Racism, Colonialism and the Communist Vision

Viktor Koretsky, "Africa Fights, Africa Will Win" 1968

Viktor Koretsky, “Africa Fights, Africa Will Win” 1968

For many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us, and work with us.  They were the only political group which was prepared to work with the Africans for the attainment of political rights and stake in society.  Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism.

–  Nelson Mandela

Over the last few months the relationship between the United States and Russia has grown tense.  Between the ongoing NSA/Ed Snowden saga, strongly enforced anti-gay and anti civil liberties laws by President Vladimir Putin, and concerns about terrorism at the Sochi Winter Olympics, one would get the impression that the Cold War didn’t really end in 1991.

Of course we all know the tension between the two countries goes back to the original start of the Cold War in 1947.  At that same time the Non-Aligned Movement in the colonial world and the American civil rights movement were both in their infancy.  The Soviet Union was looking for a way to communicate the message that the racial struggles of people of color worldwide were connected with the evils of capitalism and imperialism.  This would become one of the most enduring propaganda projects in Soviet history.

Ukrainian graphic designer Viktor Koretsky (1909–1998) created passionate political posters during this era that communicated the idea that communism and multiracial cooperation can work together against the global threat of greed and aggression.

Take for instance the poster above.  It signifies a black man “breaking” the chain, denoting the colonial struggles in Africa, as well as battling against Jim Crow in the United States.  Also, the man is looking towards his left, symbolizing a new direction towards communism.

Here are some of Koretsky’s most memorable posters, which also use symbols of breaking away from a struggle.

Viktor Koretsky, "You will not strangle the freedom of the Arab peoples" 1958

Viktor Koretsky, “You will not strangle the freedom of the Arab peoples” 1958

The struggle Koretsky is referring to here is the 1956 Suez Crisis, when Egypt decided to nationalize the Suez Canal and started building stronger ties with the Soviet Union and China.  The poster shows an Arab man trying to keep the hands of Britain and America from joining together (and taking back control of the Suez Canal).  The handcuffs symbolizing both American dollars and British pounds and the man looking sternly at the American hand.  This was a nod to Nasserism and Pan-Arabism.

Viktor Koretsky, "A Solid Peace for the World" 1965

Viktor Koretsky, “A Solid Peace for the World” 1965

This poster symbolizes a multiracial coalition looking right, or looking towards the West.  The Soviets wanted to stressed that all men were equal and to fight the “struggle” against capitalism together.  (The Soviets were way ahead of “United Colors” of Benetton!)

Viktor Koretsky and Evgeny Abezgus , "Equality" 1963

Viktor Koretsky and Evgeny Abezgus , “Equality” 1963

This is another symbol of racial equality and mutual respect in fighting against capitalism together.

Viktor Koretsky, "American Policy (Domestic/Foreign)" 1970

Viktor Koretsky, “American Policy (Domestic/Foreign)” 1970

Aggression and race rears its ugly head in this poster, demonstrating the communist vision of both domestic and foreign policy in the United States.  On the left a black man is beaten by the police during a civil rights protest.  On the right,  American soldiers looking over a dead body presumably during the Vietnam War.

Viktor Koretsky, "Justice American Style" 1970s

Viktor Koretsky, “Justice American Style” 1960

Here is another symbol of racial struggle, this time a black man about to be lynched with a rope resembling an American dollar sign.  The man is looking to his left (communism) for help.  It also imposes a larger conversation about how racism has supported capitalism during slavery.

Victor Koretsky, Untitled, c. 1960s.

Victor Koretsky, Untitled, c. 1960s.

A terrifying image of racism through the eyes of a young black person, who sees a Klansman and tears streaming down the face.

Viktor Koretsky, "Twins in Spirit and Blood" c.1960s

Viktor Koretsky, “Twins in Spirit and Blood” c.1960s

Koretsky equates American racism (Klansman) with the nuclear arms race (atom bomb).

Viktor Koretsky, "Freedom In America" c.1960

Viktor Koretsky, “Freedom In America” c.1970

A group of African-Americans chained in front of police with the backdrop of the New York City skyline and the home of Wall Street.  It is also symbolizes the hostile relationship between blacks and the police.  NYC’s Stop and Frisk policy comes to mind here.

Living in a Surveillance World

The NSA scandal is much bigger than the government having access to our communications.  This is really more about how our way of life and civil liberties are being invaded and have evolved over the last 60 years.  I remember reading George Orwell’s 1984 when I was in high school, thinking to myself if it was ever possible for a government to spy on its own citizens, and how much surveillance they are really doing.  Surveillance is not a new thing, of course.  The reality here is that governments have been spying on citizens for a long time.

Orwell’s classic was published at the advent of the Cold War and the intelligence age, when both the Soviets and Americans were not only spying on each other, but also on its own citizenry.  Whether the KGB was monitoring participants of the Hungarian Uprising or Joesph McCarthy was going after anyone with rumored Communist sympathies, the thought police rose to fame during this period.  J. Edgar Hoover took spying to a whole new level when he personally monitored people he didn’t like, such as Emma Goldman, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Black Panthers.

After the Cold War, government surveillance concerns didn’t spring up again until the September 11 attacks, when President Bush instituted the Patriot Act to gather intelligence from within the United States.  In 2011 President Obama signed in a four-year extension, which includes roving wiretapping and monitoring “lone wolf” terrorists.

So the NSA row doesn’t come as a surprise to me, but I can understand why it might surprise the rest of America.  Prior to this, it was just understood that government surveillance was only being done on so-called “bad people” trying to subvert the country. The NSA maintains that they are only monitoring terrorists and have allegedly thwarted “dozens of terrorist plots.”  But for some reason, they overlooked the terror plot by lone wolves Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  But, hey, what do I know?

Red flags went up for me back last October when Janet Napolitano gave a talk on Homeland Security’s role in protecting the nation from cyber attacks.  When asked about her own habits in protecting her online presence, she simply stated that she didn’t use email.  She claims it’s for “a whole host of reasons.”  But I guess we all know why now.

I use social media a lot, so I understand that what you put out in public is public.  But the email and phone hacking of ordinary citizens gives us all an extra dose of uneasiness since these communication tools are suppose to be more private.  Even the hacking of Blackberrys – apparently the most secure mobiles on the market – during the 2009 G20 summit in London is unnerving.  If anything, the emergence of personal technology has only made it easier for the government to monitor anyone.

Regarding Ed Snowden, is he a hero or a traitor?  It is still too soon to call, but the U.S. media smear campaign is just as unnerving.  If you only follow the American press, you would think Snowden was a narcissistic, high school dropout/spy for the Chinese with an overly paid government contract job.  It’s funny how quick the media forgot that Obama’s administration was monitoring them too.

Will the recent disclosure change America’s personal online and phone habits? Probably not – for now.  Will Obama stop doing this kind of surveillance? Probably not – for now.  Maybe for now we can begin to have the discussion about the future of surveillance and protection of civil liberties for everyone.

In the meantime, while Obama believes the War on Terror is over, does this mean this is the beginning of the War on Surveillance?