In the early spring of 1944 when this poster was created, the Soviet army was pushing hard to expel the enemy from their occupation of Ukraine. Their need to keep morale high as always was great: they had to make the population believe that the enemy was not invincible. Rumours of new secret weapons were bound to raise tension and cause concern.
The suggestion that the enemy leadership was talking rubbish and even despised the credulity of their own citizens was a double-headed weapon. However, it soon became clear that new highly destructive, unmanned weapons had been developed when they were deployed against Britain that summer.
The poster belittles the possibility of the enemy having developed a new weapon. With hindsight, it appears the rumours concerned the V1 bombs and V2 rockets. By March 1944 they were already rolling off the production lines. They were built by the forced labour of prisoners of war, many of whom died in the process.
The V1s were launched against Britain in June 1944, followed by the V2s. V1s were known as buzz bombs , flying bombs or doodlebugs and V2s were rocket bombs, the progenitors of subsequent rocket technology. They were responsible for the destruction of thousands of people and buildings in London and the South East, and later the Netherlands, particularly Antwerp. They created much fear and havoc as their targets were impossible to detect until the very last moment when the engines cut out.
Skilled cartoon work combines in this poster with sophisticated use of perspective to create the image. The malicious, unforgiving approach of the caricaturist in depicting the negative, used in Soviet political cartoons of the 20s and 30s, drives the format. It is matched by a skilful handling of size, enhanced by colour sensitivity, to bring the key figures into the foreground.
There is also a story within the poster imagery which derives from the caption, and is echoed and developed in the lines of verse.
There is an intense theatricality in this poster. The greeny-blue shades mark a compositional line through the poster. It runs from Goebbels down through Hitler’s face, to the peaked green cap, the green topped table, and the hint of blue on the table leg, bringing the spectator to the perplexed and doubting German, bottom left.
As well as the speech coming from Goebbels, a silent conversation is taking place, between Hitler and Goebbels, and in Hitler‘s (rude) gesture at the crowd beneath his hat. Hitler is performing as much as Goebbels above him (see other Goebbels images: 1109, 1147, 1214).
Sokolov Skal‘ia was a skilled stage designer and has entirely captured the relationship between the performer and the performance space. The two performers are sited above their audience, and the crowd are in serried ranks below. The poster space is superbly designed to capture its own spectators on the Russian streets.
Dem’ian Bednyi’s verse is jokey, colloquial and unrelenting about the stupidity of the enemy. His aim is to show the fascists are fools and there is no substance to their claims about secret weapons. He despises their claims, implying that Russian counter intelligence is as important as German secrets.
His verse criticises the performance going on in the poster, as the ‘fascists’ have turned their ‘tongues’ into weapons. This verbal image reflects the theatricality of the poster: do ‘performers’ ever tell the truth? The quality of the verse may not be impressive but Bednyi communicates his and the poster’s point to the Russian on the street.