Serge Chakhotin’s The Rape of the Masses (1939): the development of European propaganda c.1914-1960 and the Algerian War of Independence

In 2011 Neil MacMaster,  University of East Anglia (UK) wrote a detailed article on the influence of the Russian scientist Serge Chakhotin on the development of psychological warfare.

This remains unpublished, however you can read it in full with this link Russian scientist Serge Chakhotin

Extract

In Paris on the eve of the Second World War the Russian émigré scientist Serge Chakhotin published Le viol des foules par la propagande politique, a book that was rapidly to gain status as a classic work on the theory of propaganda. Today Chakhotin’s work appears frequently on university reading lists for courses in media studies, communication theory and crowd psychology, as a standard reference for the study of Pavlovian theories of conditioned reflexes, brainwashing and totalitarian forms of mass indoctrination. From the early 1960s the book was better known for its impact on the counter-insurgency or psychological warfare doctrine adopted by the French army during the long and bloody war of decolonization in Algeria (1954 -1962). However, despite widespread agreement among historians that the book was highly significant, little was known about the life and background of its author, or about how his theory of propaganda influenced army practice in Algeria. In more recent years historians have explored quite discrete phases of Chakhotin’s earlier political career, from his role as a propagandist during the Russian Revolution and as a contributor to the famous Smenah Vekh compilation by Russian émigrés in 1921, to his important part in the anti-Nazi struggle of the German Socialist Party (SPD) in 1932-33 and as propaganda adviser to the French Popular Front during 1934-36. This has contributed to a highly fragmented treatment of Chakhotin’s life in which specialists have tended to focus on one national context, but remained uncertain as to the trans-European context of an exile who constantly migrated between scientific laboratories and research centres across the continent, while also playing an militant political role in the application of a science of propaganda to revolutionary and anti-fascist movements. Chakhotin, a gifted linguist and Esperanto activist, was a truly European figure and his intellectual itinerary provides a unique insight into the turbulent political context of the “age of the masses” and totalitarianism in which modern propaganda theory and practice developed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.