The Invisible Management of the Great Society

Chapter 3

World War I: Baptism of Fire

World War I was the first conflict that was referred to as total.” Not only did it take place at the world level but also, and more especially, it was a conflict in which political, economic and ideological warfare be came as decisive as the operations on the battlefield. Inspiring the loyalty of citizens to the national cause became a task of top priority. Not only were more and more sectors of the national economy being called upon to contribute to the war effort, but the civilian population had begun to be more and more directly affected in their daily lives by this new form of confrontation. To the blockades and other embargoes were added mustard-gas attacks from the air. As the philosopher Walter Benjamin put it in a little-known text that he wrote to counter the theses of Ernst Jünger on the aesthetic of the new war and its warriors: When the distinction no longer exists between civil population and the fighting forces — a distinction effectively abolished by gas warfare — the most important foundation of international law also disappears.”1

German troops on a train heading towards France, 1914. Graffiti reads:“Trip to Paris”, “See you later on the Boulevard” etcGerman troops on a train heading towards France, 1914. Graffiti reads:“Trip to Paris”, “See you later on the Boulevard” etc

Propaganda earned its first stripes as a technique of managing mass opinion, but also as a means of putting pressure on foreign governments. As a sample: two photos on the desk of an intelligence officer, one showing the corpses of soldiers being transported to the rear lines to be buried, and the second the remains of dead horses being sent to a factory to have oil and soap extracted. The officer composes the caption Cadavers of soldiers leaving for the soap factory” and sends the photos off to the press. No, this is not a scenario from Timisoara in December 1989 in the days preceding the fall of the Romanian dictator Ceauşescu. It happened


in the spring of 1917 in London, in the offices of the Department of Information. The officer who tampered with the two photos seized from a German prisoner was a certain General Charteris. His objective as to persuade China to join the allied camp. The experts in propaganda and counter-propaganda at the time would recount after the war that the desecration of cadavers by the German army was intended to deeply offend the Chinese and their cult of the dead, and in fact this dispatch is said to have weighed heavily in their decision to abandon their neutrality.2

A good propaganda policy probably saved a year of war, and this meant the saving of thousands of millions of pounds and probably a million lives,” was the judgment of the London Times on October 31, 1918, eleven days before the armistice. But it should not be read necessarily as just one more example of official persuasion during the first global conflict, for this conclusion was in fact shared by many civilians and military people throughout the allied countries, and even by their adversaries, inundated as they were by tracts launched behind their lines inciting them to desert. One of the last bulletins of the eighteenth Army of the Kaiser’s Germany reads:

On the front of leaflet propaganda the enemy has defeated us. We have come to realize that in this life-and-death struggle, it was necessary to use the enemy’s own methods. But we were unable to do this…. The enemy has defeated us, not hand-to-hand in the battlefield, bayonet against bayonet. No! Bad contents in poor print on poor paper had made our arm lame.3

Edith Cavell. British nurse executed for helping wounded Allied troops (and local civilians) escape German occupied Belgium.Edith Cavell. British nurse executed for helping wounded Allied troops (and local civilians) escape German occupied Belgium.

The same admission was made by General Von Hindenburg in his memoirs, published shortly after the cessation of hostilities.4 For this weakness of the German propaganda front, commanded by a former primary-school teacher, Mattias Erzberger, from Budapesterstrasse 14 in Berlin, three explanations are necessary. First and above all, German propaganda appealed to reason, in an attempt to justify the attitudes of their compatriots. British propaganda, meanwhile, was addressed to the emotions, trying to incite indignation and revulsion. So when London put out news announcing atrocities committed by the enemy soldiery, photographs showing them engaging in pillage and the like, Berlin launched itself into long dissertations pointing out that only the United Kingdom’s interest in liquidating its rival’s industry had justified the war and explaining in great detail the historical and diplomatic reasons for Edward VIIs policy of encircling Germany. When the Englishwoman Edith Cavell was condemned to death in 1915 in occupied Belgium by the German Army, and the public was revolted by this barbarous act committed against a woman (and a nurse to boot) accused of


enemy intelligence, the only reply Berlin found to calm this emotional wave was to exhibit an article of international law. In contrast, the Germans did not succeed in scoring any publicity points on France’s execution of one of their own spies, Mata Hari.

Possibly the first Entente(Allied) propaganda leaflet, dropped on German lines in October 1914.5

The second reason for this German weakness relates to the sheer quantity of propaganda deployed by the Entente forces. It intensified after August 1917, making its top priority to provoke the most desertions possible from enemy ranks. This war is not your war”: leaflets dropped by allied planes and balloons incited soldiers to revolt against Prussian militarism in order to institute a republic, and against officers gorged with food while ordinary troops faced privation. They promised that deserters would be well treated. The psychological offensive aimed at sapping the morale of the German soldiers was so effective that in 1918 the high command offered 3 marks to each combatant delivering to his superiors the first copy of a leaflet, 30 pfennigs for the following ones and 5 marks for a book. In May 1918, the officers gathered 84,000 leaflets in this manner, and in September more than a million. As to the actual number of deserters, the allied propaganda services after the war numbered them at forty to fifty thousand, immediately adding that in the pockets of many prisoners they found allied leaflets or pamphlets.6 During the final allied thrust, the leaflets would give figures of German losses, notably U-boats, and Entente gains.

The final German handicap was that the dissension between the civilian government and the army chiefs of staff relegated to a low priority the creation of an office to coordinate the propaganda effort. Only military logic prevailed. Senior officers did not generally understand until too late the profound change implied by what was being tested, which would affect the very definition of war: its total war” character.

The high command and the political authorities of the German Empire nevertheless realized the importance of film as an instrument of propaganda. It was on their initiative and thanks to the support of big banks that in 1917 the Universum-Film-Aktiengesellschaft, the famous UFA studio, was founded. Heart of the cinematographic effort on that side of the Rhine, it was to absorb the majority of existing companies, combining horizontal with vertical integration: production and distribution, from the manufacture of raw film stock to exhibition on the screen. The communiqué published on the occasion of UFAs founding announced: We are happy to note that the opinion according to which film does not aim exclusively to entertain the public, but must respond to national needs, educational and economic, is becoming more widespread.”7 Nevertheless it was only after the war that the film industry took off, permitting Germany to become the second world producer, after the United


States, with the two countries’ cinematographic industries interestingly displaying analogous structures, notably a strong concentration of, and intimate link between, finance and industrial capitals. The Hitler regime would transform this complex into a powerful propaganda machine,

The Army and the Media

The Allies succeeded, then, where their enemies had failed. In order to bring to fruition a strategy of persuasion, each of the great powers in the Entente set up its own structure; inter-ally coordination did not intervene until shortly before the armistice, and not always satisfactorily.

George Creel, head of US propaganda ‘Committee on Public Information’ during WW1George Creel, head of US propaganda ‘Committee on Public Information’ during WW1

The United States created a Committee on Public Information, reporting directly to the president and composed of the secretaries of the navy and war and state and a journalist, George Creel.8 This body, known as the Creel Committee, tried to mobilize the media in order to sell the war to the American public” and thereby overcome the reluctance of the pacifists. The cinema was made to contribute. As the first mass medium, film had up to that point shown its potential as a tool of social integration in drawing to the theaters a strong contingent of poor urban immigrants, many of whom could neither read nor write, even in their own languages. The film industry began to produce propaganda films. But, propaganda or not, it turned to its own profit the weakening of European production. The war coincided with the first great wave of internationalization of American film, with films already amortized9 on the domestic market. It allowed the studios to vastly increase their production and to gain control of key positions in distribution and exhibition all around the globe. In Europe, the supremacy of French cinema collapsed. France lost not only the bulk of its export markets, but control of its own market. Production dwindled and theater exhibitors had to supply themselves more and more with foreign films, principally American ones.

In the history of the United States, the Creel Committee represents not only the first official propaganda agency, but the first bureau of governmental censorship. Established even before Congress could approve the declaration of war, it would prove particularly severe during the hostilities, on American territory as well as at the front, particularly in northern France. Two laws were passed to reinforce its powers, the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918). The second, in particular, served to prevent the expression of any criticism of government policy. The severity of censorship toward transgressing journalists and newspapers drew such criticism that once hostilities were over, the government was obliged to soften it considerably. According to a report from the Gannett Foundation10, not until October 1983, that is, until the Marines’ intervention on


the island of Grenada, did a military power restore a kind of de facto censorship regime” as strict.11 This regime was perfected and would become draconian during the Gulf War with the establishment of the pool” system of coverage.

In Great Britain, the opposition parties showed themselves extremely vigilant in face of the government’s inclination to censorship. Fearing that the government spends money for propaganda in its own interest rather than in that of the country,” they insisted on being represented on the committee in charge of domestic propaganda.12 This pressure, combined with conflicts of jurisdiction among competing government departments, meant that, unlike the Creel Committee in the United States, the British structures changed several times. They did not acquire their definitive profile until February 1918.

Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express, was made minister of information. In principle, this ministry had jurisdiction only over information destined for abroad. It consisted of several departments, including one, directed by Rudyard Kipling, in charge of American and allied opinion. Another was devoted to neutral countries, and a third, better known by the name of its headquarters, Crewe House, was given to Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail, the Evening News, and the Times. He was in charge of propaganda for enemy countries. The German section of this department was entrusted to H. G. Wells, author of War of the Worlds. In the history of the British press, Northcliffe became the person who succeeded in saving the Times from bankruptcy, and also the one who was capable of setting the world aflame in order better to light his posters” (in the words of the publicist Gardiner, one of his contemporaries). This reputation was largely acquired before the war took on mythic dimensions with the activities of Crewe House.13

The presence of journalists and major newspaper publishers in the mechanisms of government propaganda merely underscored the influence acquired by the press since the start of hostilities in mobilizing the belligerent countries. As the prime minister, Lloyd George, had already expressed it in 1916: The Press has performed the function which would have been performed by Parliament, and which the French Parliament has performed.”14 A governmental press office (the Press Bureau) did, of Course, exist; it was given a negative function, that of preventing the publishing of news containing information useful to the enemy. Few papers, however, were prosecuted for violating security norms and none — except the Nation, which was briefly banned from circulation abroad in July 1917 because of its articles in favor of a negotiated peace — was suspended for expressing opinion contrary to that of the government, and this de-


spite constant criticism from unions, socialists, and pacifists. Things went very differently in France.

Information Under a State of Siege

At a time when a tragedy for which we are not responsible is about to be unleashed, it is wise to prevent certain discouraging impressions. Statistics from previous wars show that the better the weapons, the smaller the number of casualties.”
“The inefficacy of enemy projectiles is the object of all commentaries: shrapnel bursting feebly and falling in harmless rain. The aim is badly adjusted. As for German bullets, they are not dangerous: they cross the body from one end to another without tearing the flesh.”

The first quotation is not a misplaced one from January 1991 issued by the Iraqi Army when the troops of the coalition were getting ready to attack15. It is an extract from the Parisian paper Le Temps of August 4, 191416. The second comes from L’Intransigeant on the seventeenth of the same month. Press censorship had been instituted through a series of measures that placed the press under extreme surveillance.17

On July 30, 1914, telegraphic dispatches were censored and the use of the telephone between one city and another forbidden. The second of August, a state of siege was declared over the whole territory [of France] and the military authorities could suspend or ban all periodic publications. On August 3, an office of the press,” reporting to the Ministry of War, was given the task of managing all military information. Two days later, a law on the repression of indiscretions of the press in time of war” delineated in which cases information was to be controlled by the government or the military command: Mobilizations, troop transport, the numbers of combatants, their disposition, the order of battle, the number of dead and wounded, changes in rank, along with all information or articles that comment on military or diplomatic operations that may assist the enemy or exercise an unfortunate influence on the morale of the army and population.” On August 7, a circular was issued by the socialist Prime Minister René Viviani to newspaper editors: The Government counts on the patriotic goodwill of the press of all political leanings not to publish any information concerning the war, whatever its nature or source, without its having been checked by the Press Office established yesterday at the Ministry of War.”

In June 1916 an interministerial committee on the allocation of paper was created (it was to become the National Office of Paper in February 1918); its task was to set the quantity and price of paper according to the


newspaper. In February 1917 the regulation of formats and paginations” began. The enforcement of these rules generated new administrative mechanisms of censorship. At first it was administered by the Ministry of War or its representative in each military region. The newspapers brought in their proofs and a military official of high rank read them all, indicating which passages were to be suppressed. Next, censorship was instituted at the Ministry of Public Instruction and confided to university professors, politicians, and officers. The suppressed passages were to be replaced by inoffensive texts so that blank spaces would not appear. Also in the early stages, instructions to the censors took the form of laconic communiqués. They later became more general in order to avoid misunderstandings. Here is one dated November 1917: As for strikes, cut any information concerning the strike actions, all accounts or announcements of meetings in preparation for a strike, all polemical articles for or against a given strike, but allow articles of doctrine or news concerning the moderate economic demands formulated by the working class.” In a work published in 1916, Gustave Le Bon made the first evaluation of what he characterized as the method of silence” adopted by the authorities, and questioned the uncertainties in battle stories.” Regarding military motives, the psychopathologist wrote:

The silence imposed on the press seems to have been caused partly by the fear, which is comprehensible, of the influence that public opinion might have exercised on the course of operations. In 1870, in the Franco-Prussian War, it was opinion that imposed on the campaign its most disastrous acts…. In the Spanish-American War, it was once again opinion that demanded that the fleet be sent to Cuba.18

In 1915, the government created an Information Section (SI), whose director was André Tardieu. He organized the publication of war chronicles in a Revue de la vie du front (Review of life at the front), and issued communiqués three times a day. The army set up an Office of Military Information (BIM) that accredited war correspondents.19

On the foreign front, the Great War was above all for France an occasion to take stock of the lag of its diplomatic corps in the realm of means of intellectual action abroad” (in the expression of one writer in 1917):20 Germany had taken a significant lead in the international book market; dissemination of French technical literature was ever more in decline; and book production and organization of the domestic market was also weak in France. In recent years, Germany had published an average of 34,000 works, against 12,000 for Great Britain and 10,000 for


France. Increased presence of experts abroad, the organization of international scientific conferences, as well as tours by great orchestras (such as the Gewandhaus) and the endeavors of numerous associations of expatriate Germans had all given the Kaiser’s empire a collection of networks of cultural influence that France’s Alliance Française, created in 1883, could not match. It was the realization of shortcomings of this kind that inspired the foundation, during World War I, of the maison de la presse by a government that was careful to incorporate press and publishing professionals into its policy of information disclosure. It was on this body’s initiative that the first study was performed, by concerned professionals and the state, on the organization of the international distribution of French books. The maison de la presse soon had its agents in diplomatic offices. At the end of the war, in the spring of 1918, a special committee was born under the aegis of the Ministry of Instruction and Fine Arts to orient artistic propaganda abroad. In addition to official bodies such as the maison de la presse, this committee included organizations such as the union of high-fashion designers! Clearly, World War I gave rise to interesting reflection on the balance of forces in international culture. The following comment, for example, dating from 1917, questions the place of French culture after the end of the war:

We may admit that for a number of years Germany has acted, on account of its population stock and its exports, on the content” of the peoples with whom it has relations, and that it is because it has wished to act on their form” that it has raised almost the whole universe against it. It would be difficult for postwar France with a lesser population to be in a position to exercise a pronounced material” action abroad: it would not have enough men both for itself and for its colonies. On the other hand, it is assured, if it wishes, of having a great effect on the form” toward which the world after the war is tending. 21


The day after the armistice, the information apparatuses set up during the war were dissolved. Mired in a political and economic crisis, the Weimar Republic abandoned propaganda efforts. This short postwar period saw an extraordinary flowering of arts and letters, but also new forms of publishing. It was the golden age of modern photographic journalism. In all big cities illustrated papers appeared, of which the most celebrated were Berliner Illustrierte and Münchner Illustrierte Press, which each ran to two million copies and were on everyone’s doorstep. A host


Willi Münzenberg, media activistWilli Münzenberg, media activist

of celebrated photographers were on their staffs. this period of exceptional effervescence, there was also a host of attempts at the social appropriation of new techniques of communication (cinema, photography, and radio). While in a number of places the workers’ parties were extremely distrustful toward cinema — in Switzerland, the social democrats even proposed a boycott of this frivolous form of distraction that turned the workers away from the tasks of education — the German Willi Münzenberg published Erobert den Film! (Go conquer film!): not content with circulating films, he helped workers to produce their own, later repeating the experiment with photography and creating a network of worker-photographers.22 In 1930 the playwright Bertolt Brecht, drawing in his turn on this philosophy in search of a horizontal communication, proposed changing the use of radio in a famous text that 40 years later would serve as manifesto for the radios libres movement against the state monopoly of the airwaves in France:

SPKB: Has social media given us what Brecht imagined? How is it working out for us?

Radio could be the most formidable instrument of communication that one may imagine for public life, an enormous system of channeling, or rather it could be, if only it knew not just how to broadcast but also how to receive; not only make the listener hear, but make him speak; not isolate him, but put him into relation with others. It will be necessary for radio, abandoning its role as supplier, to organize this supplying of listeners by themselves. 23

The new democratic spirit manifested in the German press was brusquely killed off by the advent of Hitler in 1933. The editors of the illustrated papers began to be chosen on the basis of their loyalty to the regime. The effort was taken up by the French magazine Vu, founded in 1928, and by the American (Life), founded in 1936.24

It was doubtless Great Britain that drew the most intelligent lessons from its experience of information” during the first modern propaganda war. In 1926 the government created the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), whose mission was to publicize products of the empire using the whole range of media. This body rapidly became the first sponsor of the film documentary movement. In addition, it was John Grierson, one of the directors of the EMB, who, proposing a plan of action for projecting England” (the title of his monograph), hastened the creation of the British Council and its network abroad.25

The British foreign information apparatus after the war was driven by economics. That of France continued to be driven by high culture and luxury goods. Here is a caustic judgment on this foreign policy between the wars, made in 1942 by Nicholas Spykman, one of the American pio-


neers of geopolitics, at a time when it was a question of countering the Axis’s powers in Latin America and evaluating the forces needed to do it:

France is a source of intellectual and artistic inspiration for the educated classes of both Spanish and Portuguese America, and it has needed very little effort to keep this favored position. Paris fashions and French luxury goods have met little competition in their appeal to the preferences of the Latin American buyers. With the Alliance Française” operating in most of the capitals and a limited number of visiting professors lecturing before Latin American audiences, the French have kept the cultural situation in hand, but the results outside the luxury trades have been economically insignificant and politically inconsequential.26

The Locus of the New Power

‘The Bolshevik’, Kustodiev, 1920‘The Bolshevik’, Kustodiev, 1920

The United States abolished the Creel Committee in 1919. The new winds of isolationism did not favor a strategy of official information directed abroad. This withdrawal did not mean a retirement from the propaganda war,” however, so insistent was the fear of the Bolshevik menace.” James Aronson, former journalist on the New York Herald Tribune, went so far as to assert that while the date of the opening of the Cold War is most commonly set in 1946… an excellent case can be made for fixing the date as March 3, 1918, the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, when the Soviets effected a peace with Germany and refused to continue in a war which the people of Russia had rejected. The 1918 date, in any case, marked the origin of the journalistic Cold War against Communism.”27 Proofs of this assertion are not lacking. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover began to infiltrate unions, associations, and leftist groups, while the Department of Justice created a special publicity bureau with the mission of spreading stories of plots hatched by agents of Moscow and the Reds” to overthrow the government in Washington. The attorney general, Mitchell Palmer, became a hero as a result of the raids bearing his name: in one single night, he had more than 4,000 alleged Communists arrested in 33 cities. Immigrants were deported and xenophobia inflamed passions. The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti and their execution in the electric chair in 1927 became the symbol of judicial error provoked by the pressure of public opinion stirred up to a white heat.

The major lesson the American government drew from World War I was strategic. In the course of the conflict, a technological leap forward had occurred: the development of powerful radio transmitters and listen ing stations, the coding of messages, the perfecting of mobile communications with cars and airplanes, radio navigation systems; and in 1915


Germany had taken the initiative of broadcasting news bulletins by radio on the war operations and these were picked up by the foreign press. Naval operations had demonstrated the supremacy of the British radiocommunications industry and exposed the shortcomings of the industrial organization of that sector in the United States. With the British Marconi firm, the British Empire exercised a near-monopoly on wireless communications. Therefore the U.S. Navy, after 1919, asked the government to coordinate the efforts of large American companies capable of exploiting the new technologies of transmission classified as strategic equipment.” This concertation, which gave rise in 1920 to RCA, the Radio Corporation of America (originating from the takeover by General Electric of the American branch of Marconi), defined the areas of competence of each of the three great firms in the sector: AT&T would have exclusive rights to telephone and radiotelephone services, as well as the right to manufacture transmission equipment; trans-Atlantic services were reserved to RCA; General Electric kept wireless telegraphy and the manufacture of receiving equipment. The statutes of the new company growing out of Marconi featured three clauses: 1) its director must be American; 2) foreigners could not own more than 20 percent of the shares; and 3) a representative of the White House must sit on the board of directors.28 In 1921, Westinghouse joined this trio.

Another pole of the development of American power in electronic communications was International Telephone and Telegraph. This corporation, whose mother company was founded in 1920 and operated the underwater cable Cuba and the United States, acquired, five years later, the foreign subsidiaries of AT&T. Very early, ITT combined services (telephone, telegraph, and cable) and manufacturing. The acquisition in 1927-28 of All American Cables and Radio, founded in 1878, initiated the construction of its world telecommunications network. ITT World Communications began in 1926, soon followed in 1929 by Press Wireless, which would found agencies in the Philippines (1937), Uruguay (1942), and Brazil (1938). In the late 1920s, ITT supplanted British companies in South America by taking over, most notably, the United River Plate Telephone Company, the second largest company of the subcontinent, based in Argentina. In 1928 ITT Comunicaciones Mundiales SA of Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile were inaugurated, as well as ITT Comunicaçãoes Mundiais SA of Rio de Janeiro. The American firm would later make Buenos Aires its regional headquarters. In its strategy of internationalization of its manufacturing and sales subsidiaries, ITT chose as priority territories Latin America and Europe. One index of its progression is the cascade of the Standard Electric” subsidiaries it founded: Brazil (1937), Chile (1942), Mexico (1953), Venezuela (1957), Ecuador


(1962), Colombia, Jamaica, Panama (1963), Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador (1968).29 On the European front, ITT would take control, after 1926-27, of the German subsidiaries of General Electric and of Phillips, and make a vigorous entry into the French telephone sector by taking control of Thomson-Houston. The takeover of the subsidiary of General Electric alone gave it a dominant position in the German, Austrian, Dutch, Danish, Swiss, and Turkish markets, as well as in the Balkans. This ubiquity of the firm would make it the paragon of multinational telecommunications enterprises, well before the concept was born.30 The interlocking of its commercial and industrial interests would lead it to meddle directly in internal political affairs, and to show its sympathy explicitly for certain regimes. Its ambiguous relations with the Nazi regime during World War II is one of the darkest pages of its history. At the pinnacle of its expansion and power, it would not hesitate to plot in 1970 to overthrow the elected Socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende.31

Radio frequency management organisations were set up to combat ‘pirate’ radio stations. (See FRC page)Radio frequency management organisations were set up to combat ‘pirate’ radio stations. (See FRC page)

In 1926, RCA, whose original mission was to assure transoceanic telegraph services but which meanwhile had specialized in the manufacture of radio sets, bought up the station WEAF inaugurated by AT&T in 1922 in New York (until 1919, radio being considered a weapon of war, private broadcasts were banned everywhere). This was the first link of what was destined to become one of the three great radio (and later television) networks of the United States, NBC (National Broadcasting Corporation). Its original mission was entertainment, information and education, with emphasis on the first feature-entertainment.” Advertising was amply authorized. That same year, in 1926, in Great Britain, radio became a true public service with the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), after the purchase by the state of six private companies that had also begun to transmit in 1922. Advertising was forbidden on the airwaves. In France, where the first regular broadcasts took place in 1921, the radiophonic model that prevailed until the eve of World War II was hybrid, with certain tolerated” private stations on which advertising was authorized, as well as public stations. (In 1940, when the German occupation began, the tolerated private broadcasters would be requisitioned.)

In March 1927, the Federal Radio Commission [FRC], created by the U.S. government to regulate air traffic, started work. (In 1934, it would be replaced by the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, with regulatory power over telephone and telegraph as well as broadcasting.)

While Washington did not judge it necessary to elaborate an international cultural strategy, the film industry of the United States wasted no time pursuing its conquest of foreign markets. Hegemonic at the end of the war, as much in the Americas as in Europe, Hollywood — aided by its


hatred of protectionism — assured itself of a strong position through the purchase of cinemas, the control of distribution, and the organization of local production. With the coming of talkies in 1926, the fight for supremacy on the world market shifted to the area of patents on sound systems. American patents (RCA and Western Electric) fought it out with German ones (Tobis, AEG, Siemens). In July 1930 the Paris accord put an end to this patent war; the world market was divided into zones for the sale of equipment. Each group obtained a zone of exclusive influence, but an open market reserved where competition could operate freely. was As a measure of the fact that film too was increasingly an industry, this agreement is a replica of the one reached in 1907 for the electrical industry when General Electric and AEG decided to divide up the globe and avoid harming each other in the penetration of foreign markets.

In 1930, American industry exported four times more than its European counterpart, and the process of concentration transformed its structure: the bulk of the production was in the hands of five majors (Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner, and RKO). But the introduction of sound film, where the question of language again became crucial, also permitted new countries to create or to consolidate their national production; this was the case in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, Mexico, and Argentina. American industry tried to resolve the difficulty through postsynchronization, subtitling, and the production of multiple versions in the languages of different countries.32 The international presence of American film as a link between diverse national markets gave rise to the first polemics on the industrialization of culture-even more so since many European directors, scriptwriters, and actors were brought over by Hollywood producers to exercise their talents.

The Sources of Empirical Sociology

Peacetime brought back moral questioning of the purpose and means of propaganda, prompted by the publication of revelations by former propagandists seeking to repent, and the boasts of others who embellished the horror stories they had fabricated. Some isolated voices tried hard to combat the inflated reputation enjoyed by propaganda at a time when efforts were being made to determine the factors that had caused the fall of empire.33 But whether they were for or against, the overwhelming majority did not contest the efficacy of the war of leaflets and communiqués. Both opponents and proselytes contributed to rekindling the idea of the miraculous power of modern techniques of persuasion. The debate was


extrapolated to all media, and a conception of the inordinate power of mass media in fashioning people’s minds made progress. In this historical context was published the first representative work of what would later be known as mass communications research. It was entitled Propaganda Techniques in the World War34 and it appeared in 1927, Its author was Harold D. Lasswell, American inventor of the famous formula that was supposed to provide the sociological key to mass communication, the five Ws: Who says What in Which channel to Whom with What effect?” This political scientist is considered by his peers as one of the four founding fathers of the discipline, the three others being Paul Lazarsfeld, the mathematician-turned-sociologist, of Viennese origin, and social psychologists Kurt Lewin and Carl I. Hovland.

The principal contribution of Lasswell’s work was to bring out what the Prussian strategists had been unable to discern: Wherein lay the novelty of this first World War? His answer: in the necessity of government management of opinion.”

SPKB: Are there still places in the world where this kind of thinking prevails?

During the war period it came to be recognized that the mobilization of men and means was not sufficient; there must be a mobilization of opinion. Power over opinion, as over life and property, passed into official hands, because the danger from license was greater than the danger of abuse. Indeed, there is no question but that government management of opinion is an inescapable corollary of large-scale modern war.35

Fascinated by what he termed the effects” of propaganda, Lasswell hazarded an actual theory:

Small primitive tribes can weld their heterogeneous members into a fighting whole by the beat of the tom-tom and the tempestuous rhythm of the dance. It is in orgies of physical exuberance that young men are brought to the boiling point of war, and that old and young men and women are caught in the suction of tribal purpose. In the Great Society it is no longer possible to fuse the waywardness of individuals in the furnace of the war dance; a newer and subtler instrument must weld thousands, even millions, of human beings into one amalgamated mass of hate and will and hope. A new flame must burn out the canker of dissent and temper the steel of bellicose enthusiasm. The name of this new hammer and anvil of social solidarity is propaganda.36

This exalted statement testifies to the belief in the omnipotence of propaganda that then reigned in academic circles in the United States. It was an era in which the mechanistic theory of stimulus-response in its primitive version prevailed. Propaganda’s power of persuasion via the media


left the public without defense, reducing it to the status of a passive receptacle of messages concocted by specialists of opinion. Lasswell’s panegyric on persuasion also allows us to catch a glimpse of the theoretical frameworks of the time, whose points of reference have, in one way or another, been reinvested into thought on propaganda and its practice.

It is difficult to dissociate the first attempts at formulating a media theory from European thought since the late nineteenth century concerning the sociopsychology of public opinion. In the lead were the works of the Frenchman Gabriel Tarde. In the United States, this new discipline developed principally in the University of Chicago’s sociology department. In this cradle of American sociology of communications under the sign of empiricism, the first effort to measure attitudes” was born. In the dissemination of Tarde’s ideas, one name stands out: Robert E. Park (1864-1944)37, specialist in the study of the role of the press in the formation of opinion, who for nearly 40 years exercised considerable influence within what came to be known as the Chicago School. In contrast to Lasswell, a man of the status quo, and in the manner of Charles H. Cooley, who is also considered as a representative of this school though he taught at Michigan, Robert Park belonged to a tradition of liberal criticism and never ceased to question the conflictual relation between media and democracy.38 This sociologist who had reservations about the quantitative tendency of empiricism thought that there could certainly be no public opinion without substantial agreement among citizens. But he also thought there could be no public opinion free of disagreement. For him, public opinion presupposed public debate.

The direct influence of the philosopher Gustave Le Bon on the embryonic sociology of opinion is less apparent, though Lasswell was also the author of a work titled The Psychopathology of Politics. But the ideas of Le Bon, translated into fifteen languages, were too present in propaganda studies between the wars not to have left some traces in the Lasswellian conception of mass,”as in the work of the American psychologist Leon Festinger, who was later to study disindividuation” within the group.

Finally, the early theory of propaganda could not conceal the influence of the psychology of instincts represented by William McDougall, a physiologist of British origin who made his career in the United States. A representative of the biological paradigm, the author of The Group Mind insisted on the importance of instincts as determinants of human activities and spoke of the reflex reaction as a direct affective induction.” The affective state of the soul” is merely the electric receptor as adjusted to perception.39

It is also striking to note that Tarde, Le Bon, McDougall — to whom may add Sigmund Freud-are all major points of reference inspiring a


1927 book, Psychologie de l’opinion et de la propagande politique (Psychology of opinion and political propaganda) by the Frenchman Jules Rassak. But unlike Lasswell, this precursor of social psychology and active socialist adopted a critical position with respect to a number of these postulates in order to better question the growing contrast between the efficacy of the commercial press and the persuasive power of the ideals of socialism. The following observation is typical of Rassak’s approach News announcing only facts has a propaganda effect much greater than political dissertations that smell like propaganda from miles away.” In another passage, he relativizes the influence of the media: It is much easier to spread tendentious news from abroad than from inside a country, because the reader is less able to verify it. This explains why the press is better able to provoke a war than to elect a municipal official.”40

The Rape of the Masses

Not until the second half of the 1930s did some voices attempt a more systematic critique of the mechanisms of propaganda, in an environment haunted by the rise of Nazism.

With its ascent to power in 1933, Hitler’s party had begun to concentrate in one ministry — the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment of the People — all tasks concerned with shaping minds.” Its chief, Joseph Goebbels, proposed to organize this ministry into five sections: radio, press, cinema, theater, and general orientation of propaganda. The function of censorship was removed from the Ministry of the Interior. Information destined for foreign countries was removed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The minister of postal services lost the monopoly of publicity on tourism, and commercial advertising was taken away from the minister of the economy. The artistic section of the minister of public instruction was confined to monuments, museums, music teaching, and popular libraries, while the direction of cultural policy resided henceforth with the super-Ministry of Propaganda. A Chamber of Culture was instituted; this was a corporatist organization subdivided into offices devoted respectively to literature, theater, music, radio, press, fine arts, and cinema. From that point on, membership in one of the specific offices was mandatory for all those whose activity was related to the production, reproduction, distribution, or preservation of cultural goods, from the seller of postcards and newspapers to the journalist, the painter, the director, or the writer.41

Two critical studies published at the time command attention. The first has become a classic. It is The Rape of the Masses: The Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda, by the Russian immigrant Sergei


Chak[h]otin, a zoologist by training and professor of social psychology at the University of Paris. His work was published in French two months before the war and translated into English in 1940.42 The occupation government had the original edition destroyed, and several months before its appearance, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs had enjoined its author to suppress all passages disagreeable to Mr. Hitler and Mr. Mussolini” as well as the dedication To the genius of France on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Revolution.” With the law behind him, Chak[h]otin refused to accede. The second work is certainly less well known. Its author is Robert A. Brady, professor of economics at the University of California, and it bears the title The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism. It was published in London in 1937.43 (These two works had been preceded by the premonitory work by the Austrian Marxist psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, Massenpsychologie des Faschismus (The mass psychology of fascism), published by Sexpol Verlag in 1933 and quickly placed on the index of banned books by official Communism.)

The work of Chak[h]otin has the appearance of a treatise on social psychology, presenting a vast fresco of the theories and doctrines on propaganda existing at the time. (The fresco would be completed in 1952 when the book was republished.) Only one work, published in 1946, rivaled the encyclopedic scope of Chak[h]otin, a remarkable book by the Swiss author P. Reiwald, entitled De l’esprit des masses (Of the spirit of the masses).44 Chak[h]otin reviews the contributions of Tarde, Le Bon, McDougall, the behaviorists, and other precursors, passes Nazi propaganda through a sieve, and analyzes the mechanisms of Leninist propaganda. It has been charged,” wrote Chak[h]otin in the French edition of the book,

that these Russian practices are the same as those employed by Hitler. Yes and no. Yes, from the technical point of view of technique. Yes, in that in both cases the psychological base of affective propaganda is the same-drive number 1, or aggression. No, because with Hitler it was above all the element of fear that served to make the masses move in the direction desired by the state; in the USSR, the motor force is the opposite one from the combative drive-enthusiasm. In reality, what we call elections” in the USSR are only a manifestation of what one is accustomed today to call popular culture,” employed to educate a people who will perhaps come someday to institute a true democracy. That is why the elections” in the are not a comedy,” nor classic psychic rape,” or demagogy, but a preparation, a prelude to a collective psychology.45


There is nothing astonishing in the fact that this author, so lucid on the psychic rape of the masses by fascism and its heir-militant capitalism,” and a friend of H. G. Wells, also practically worshipped professor I. P.Pavlov, famous for his experiments on conditioned reflexes, whom he acknowledged as his great master” and whose theories of objective psychology he saw as the only ones able to provide an answer to the question: What can be done to bar the road to evil propaganda?” And yet, in June 1922, the Soviet Revolution had restored Glavlit, the only institution of the old imperial order whose name was appropriated by the new regime. (It had been created in 1865 and attached to the Ministry of Interior Affairs.) By virtue of the law that instituted it, this governmental body was co-presided by a representative of the organs of security and it was incumbent on him to ban correspondence, newspapers, magazines, films, books, drawings, radio programs, expositions, and so on that infringed the established norms (for example, agitation and propaganda against the Soviet authorities and the dictatorship of the proletariat, revealing state secrets, pornography, encouraging religious and ethnic fanaticism, etc.). At the level of the party, the department of Agitation and Propaganda (Agitprop) of the Central Committee was raised to the rank of supreme regulator of the flow of information. The 1922 decree was made more severe still in 1932, under Commissar Andrei Z[h]danov, three years before the great Stalinist purges (1935-38) and the beginning of the terror.46

The work of Robert Brady, on the other hand, is first of all a minute analysis of the corporate organization of Nazi society, and therein lies its principal merit. He analyzes the concept of propaganda as Nazi power had rendered it operational in the fields of arts, education, information, and science. He notes a double regime, a double legality, in the functioning of the system: on the one hand, firm state control in those domains of the formation of opinion; on the other, the predominance of the idea of self-organization in the world of business. He examines the differences and the convergences displayed by this conception of the Nazi propaganda machine” by contrast with the conception implied by the strategy of public relations and business propaganda emerging in the United States. Accordingly, Brady mounts a veritable indictment against a prejudice he saw as common to the two approaches, according to which the audience is a people who doesn’t know what it wants” and who must be indoctrinated. He violently attacks works modeled on the psychopathology of Lasswell, which consider those who disagree with the system as neurotic, pathologic, frustrated, or ignorant.”

Brady’s work undoubtedly contains a veiled message about what he judged dangerous for his own country: the rise of new forms of propa-


ganda — because there too the political and economic stakes of the management of mass opinion were becoming apparent.

The Necessities of Fordism

There are links to a documentary series on propaganda, Edward Bernays, and advertising etc at the bottom of the page.

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it. … The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically.”47 Thus the nephew of Freud, Edward Bernays, former member of the Creel Committee and one of the founders of modern public relations (to whom we owe the expression engineering of consent”) expressed himself in 1928.

Identifying the great society with the new postwar social order is not only a matter for university researchers. This imperative operated as well among managers and advertisers. As early as the 1920s, the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, tried to elucidate the mechanisms and motives of mass psychology. (The first edition of his Behavior: An Introduction to Comprehensive Psychology was published in 1914.) Quitting the university to join the research team of J. Walter Thompson, the major advertising agency, in its search for the mass consumer,” he accomplished a considerable leap forward in the methods of commercial persuasion while modernizing the old instinctivist theory of stimulus-response. In contrast to McDougall, to these behaviorist psychologists the activity of learning appeared more important than the impulses of basic instincts. The individual and social human organism could be conditioned by appropriate treatment by playing on the dialectic of conditioned reflexes and intelligence. These advances in the technique of commercial propaganda took place in a period when the Fordist mode of production organization and labor control was being instituted in factories, and when managers were beginning to develop strategies for organizing mass consumption.48

Few countries asked as much as the United States of their apparatuses of mass not so much because the media there had attained a more advanced degree of technological development than in most other industrialized countries, but rather because the media had, throughout this whole period, become the very cornerstone of a project of national integration. It was difficult not to subscribe to the analysis of sociologist Daniel Bell regarding the United States’ slowness in constitut-


ing itself as a national society.” Neither the church, nor the party system, nor governing elites seemed to him to have succeeded in cementing national cohesion as much as had the media system. As he wrote in the French journal Communications:

The element which has contributed to the amalgamation from the interior of our national society, since its apparition, outside of a few rare political heroes” like Roosevelt, Eisenhower or Kennedy, has been popular culture…. The society, lacking clearly defined national institutions and a ruling class conscious of being so, congealed thanks to the mass media. Insofar as it is possible to establish a date for a social revolution, one could perhaps take the evening of March 7, 1955. That night, one out of every two Americans could see Mary Martin playing the role of Peter Pan on television. It was the first time in history that a single individual was seen and heard at the same time by such a broad public. This was what Adam Smith had called the great society,” but he could hardly have imagined to what degree this was true.49

At the end of the 1920s, however, the formation of the great society” was seriously threatened by the Great Depression[1929-39] and its 13 million unemployed.

US unemployment spiked at over 20% during the Great Depression. Source: wikipediaUS unemployment spiked at over 20% during the Great Depression. Source: wikipedia

Communication as a Way Out of the Crisis

In 1933 the newly elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, launched the New Deal, which we understand as the rationalization of the state along with increased executive powers, modernization and regulation of the economy, the whole resting on the civic mobilization of the citizens.

National Recovery Administration (NRA) Blue Eagle logo poster.National Recovery Administration (NRA) Blue Eagle logo poster.

For the first time in industrial society, the state, in search of a strategy to escape the crisis, summoned the techniques of communication” to its rescue. The management of public opinion became an object of painstaking studies with operational aims. Roosevelt named presidential agents” who traveled across the country to explain the administration’s policy, give lectures, and take the pulse of national consensus. Nearly one and a half million trained propagandists wore their insignia of the Blue Eagle. In September 1933, more than 250,000 of these activists paraded through New York, escorted by 200 orchestras. Information on the behavior of voters and their attitudes regarding various policies or social problems became an ingredient of the art of governing.

The very notion of attitude,” introduced into the social sciences in 1918 by W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki, authors of a seminal work on the Polish peasant in Europe and the United States, and further developed by German experimental psychology, was becoming more refined.50 To


the pioneering definition of the two American researchers (“a state of mind of the individual toward a value”) — who, incidentally, recognized their debt to Gabriel Tarde — the psychologist Gordon W. Allport added in 1935: A mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related.”51 The structuring of American sociology was now under way.

Between 1924 and 1932, Elton Mayo conducted a series of studies of the largely female personnel in the workshops of Western Electric. This contribution to a budding social psychology, stimulated by the demand from industry, gave rise to a work called The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (1933).52 In this work, Mayo rediscovers the importance of primary groups that form within industrial organizations. Observer participation at the workplace lost interest in measuring the effects of isolated variables and ceased limiting itself to controlled experiments” and test situations, and instead began observing social situations understood as systems of interdependent elements.” Questioning the latent functions” of workers’ standard practices, spontaneous groups, and the organized behavior of the managers, this embryonic social psychology of the workplace aimed to better satisfy the needs of human resources,” to rally the workers to the company’s objectives, and to better integrate them (using devices such as company newspapers, suggestion boxes, social services, professional training, pay schemes, and the like).

In 1937 Talcott Parsons published his major work, The Structure of Social Action, whose purpose, according to Parsons himself, was to create a unified social science on the basis of an empirical functionalism.53 Empiricism was based on the closure of the object of study and on its division into an autonomous series of elements; functionalism proposed a vision of an overall social system,” insisting on the interdependence of all the elements of the system. At the center of this vision of society were the concepts of stability, equilibrium, and coherence. In the wake of Spencer, functionalism conceived the body social as constituted to assure its own survival,” in spite of all the centrifugal forces that might result in its disintegration. Each component of the social system plays a specific role, in order that a general equilibrium and the stability of the system as a whole may be preserved. In measuring each phenomenon from the point of view of its contribution to the maintenance of the social system’s equilibrium, this research, which elevated functional laws into universal laws, took a given mode of organization of society as the natural frame of analysis and made it its ultimate horizon. Thus a contradiction could never be recognized as such, as a precursor to the emergence of another


system. It would be defined instead as a dysfunction” that endangered the equilibrium of the system.

Sociology thus became a form of social technology. It established a scale of values to define the more or less harmonious functioning of social institutions. Its object of study was, in the final analysis, to circumscribe the factors of disequilibrium in order better to control them. This explains why this functionalist sociology was to be so often the basis of therapeutic measures aiming to arrest the development of pockets of social dissent. This happened above all in the sixties, at a time when the alliance between the state and universities began to result in more and more commissioned research. It was also the moment when the early, prewar version of Parsonian functionalism acquired its specificity within the American sociology of mass communications, with researchers such as Charles Wright and Robert K. Merton.54 This was indeed the early phase of functionalism, because in the sixties Parsons still obsessed, to be sure, by the Hobbesian problem of social order-was to distance himself from the theoretical model of the living organism and draw closer to the cybernetic approach, which assimilated society to a self-regulating system.55 By integrating into its theoretical framework disparate concepts such as motivations, normative orientations of actions, interaction, systems of expectations, modes of aggregation, and the institutionalization of actions and interactions, the Parsonian paradigm of sociology of action and systemic self-regulation demonstrated that one could no longer oversimplify the social, considering it as a sort of linear extension of the individual, or inversely, as a simple matrix of the individual.”56 This complexity of the social escaped the sociology of mass communications of the sixties, blinded as it was by an inordinate optimism regarding its administrative mission. The evolution of Parsonian thought toward multi-disciplinarity through contact with psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, economics, and other fields contrasts with the disciplinary monoculture that characterized most studies in the empirical sociology of mass communications.

In the mid-1930s, opinion polls made their first appearance with George Gallup, former professor at the University of Iowa, who succeeded in predicting the re-election of Roosevelt in 1936. The first barometers of the opinion of the population were published just as the first research on the publics of the new radio networks began to stimulate interest in what really happened on the receivers’ side. In 1939, the A. C. Nielsen company experimented with the first mechanical measure of the audience, the Audimeter, developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was first applied in 1942, with the appearance of the Nielsen Radio Index; the Television Index was inaugurated in 1950.


By way of international comparison, it was in 1936 that Gallup set up operations in London, followed by Nielsen in 1939; and it was in 1938 that social psychologist Jean Stoetzel imported Gallup polls into France and founded the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP). In 1939, he founded the journal Sondages. The institute and the journal were reborn after the Liberation. But it was not until the great electoral battles of the Gaullist Republic in 1962 and especially in 1965 that the polling technique emerged from its semi-clandestine role. And it was not until 1964 that the first large-scale inquiry on the television public was conducted, and the Office of French Radio-Télévision (ORTF) began to constitute a permanent panel of viewers for audience research.

P.O.Q. Founded 1937P.O.Q. Founded 1937

The year 1937 saw the founding of the Public Opinion Quarterly57, the organ of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the oldest journal of research into mass communications. It was edited by Princeton University’s School of Public Affairs, and one of the members of its editorial board was Harold Lasswell. Many of the journal’s contributors were closely involved with the new policy of opinion management that accompanied the New Deal. This journal, truly representative of its era, covered all the themes mentioned above in issues published between 1937 and 1941. As the United States broke with isolationism and World War II approached, international politics commanded more and more attention. Studies of German propaganda came back in force.

The first international organization in defense of professional interests in the field of advertising, the future International Advertising Association (IAA), was founded in 1938 in New York. Its main functions were to advance the general level of marketing throughout the world; to elevate the standards, practices, and ethical concepts of advertisers, advertising agencies, media, and allied services everywhere; and to encourage observance of the International Code of Advertising Practice.” This code had been issued in 1937 by the International Chamber of Commerce, established in 1920, and it became the major reference point for the formulation of codes of conduct in various countries. The idea that the profession had to defend the principle of self-regulation and oppose public regulation and controls was making its way. In Great Britain, this debate went back to the end of the nineteenth century. In the United States, the question of self-regulation, closely linked to the emerging notion of professionalism, had been debated in particular in the first decade of the century, first in local associations and then within the Four As” (the American Association of Advertising Agencies, originally the Associated Advertising Clubs of America), founded in 1917. It was over the matter of these of professional ethics that the first international contact


took place between representative bodies within the profession, in 1924, during the Great Empire Exhibition in London, the Four As met with the founders of the British Advertising Association (AA).58

But only the war allowed the United States to escape the Depression. In 1940, 15 percent of the working population was still unemployed, that is, more than 8 million workers. Between 1940 and 1945, the work force increased from 47 to 55 million, and more than 6 million would find work in the defense industries. The gross national product would more than double.59

Against the Martian Syndrome

In one way or another, manipulatory conceptions of the media left their imprint on the debates and the conceptual frameworks of the media be tween the two wars. The famous episode of the Invasion of the Martians” may be understood as a kind of parable.

Cantril’s study of the ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcastCantril’s study of the ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast

On the evening of October 30, 1938, millions of Americans were terrorized by a CBS radio program that described an invasion by Martians The impresario was Orson Welles, who was dramatizing The War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by H. G. Wells. The sociologist Hadley Cantril, to whom we owe an analysis of the program’s impact, sums up the listeners’ state of shock in this way: Long before the broadcast had ended, people all over the United States were praying, crying and fleeing frantically to escape death from the Martians. Some ran to rescue loved ones. Others telephoned farewells or warnings, hurried to inform neighbors, sought information from newspapers and radio stations, or summoned ambulances and police cars. At least six million heard the broadcast. At least a million of them were frightened or disturbed.”60 The event created by Welles made it possible to test, for the first time on a large scale, the conditions of suggestibility and reciprocal contagion in a panic situation. From his interviews with those affected by the program, Cantril drew the conclusion that the best means of panic prevention education. At the level of social perception, these scenes of unprecedented emotion, which were translated into thoughtless actions and gregarious crowd movements, were of no small influence in establishing the idea of the omnipotence of the of the new techniques of communication

On a mental horizon dominated by preoccupation with the psychological effects of these social states, did any new conceptual vistas open onto analyses other than those springing from a conception of the receiver as a suggestible” individual, a subject exposed to persuasion or alienation? Yes and no. No, if one adheres to a strict definition of media sociology.


Antonio Gramsci in 1916Antonio Gramsci in 1916

Yes, if one looks elsewhere, that is, toward political philosophy and its examination of the relation between popular culture and its publics. Herein lies the contribution of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), though it was not until well after his death that this contribution was appreciated-in fact, not until the end of the 1970s, when structuralist approaches to ideology, culture, and the media entered a deep crisis.

Marx and Engels had denounced the alienating function of popular serial novels. Gramsci, in response to numerous analyses of such novels (feuilletons) appearing in the early 1930s in French and Italian journals, tried to understand how the more and more Taylorized and disciplined activities of daily life had created the necessity for fantasies and dreams, the need for illusion” and daydreams.” It is necessary,” he wrote, to analyse which particular illusion (with respect to the novel, for example) is given people by serial literature, and how that illusion changes according to historical and political periods.”61 Because, he added, this literature for the people also contains a basis in democratic aspirations.” Regarding the success of foreign feuilletons in the Italian newspapers of his day, the question he posed was why these readers of serial novels are interested in and are attached to their authors with much greater sincerity and more lively human interest than that shown in the salons of the so-called cultured people for the novels of D’Annunzio or the works of Pirandello?”62 With the correlate: Why did Italy, as opposed to France, not produce this type of literature intended for the people, and why was it dependent on foreign production? All these frameworks of questioning only acquired their academic and political legitimacy when the receiver was rehabilitated as an active subject of the communication process, thus sealing the fate of theories of manipulation.

But the Italian philosopher had other areas of interest as well. The questions he formulated about the popular feuilleton take on their true meaning only in light of another question: the relation between intellectuals and the people and the role of the former in the production of consensus, or general will.” Further, he posed the problem of mediations.” To an oversimplified conception of bipolar divisions, he counterposed the complex range of systems of alliance and negotiations that figure in the establishment of the general will, or the process of the construction of hegemony, that is to say, the work of political, moral, and cultural leadership of a social group — a historic bloc — that penetrates to the heart of the body social, influencing its mode of living, its mentality, attitudes, and practical behavior. At the root of this reflection, a major concern: One must fight economism,” Gramsci wrote, not only in historiography, but also and above all in theory and in political


practice. One can and must fight in this domain by developing the concept of hegemony.”63 Here is an important conceptual and political opening that broke with the predominant conceptions of the time within an international workers movement that was inclined to see strategies of social change only in terms of economic struggles. With the concept of hegemony, Gramsci indicated that it was not sufficient to conquer the state and to change the economic structure in order to transform the old order; culture” was a field where consensus in democratic societies was constructed on a daily basis, and that in this construction, the intellectuals” — modern mediators — played an essential role. It was not until much later that Gramsci’s analytical perspectives would inspire new critical approaches to the relations among culture, the media, and intellectuals. In the late 1970s, the weight of the media and industrialized culture in the production of consensus forced traditional intellectuals to redefine their relation to these apparatuses of mass culture, which were perceived as veritable new organic intellectuals.”

The struggle against economism also implied a new approach to the workplace. According to Gramsci, the emergence of a need to dream with open eyes” is parallel to the institution of the scientific organization of labor (Taylorism) and the rationalization of production (Fordism). Accordingly, the factory is one of the places where hegemony is formed. It is also a pivot of his perception of the relation between the United States and Europe. Estimating the chances that the Fordist model would be introduced into European factories, Gramsci showed how the implantation of new methods of production was related to social changes that overflowed the four walls of the factory: changes in the type of state, in the relation between the sexes, in ethics — in short, in a way of life.”64

Luigi PirandelloLuigi Pirandello

The United States was, in fact, in the process of becoming the mark of reference, and many an intellectual took a position on the question of Americanism.” Luigi Pirandello, a Nobel Prize winner in 1934 who embodied the intransigent figure of the creator in old Europe, went so far as to write: Americanism is drowning us. I think that a new beacon of civilization has been lit there. The money circulating in the world is American and the realm of life and culture is forced to run after it.”65

Examination of the influence of cultural models diffused by the United States was not, during these years, the exclusive fiefdom of old Europe. Thus, for example, the Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui devoted a study to the genesis of public instruction” in his country and criticized the inadequacy of the educational system with respect to national needs. Mariátegui not only analyzed the process of adoption of American methods” following the Peruvian educational reform of 1920, but also retraced the history of the long preceding period, beginning in 1831, dur-


ing which the ideas of French educators and thinkers had profoundly influenced Peru’s leaders.66

José Ortega y GassetJosé Ortega y Gasset

The reflections on the culture of Fordism” undertaken by Gramsci, writing from the prison where he had been locked up by Mussolini’s Fascist regime, broke resolutely with the cultural vision of most contemporary European intellectuals. It was the hour of the Cassandras, when discussion went on at a lively pace about the end of culture” and the decline of the West,” which was seen as succumbing to the blows of technical civilization. The Decline of the West67 was, of course, the title of the work of the German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936); it was published in the early 1920s. And starting in 1926, in his Madrid journal Revista de Occidente, the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), author of The Revolt of the Masses, rose up against the culture exported by an America subject only to the laws of mass production and distribution and of technology. He saw this mass culture as a pseudo-culture destined to come inexorably into conflict with the high culture of the Enlightenment, of which the old continent had been the cradle and the guarantor. From the start, he denied that the United States had the capacity to succeed Europe in ruling the world” or the power to fill the gap of hegemony in a world which had lost its bearings of universality,” because, he announced with great assurance, New York is nothing new for us, any more than Moscow, by the way…. It is only our offspring.”68

World War II would answer his claim by consecrating the advent of hegemony over universality’s representations, or at least representations of a certain universality.

Additional Material

Wartime Propaganda Maps

Wartime leaflets: 2023

The Century of the Self” - Adam Curtis, 2002

The first two episode of this BBC documentary series cover some of the same ground as this chapter, especially the growth of propaganda and the adoption of the same methods in peacetime, for commercial purposes.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Welles’ War of the Worlds” - 30 Oct 1938

This radio broadcast by Orson Welles, based on the H.G. Wells novel, caused mass panic by simulating an alien invasion of Earth. It demonstrated the power of audio media to immerse listeners and shape public perceptions, showing how propaganda techniques could be adapted to new forms of communication. This recording is roughly an hour long and mimics news bulletins to realistically portray the fictional events.

Taken from Archive.org ↗️

• Academic paper looking at the WotW’ broadcst and its aftermath: America under attack”, Heyer 2003

  1. W. Benjamin, Theories du fascisme allemand. A propos du recueil de textes La Guerre et les Guerriers’ de Ernst Junger,” trans. and published by Interferences, no. 1, 1981, p. 28.↩︎

  2. G. Sylvester Viereck, Spreading Germs of Hate, New York, Horace Liveright, 1930, pp. 153-54.↩︎

  3. G. G. Bruntz, Allied Propaganda and the Collapse of German Morale in 1918,” Public Opinion Quarterly 2, 1938, reprinted in A Psychological Warfare Casebook, ed. W. E. Daugherty and M. Janowitz, published for Operations Research Office, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1958, p. 101.↩︎

  4. P. Von Hindenburg, Out of My Life, New York, Harper, 1921. Trans. from Ger­man.↩︎

  5. Secrets of Crewe House Source ↗️↩︎

  6. Bruntz, Allied Propaganda and the Collapse of German Morale in 1918.”↩︎

  7. Quoted by P. Bachlin, Histoire economique du cinema, Paris, La Nouvelle Edition, 1947, pp. 32-33.↩︎

  8. J. R. Mock and C. Larsen, Words That Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information 1917-19, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1939.↩︎

  9. to gradually reduce or write off the cost or value of (something, such as an asset)” ↗️↩︎

  10. Now known as the Freedom Forum’. Gannett is pronounced /ɡəˈnɛt/↩︎

  11. E. E. Dennis et al., The Media at War: The Press and the Persian Gulf Conflict. A Report of the Gannett Foundation, New York, Columbia University, 1991.↩︎

  12. M. Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945. Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.↩︎

  13. Book on the work of Crewe House: Secrets Of Crewe House↩︎

  14. Quoted by A. J.P. Taylor, English History 1914-45, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 26.↩︎

  15. See Gulf War↩︎

  16. A few days after the start of World War I.↩︎

  17. The information about censorship and how it was organized during World War I is taken from press historian P. Albert’s contribution to the Histoire generale de la presse francaise de 1871 a 1940, Paris, Bellanger, PUF, 1972, vol. 3.↩︎

  18. G. Le Bon, Enseignements psychologiques de la guerre europeenne, Paris, Ernest Flammarion, 1916, p. 320.↩︎

  19. H. Blankenhorn, Adventures in Propaganda: Letters from an Intelligence Officer in France, Boston, 1919. Full Text at archive.org↗️↩︎

  20. F. Baldensperger, Note sur Les moyens d’action intellectuelle de la France a l’etranger, Paris, Imprimerie L. De Matteis, 1917.↩︎

  21. Ibid., p. 61.↩︎

  22. Several texts illustrating this period have been included in Communication and Class Struggle, an anthology in two volumes, ed. A. Mattelart and S. Siegelaub, New York, International General, 1979 and 1983.↩︎

  23. B. Brecht, Radio as a Means of Communication,” Screen 20, no. 3/4, Winter 1979-80. On Brecht’s contribution to the theory of the media, see H. M. Enzensberger, Constituents of a Theory of the Media,” in The Consciousness Industry: On Literature, Politics and the Media,* New York, Seabury Press, 1974.↩︎

  24. G. Freund, Photographie et societe, Paris, Seuil, 1974.↩︎

  25. M. Balfour, Propaganda in War.↩︎

  26. N. J. Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power, New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1942, p. 233.↩︎

  27. J. Aronson, The Press and the Cold War, New York, Bobbs-Merrill, 1970, p. 25.↩︎

  28. History of Communications: Electronics in the United States Navy, Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1963.↩︎

  29. For a chronology, see Electrical Communication 46, no. 4, London, 1971.↩︎

  30. For Great Britain, see L. Denny, America Conquers Britain: A Record of Economic War, New York, 1930. For France, see C. Bertho, Telegraphes et telephones. De Valmy au microprocesseur,* Paris, Le livre de poche, 1981.↩︎

  31. A. Sampson, The Sovereign State of ITT, New York, Stein & Day, 1973.↩︎

  32. Bachlin, Histoire economique du cinema.↩︎

  33. Balfour, Propaganda on War, chap. 1 (“The Demythologising of Crewe House”).↩︎

  34. On Google Books↩︎

  35. H. D. Lasswell, Propaganda Techniques in the World War, New York, Alfred Knopf, 1927, p. 14.↩︎

  36. Ibid., pp. 220-21.↩︎

  37. Some of Park’s book are available on Project Gutenberg↩︎

  38. R. E. Park, News and Opinion,” reprinted in The Collected Papers of R. E. Park, Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1955. See also the author’s doctoral thesis, presented in Germany in 1904, translated and published only in 1972, under the title The Crowd and the Public, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1972.↩︎

  39. W. McDougall, An Introduction to Social Psychology, Boston, Luce, 1908; The Group Mind, London, Cambridge University Press, 1920. See also M. Conway, The Crowd in Peace and War, London, Longman, Green, 1916. On the relationship between American authors of the time and European social psychology, see J. Van Ginneken, Crowds: Psychology and Politics 1871-1899, Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, 1989.↩︎

  40. J. Rassak, Psychologie de /’opinion et de la propagande politique, Paris, Librairie des sciences politiques et sociales, Marcel Riviere Editeur, 1927.↩︎

  41. L. Richard, Le nazisme et la culture, Paris, Fran ois Maspero, 1978. On the organization of the film industry, see D. Stewart Hull, Film in the Third Reich: Art and Propaganda in Nazi Germany, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969.↩︎

  42. S. Tchakhotine, Le viol des foules par la propagande politique, Paris, Gallimard, 1952 (original edition 1939). English translation of the original edition: S. Chak[h]otin, The Rape of the Masses: The Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda, New York, Alliance/ London, Routledge, 1940. SPKB: Available from Kyoto Univ. library↩︎

  43. R. A. Brady, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, London, Gollancz, 1937. Neither S. Chakotin nor R. A. Brady refers in their work to Wilhelm Reich (see The Mass Psychology of Fascism, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971).↩︎

  44. P. Reiwald, De l’esprit des masses, Geneva, Delachaux et Niestle, 1946.↩︎

  45. Tchakhotine, Le viol, p. 337.↩︎

  46. F. Champarnaud, Revolution et contre-revolution culture/le en URSS. De Lenine a Jdanov, Paris, Anthropos, 1975.↩︎

  47. E. Bernays, Propaganda, New York, 1928. See also Crystallizing Public Opinion, New York, 1923; The Engineering of Consent, ed. E. Bernays, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955.↩︎

  48. See S. Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1976.↩︎

  49. D. Bell, Modernity and Mass Society: Diversity of Cultural Experience,” published in French under the title of Les formes de !’experience culturelle,” Communications, no. 2, 1963.↩︎

  50. W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1918-21, 5 volumes.↩︎

  51. G. W. Allport, Attitudes,” in Handbook of Psychology, ed. C. Murchison, Worcester, Mass., Clark University Press, 1965. By the same author, in collaboration with L. Post­man, see The Psychology of Rumor, New York, H. Holt, 1947.↩︎

  52. E. Mayo, The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization, New York, Macmil­lan, 1933.↩︎

  53. T. Parsons, The Structure of Social Action, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1937.↩︎

  54. C. Wright, Mass Communication: A Sociological Perspective, New York, Random House, 1959; R. K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1951, 2d edition.↩︎

  55. T. Parsons, Sociological Theory and Modern Society, Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1962.↩︎

  56. J.-M. Vincent, La sociologie en contrepoint,” L’Homme et la Societe, no. 3, 1990,p. 47.↩︎

  57. Issue 1 here↩︎

  58. See J. Schultze, Professionalism in Advertising: The Origin of Ethical Code,” Journal of Communication 31, no. 2, Spring 1981; E. Clarke, The Want-Makers, London, Hod­der & Stoughton, 1988.↩︎

  59. F. Morris et al., A History of the People America, New York, Rand McNally, 1971.↩︎

  60. H. Cantril et al., The Invasion from Mars, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1940.↩︎

  61. A. Gramsci, Letteratura e vita nazionale, Rome, Riuniti, 1977, Part III.↩︎

  62. A. Gramsci, National-Popular Literature: The Popular Novel, and Observations on Folklore” in Communication and Class Struggle, vol. 2, ed. A. Mattelart and S. Siege­ laub, New York, International General, 1983, p. 73.↩︎

  63. A. Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere, Turin, Einaudi, 1975, quaderno n. 13, §18.↩︎

  64. A. Gramsci, Americanismo e fordismo,” Note sul Machiavelli sulla politica e sullo stato moderno, Rome, Riuniti, 1977.↩︎

  65. L. Pirandello interviewed by C. Alvaro, L’Italia Letteraria, April 14, 1929. Quoted by A. Gramsciin ibid., Part III.↩︎

  66. J. C. Mari:itegui, Siete ensayos de interpretacion de la realidad peruana, Lima, Im­prenta Amauta, 1928.↩︎

  67. On Google Books↩︎

  68. J. Ortega y Gasset, La Rebelion de las masas, Madrid, Revista de OccidenteI Alian­za Editorial, 1983, pp. 192-93. (English translation: The Revolt of the Masses, New York, Norton, 1932). See also R. Aron and A. Dandieu, Le cancer americain, Paris, Editions Rieder, 1931; A. Siegfried, La crise de l’Europe, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1935.↩︎

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