Modern propaganda was defined with the First World War and the Russian Revolution in the early part of the 20th century.

Agitational propaganda train used to spread revolutionary ideas to far flung Russian countryside

Pioneers such as Alexander Rodchenko  developed new and innovative ways to spread the word of the Russian Revolution using the principles of Constructivism.

The term propaganda in the Russian language did not bear any negative connotation at the time. It simply meant “dissemination of ideas”. In the case of agitprop, the ideas to be disseminated were those of communism, including explanations of the policy of the Communist Party and the Soviet state. In other contexts, propaganda could mean dissemination of any kind of beneficial knowledge, e.g., of new methods in agriculture. Agitation meant urging people to do what Soviet leaders expected them to do; again, at various levels. In other words, propaganda was supposed to act on the mind, while agitation acted on emotions, although both usually went together, thus giving rise to the cliché “propaganda and agitation”.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, an agitprop train toured the country, with artists and actors performing simple plays and broadcasting propaganda. It had a printing press onboard the train to allow posters to be reproduced and thrown out of the windows if it passed through villages.

(read more about agitprop here)

We looked at the influence innovations such as the use of photomontage had on pre-war German protest images such as those by John Heartfield.

John Heartfield, "Millions Stand Behind Me"

The 1930s and 40s saw the rise of the graphical information poster perfected by Abram Games whose motto was “maximum meaning with minimum means”. The Spanish Civil War and the Second World War produced some of the most famous posters of the century, including the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On.”.

WW2 poster by Abram Games

The 1950s and 60s saw the anti nuclear and anti war movements rise with notable graphics being the CND logo and posters against the Vietnam War.

In 1980 the Polish trade union Solidarity organised a strike in a Gdansk shipyard, this sparked off a chain of events in Poland that led to a change in government, a loosening of the Soviet bloc’s control of Eastern Europe and finally in 1989 to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This logo of the trade union will go down in history.Logo for Polish trade union "Solidarity" 1980.

Also in the 1980s young people became concerned about a few right-wing organisations that were spreading racial hatred among young people. The “Rock Against Racism” movement and the Anti Nazi League were formed, with posters, banners and all manner of protest graphics provided by Constructivist-influenced graphic designer David King, who designed work for human rights issues and political injustices throughout the 1980s and 90s. (David has one of the largest collections of Russian propaganda and posters in the world, there is a room in the Tate Modern showing just a few examples from this collection.)

Anti-Nazi League poster designed by David King

We looked at some websites that are campaigning and protesting today, e.g. 38 Degrees, UK Uncut;

political zines that are by graphic designers such as Nozone;

and places to upload your protest poster about various issues: