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  • Enemy Number One: The United States of America in Soviet Ideology and Propaganda, 1945–1959 by Rósa Magnúsdóttir
  • Alex Marshall (bio)
Rósa Magnúsdóttir, Enemy Number One: The United States of America in Soviet Ideology and Propaganda, 1945–1959 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). 240 pp., ills. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-19-068146-3.

The history of the beginning of the Cold War continues to attract scholarly attention, and in this short but highly effective new study of the role of culture in that period, Rósa Magnūsdóttir examines how the former wartime ally but now new enemy, the United States, was portrayed in Soviet propaganda between 1945 and 1959. This is therefore a study of Soviet culture in the early Cold War, as seen primarily through the eyes of the Soviet government and its Agitprop institutions (the Informbiuro, TASS, the All-Union Society for Cultural Ties Abroad (VOKS), and the publishing house Mezhdunarodnaia kniga) in particular. It thus makes effective use of a range of archival sources to examine how the United States was seen and portrayed in Soviet cinema, newspapers, and popular culture in the period concerned.

The book is divided into two sections, each section comprising three chapters. Part 1 examines "Stalin's Script for Anti-Americanism" and part 2 looks at "Khrushchev and the Discourse of Peaceful Coexistence." Part 1 begins by laying out the official ideological position toward the United States taken by the Soviet government from 1945 onward, which dictated that there existed an "official" America, represented by Wall Street and the leading figureheads of the capitalist class, and a "second America" of progressive Americans opposed to war and to conflict with the Soviet Union. It then goes on to look at how both American writers and artists who represented the "second America" in Soviet eyes (Mark Twain, Paul Robeson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and John Steinbeck, among others) were actively promoted, and in some cases published in Russianlanguage editions running into millions of copies, while other sources of information on the United States, most notably the radio broadcast Voice of America (VOA) were actively obstructed and anathematized.

While the role of the more detailed monitoring and policing sources of information about the United States is treated in the second chapter of part 1, the role of VOKS is examined in the third chapter, which looks at cultural interactions between the United States and Soviet Union in the immediate postwar period. Here the 1947 trip to the Soviet Union of John Steinbeck and the famous photographer Robert Capa in particular is explored. This well-known trip resulted in Steinbeck's subsequent [End Page 229] book A Russian Journal, which was harshly reviewed at the time in the Soviet press, in line with the official assessment that the trip had not been a success and that Steinbeck himself had become a reactionary.

The three subsequent chapters in part 2 of the book then examine the post-Stalin phase of Soviet cultural attitudes toward the United States through the prism of a rhetorical shift toward peaceful coexistence generated after the Geneva Summit of 1955. This period witnessed a rise in cultural exchanges, ranging from Soviet chess teams visiting America and Soviet agricultural delegations visiting American corn farmers, to the staging of Porgy and Bess with its entire African American cast in 1955 in the Soviet Union. It also saw hesitant Soviet efforts at "soft power" diplomacy, in which efforts were made to improve those aspects of Soviet life that a Westerner first encountered in order to improve the image of the Soviet Union abroad in general. Soviet delegations and VOKS officials now began to provide extensive feedback reports to the Soviet government on their contacts with Americans, noting the need to improve the condition of hotels in the Soviet Union, the cleanliness and quality of service on Aeroflot flights, and the need to distribute films showing Soviet domestic life and the fact that Soviet civilians were ordinary human beings with families too. The opening of the Soviet Union to more contacts with the West reached its peak in the late 1950s with the convening of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-9731
Print ISSN
2166-4072
Pages
pp. 229-231
Launched on MUSE
2020-04-01
Open Access
No
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