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.
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.
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!)
This is another symbol of racial equality and mutual respect in fighting against capitalism together.
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.
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.
A terrifying image of racism through the eyes of a young black person, who sees a Klansman and tears streaming down the face.
Koretsky equates American racism (Klansman) with the nuclear arms race (atom bomb).
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.