H-Net Review [H-Diplo]:  Peacock on Magnúsdóttir,  'Enemy Number One: the United States of America in Soviet Ideology and Propaganda, 1945-1959'

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Rósa Magnúsdóttir.  Enemy Number One: the United States of
America in Soviet Ideology and Propaganda, 1945-1959.  Oxford  Oxford
University Press, 2019.  256 pp.  $74.00 (cloth), ISBN
978-0-19-068149-4; ISBN 978-0-19-068147-0.

Reviewed by Margaret E. Peacock (The University of Alabama)
Published on H-Diplo (January, 2020)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Rósa Magnúsdóttir's impressive book, _Enemy Number One, _unpacks
the complicated story of how Soviet officials and citizens thought
about the United States in the early years of the Cold War. Based on
extensive research from the Russian archives, Magnúsdóttir examines
the period after the Great Patriotic War when Soviet citizens
grappled to understand their relationship with their once ally, now
enemy. Magnúsdóttir shows how Soviet leaders and propagandists
struggled to construct a cohesive image of the United States-as-enemy
for domestic consumption. In their efforts to conjure this new image,
they faced what Magnúsdóttir calls the "dilemma of Soviet
anti-Americanism" (p. 8). Since the 1920s, the Soviet Union had
condemned Americans for their exploitation and racism, while also
admiring them for their energy, iconoclasm, and ingenuity. Now, the
United States had a new role to play as Cold War antagonist. The
United States became the vital "other" against which citizenship
would be measured. For Soviet propagandists, the United States played
a critical role in Soviet identity formation. How one understood
America defined a whole series of beliefs about what it meant to be a
good member of Soviet society. At the same time, as Magnúsdóttir
argues, the Soviet leadership's efforts to construct a useful image
of the American enemy had serious, unintended consequences. The
vision of the foreign, dangerous, but nonetheless free American,
ultimately became a measuring stick for those who sought alternative
identities than the one promoted by their leaders.

_Enemy Number One _chronicles the changing image of the United States
from the postwar period of High Stalinism in 1945 through the period
of Premier Nikita Khrushchev's Thaw and his policy of peaceful
coexistence. The book is broken into two parts, with the first part
examining the relatively isolated and heavy-handed anti-Americanism
of the late Stalinist years and the second part showing how the
Khrushchev's policies during the Thaw period created a new, more
complicated image of the United States for Soviet consumption. The
story begins in the late 1940s, when propagandists moved quickly to
suppress the memory of America as an ally whose soldiers had met the
Red Army in victory on the banks of the Elbe River at the end of the
Great Patriotic War. During the suppressive and isolationist period
of the _Zhdanovshchina, _which followed, the United States played a
central role as the needed antagonist in the Soviet struggle to
reject the vagaries of the West. The nation's Writers' and
Filmmakers' Unions set out to make movies and write books that
focused exclusively on the image of the "Two Americas." (p. 5) that
pitted the decency and solidarity of working-class Americans against
the cruelty of their evil bosses. Films like Mikhail Romm's _The
Russian Question _(1948) worked hard to show the exploitation of
American workers, the horrors of its racism, and the brutality of its
industrialists. All of this was done in order to create a roadmap for
how to live as a good Soviet citizen.

Postwar Soviet censors and police also did everything in their power
to counter American propaganda in the Soviet Union that came over the
airwaves from _Voice of America _and in the American publication,
_America. _To the extent possible, alternative narratives about life
in the United States became anathema in the late Stalinist period.
Being a patriotic Russian was not just defined by what one watched
and read, but also by what one did not consume. And yet, at least to
some extent, Magnúsdóttir argues that the Soviet people did find
ways to listen and read. There could be no denying the presence of
American tractors and goods left over from the years of Lend Lease,
which seemed to tell a more complicated story about American
prosperity. And there was an interest in US culture, if only because
people had seen the West during the Great Patriotic War.

Part 1 then examines how late-Stalinist propagandists and diplomats
worked to control the image of the Soviet Union in the United States.
The Soviet All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign
Countries (VOKS) struggled in these years to project a vision of
Soviet advancement and recovery that countered American domestic
propaganda. As Magnúsdóttir shows, the insularity and censorship of
these years did not lend itself to effective international
propaganda, and cultural exchanges were few and far between. Famous
Soviet figures like Ilya Ehrenburg and Dmitri Shostakovich made up
the sparse group of Soviet citizens who traveled to the United
States. Meanwhile, famous Americans like John Steinbeck and Robert
Capa were invited to trek across the Iron Curtain in the hopes that
they would favorably document the lives of the Soviet people. In all
of these programs, language about the United States remained hostile
and suspicious--rooted in basic messages about the exploitative and
racist vagaries of American capitalism. This was a safe approach for
the Stalinist leadership, but as Magnúsdóttir shows, it was also
astonishingly heavy-handed, brittle, and unsustainable as a long-term
propaganda approach.

In part 2, _Enemy Number One _looks at the changing image of the
United States under Khrushchev's early leadership. Peaceful
coexistence became the new defining ideology of propaganda regarding
the United States, which included a less pronounced kind of
anti-Americanism. In the years after Joseph Stalin's death,
propagandists put more emphasis on showing what the Soviet Union had
to offer in comparison to the United States. While they continued to
mobilize the United States' race problems as evidence of Western
perfidy, they also adopted new tactics. Now they focused on the
Soviet commitment to peace, internationalism, and support for the
young, and the promise that the Soviet Union would soon be catching
up to the United States in consumer production.

Ironically, all the openness that had been brought on by Khrushchev's
Thaw exposed the "paradoxes of peaceful coexistence" (p. 100).
Khrushchev encouraged more freedom of expression in order to address
the legacy of Stalinist repression, to improve the image of the
Soviet Union abroad, and to make the Soviet populace feel more
invested in their nation's socioeconomic development. In the process,
the Soviet leadership exposed itself to domestic criticism and
soul-searching. As Magnúsdóttir, and others, show, the paradoxes of
this period appeared most clearly in public propaganda and in the
era's mass, staged events, like the 1957 Festival of Youth and
Students, the American Sokolniki Exhibit in Moscow, the Soviet
Exhibit in New York, and Khrushchev's visit to the United States. All
of these events reflected a newfound commitment to international
exchange and competition. At all of these events, the popular
domestic message was that, while the Soviet people might lag behind
the United States, they still appreciated how far they had come. They
were still grateful and on the path to a better kind of consumption
than the Americans had ever known. Indeed, Magnúsdóttir makes a
compelling argument that peaceful coexistence was meaningful to the
Soviet people as a promise of relaxed tensions and as a hope that
improved material conditions were soon to happen. At the same time,
Soviet citizens also used this window of opportunity to talk about
their own desires for real peace and to embrace a more complicated,
more human, image of America.

_Enemy Number One _is strongest when it examines the domestic
propaganda efforts of the Soviet leadership. There are times when the
focus of the book shifts to examining Soviet propaganda efforts to
American audiences in the United States, which is useful surely, but
sometimes seems to pull away from the larger intent of the project.
Of particular merit are the places where Magnúsdóttir heroically
endeavors to understand how the general Soviet populace consumed
their leadership's propaganda. The research done to get at this
question (which includes work in the archives of the Soviet
Procuracy) is admirable indeed and offers a glimpse into a question
that few historians have been able to answer.

Citation: Margaret E. Peacock. Review of Magnúsdóttir, Rósa,
_Enemy Number One: the United States of America in Soviet Ideology
and Propaganda, 1945-1959_. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54570

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