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B&W Graphics:

Black and White Americans in the Soviet Caricatures during the Cold War
An American asks the Soviet radio: ‘What is a Soviet engineer’s salary?’ After a long silence the radio answers: ‘But then the Americans lynch Negroes!’1
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Белые и черные американцы в советской карикатуре периода Холодной войны
Статья посвящена исследованию той роли, которую играли репрезентации американского расизма в конструировании Врага визуальной пропагандой Холодной войны.

С одной стороны, образы черных американцев являлись частью советского антиамериканизма. Сама сущность советской идеологии, трактовка СССР как «отечества мирового пролетариата» предполагала наличие не только «плохих» американцев, но и «хороших». В период Холодной войны последние включали в себя «рабочий класс», «борцов за мир»; важное место среди «хороших американцев» занимали чернокожие. Образы афроамериканцев с началом Холодной войны становятся значимым элементом визуальной пропаганды. Жанр карикатуры позволял сделать границу между «хорошими» и «плохими» особенно очевидной. Помимо контраста черного и белого цветов, использовались и другие содержательные и собственно визуальные средства для того, чтобы, во-первых, противопоставить «хороших» американцев «плохим», во-вторых, показать сходство афроамериканцев с прочими «хорошими американцами», а также с каноническим образом советского человека. Среди этих «символических пограничников» – каноны телесности (например, среди чернокожих американцев отсутствуют слишком худые или слишком толстые), семейные устои, гендерные порядки, иерархия ценностей и др.

С другой стороны, советская картина мира – как и любая другая, построенная на принципах Модерности – в значительной степени определялась оппозицией «Запад и Все Остальное». Поэтому для репрезентаций афроамериканцев в карикатуре характерны и те тропы ориентализма, на которые обращается внимание в постколониальных исследованиях (в том числе образ «благородного дикаря» и скрытый расизм).

This well-known Soviet joke expresses probably the most essential feature of the representations of the African-Americans in the Cold War propaganda: these images were intended to serve as the important accusation to the US capitalism and therefore to legitimate the Soviet politics, both domestic and international. In the propaganda black-and-white picture of the world, the Black Americans’ images were exploited to symbolize the Good, meanwhile the White ones in the main – the Evil.

The paper is devoted to the studying of the role which the representations of the American racism played in constructing the Enemy with the help of the satirical graphics of the Cold War. The aim of this study is to find out what means were used by the caricaturists to provide the differences between the ‘good Americans’ and the ‘bad ones’. The materials consist of the caricatures which were published in the satirical magazine Krokodil (Crocodile), in the newspaper Pravda (Truth), as well as in the albums of the caricatures and the satirical posters during the Cold War.

Let’s clear up the methodological approaches of the study. First, race is considered as a social construct. Racism is a discourse which explains the social differences with help of the ‘natural’ ones. These differences cannot be chosen or shed; they are perceived to be a product of the forces beyond an individual’s control (Manzo 1996: 19). Race is believed to be a destiny; meanwhile the racism is caused not by the color of skin but by the power relations: according to David Goldberg, ‘…race in its various variations has served not only to rationalize already established social relations but to order them’ (Goldberg 1993: 45). It is one of the classifying discourses (Goldberg 1993: 49), which proclaims that the division on the races has a priority over other divisions (meanwhile nationalism proclaims the priority of the division on the nations, feminism – on the genders, Marxism – on the classes, and so on).

Second, it can be heuristic in the studies of the problem to use Fredrik Barth’s ideas on the boundaries and identity (Barth 1969). According to him, the key factor of collective identity is not the real differences between cultures, but the way of drawing the symbolic borders between Ours and Theirs; the most important part of the border are diacritics (Barth 1969: 14) or symbolic border guards (Armstrong 1982) (e. g., dress, language, house-form, or general style of life, as well as basic values orientations). Racism exploits a color of skin, shape of eyes, and other biological characteristics as an effective marker between social groups. Obviously, the same function of a symbolic border guard is carried out by the representations of the race order of Ours and that of Theirs. These representations play an important role in the collective identity because of their obviousness.

Third, the Enemy may be interpreted as a social construct as well (Aho 1994). The image of the enemy is formed by its functions: (1) to draw the boundary between Ours and Theirs for strengthening the collective identity; (2) to prove the moral and military supremacy of Ours over Theirs and thus to contribute to the Enemy’s defeat; and (3) to strengthen the inner social order, to mark the symbolic borders within the society of Ours (Рябов 2007: 51).

The Cold War was perceived on the both sides of the Iron Curtain as a duel of the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR. The division of the humankind between two poles produced the Manichean picture of the world, according to which both of them were believed to be the Enemy № 1 for each other. Since the mid 1940s ‘America’ became constructed largely through its opposition to the Soviet Union (Sharp 2000: 73). The construction of Otherness simultaneously presents a normative image of identity – an image of an idealized American society (Sharp 2000: 29). As for the Soviet identity, the image of the ‘capitalistic surrounding’ always played the very important role in it. Constructing of Sovietness implied the making the image of the enemy; the Enemy was considered to be everywhere. The criticism of the main Enemy in the Cold War period, the American imperialism, got the considerable impact after ‘The plan on reinforcement of the Anti-American propaganda’, which was adopted in 1949 (Фатеев 1999: 221). The satirical graphics occupied a significant place in the Soviet propaganda from its origins (Bonnell 1997, Голубев 2003); as Kevin McKenna points out, ‘the political cartoon is capable of disseminating views more effectively than almost any other propaganda vehicle’ (McKenna 2001: XXIV).

The images of the enemies in the Soviet and the American propaganda during the Cold War have been interpreted as ‘mirror images’ since 1960s (Frank 1967: 26). At the same time one should take into account the differences in the identity politics of two propaganda machines. As for the Soviet one, the interpretation of the USSR as the ‘Fatherland of the world proletariat’ generated the picturing of not only ‘the bad Americans’, but also ‘the good ones’ (including working classes and ‘the fighters for peace’).2 The Black people occupied a notable place among the latter.

It’s noteworthy that compassion with the Black people had a long tradition in Russia (Blakely 1986: 28–32). It played a significant role in the collective identity, being incorporated in the accusations of the West, which was considered as selfish and arrogant unlike selfless Mother Russia. After the October Revolution this theme got a class dimension, participating in the criticism of the colonial system (Blakely 1986: 105–108).3 Grigorii Aleksandrov’s film Tsirk (Circus, 1936) was especially influential for representations of the American racism (though its main target was indeed Nazism). This film allowed visualizing the American racists’ images, as well as the pictures of Black people’s suffering. The very impressive image of a Russian woman which is caring a Black baby from this movie makes to remind the Mother Russia herself (Fig. 1).

The Black Americans’ images became the essential part of the visual propaganda since the beginning of the Cold War. Making the American enemy meant to represent the American racial order as different from the Soviet one, first;4 inferior and unnatural, second; a result of an unnatural political and social order, third. The very important task of the propaganda discourse was to connect the racism to the basic traits of American social order, including individualism, alienation, selfishness, class inequality, exploitation, imperialism, militarism.5

Essentialization of the enmity is one of the discursive strategies of the making the Enemy. To provide that point the propaganda entailed the USA (the current Enemy) to other enemies of USSR/Russia: the current Enemy was a kind of emanation of the Eternal Enemy. The propagandists actively exploited the tradition of picturing the Enemy № 1 of the previous epoch, the Nazism; they put the new Enemy in the common and clear system of moral and political landmarks.6 The representations of racism occupied an important place in the proving this idea. Joseph Stalin, reacting to Winston Churchill’s Fulton speech, qualified Nazi race theory as an ideological basis for the idea of the Anglo-Saxon race’s supremacy (Сталин 1946). These attitudes were expressed quite vividly in the visual propaganda.7

Thus race discrimination was considered to be one of the main vices of the American society. Unmasking the US propaganda’s ideas of the ‘free world’ and ‘democracy’,8 the Soviet press rebuffed ‘hypocritical’ Western charges of human rights violations (Becker 1999: 115). The cartoonists pictured the various forms of racism: the Black people’s poverty, unemployment, segregation, a lack of access to education and medical care (Fig. 2).9 The scenes of lynching became especially familiar to the Soviet readers (Fig. 3).10 The racists’ terror was supported by the authorities, which were embodied by a stupid policeman and a corrupt judge.11 The most popular symbol of the racial order in the USA was image of a KKK-member in the uniform (Fig. 4),12 which appeared with swastika already at a caricature in 1925.13 Even Lady Liberty was pictured in KKK garments in a number of cartoons.14

Another way to essentialize enmity is to put it not only in the present and in the past, but in the future too. To provide that point the propaganda included the young generation of the Enemy № 1 in the representations of the racism. The photograph named ‘Their successors’ picturing children in the KKK uniform was accompanied by the comment ‘Old gangsters and burglars are preparing their successors’.15 The cartoon ‘Our Johnny is born in a nightgown!’ implied that the American racism has almost genetic nature: a newborn baby has KKK garments.16 Another cartoon ‘Our Harry looks like his daddy!’ pictured how a young white boy, a son of a KKK-member, was hanging a doll of a black boy; it’s noteworthy that this resemblance were generating the feelings of parental pride in her mother (Fig. 5).17 The last picture is significant also as an example of the representations of the American femininity. In representing Enemy’s womanhood, propaganda, on the one hand, treated US women as victims of capitalistic system and bourgeois gender order. On the other, to create a picture of total otherness of America implied to include women and children in the image of the enemy. That is why the propaganda tried often to defeminize the Enemy’s women through ascribing them cruelty and heartlessness.

Gender discourse played an important role in the Cold War. Cynthia Enloe points out that the Cold War was, besides the superpowers’ rivalry, a series of contests over the definitions of masculinity and femininity (Enloe 1993: 18–19).18  Gender discourse indeed was a battlefield for imposing the audience around the world which modes of masculinity and femininity were to be considered as correct, normal. While American propaganda portrayed women of its major Other as asexual, unattractive, and submissive (Sharp 2000: 101; Рябов 2005), the Soviet rhetoric often represented the American women as profligate, heartless, reactionary and not bright (Рябов 2004, 2007: 202–206). Their racist attitudes supplemented a picture of moral deviation.

Another notable example of the intersections of gender and racial discourses, the cartoon ‘Othello in Texas style’, depicted a black Othello, which was strangled by a white Desdemona under the theatre audience’s cheering.19 This picture, probably, was intended to testify absurdity of racism through absurdity of American gender order – it annihilates something eternal and basic, i.e. the hierarchy of power relations in gender dimension (indirectly the picture testifies on the patriarchal background of the Soviet gender order, at least in the author’s viewing).

The genre of caricature allowed making more visible the boundaries between the ‘good Americans’ and the ‘bad ones’. Apart the contrast of black and white colors, the cartoonists used other visual means; canons of body occupied important place among them. The Soviet iconography praised two modes of the body of Ours, a ‘proletarian’ and a ‘peasant’, which may be treated as the antipodes of two modes of the Enemy’s body. The Enemies, both external and internal, were pictured as fat (capitalists, kulaks) or skeletal (White Guard officers, Mensheviks, Trotskists, dissidents) (Лазари де, Рябов 2007: 40–41). A normal bodyness of ‘good Americans’ in the caricature was intended to display not only juxtaposition to the ‘bad ones, but also the resemblance with the canonic image of the Soviet man.

In keeping with the demands of the Marxism-Leninism the propaganda emphasized the resistance of the oppressed (Fig. 6).20 Paul Robeson became one of the symbols of resistance of the Black people and their struggle for the human rights (Fig. 7).21 At the same time by my opinion, the leading tendency of the representations of African Americans was their victimization: a reader of the Soviet press could hardly believe that they would become free without the help of the communists. As Allison Blakely points out, ‘most negroes have continued to view their situation primarily in racial terms, while the communists insist that it must be perceived primarily as a matter of class division’ (Blakely 1986: 119).

Summing up the study, I would like to emphasize the point – the images of the Black Americans serve as a part of the Soviet Antiamericanism. African Americans were perceived as much more ‘African’, than ‘American’. One should take into account an instrumental character of the Black people’s representations in the Cold War, which were caused by a number of factors, including the images of Ours and the Enemies.


Голубев А.В. (2003) Межвоенная Европа глазами советской карикатуры // Европа. 2003. № 3.

Лазари А. де, Рябов О.В. (2007) Русские и поляки глазами друг друга: Сатирическая графика. Иваново.

Рябов О.В. (2004) ‘Их нравы’: Американская семья в зеркале советской пропаганды ‘холодной войны’ // Семейные узы: Модели для сборки. Под ред. С. Ушакина. М. Кн. 2.

Рябов О.В. (2005) ‘Красный кошмар’: Репрезентации советской семьи в американском антикоммунизме периода ‘холодной войны’ (1946–1963). // Семья: между насилием и толерантностью / Под ред. М.А. Литовской, О.В. Шабуровой. Екатеринбург.

Рябов О.В. (2007) ‘Россия-Матушка’: Национализм, гендер, война в России XX века. Stuttgart.

Сталин И.В. (1946) О речи Черчилля: Ответ корреспонденту ‘Правды’ // Правда. 1946. 14 марта.

Фатеев А.В. (1999) Образ врага в советской пропаганде 1945–1954 гг. М.

Aho J.A. (1994) This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy. Seattle.

Armstrong J. (1982) Nations before Nationalism. Chapel Hill.

Barth F. (1969) Introduction // F. Barth (Ed.) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organisation of Culture Difference. London; Bergen.

Becker J.A. (1999) Soviet and Russian Press Coverage of the United States: Press, Politics and Identity in Transition. Basingstoke; New York; Oxford.

Blakely A. (1986) Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought. Washington.

Bonnell V.E. (1997) Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin. Berkeley.

Clark S. (2000) Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West. Carbondale.

De Hart J.S. (2001) Containment at Home: Gender, Sexuality, and National Identity in Cold War America // Rethinking Cold War Culture. P.J. Kuznick, J. Gilber (Eds.) Washington.

Enloe C.H. (1993) The Morning after: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War. Berkeley.

Frank J.D. (1967) Sanity and Survival: Psychological Aspects of War and Peace. New York.

Goldberg D.T. (1993) Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Oxford; Cambridge.

McKenna K.J. (2001) All the Views Fit to Print: Changing Images of the U.S. in Pravda Political Cartoons, 1917–1991.

Manzo K.A. (1996) Creating Boundaries: The Politics of Race and Nation. Boulder.

Sharp J.P. (2000) Condensing the Cold War: Reader's Digest and American Identity. Minneapolis.


Fig. 1. Кадр из фильма «Цирк» (реж. Г. Александров, 1936).

Fig. 2. В. Горяев. Черный ребенок и темные личности (Крокодил. 1956. № 27. С. 16);

Fig. 3. Б. Пророков. Линч (Крокодил. 1950. № 3. С. 9)

Fig. 4. Ю. Ганф. ‘Что-то, нарядившееся человеком’ (Крокодил. 1954. № 19. С. 11).

Fig. 5. Ю. Ганф. ‘Посмотрите, наш Гарри – вылитый отец!’ (Крокодил. 1958. № 35. С. 10).

Fig. 6. Б. Ефимов. <Эй, что вы там делаете?> (Крокодил. 1950. № 19. С. 6).

Fig. 7. К. Ротов. <Поль Робсон> (Крокодил. 1956. № 22. С. 1)

Fig.1 Fig. 2

Fig.3 Fig. 4



Fig. 7

1 http://www.ruthenia.ru/folklore/shmeleva1.htm

2 On the other side, that legitimized the searches for the internal Enemies in the Soviet society.

3 М. Черемных. Черные стали красными (Крокодил. 1923. № 15. С. 728–729); Г. Пик. Колониальная логика (Крокодил. 1929. № 48. С. 7).

4 See pictures on the ‘friendship among all races in the USSR’, e.g.: В. Горяев. Дети разных народов (Крокодил. 1950. № 15. С. 1).

5 И. Семенов. Господин Капитал и сопровождающие его лица (Крокодил. 1961. № 27. С. 9).

6 One could find the analogous ways of the representing of the Enemy on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain: ‘Cold war intellectuals connected the new enemy of communism to the old enemy of fascism by characterizing both as totalitarian’ (Clark 2000: 37).

7 E.g.: Ю. Ганф. Поправка к Дарвину (Крокодил. 1952. № 11. С. 9).

8 E.g.: В. Горяев. Открывая ‘Америку’ (Крокодил. 1948. № 13. С. 3); А. Житомирский. Открывая ‘Америку’ (Крокодил. 1949. № 4. С. 16).

9 Г. Вальк. Черные и белые (Крокодил. 1947. № 6. С. 2); К. Крылов. Равноправие по-американски (Крокодил. 1949. № 1. С. 6); В. Горяев. Черный ребенок и темные личности (Крокодил. 1956. № 27. С. 16); Б. Ефимов. Пошли навстречу (Крокодил. 1956. № 11. С. 16); Б. Лео. Образование по-американски (Крокодил. 1957. № 29. С. 12); Н. Лисогорский. Спорт и жизнь (Американские картинки) (Крокодил. 1957. № 3. С. 2).

10 E.g.: Б. Пророков. Линч (Крокодил. 1950. № 3. С. 9).

11 Н. Лисогорский. ‘Блюститель порядка’ (Крокодил. 1954. № 1. С. 11); А. Житомирский. Хижина дяди Сэма (Крокодил. 1949. № 16. С. 13); Б. Лео. Аксельбанты алабамской полиции (Крокодил. 1961. № 16. С. 6).

12 E.g.: Ю. Ганф. ‘Что-то, нарядившееся человеком’ (Крокодил. 1954. № 19. С. 11).

13 Хулиганство по-европейски (Крокодил. 1925. № 28. С. 2); see also a cartoon of 1932 in: McKenna 2001: 67.

14 E.g.: Ю. Ганф. Вид с моря… и ближе (Крокодил. 1961. № 28. С. 16).

15 Их смена (Крокодил. 1949. № 6. С. 7).

16 Е. Шукаев. Наш Джонни родился в сорочке! (Крокодил. 1964. № 7. C. 16).

17 Ю. Ганф. ‘Посмотрите, наш Гарри – вылитый отец!’ (Крокодил. 1958. № 35. С. 10).

18 Such rivalry existed in various forms: e.g., Barbie doll as a symbol of American womanhood of 50s could hardly to get popularity without the representations of the Soviet modes of femininity and masculinity in the propaganda of the Cold War (De Hart 2001: 124).

19 К. Крылов. Отелло в техасском стиле (Крокодил. 1968. № 38. С. 7).

20 Б. Ефимов. <Эй, что вы там делаете?> (Крокодил. 1950. № 19. С. 6).

21 Л. Бродаты. И голос певца подымает класс… (Крокодил. 1950. № 3. С. 3); К. Ротов. <Поль Робсон> (Крокодил. 1956. № 22. С. 1); Б. Ефимов. Полюшко – Полю! (К приезду П. Робсона в Советский Союз) (Крокодил. 1958. № 24. С. 2).

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