“There has never been a movement for social change without the arts — theatre poetry, music posters — being central to that movement. Political posters in particular are powerful living reminders of struggles worldwide for peace and justice. Communication, exhortation, persuasion, instruction, celebration warning: graphic art broadcasts its humanity through bold messages and striking iconography.
The Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) is a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational archive that collects, preserves, documents, and exhibits domestic and international posters relating to historical and contemporary movements for peace and social justice....
The archive includes more than 35,000 posters produced in a staggering array of visual styles and printing media, dating from the Russian Revolution to the present. University, museum, and public collections of this material are rare, and because those that do exist are seldom accessible to the public, CSPG’s commitment to continually exhibiting this rich visual and social history is so critical....
The Center was recently awarded a major grant from the Getty Grant Program to implenient a state-of-the-art electronic cataloging system designed to make the collection even more accessible.”
I do hope “more accessible” includes publishing more of their collection online. On the CPSG site, the exhibit Presidential Rogues Gallery: Satrical Posters 1960 - Present features a mere 11 images. The Sixties Project has published another of the CPSG’s exhibits online. Decade of Protest: Political Posters from the United States, Cuba and Viet Nam 1965-1975 features 67 posters that were shown at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica in 1996.
Though the center limits its collection to posters from peace and justice movements, a thorough study of propaganda technique would also include material from a right-wing point of view. Movements for peace and justice would also do well not to ignore grassroots conservative movements, their history and political graphics.
The image above is copyright 1971 by the Committee to Help Unsell the War, “a coalition of over 30 advertising agencies.”
The FBI’s “counter intelliegence” program COINTELPRO was created in 1956 to neutralize political dissidents in the United States. Although the FBI’s COINTELPRO’s officially ended in 1971, there have been many examples of counterintelligence-type operations against political dissidents since. The 1976 investigation led by Senator Frank Church officially brought COINTELPRO’s mission to light:
“‘to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ such groups and their ‘leadership, spokesmen, members, and supporters.’ The larger objectives were to ‘counter’ their ‘propensity for violence’ and to ‘frustrate’ their efforts to ‘consolidate their forces’ or to ‘recruit new or youthful adherents.’ Field offices were instructed to exploit conflicts within and between groups; to use news media contacts ridicule and otherwise discredit groups; to prevent ‘rabble rousers’ from spreading their ‘philosophy’ publicly; and to gather information on the ‘unsavory backgrounds’ of group leaders.
One of their techniques was the use of “black propaganda,” bogus information that conceals or fakes its source. This included faked letters, poems, and satirical comic books to pit activists against one another.
Stay Free Magazine’s article “Fake Letters and Bad Poetry: Highlights from the FBI’s Secret War on Dissent” lists several examples:
Previously mentioned here, the Black Panther Coloring Book was designed by the FBI to appear as if created by the Panthers. The books contained inflamatory pictures, some of which featured young black kids shooting pigs dressed as policemen. From the Church report:
“One of the Bureau’s prime targets was the BPP’s free ”Breakfast for Children” program, which FBI headquarters feared might be a potentially successful effort by the BPP to teach children to hate police and to spread ‘anti-white propaganda.’ In an admitted attempt ‘to impede their contributions to the BPP Breakfast Program,’ the FBI sent anonymous letters and copies of an inflammatory Black Panther Coloring Book for children to contributors, including Safeway Stores, Inc., Mayfair Markets, and the Jack-In-The-Box Corporation.
On April 8, 1976 in Executive Testimony a former member of the BPP Central Steering Committee stated that when the coloring book came to the attention of the Panther’s national leadership, Bobby Seale ordered it destroyed because the book ‘did not correctly reflect the ideology of the Black Panther Party.’”
Posters and Flyers
Paul Krassner writes in “The FBI and Me — An American Story”:
“In 1969, the FBI attempt to assassinate my character escalated to a more literal approach. I discovered this, not in the file kept by Cointelpro, the FBI’s counterintelligence program, but as part of a separate project calculated to cause rifts between the Jewish and black communities.
The FBI produced a ‘WANTED’ poster featuring a large swastika. In the four square spaces of the swastika were photos of Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, SDS leader Mark Rudd, and myself. Under the headline ‘Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades!’ the copy referred to ‘the only solution to Negro problems in America’ as being ‘the elimination of the Jews,’ listed in the following order: ‘All Jews connected with the Establishment. All Jews connected with Jews connected with the Establishment. All Jews connected with those immediately above. All Jews except those in the Movement. All Jews in the Movement except those who dye their skins black. All Jews. (Look out, Abbie, Jerry, Mark and Paul!)’
The flyer was approved, once again, by [Kartha] DeLoach and [William] Sullivan [J. Edgar Hoover’s top two assistants]: ‘Authority is granted to prepare and distribute on an anonymous basis to selected individuals and organizations in the New Left the leaflet submitted..,. Assure that all necessary precautions are taken to protect the Bureau as the source of these leaflets [which] suggest facetiously the elimination of these leaders [to] create further ill feeling between the New Left and the black nationalist movement....’
And if some overly militant African American had obtained that flyer and ‘eliminated’ one of those ‘New Left leaders who are Jewish,’ the FBI’s bureaucratic behind would be covered: ‘We said it was a facetious suggestion, didn’t we?’”
In their chapter on COINTELPRO and the New Left in The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall reproduce an FBI memo [pages 1, 2] which lays out the Bureau’s plan to disrupt the New Left:
“Consider the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters which will have the effect of ridiculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.”
The cartoon displayed here was produced and distributed by the Philadelphia FBI office as part its plan to subvert SDS at Temple University. The caption, in a parody of the rhetoric of Sen. Joseph McCarthy reads, “I have in my hand a list of 200 names of people who don’t advocate the violent overthrow of the government.”
From Stay Free:
“The FBI believed that many New Left leaders had a weakness for spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, so a 1968 memo suggested mailing them anonymous cartoons such as the one pictured here. Subsequent mailings (from increasingly closer locations) could say ‘The Siberian Beetle is Black’ or ‘The Siberian Beetle Can Talk.’ Other proposed characters included ‘The Chinese Scorpion’ and ‘The Egyptian Cobra’ — anything with a sinister meaning open to mystical interpretation. According to FBI documents, the messages were intended to cause concern, mental anguish, suspicion, and distrust among their recipients.”
From Stay Free:
“Socialist Workers Party leader George Weissman became the first subject of an FBI poem in 1964, shortly after being framed for stealing from a civil rights leader. According to an internal memo dated 4/10/64, the FBI mailed out an anonymous letter, along with this verse, to radical publications. The purpose was ‘to discredit the Party in the Negroe civil rights field.’”
From Stay Free:
“In a 1963 internal memo, counterintelligence specialist Charles D. Brennan stated that civil rights agitation represented a clear threat to ‘the established order’ of the U.S. and that ‘King is growing in stature daily as the leader among leaders of the Negro movement.’ COINTELPRO head William C. Sullivan responded in a letter: ‘We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security... it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.’
Instead of sticking to the law, then, the FBI aimed to discredit King by any means necessary. Agents tapped his phone, bugged his rooms, trumpeted his supposed commie connections, and his sexual proclivities, and sicced the Internal Revenue Service on him. When it was announced in 1964 that King would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI grew desperate. Hoping to prevent King from accepting the award, the Bureau mailed him a package containing a tape of phone calls documenting King’s extramarital affairs and an anonymous, threatening letter (shown here in censored form). In barely concealed language, King was told to commit suicide before the award ceremony or risk seeing his ‘filthy, abnormal fraudulent self’ exposed to the nation. Fortunately, King ignored the FBI’s advice. He accepted the award and lived four more years until his assassination.”
Read more in Ward Churchill’s The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States.
“The Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective was organized in 1970 to create posters for the growing women’s liberation movement. The Women’s Graphics Collective used silkscreen to create large brilliantly colored prints in large quantities on a low budget. Later the group used offset printing for the more popular posters. The founders of the Graphics Collective wanted their new feminist art to be a collective process in order to set it apart from the male-dominated Western art culture. Each poster was created by a committee of 2 to 4 women led by the artist/designer. Thousands of posters were sold all over the world until the Graphics Collective dissolved in 1983.”
The Collective was founded as a ‘work group’ of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. From 1969-1977, CWLU members “dedicated themselves to developing grassroots programs for women while working toward a long term revolution in American society.” See the CWLU statement of purpose and list of programs. Though strongly affiliated, the Graphics Collective was autonomous from the CWLU and outlived the group by 5 years.
Find out more about the Graphics Collective, the CWLU, or browse through the gallery of posters . Subjects include the feminist uprising, abortion rights, a farmworkers solidarity boycott, ads for local events and facilities, the Vietnam war, and September 11, 1973.
Support! Vote! Strike! From the International Institute of Social History, 150 Dutch social and political posters from 1870 - 1998. The posters are divided into twelve periods and two special themes. The index is in Dutch, so here’s my rough translation:
“Chrissy Levett, is a London-based designer and campaigner for Mines Awareness Group... a nongovernmental organisation which aims to clear mines and unexploded ordnance which are bombs dropped from aircraft, in war-torn countries. Levett created an accessible and effective visual system in order to reduce incidents of injury and death through land mines.”
There are a few images here, perhaps of her work.
Global Information Networks in Education is an international NGO whose Land Mine Awareness Education program produces posters, brochures, T-shirts, and other materals as part of its educational campaigns. Click on the country names here for region specific examples.
“MineFinder lets you visually identify over 150 different types of landmines. An easy to use, graphic based system allows you to quickly determine critical information about any mine. Includes scaled drawings and detailed descriptions including size, weight, fuze type, and explosive content/type. Sort mines by type, characteristics, or country of origin.”
Not convinced? A testimonial on the product page from LT. Joseph Danilov, June 25, 2002:
“This is a great app. A must have for a NATO peacekeeping units stationed over-seas. I am no demolition expert but this manual was worth its weight in gold about 2 weeks ago. A 7 year old afghan child had found a M-22 AP mine, a.k.a. stepped on. The manual identified this mine and I defused it. Thank you very much to the maker of this application. Go Army.”
As the page says, use this software at your own risk.
NYU’s Grey Art Gallery is showing some of its photos and posters from the Iranian Revolution in Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture.
“While the posters were produced by a wide range of political groups, most make direct appeals to action by defying power, subverting authority, and inverting icons as a means to authorize oppositional ways of thinking and behavior....
As social discontent increased throughout the 1970s, some of Iran’s leading contemporary artists assumed an active role in the production of political posters. Inspired by the French student movement of 1968, a group of Iranian artists opened a workshop at the University of Tehran in 1978. The workshop provided the materials and equipment for printing posters to members of various political groups. Professional artists worked alongside amateurs. Their results were displayed throughout Tehran — in schools, in factories, and on the walls of other buildings, often defacing public monuments built by the Pahlavi regime as symbols of its authority and grandeur. As government agents tore them down or covered them with paint, protesters would replace them with replenished supplies.”
The show juxtaposes some modern painting and sculpture from Iran in the 1960s and ’70s.
More posters (with a nice thumbnail index) at islamicdigest.net.
Grey link found via American Samizdat.
“I make satirical paintings of bureaucrats and political figures the old-fashioned way: oil paint on canvas. I then transform the paintings into thousands of street posters generated through a offset litho process. Basically I poke fun of ugly old men in suits and ties, like members of the Reagan administration and his cabinet who were abusing their power in the name of representative democracy....
Guerrilla volunteers plaster them onto construction site walls and other surfaces in major cities across the U.S. These poster-plasterings are midnight raids: non-sanctioned, nonscheduled rock-n-roll-garage-band-total-loss poster tours. The volunteers meet in the middle of the night in an all-night coffee shop and plaster my posters all around the streets to surprise people on their morning commute. The posters provide commuters ‘info-tainment’ about politicians that I feel are abusing their power. This allows me to put art in unexpected spaces....
I feel it is an art way to communicate directly to regular people on the street versus a mediated form of distribution, like showing in art galleries.... I am not trying to change people’s minds about issues important to them, instead I try to get people to think along with me and entertain them at the same time. It is not rocket science, I simply try to irritate the powers that be as much as possible without having them squash me like the bug that I am. But it’s the visual buzz on the street that I try to create, because my art is for the people who don’t have the power.”
“An offspring of the May ‘68 student revolt, Grapus design collective was founded in 1970 by Pierre Bernard, Gerard Paris-Clavel and Francois Miehe. They were joined in 1974-5 by Jean-Paul Bachollet and Alex Jordan; with Miehe’s departure in 1978, the main core was set.
All members of the French Communist Party (PCF), they concentrated their early efforts on the new society visions of the Left, producing cultural and political posters for experimental theatre groups, progressive town councils, the PCF itself, the CGT (Communist trade union), educational causes and social institutions. At the same time, they rejected the commercial advertising sphere....
For 20 years they provided inspiration to graphic design students all over the world, with their idealistic principles (of brining culture to politics, and politics to culture), and their highly distinctive form of image-making: an accessible and unpredictable mixture of child-like scrawl, bright colors, sensual forms and high-spirited visual pranks.
Throughout their history, Grapus remained Communists and idealists and continued to operated collectively: all work left the studio signed ‘Grapus’ even when their studio numbers had grown to around 20, operating in three separate collectives. They finally disbanded in January 1991, splitting into three independent design groups.”
From Liz McQuiston, Graphic Agitation: Social and Political Graphics since the Sixties, Phaidon, p. 56.
This article on the AIGA NY Web site emphasizes role of “the artistic” at the expense of “the political” in the breakup of the organization. Instead, I read it as the group wrestling with their relationship to the State and the establishment. Grapus member Pierre Bernard, on his design for the Louvre:
“‘I didn’t want to support the cliché that the Louvre was a place of order, reverence, and boredom,’ says fifty-six-year-old Bernard, ‘At the same time, I wanted to claim the wealth of the museum as the property of the French people, not the property of a cultural elite.’
Although he is a former member of the Communist party, this is not strident leftist rhetoric. Bernard’s approach to graphic design is more artistically than politically driven....
The Louvre assignment was a turning point in Bernard’s career. His fellow designers at Grapus believed the collective should turn down the job. ‘We used to argue all the time about who we should work for,’ he says. ‘Unlike other members of the group who only wanted to design for political causes, I believed that graphic communication could be an instrument of social change when applied to cultural institutions and so, in 1991, I went my way and formed the ACG, short for Atelier de Creation Graphique.’”
The piece further attributes the the downfall of the collective to the adoption of social design by the mainstream:
“The 1980’s were a time of cultural euphoria in socialist France. Jack Lang, minister of culture, supported a wide range of avant-garde art projects, and graphic expression was one of them. Every socialist city, town and village had to have its logo. All the government agencies felt compelled to acquire a graphic identity. And the Georges Pompidou Center had just mounted an exhibition called Images d’utilite publique (Images for Public Use) that defined, for the first time, the role of graphic design in modern democracies. Most important for French Designers, a coherent graphic design theory was beginning to emerge. But instead of helping Grapus mainstream its revolutionary message, this sudden surge of public interest in graphic design challenged their very raison d’etre. No longer in the opposition, the members of the collective felt that they were betraying their subversive mission. Like the [Situationist International], who disappeared as a group in the confusion of the student uprising they had fostered, Grapus dissolved when it’s confrontational ideology was successfully co-opted by the cultural establishment....
Today, the members of the Grapus collective are practicing their craft, each on their own terms. None have sold out. Paris Clavel designs award-winning, leftist posters under the Ne pas plier monkier (a pun on the "Do Not Fold" warning on mailing envelopes containing graphic material, the name suggests an inflexible state of mind), Miche teaches at the Ecole de Arts Décoratifs. Alex Jordan, who had joined Grapus in 1976, formed Nous travaillons ensemble (We Work Together), another design collective known for it’s social involvement. Fokke Draaijer and Dirk Debage, two Dutch graphic designers who stayed on with Pierre Bernard to form ACG, also eventually left to create their own studios.”
See also Hundreds of Grapus Posters Online!
56 posters on health and safety at work from 1910-2000, from the collections of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. The posters warn, inform, and try to change worker behavior. The page is in Dutch, so here’s a crude translation of the four sections:
From The Guardian:
“The Conservative party’s 1978 poster of a snaking line of people queuing for the unemployment office under the slogan ‘Labour isn’t working’ has been voted the poster advertisement of the century [by the trade magazine Campaign].
Created by the Saatchi brothers, the poster is cited as instrumental in the downfall of James Callaghan’s Labour administration in the 1979 election and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, partly because he rose to the jibe and complained [about the poster in Parliament]. It also marked a sea-change in political advertising as, aiming at traditional Labour supporters who feared for their jobs, it was the first to adopt the aggressive marketing tactics which characterise modern elections.
The BBC has a story on the background of the Labour poster and how the photo was faked.
“News that people in the advert were ‘actors’ and not genuinely unemployed had leaked and Healed said the Conservatives were dishonest, reaching a new low by ‘selling politics like soap-powder’.
But Labour politicians were not hawk-eyed enough to spot that the basic ‘deceit’ was compounded by using the same few people over and over. Walsh had ensured that the volunteers’ faces were out of focus and could not be recognised.
Since then the tactic of putting up a deliberately controversial poster on a few bill-boards - and then reaping millions of pounds of free publicity as TV and newspapers report the fuss has become a standard and cost-effective tactic for advertisers.
When the election was delayed until the spring of 1979 the Saatchis brought out a second version of the poster with the legend ‘Labour still isn’t working’.
After the election Lord Thorneycroft, Tory party treasurer at the time, claimed that the poster had ‘won the election for the Conservatives’.”
Found via coudal partners.