'Mirovoj agressor' and 'Evil Empire' - political propaganda in the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War period - a linguistic approach

Andrea Steinbach (University of Regensburg)

"Propaganda must be total." According to Jacques Ellul, author of the classic text "Propaganda- The Formation of Men's Attitudes" (1973), for propaganda to work it must encompass every aspect of people's life. What most of the channels for conveying propaganda have in common is that they communicate their respective messages by means of words. As language is not only a tool we use to express ourselves but also a key to the world that shapes our perceptive processes, it is an important propaganda tool.

In recent history there was a period when propaganda played a major role in the political arena, when a war was fought not with weapons but with words: the Cold War period. The two major opponents of that period, the Soviet Union and the United States employed propaganda excessively to agitate and to construct an enemy identity in the consciousness of their respective peoples. Interestingly, the methods employed by the two superpowers in this war of words, though on the opposed ends of the political spectrum, were surprisingly similar.

Many of these methods like stereotyping, bandwagon appeals, the use of glittering generalities and scapegoating (Corcoran and Ivie even speak about victimage rituals in this context) are relatively well researched today. But all these methods for representing the opponent according to the good guys vs. bad guys scheme are based on underlying linguistic phenomena like the metaphorical construction of identity, the specific use of pronouns and prefixes, mode, aspect and modality.

The subject of the present analysis is so called "canonical propaganda texts", (Weiss, 1995), that is texts, which possess the qualities of [+/- propagandistic language] and [+/- propagandistic text] in their positive variety each. This means a concentration on political texts, "genres of governance" (Campbell/ Jamieson, 1990), slogans, addresses by representatives of government or party and so on.

Proceeding from Zybatow's linguistic concept of the stereotype (1995) the construction of the Soviet image of the United States by means of "newspeak" (Weiss, 1986), the Soviet propaganda language, is examined. An extensive corpus of political speeches of the post-war period is used to illustrate the typical features of "newspeak". Selected speeches (e.g. concerning the KE-007 incident) will be compared to their American counterparts of the same time. It will become clear that the Soviet propaganda language did not consist only of monolithic unchangeable and interchangeable rhetorical clichés but that it developed and changed and that many aspects of this apparent development are inherent in all propaganda discourses of the time - in democratic and totalitarian societies.


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