From anti-bolshevism to anti-communism

From anti-bolshevism to anti-communism

  • How to vote against Bolshevism?

    BARRIÈRE Adrien (1877 - 1931)

  • Against Stalin's servants, vote National.

    SMALL H.

How to vote against Bolshevism?

© Contemporary Collections

Against Stalin's jacks, vote National.

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: January 2006

Historical context

Antibolchevism, and then the anti-communism which followed it, arose and subside in France as the communist movement progressed and retreated. It is an essentially reactive phenomenon, which can be observed especially at the crucial moment of elections.

Thus, the first elections following the Great War took place in a deeply disturbed political and social context. The staff, now headed by Pétain, carried out unprecedented repression, in particular striving to punish the "red" mutineers. Clemenceau, chief executive of the French Republic, then campaigned on the theme of national unity and the "threat of Bolshevism". The House elected in November is "horizon blue," the color of the uniforms of many veterans who sit there.

Fifteen years later, in 1934, anti-Bolshevism gave way to anti-communism. Abandoning, with Stalin's agreement, the strategy of "class against class" struggle, the Communists then engage in the anti-fascist struggle. The rapprochement of socialist and communist positions worries the Republican right, which has already lost the 1932 elections to a "new cartel" of the left. Communism now seems to threaten the Republic from within, having been one of the main opposition forces to this regime.

Image Analysis

The image of a Bolshevik with a knife between the teeth is particularly famous, single-handedly embodying French anti-Bolshevism and anti-communism of the interwar period. This poster uses the cover of a brochure published on the eve of the 1919 elections, "on sale in all bookstores" for the modest sum of 50 centimes at the time. Its author, Adrien Barrière (1877-1931), had until then been known for his posters for the theater of horror. The only color used, red, and the large print of the term "Bolshevism", combine the traditional color of the revolution with a new political notion. The latter thus makes its entry into the common political vocabulary. The trembling aspect of the writing and the unusual framing reinforce the savage aspect of the face of this shaggy, unshaven Bolshevik with animal features, eyes bulging to suggest madness. The knife, a tool that French poster artists will often reuse later, is not a completely new reference. It is directly inspired, according to L. Gervereau and P. Buton, by postcards published in France to illustrate the savagery of Senegalese skirmishers during the First World War. The designer of the image also draws on the reputation of the Russian soldiers who fought on the Western Front, particularly bloodthirsty. Finally, the apparent teeth of this inhuman and resolutely non-French being, the blood that drips from the tip of the knife, certainly want to awaken traumatic memories among the trench cleaners.

The poster targeting Stalin, commissioned in 1934 by the National Republicans' Propaganda Center, is one of the best-known avatars of the anti-Bolshevik image of 1919. The comparison with the latter is obvious, especially because of the use of the verb “to vote” in both cases. The color red has been generalized throughout the image, by dyeing the paper, as if to illustrate the spread of communist evil that threatens France. This time the grimacing incarnation of communism figures in the center of the poster, and we can easily recognize Stalin, by the way expressly named. The face is again marked by a black hair like the hearth, but its function is very different from that of the Bolshevik of 1919. The representation of the hair evokes sparks, an element with which the poster artist Petit associates pointed ears and especially eyes. pleats expressing deceit. These particular traits make Stalin no longer an animal, but the Devil himself. As for the mustache, it hides a mouth with invisible teeth, the mouth of a silent master reigning over countless "servants". Finally the big knife, weapon to kill, bars the poster in all its width and becomes a symbol in itself. Its long blade is reminiscent of a guillotine, while its handle is engraved with symbols: the sickle and the hammer to denounce the French Communists as well as the “valets” stigmatized by the slogan; the three arrows of the S.F.I.O. to represent the socialists; finally, the compass and the square to designate the Freemasons.


The sponsors of the 1919 brochure define themselves by their location in the “red suburbs” surrounding Paris. Antibolchevism precedes anticommunism, when the Communist Party does not yet exist as such. It is therefore an undercurrent of French society, an ultraconservative, anti-revolutionary tendency which is expressed in the circles of industrial entrepreneurs, daily confronted with the "working" and "dangerous" class.

Henri de Kerillis, founder of the National Republicans' Propaganda Center in 1926, nonetheless inscribed this reactionary tradition with respect for the Republic and the democratic game, unlike the far-right leagues which flourished at that time. He seeks to revitalize the parliamentary right following the victories of the left in 1924 and 1932. The resumption of the theme of the man with a knife between his teeth in 1934 has a precise electoral meaning: it underpins hears that despite the change of line imposed by Stalin on the Comintern, the Communists remain the same and pose the same threat as in 1919.

The industrial community and that of the Republican right both insist on otherness, the incompatibility with France of an idea and a party coming from the barbarian East. Their images, above all, are imbued with a violence that directly recalls the horrors of the First World War and will make a lasting mark on people's minds. It is only necessary to note the permanence of the image of the Bolshevik and the recurrence of the symbol of the knife in the collective imagination - including that of the Communists themselves, who do not hesitate to make fun of or to make fun of him. divert on occasion.

  • Bolshevism
  • Communism
  • Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, said)
  • Third Republic
  • Comintern


Maurice AGULHON, La République, Paris, Hachette, coll. "Pluriel", 2 volumes, new expanded edition, 1990. Jean-Jacques BECKER and Serge BERSTEIN, History of anticommunism in France, volume I "1917-1940", Paris, Orban, 1987.Philippe BUTON and Laurent GERVEREAU, Le Knife between the teeth: seventy years of communist and anticommunist posters (1917-1987), Paris, Chêne, 1989. Pascal ORY (ed.), New history of political ideas in France, Paris, Hachette, coll. “Pluriel”, revised and enlarged edition, 1987. René REMOND, Les Droites en France, Paris, Aubier-Montaigne, 1982. Jean-François SIRINELLI (ed.), Les Droites française. From the Revolution to the present day, Paris, Gallimard , coll. “Folio Histoire”, 1992. Michel WINOCK, Nationalism, anti-Semitism and fascism in France, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1990.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "From anti-bolchevism to anti-communism"

Video: The Communists Paranoia