Propaganda as both for and against Colonialism

Alison Miller

While propaganda has come up in many contexts with regards to conflict, David Motadel’s writing and Ben-Ghiat’s commentary on the use of propaganda within the structure of colonisation brings a new dimension to propaganda as nation-maker.

To put a point on it, on sees propaganda used most frequently like how Hanebrink outlines it in his article about Judeo-Bolshevism, that it is a direct tool of nation-building from within the nation, usually by outlining an enemy and then using either pictures or sound to reiterate negative elements of that enemy, or the strength of the nation against it. This propaganda relies on consistent use of tropes that are understood by everyone within the nation that the propaganda is released in – it creates a unifying narrative for everyone occupying the territory. In Hanebrink’s article, this is best seen in the anti-Semitic propaganda published by Poland as part of the effort to stand against the encroaching Boleshevik army.

In both Ben-Ghiat’s talk and Motadel’s writing, however, we see propaganda being used indirectly by a nation, i.e. within a proxy country, in order to achieve the nation building goals. With Ben-Ghiat’s talk, the use of Italian cinema to outline positive Fascist characteristics, but having these characteristics put forward in a proxy country rather than within Italy itself. It ends up serving a double-use, one side to show the important characteristic of masculinity within Fascist Italy, but also showing Italy as colonizer in a time when that would have been of importance.

In a similar strain in Motadel’s writing, Nazi Germany was looking to undermine enemy nations by using propaganda to spark anti-colonial uprisings in select proxy countries as a way to preserve their own nationalistic agenda. They also hosted anti-colonial leaders as part of this effort, who looked at Germany as an ally for their cause and as an alternative to the liberal, imperialist structure that dominated the bulk of the world.

Interesting in the case of Italian cinema is the proxy countries desire to create and promote their own national identity, where Somalis would come to film and then leave when they found out that they would have to be the losers in a film working to create the ideal male national identity in fascist Italy. There is also a kind of dialogue between national and proxy in Germany, where heads of anti-colonial movements were restricted in what they could do by the German state. The anti-colonial movements to a certain degree were driven by German investment and the belief that it would be of benefit to Germany. Radio propaganda was driven by the Germany state, leaders were invested in by the state to travel to communicate their anti-colonial ideals (in the case of Bose), and the publications by anti-colonial leaders could be censored at the behest of the Nazi government.

This is not to say that these leaders were impotent in the drive for anti-colonial efforts, the entire reason they went to Germany was because they had started the efforts and saw in Germany another tool against the states that had colonised them in the first place. Rather what I am looking to say is that promotion of nationalism in proxy areas was a tool that Germany was using to preserve its own nationalistic agenda – they fed off each other. Italy also used proxy countries, in a different way than that of Germany, but for the same reasons – creation and preservation of national identity.

3 Replies to “Propaganda as both for and against Colonialism”

  1. Alison,

    First off, great response/post, very in-depth and detailed. That being said, let’s
    get to specifics. The term you use when describing colonialism as being a propaganda ‘nation-maker’ is without a doubt brilliant (It also in part reminds me of a term from history with a similar amount of propaganda, conflict and blood attached to it: kingmaker. But I’ll avoid a possible ramble about that as it would be somewhat unrelated).

    You’re completely correct about Hanebrink outlining Judeo-Bolshevism as a way to create the propaganda necessary to reinforce the conspiratorial belief of a state within a state (which is in itself a disturbing concept. This belief without any focus on a particular group usually has two outcomes: revolution, as occurred in 1917 Russia or suppression by the state, as occurred in 1919 pre-Weimar Germany. With a belief of a single group being behind it, the conspiratorial fervor becomes much hard to eradicate by the state. As you said the ‘unifying narrative’ becomes dominant to those who believe it.

    Using propaganda in a proxy country has a third reason which is to reinforce the glory of Mussolini’s reborn Italy and to get Italian’s and fascist sympathizers/collaborators within those proxy countries to willingly fall in step with the fascist vision of colonization (this had mixed success).

    In a similar ultimate result, Nazi Germany failed to achieve lasting results with their anti-colonial propaganda because while they did seek to bring about anti-colonial uprisings and aided certain anti-colonial leaders, they did not put enough resources into this front of the war to make it a worthwhile or viable alternative (I mean after the 1942 loss at Stalingrad, Hitler’s focus was mainly on saving his own neck from the advancing Soviet army, stirring up uprisings in colonial territories became much less important).

    That aspect of the uneven power relationship between the Axis powers and these anti-colonials (One could quite easily call them rebels or traitors as they were aiding the Axis, their colonizer’s enemies during wartime) and the uneven power dynamic they had with the Nazi regime is I agree an interesting show of pragmatic symbiosis.

    It’s an interesting point you make of the two feeding off of each other (I agree but will add that it was an unequal feeding, one fed more than the other). rather than one using the other until it was no longer useful.

    The Nazis were seeking to collapse their colonial enemies: expansion and national identity became much less relevant as they began to lose the war, it was more a case the enemy of my enemy is my only hope. I mean realistically if Nazi Germany had been victorious these anti-colonials would likely have been either liquidated or maybe the loyal one’s would’ve been set-up as puppet leaders like Marshal Petain was in Vichy France.

    All in all, a very enjoyable discussion.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this reply,

    Wesley M.

  2. Alison,
    First off, great response (I that title, it perfectly summarizes the hypocrisy of Fascist ideals. I’m going to make a Star Trek reference to explore that further: The Fascist collective system would resemble Star Trek TNG’s Borg, whereas the fascists as individuals would resemble the Romulans’ loyalty to and distrust of each other.). The fascist state is indeed complex.
    Kuhne’s argument of comrade-ship versus friendship and gender roles being flexible shows the selectiveness regarding the Nazi’s actually applying their policies towards each other. Exactly the Marheofer reading really shows the old saying about Tyranny’s whims as the Gestapo of the ultimate decision in how their investigations would end (whether being released or being sent to a concentration camp, or just disappearing).
    The two articles on the Spanish Civil War were intriguing. I completely agree that the Crumbaugh readings focus on freedom from within Francoist Spain are fascinating, seeing the limits of freedom and how they were able to circumvent state authority to a degree.
    The alliance between Fracoist-Spain and the U.S. is such a great discussion topic in terms of pragmatism in wartime.
    The Lopez and Sanchez article that discusses Nationalist women during the Spanish Civil War and their subsequent role after with returning to domesticity actually reflects the role of women during that time period in any war that attended. I agree with you it is unfortunate their achievements were ignored at the time but at least are getting recognition now by scholars.
    Wesley M.

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