Is Literature ‘the Most Important Weapon of Propaganda’?


Stalin thought so. So, apparently, did the CIA, according to a new account of how the U.S. secretly distributed Doctor Zhivago in the Soviet Union: The Atlantic

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once described writers as “the engineers of the human soul.”

“The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks,” he claimed. Stalin clearly believed that literature was a powerful political tool—and he was willing to execute writers whose works were deemed traitorous to the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s sentiments regarding literature may seem like the deranged delusions of a dictator. But consider a similar Cold War-era comment by the CIA’s then-chief of covert action: “Books differ from all other propaganda media primarily because one single book can significantly change the reader’s attitude and action to an extent unmatched by the impact of any other single medium.” He also used a military metaphor for culture, calling books “the most important weapon of strategic propaganda.”

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