The man with knives between his teeth, revisited

The man with knives between his teeth, revisited

Against this ! Vote communist!

© ADAGP, Library of contemporary international documentation / MHC

Publication date: January 2006

Historical context

The French Section of the Communist International (S.F.I.C.) was created in November 1920 from the split between socialists and communists at the Tours Congress of the S.F.I.O. Abandoning with Stalin's agreement the strategy of "class against class" struggle, the Communists then engage in the anti-fascist struggle. Indeed, Hitler having definitively seized power in Germany, Stalin, for a time hesitating, accepts the possibility of an alliance with the Socialists and the Radical-Socialists, "bourgeois" parties.

In France, the rise of the far-right leagues, of which the crisis of February 6, 1934 is the most visible manifestation, further justifies the adoption of the "outstretched hand policy" by Maurice Thorez, the leader of SFIC Socialists, Communists and Radicals then signed electoral agreements which enabled them to largely win the legislative elections of 1936 and to form a “Popular Front” government.

Image Analysis

More than its "ancestor" of 1919, this "knife between the teeth" is conceived as an explicit reference to the poster produced by H. Petit in 1934, which depicts a Stalin impressed with bestiality, quite frightening. Indeed, Cabrol here uses the same framing for Hitler, which he sums up in a deeply contemptuous "that" and to which he radically opposes the term "communist". Finally, the handle of the knife itself is here also adorned with distinct symbols: the cross-fire skull on the left, the winged helmet and the Young Patriots sword in the center, the fleur-de-lis of Action française to the right.

Cabrol adds specifically communist themes to the initial symbolism. On the one hand, it draws attention not to the blood of the knife blade, which is diffused in red, but to its maker. In doing so, the poster designer denounces the collusion of the big German employers (Krupp), even of part of the French employers (De Wendel) with the National Socialists. On the other hand, Hitler's mustache, far from reminiscent of sparks as in the case of Stalin's hair, clearly outlines a German imperial eagle. In fact, Cabrol is distinguished by the parody character of his drawing: the pupils are reminiscent of swastikas, the Nazi dictator's ears and nose are red, his features completely distorted, his famous fringe quite exaggerated.

Interpretation

The symbolism of the knife between the teeth is enjoying growing success in France. The first occurrence goes to Adrien Barrière, who illustrated in 1919 the cover of a brochure calling on the French to vote against Bolshevism in the legislative elections in November. In 1934, the National Republicans of Henri de Kérillis reactivated the symbol, this time placing the knife between the teeth no longer of a blood-drunk Bolshevik, but of a demonized Stalin. In 1936, on the eve of the legislative elections which will give victory to the Popular Front, Cabrol, the cartoonist of the Popular, a communist newspaper, revives the hijacking of the emblem of anti-communism.

Indeed, from the beginning of the 1920s, local initiatives had made workers parade with a knife between their teeth. Here, it is an election poster, as evidenced by both the slogan, clear and direct, and the possible mention, bottom left, of the candidate of the constituency where the poster would be displayed. In a deliberately caricatural style, this parody perpetuates the anchoring of the symbol of the knife in the national imagination, while clearly revealing the alternative for the French: Hitler or Stalin, "national" or "communist", barbarism or the Popular Front.

  • Hitler (Adolf)
  • Communism
  • Third Republic
  • poster
  • propaganda
  • caricature
  • French action
  • SFIO
  • Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, said)

Bibliography

Maurice AGULHON, The Republic, 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, The Knife Between Teeth: Seventy Years of Communist and Anti-Communist Posters (1917-1987), Paris, Chêne, 1989 Pascal ORY (dir.), New history of political ideas in France, Paris, Hachette, coll. "Pluriel", revised and enlarged edition, 1987. René REMOND, Rights in France, Paris, Aubier-Montaigne, 1982. Jean-François SIRINELLI (dir.), The French Rights: From the Revolution to the present day, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Folio History", 1992.Michel WINOCK, Nationalism, anti-Semitism and fascism in France, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1990.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The man with knives between his teeth, revisited"


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