Since the war, German historians have studied the problem of propaganda with commendable thoroughness. They have given lengthy and elaborate definitions, as Friedrich Tönnies has done, and engaged in fruitful work in concrete areas, as for example Friedrich Schönemann’s study of the art of mass propaganda in the United States of America.
We could also have studied the problems of propaganda and mass organization in an earlier period, and one closer to home, namely the origins of the German worker’s movement in the middle of the last century and its gradual drift towards Marxism. And the struggles of the Social Democrats, who emerged as victors from a struggle with the all-powerful Bismarck and who triumphed over Karl Peters, the German African hero, must certainly open our eyes to the nature, dangers, possibilities, and necessities of propaganda. The intelligentsia, meanwhile, lived in its own world of illusion as life passed them by. They do much the same today, although the tremendous power of the masses is displayed before their very eyes.
Such raw expressions of power are always springing up and falling apart when they do not succeed in seizing power. But their desperate power is often based on inescapable necessity.
The Social Democrats were a group of men who achieved political power through the abundant resources of the German working class. Communism fought to be their successors. Revolution will always strike at the heart of a state when bureaucrats, ignorant desk politicians, or generals believe that they can set naked force against effective propaganda. This is not sufficient, especially when the nation’s intellectuals are neutral or, as was the case in Russia in 1905, are sympathetic toward the revolution. If propaganda tactics are properly used, they will have a subtler, deeper, and therefore stronger effect on the human will than will blatant oppression. Propaganda is the art of exercising power without possessing the means of power; it is the secret through which the powerless can overcome the powerful when they rest too securely in their strength.
Marx and Engels began alone, as exiles without money in a foreign country. Lenin was alone in Switzerland, condemned to death. Mussolini was expelled from his social democracy as an agitator. Hitler was an unknown corporal with seven followers in 1918. In twelve years, he created the greatest mass movement in history, with which he conquered Bismarck’s state.
They were all poor, without property, alone. They had nothing but their heartfelt ideals. But these ideals, so fatal to some, but capable of so much more in others, would have been buried along with their poverty and extinguished with their lives had they not had the gift of inflaming, inciting, winning, and persuading others. They were not only idealists, but propagandists as well. As a result, they became great. They preached community, lived it, stirred the courageous, forced the common man to common labor. Their propaganda was the art of building community, their power was both actual and spiritual force.
There is something of the propagandist in everyone. We all have the feeling that we understand it. In reality, everyone uses propaganda; it is a manifestation of human community life. It is just as in politics. The barroom philosopher always knows what has to be done. The only thing missing with him, unfortunately, is the spiritual bond. Fundamentally, one may be so bold as to say that propaganda and politics are as accessible to the common man as to the intellectual. And the best propagandists are women.
They understand how to get “his” attention when they want to build a strong home, even when “he” isn’t so willing. A woman is the best propagandists of love and marriage.
Leading politicians often display unstable characteristics. The phrase “whims of the prima donna” applies not only to capricious women, but to many politicians as well. Examples are Julius Caesar whom the Romans called “regina” in mocking verse, and Napoleon, whose womanly breast drove doctors to distraction. His whims were the despair of those around him.
Effective propaganda is rarely a question of womanly inclinations or capriciousness as such. Often, an intuitive decision emerges with a surprising primitiveness of thought, as is clearly shown in the recently emerging harshness of manliness. Such thought is always instinctive, earthy, single-minded, intent on actions, never on so-called objective standards of observation. The objective observer, of course, is an intellectual who recognizes the apparent weakness of the opponent, and exploits it thoroughly. He sees the strength of the self-imposed limitations of a man of action as a weakness. This overlooks that fact that in politics, just as in the individual, there are two minds, one of action, and one of contemplation. Only one is publicly observable. No one is familiar with the other. The clarity, simplicity, and limited horizons of the working class, actually great naiveté and innocence in the Nietzschean sense, are disparagingly misinterpreted as peasant stupidity or cleverness, which city-dwellers take to be one and the same.
The ignorance of intellectuals in politics has shown itself throughout history. When Napoleon entered an academic competition in Lyon with an essay on human ideals, it did not win the prize that the poor lieutenant had longed for. Instead, it was scornfully judged to be “not worth looking at.” The same thing happens with many intellectually superior soldiers and politicians.
Only Caesar who, by calculation, was a democrat and remained so throughout his life has been admitted to the democratic pantheon of great heroes, and his clever work of propaganda on the Gallic Wars has become “world literature.”
Recently, he has had a successor. Bernard Shaw, the Irishman, praised Revolt in the Desert by the English Colonel Lawrence first, because he had to praise something English to maintain his popularity, and second, because Lawrence is, as a matter of fact, a good chap (and third, perhaps, because Colonel Lawrence made his English colleagues on the General Staff look stupid??). Literary circles compared the book to Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and called it one of the greatest works of literature (perhaps they were impressed by the English Colonel’s mocking judgments on the military?!).
In the popular criticism of today, no leading politicians fails to appear, in enemy propaganda, to be a perfect idiot, a coward, or a mere terrorist whose intelligence is so low that he must be secretly controlled from elsewhere. Lenin was portrayed as a sick criminal in middle class pamphlets, Hitler as a hangman and maniac in proletarian pamphlets, Mussolini as a bloody tyrant in class struggle pamphlets. Material intended for the masses is not so-called objective writing, but rather such hate-filled pamphlets and caricatures.
Caricature, misrepresentation, and one-sidedness appear to belong in propaganda.
To laugh at the enemy is as important as to fear his strength. The science of suggestion has, which is often dubious, found an accurate precept when it maintains that suggestion works most effectively in a state of excitement. Ridicule and fear are both sentiments and emotions that encourage effective suggestion. Ridicule gives the feeling of superiority, for when one laughs he is confident of victory. Fear, on the other hand, compels one to get to work at once because he believes he has perceived danger. Ridicule and fear, then, are two components of propaganda that are indispensable to its success.
Confidence in one’s cause and an absolute faith are further obvious requirements. Only a fool can hope to gain success for an idea in which he himself does not believe. “There is,” writes Goebbels, “only truth. Either we lie, in which case the enemy is right, or we tell the truth and everyone else lies. We believe that the truth is on our side with all the steadfastness of our blood.”
When an intellectual criticizes someone’s propaganda, his first point is not its simple, often vulgar language. He excuses that with a reference to the “people.” He also excuses the ridiculing or fear-provoking calumnies of the enemy, although he begins to speak of one-sided fanaticism, and inwardly holds the thesis that ‘to know all is to forgive all.” His greatest complaint concerns the perpetual repetition of certain goals, slogans, and catchwords.
He thinks assumed limitations are actual limitations, and says pityingly, “Well, he is after all only a propagandist…”
He then makes a few good “suggestions”: (1) one cannot take an absolute position, but rather one must say something good about the other side; (2) atrocity propaganda is not artistic. It offends the cultured; (3) one cannot always say the same thing, for that is boring.
If this brilliant intellectual became the head of a propaganda ministry, Bettman Hollweg’s fiasco in propaganda leadership during the war would be surpassed. He would resemble those fine patriots who tried to encourage the “people” in 1917 with speeches about the fatherland, but who achieved the opposite.
If one reverses the principles of the intelligent, well-meaning intellectual, he will have the secret of effective propaganda.
Believe completely in your cause, do not shrink from powerful emotions, unceasingly hammer the same thoughts into the minds of the masses.
The necessity of conviction and of the methods of emotional arousal have been psychologically explained. One-sidedness is indispensable because the confusion around us is so great that every impression will quickly be shoved aside by a new one. Nothing is forgetful as the masses. Something can have appeared in a thousand newspapers and have been talked about by the millions, but a few months later it will be completely forgotten. Scarcely one per cent of those selected from the masses will recall the name of important personages of the dates and events.
Among the members of a large party one can observe that even the majority of those engaged in propaganda forget the most vital slogans in six months or a year unless the highest officials of the party repeat them over and over again. If those involved have such poor memories, others will not believe anything unless it is repeated to them. Life is a strong opponent. Only that which is itself lively, headed towards victory, and constantly present can overcome a hostile world. Criminal psychology has learned from practical experience that the testimony of a single witness is highly untrustworthy. There is no trial in which the witnesses say the same thing, even though they may all be disinterested and possess characters of the highest integrity. Often the assertions of witnesses who have experienced the same event are entirely contrary to each other. It is not surprising, then, that propaganda, which is only a substitute, must repeat the same thing over and over again to have any effect, since actual experiences are so poorly and imperfectly remembered. Its secret is simplicity and perseverance.