Persuasive communication

Centre for Language Studies | Faculty of Arts | Radboud University Nijmegen

Persuasion Routes for Communistic Ideas

Every week this site features a contribution of one of our researchers about communication in research and practice. This week: Yana Tarnowskaya, about persuasion routes between the USSR and the Netherlands.

Communism in the Netherlands started twelve years before 1917, before the First World War. However, only after the revolution in October did it receive support in terms of ideological and organizational background. As a result of a new policy, which was successfully implemented at all levels, Dutch communists began to perceive the USSR as a political homeland in the early 1920s, feeling an emotional connection with Moscow. What were the persuasive tools that made part of Dutch society sincerely fascinated with the charms of communism?

First of all, it was a solid ideological background. It was well-thought-out by its ideological founders, among whom Lev Trotsky, and carefully implemented via local Parties. Secondly, people’s emotional sphere was affected. Consistently used vivid linguistic cliches aimed to evoke emotions of solidarity, raise self-confidence, exclusivity and happiness from belonging to the Party — feelings that are often associated with the religious domain. It was not a coincidence, as Trotsky later confessed, that religious and communist forms of influence had much in common. Indeed, it is hard not to notice the similarities: forming the Party (which had to be written with a capital P), isolating the society, establishing a central management entity — Comintern in Moscow, centrally appointing the Party leaders, introducing new holidays, symbolism, literature and later, after Lenin’s death, idealization of the Leader.

The Dutch Communist Party was not as numerous in number as the French or Italian ones, but it was very solid and well-organized. Table 1 represents the Communist Party electorate dynamics from the First World War until the late 1980s.

Table 1. Electorate of the Dutch Communist Party dynamics in 1918 – 1986

The establishment of Comintern in 1919 opened the door for influence on a international level, using the same tame route as had proven to be effective in the young Soviet Union.

Via Comintern, the leaders of the Dutch Communist Party were appointed by Moscow; they were ambassadors for creating the specific subculture, with a defined vocabulary and philosophical background. In his book Stalin (1939), Trotsky later wrote: “It is true that a direct connection with the mass requires a live communication.” Therefore, regular meetings with the Party leaders, evening schools for workers and a significant layer of literature were deployed to create closeness and form a certain mindset via emotions of egality, sweet anticipation of promised prosperity, and exceptional belonging to sacral knowledge. All the above evoked deep emotions and gave sense to people’s lives. The vocabulary of that time included substitution of the pronoun ‘I’ by ‘we’, transferring the overall emphasis from the individual to the community, from person to Party. Utopian, delightful epithets and consistently colourful metaphors were scattered in all genres of communist literature, including newspapers. For example, in De Tribune, an unknown communist wrote on 22 January 1929: “To serve the party means to live. All that happened to me in the past now seems to become a phantom, unreal, insignificant.” Some Dutch words were replaced by “Russian” ones, i.e. the word ‘kameraad’ was used instead of ‘partijgenoot’.

All these processes of creating vocabulary, traditions, holidays and symbolism were also initiated by Moscow, according to Hobsbawm. A very remarkable campaign started after Lenin’s death in 1924, intended to idealize the Leader. Following the idea “The more is the best,” his name was persistently accompanied in all media by adjectives such as ‘great’, ‘eternal’, ‘sincere’ etc. The leaflet in the adjoining illustration conveyed a purely informative message, yet even there the Leader was endowed with an exaggerating epithet.

De Tribune dated 24 January 1927, reported that the famous Dutch poet Henriette Roland Holst addressed children in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, asking if they swore to become exemplary communists, as Lenin had been. And the children answered “Yes.” This rhetoric was successfully transferred to the name of Stalin after his death in 1953. The next illustration shows the meeting devoted to the Leader’s death in 1953. The associated words ‘Father’, ‘close’, and ‘our’ established such a strong personal connection with Stalin, that most people lived through this event at a very deep emotional level.

It is notable that the idealistic idea of the Leader was so strongly incorporated in the Dutch communistic context, that in the early 1960s it provoked a confrontation between Dutch and Soviet leaders, after the beginning of Chruschev’s campaign, which unmasked the actions of Stalin in 1956. Dutch leaders did not want to support Stalin’s disgrace and broke cooperation with the USSR, after which the communistic illusion in the Netherlands fortunately started to dissolve.



Furman, D. Communists community in the Netherlands. Materials of V International Peter’s Congress. Saint-Petersbourg, 7-9 June 2013 – Publishing house «Europeisky Dom»., ISBN 978-5-8015-0337-0., 2014

Hobsbawm, E.J. Introduction: Inventing Traditions // Idem en T. Ranger (red.). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, 1993. Ð. 1–14.

Hobsbawm, E.J. Revolutionaries. Contemporary Essays. New York, 1973. Ð. 3–10, 5; Rooy P. de. Een zoekende tijd. De ongemakkelijke democratie 1913–1949 // Aerts R. e.a. Land van kleine gebaren. Een politieke geschiedenis van Nederland 1780–1990. Nijmegen, 1999. Ð. 177–262, 199.

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