Red Army Heroes
In 1919, playwright and revolutionary Pavel Arsky published his one-act play “For the Cause of the Red Soviets”. The play details one fateful evening in the lives of a family in which the father is a Soviet commander who is currently away from home, fighting in the civil war. It served as a serious piece of propaganda for the Red Army, as it painted the White Army as a group of brutal murderers whose main targets were women, children, and the elderly.
The play focuses mostly on Darya, the wife of the Communist Nikifor Rusanov, and his sister Tanya, who is engaged to another Communist. Nikifor and Tanya’s fiancé are both away fighting with the Red Army, while the women remain home with Darya’s children and Tanya’s grandfather, Agafon. Tanya grows increasingly worried that the White Army will arrive and capture or kill them, while Darya tries to reassure her. However, Tanya’s suspicions were correct, and both Darya and Agafon are killed, while Tanya is flogged and the children are terrorized. Nikifor and members of the Red Army arrive on the scene to late to intervene, and instead swear vengeance on the Whites, while also fighting for the liberation of the lower classes, even if the cost is the price of their own lives.
This play inspires very strong feelings in its audience. The White Army is painted as brutal monsters who like to torture innocents before slaughtering them. The audience empathizes with the Red Army, who seeks only to liberate the oppressed and end up losing everything in the process. The physical violence against Nikifor’s family is symbolic for the crushing oppression that the poor and working class in Russia felt at the hands of the ruling class. This play would have served as a most important piece of propaganda for the Communist cause, making it a priceless piece of revolutionary culture.
“For the Cause of the Red Soviets” is important to revolutionary culture because it showcases the sentiments that the Communists wanted the common people to feel. It uses art to persuade an audience that the White Army is evil personified, and only through support of the Red Army will they ever feel freedom.
Source: Arsky, Pavel. “For the Cause of the Red Soviets”. In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, edited by James von Geldern and Richard Stites, 22-29. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
September 21, 2015 @ 8:54 pm
Thanks for writing about my favorite agitational skit from the Civil War! I agree that the play must have aroused strong feelings from the audience. It also must have resonated with people’s experience, otherwise it would not have been so effective.
September 21, 2015 @ 9:25 pm
It is interesting that you mention the Whites being painted as savages and murderers. I feel like the Soviet Union used their propaganda to an extremely efficient effect to cast their enemies in a negative light and prop themselves up as the ultimate savior, not just with the Whites but also with enemies such as the Nazis.
September 21, 2015 @ 11:46 pm
It’d be interesting to see how exaggerated the portrayals of the White Army were because it seems it struck a nerve with a lot of people and became a powerful tool in motivating the audience to take the side of the Red Army. The comparison between the Red Army and the people is interesting and a great way to get the people to sympathize with your cause.
September 22, 2015 @ 1:02 am
Fantastic article. The Soviets were masterminds at propaganda and this is just another great example of their expertise. I believe a great comparison to this type of propaganda was American WWII propaganda against the Japanese and Germans. It would be interesting to do a case study comparing the two. Overall, great job.
September 22, 2015 @ 1:25 am
Great reflection on the play! Definitely a good source of propaganda used to sway the public opinion towards Communism. Also a good example of how cultural revolution and how society supporting communism furthered the revolution through propaganda! Good post!
September 22, 2015 @ 2:14 am
Demonization of one’s enemies has been a key element of war propaganda since writing was invented and will likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future. What’s unusual about this piece though is that it’s not as hopeful for the Reds as propaganda traditionally is. Unlike the norm that portrays victory as an inevitability, as long as everyone does their duty that is, this reads more as a call for vengeance regardless of the outcome of the war which is atypical to say the lease.
September 22, 2015 @ 3:38 am
I agree with the fact that this piece is extremely biased in its promotion of the reds and detriment to the Whites. The appeal to pathos in this piece is very prominent, and it uses emotional feelings of the reader to be swayed to hate the Whites and of course support the Reds who were the good guys and attempted to save the family. There is injustice with how the Whites are not properly represented in this piece, but it wouldn’t be propaganda if it was true. Very interested to see this propaganda as a story and not as a photo or image.