
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    As @Spencer said, I think we'd need some clarification for how this doesn't apply to the popular concepts of "France", "India", and "China", otherwise this seems far too broad. It would make a smashing school essay question though (arguably qualifying for everything is a plus there).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 13:06
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    I'd like to invite you to think about the wikipedia definition of the term "propaganda": "a form of influence designed to build social consensus". It does not talk about the veracity of the things the consensus is built around. At least implicitely, your question starts from the assumption that propaganda always spreads lies. But it is only a set of tools, regardless of whether their aim is to educate or to deceive. Also, calling a telling of the truth "a one-sided opinion" is one of the most effective tools to spread lies.
    – ccprog
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 13:17
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    I'm kind of reluctant to close - while I am well known for hating long comment strings, this is an example where I think someone could assemble a good answer out of the comments, add some references (many of which are found in the comments) and we'd have a good Q&A that might be useful as a reference for someone sometime (and pick up some good reputation for those whocare)
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 14:11

2 Answers 2

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Religious, political and more generally cultural ideas promoted by centralized states qualify to a large degree as propaganda in the modern sense, the one that is usually applied to the Soviet Union. Thus, ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, the Hellenistic and Roman empires, up to Christian Romans (Byzantines), and the other Christian states, the Muslim states from the beginning up to the present, the medieval European states, and modern states, European or not, all satisfy the definition.

The details of the definition (the "one-sidedness", dogmatism, compulsory character, etc) are very relative though.

In any case, Soviet and Nazi propaganda have a lot of religious traits that lack to some degree in the modern propaganda of less totalitarian or in democratic states, although modern nationalism has already in the 19th century anticipated the trend (and yes, across many generations and leaders).

In a way totalitarian states revive a sort of mythology, an obsession with origins and future (eschatology) that only religious thinking has expressed in the past.


The biggest problem with totalitarian propaganda is on the other hand its destructive and in a way revolutionary character. Homer and Lucretius were in a way propagandists, Athenian tragedians were promoting an Athenian cultural agenda, and all such ideas were transmitted across generations, and so forth.

But what is striking by comparison in the Communist and Nazi case is the so called "totalitarian" aspect, a sudden, brutal and total integration of all aspects of culture and communication under a simplistic, centralized and authoritarian will. But even such aspects may have some antecedence in ancient Egypt phenomena like the Akhenaton reform, under some Roman emperors, including Constantine, or Julian the Apostate, in China etc.

That said, one can still find something absolutely unique in modern totalitarian propaganda, in its extreme simplistic dogmas that try to replace not just religion but whole culture without actually having the means of its ambition. In this sense there are no many examples, and North Korea stays as an oddity.

I will also add (initially from a comment I made) that the best distinction between propaganda and the rest of culture is that "real" propaganda is a war weapon in the end, having an almost direct destructive goal, practically in a military sense. Other contents may happen to play this role, which in themselves are not propaganda (but art, religion, philosophy etc), but that doesn't dilute the distinction, on the contrary: not only the essential part of propaganda is nothing else but that, but in case of totalitarianism this core is close to the center of the ideology, which is also meant to have a destructive, disruptive or revolutionary effect, as part of a larger offensive action: ideology and propaganda become one in totalitarianism.

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  • I think the example of religion per se is quite satisfactory. Thanks!
    – SBF
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:25
  • @Ilya - Well, all is much more complex, subtle and terrible. Totalitarianism marks the end of religion in a way too, it's a complete new experiment which maximizes state violence to unprecedented scale but also an unprecedented ambition of "freeing" humanity of old dogmas and values that, amongst others, had the role of limiting violence.
    – cipricus
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:30
  • Well, depending on how it's painted, religion might have been quite tough on some socities as well.
    – SBF
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:38
  • @Ilya - If you look close into it a religion (Christianity, Islam) replaces another, plays the same role, and culturally may have extraordinary (literary for example) effects. Studying the Bible and the Kuran opens to new books and various ideas no matter the dogmatism. Nazis and Communists were reducing all text to a few phrases of Marx, Lenin and Hitler. Also, they are modern to the core, they want to create a new humanity, on scientific basis, in the direct sense, not metaphorically.
    – cipricus
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:42
  • @Ilya - And in case one of the ideas behind your question was about the sustainability of such regimes, the answer is negative. North Korea is not a proof of the success of Communism. The whole experiment is finished. - Policy and culture based on the Bible or the Koran may seem violent compared to democratic mores, but they were not necessarily so compared to those of the Romans, Assyrians, etc. (To give a small example: the Bible describes the anticipated sacrifice of Isaac, and that may seem violent, but it's in fact about forbidding sacrifice, which e.g. Greeks still rarely practiced.)
    – cipricus
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:53
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I'll try to put some of the comments, and my own thoughts, into an answer.

The problem with your question (and probably the reason for the downvotes) is that it assumes that propaganda is something unusual, even sinister. That is the common usage of the word, and the overt use of terms like Agitprop (agitation and propaganda) by the Communists or Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (department for public enlightenment and propaganda) by the Nazis reinforces the preconception. But fundamentally, propaganda is just media use to promote or discredit an ideology or religion.

Any society which lasts for more than a couple of years must teach their values to the next generation and reinforce those values in the currently active generation. If all goes well from the viewpoint of the society, the members will not even think of it as propaganda. They will think of it as the natural order of things, and any proposal for change is seen as evil -- enemy propaganda!

Consider, for a moment, the mutual incomprehension about healthcare systems between much of Europe and much of the US. Europeans fail to understand how a society can be just if a single illness can bring an individual to bankruptcy. Americans fail to understand how a society can be just if productive individuals are taxed a large part of their hard-earned income for redistribution to others who are not as productive.

If one does not believe that Americans are somehow genetically predisposed towards rugged individualism and Europeans are predisposed towards solidarity, then the difference must be found within their societies. It starts with the contents of history and civics classes in school, to the contents of news media which is supposed by large, institutional advertisers, to the things parents teach their children and priests teach their congregations.

Societies which are undergoing change or which have recently undergone change may not have the advantage that their values are seen as inevitable. On the other hand, they may have the advantage of active reformers or revolutionaries to promote those values, rather than acceptance bordering on apathy. But after a few decades, the same values which used to be revolutionary propaganda become unquestioned status quo.

The thing about Communism is that Communism failed as an ideology and as an economic system. It failed soon enough that the Communists never got into this comfy situation where their ideology gained unquestioning acceptance. (I know people who grew up in the second or third Communist-educated generation. They tell of jokes like "as long as they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.") Because Communism failed, it gets portrayed as what you call "extremely one-sided" and the country "admits as much." If Communism had not failed, it would not have admitted failure!

A generation ago, supporters of capitalist-style democracy believed that they had reached the end of history and some sort of endstate. History did prove them wrong, yet the capitalist propaganda is going strong.

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  • Thank you very much for your answer. I would argue though that while living in EU and US I've seen that there are indeed a lot of people who wholeheartedly believe in that EU and US healthcare systems correspondingly are justified. And yes, that can be supported by all media sources available. Yet, in case of USSR the media coverage on alternative view was non-existence, and together with (or due to) that the percentage of people with alternative opinion deep inside them was way lower than if speak about healthcare systems in the EU and US. That was my whole point.
    – SBF
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 16:55
  • Some of the EU kids grow in the families that stick to less tax pov, some of the US kids will have views that are more socialist-like than population on average. My assumption that in either case that would be more than 5-10% sample. Yet, in the USSR I doubt whether at least 1% of kids were thinking that maybe White Army was not pure evil thrown away by heroic Red forces. That's the difference, and that's example I am interested in. It's not about whether we call it ideology, propaganda, political myth etc. It's about its effect
    – SBF
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 17:00
  • How about the Brits and the belief in the justification of Empire? The Chinese while they still had an Emperor?
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 17:26
  • Not sure what you’re talking about, may as well be the case. Could you elaborate?
    – SBF
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 17:28
  • @Ilya, a large percentage of Brits believed in Empire. Now they don't. I couldn't say if there were less than 3% critics, but the average Tommy Atkins probably had no problem with it. Similarly, Chinese believed in monarchy, now they don't.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 17:52

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