It surprises a U.S. visitor to the Soviet Union to observe the obvious ineffectiveness of Soviet official propaganda directed at the Soviet people. The outside world has been hearing for years about the "glorious achievements" of socialism and the Soviet struggle for world peace. A certain number of people have believed it. So the visitor is somewhat shocked to discover that many Soviet citizens regard their own government's ''information" programs with boredom and cynicism.
And well they should. Soviet internal propaganda lacks the vigor and effectiveness of Soviet external propaganda. Perhaps the Party drones are assigned to propagandize internally, where their effectiveness (or lack of it) really makes little difference. Perhaps the skilled persuaders are assigned to duties in the international area.Let me cite some specifics. Take outdoor advertising. Most city buildings occupy a full city block in length, according to socialist planning. Across each roof in giant electric letters, in every city and in every neighborhood, is a giant inscription, readable by day and lighted by night. U.S. outdoor advertising companies and the cigarette advertisers would be delighted at such an opportunity to expose their messages to tens of thousands of passersby.
I can neither read nor speak the Russian language. So when I wanted a translation into English, it was necessary for me to ask our Soviet guides to translate for me these giant signs. The most frequent and typical inscriptions across the rooftops read "Long live the victory of Marxism-Leninism!" Or this inspiring thought: "Glory to the XXVIIth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union!"
Perhaps they simply change the Roman numerals for each Party Congress. A Western advertising copywriter would get fired if he couldn't do better than that. In the U.S.S.R., nobody seems to care. Certainly, nobody seems to notice the signs.
It is the same with outdoor posters and billboards. In the years after the ''Great October Socialist Revolution," artistic and cultural circles around the world hailed the vigor and dynamism of Soviet posters. Their bold colors, their vigorous diagonal thrusts, their intense colors, their bold captions, all inspired Western artists.
It is almost 70 years now since those post-Revolutionary days. And the Soviet government poster and propaganda factories have changed not a bit. The same crimson red - official color of Soviet power - still appears to be the only approved color for poster art. The waving red banners still dominate the design. The official portrait of Mr. Lenin, the very same one that appeared side by side with that of Joseph Stalin for so many of those 70 years - still can be seen. Now it is often alongside that of Mikhail Gorbachev. And if space remains on the poster after the official portraits and red banners, you will see one or another tired slogan that hasn't changed very much in years. No wonder no one notices.
The Exhibition of Economic Achievements - the giant exhibit area in Moscow that was opened by Joseph Stalin in 1936 - similarly shows the deteriorated Soviet domestic propaganda machine at work. In the years before World War II, it was built to display with pride the national culture of each of the Soviet Republics. In 1962, when I first visited it, the national pavilions of Soviet republics such as the Ukranian S.S.R., the Kazakh S.S.R. and the like were colorful and each unique in its display.
Those national pavilions are gone now at the exhibition grounds. The exact same buildings remain. But the signs have been changed. Where each national republic once displayed its culture, its products, and its geography, today state ministries have taken over: the chemical industry, the electronics industry, the power industry and so on. The largest pavilion, formerly devoted to heavy machinery, now houses an exhibit of Soviet achievement in space (it is easily the best of the lot.) But the national culture of each non-Russian nation is no more to be seen. A sameness characterizes each exhibit. The change may reflect a deliberate government policy of minimizing the differences that exist among the many Soviet nationalities to counter any nascent nationalist inclinations.
The exhibition grounds have become a pleasant place to take the children on a Sunday afternoon, more than an effective demonstration of socialist achievements.