Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Engineering of Consent: A Comparative Study of the Soviet Union and the United States 1921-1941

Alexander McGregor.

This paper proposes that comparative studies challenge the myth of national exclusivity and have the potential to bridge together the divergent fields of social and political history. In the case of the United States and the Soviet Union decades of literature tell us that these societies were antithetical. Through a comparative study not weighed down by a cold war prejudices we find that there were many crucial similarities. During the 1930s the US and the USSR both claimed proprietorship of worldviews which claimed to represent the end of history, to borrow a phrase. This was though merely an attractive mask under which lay an applied ideology which was designed, in a Gramsciean sense, to perpetuate the political status quo by convincing the public that it represented the zenith of humanities socio-economic-political evolution. The ruling power elites of both states set out to achieve this goal not through the total use of violence and terror (as is often claimed in the case of the USSR) nor through libertarianism and market freedoms (as is often claimed in the case of the US) but rather through the subtle and sophisticated manipulation of popular culture. This paper will discuss how cultural producers were employed in both the US and the USSR to create "us" and "them" groupings. These groupings were designed to create a strong sense of Sovietism and Americanism. By this one should not think of intellectual codes or dogmas such as Maoism or Nazism but rather these isms refer to a sense of self and supplied public culture with the language and emotions of inclusiveness and identity: That is, Americanism and Sovietism created a way of acting, thinking and feeling that was uniquely American and Soviet (and a way of acting, thinking and feeling that was Un-Soviet and Un-American. As we shall discuss, through visual arts (cinema in particular) popular culture was informed who were its heroes and villains the types of which were remarkably similar in the US and the USSR.


Alexander McGregor  (United Kingdom)
Ph.D student
The School of History
The University of East Anglia

Having earnt my BA (hons) and Masters degrees I am a twenty four year old currently mid-way through my Ph.D

  • Comparative Study
  • Soviet Union
  • United States
  • Engineering of Popular Consent
  • Visual Arts
  • 1929-1941

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)