The title refers to Krylov’s monkey or marmoset. Krylov was the Russian Aesop or La Fontaine. His monkey is realistic, but can speak and think. Catching sight of a portrait of Goebbels, monkey turns animalisation on its head. She would kill herself, she says, if she looked even a little like Goebbels. So despite Goebbels appearing in the painting as his human self he still looks like a caricature.
There a few Russians who would not know Krylov’s fables. His books are still widely read and loved by Russian children. His monkey is rather vain, and not a little stupid. If even she can see Goebbels’ monkey-like features, and her sight is deteriorating, then she emphasises how widespread the general view of Goebbels as a monkey actually was.
Attacks on Goebbels as Hitler’s henchman were not unusual, and it is probably difficult to ascertain what stimulated this particular lampoon. On 8 November 1944 Goebbels had announced the V2 Rocket campaign against Britain. It is more likely this poster is part of the general anti-German campaign.
Russian literature provides one source, and from an area of comfort, children’s literature. The image borrows from the popular print as well as fables where animals are often wiser than humans. Ivan Krylov (1769-1844) began by translating La Fontaine from the French, and then had great success in writing his own fables from 1810-1820.
This cartoon is one of the more genial from the Kukryniksy. This content ironically mimics the function of the posters themselves, which is to be viewed by spectators. It encourages viewers, like the monkey, to distance themselves from the apparent humanity of the besuited German propagandist. The monkey’s comment provokes a dismissive smile.
There is an unusual realism both about the monkey, and the portrait of Goebbels, but details give rise to comedy. Goebbels feet, placed one upon the other, mimic the monkey’s as do his hands and facial features. Is the picture alive? Is Goebbels somehow reflecting the monkey as in a mirror? But his expression is blank, while the monkey is thinking.
And where are we, that monkeys run free, while political figures are restrained within pictures? There is also a hint of amusing gender crossing to discomfort Goebbels further. In Russian, a monkey is female.
The poster draws on the fable ‘The Marmoset and her Glasses’ (1815) by Ivan Krylov. In the fable the monkey, her sight deteriorating in old age, notes that humans wear glasses. She gets half a dozen pairs but does not know how to wear them. She tries them on the back of her head, her tail, all to no avail. She decides humans are stupid. In her anger she drops and breaks all the pairs of glasses. The moral is that humans are just as stupid: they often prefer ignorance to the true value of things.
Choosing the monkey for this poster applied all her stupidity to Goebbels and drew attention to his remarkably monkey-like features.