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Halte au menteurs! Les cocobacilles sèment la haine!

  • Publisher: Paix et Liberté, Paris
  • Date: c.1951
  • Dimensions: 59.5 x 80 cms


Cold War poster, c1951, caricaturing the French Communist Party as Russian bacterial “bacilli” spreading hate & propagandist lies

About this piece:

Halte aux menteurs! Les Cocobacilles sèment la haine!

[Stop the liars! The Cocobaccilli spread hate!]

Original colour poster printed on rather thin & poor quality post-war newspaper type stock. Traces of old horizontal and vertical folds. Some light paper toning along outer edges of several folds. Couple of small holes on fold at upper centre in blank area of image adjacent to title, expertly filled with new old paper and  reinforced on verso. Some barely visible separations along line of lower vertical fold, all invisibly closed and reinforced on verso. The whole poster now backed on museum-quality archival tissue for better presentation and preservation.

This rare & striking anti-Communist poster dating from the early 1950s was designed and distributed by the French centre-right campaigning organisation, Paix et Liberté (Peace and Liberty) which had been founded in 1950. Its principal objective was to counter the “fake news”, falsehoods and disinformation propagated by the French Communist Party (PCF) during this period and to elucidate in print & graphics the argument that members of the PCF were nothing more than the covert agents & regional lackeys of Stalinist Russia. Much of the organisation’s financial backing came from the United States.

The principal vehicle of Paix et Liberté‘s campaigning activities was the propaganda poster. Aggressively & unashamedly anti-Communist in both content & message, on average the organisation ran 3 different poster campaigns per month between 1950 and 1955. Each individual poster print run numbered several hundred thousand copies which were distributed and displayed across the whole of France.

This particular design offers a strident riposte to the widely-circulated rumour that bacteriological weapons had been employed by the newly-founded NATO organisation against its Chinese & North Korean adversaries in the Korean War theatre from 1950 onwards. There were numerous accusations that American planes operating from bases in Okinawa & carrying deadly payloads of bacteriologically infected insects had flown secret bombing missions over Communist-held Korean territory during 1950-1. These were later investigated by an International Scientific Commission established by the World Peace Council in 1952.

So here this new bacteriological warfare is unleashed upon France itself. The poster’s wording makes a clever double-entendre and wordplay comparing highly dangerous & infectious “coccobacilli“, already well-known to scientific bacteriology, with “cocobacilli” (spelt with one c) – coco being a well-known pejorative French slang word for a communist.

These deadly & dangerously infectious communist bacteria appear in the form of a plague of eleven zoomorphic insect and flea-like creatures, each an easily identifiable caricature of one of the leading figures of the PCF. They are distributed widely across the entire territory of France via the medium of a large megaphone positioned on the country’s north-eastern border. Behind the mouthpiece we see the features of Russian Communist leader Josef Stalin, symbolically representing the Kremlin’s hate-filled anti-western propaganda machine. On the rim of the megaphone sits the insect-like form of PCF President, Maurice Thorez [1900-1964], cocobacilli No.1, according to the key in the lower left corner. His close proximity to the Russian leader and clear representation as a Stalinist stooge & regional puppet was actually closer to the truth than it may have seemed, as Thorez had in fact suffered a serious stroke in 1950 and actually spent the following three years in Moscow recovering from his illness under the care of a dedicated team of Russian doctors.

Interestingly Thorez is also shown connected by a string to his wife, Jeannette Vermeersch [1910-2001], No.III. A Communist activist, she was also for many years a member of the French National Assembly. She is the only woman depicted amongst the eleven Communist “cocobacilles”. Amongst the other figures depicted are the French scientist and intellectual, Frédéric Joliot-Curie [1900-1958] (No.VIII), who with his wife Irène, had won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935.

During Thorez long absense in Moscow the day-to-day direction of the PCF devolved to his deputy, Jacques Duclos (No.VI). Under Duclos’ leadership between 1952 and 1954 the PCF was riven by increasingly acriminious internal power struggles which resulted in the expulsion of several of the party figures depicted here, including Charles Tillon (No.VII), André Marty (No.II) and Auguste Lecoeur (No.XI).

There is little sign of that forthcoming disgrace or political disunity in this striking design, which also helps to more precisely date the publication of this poster to around 1951.  It also seems to have been issued in a number of different sizes and formats, including a much smaller colour-printed flyer (circa 10 x 15 cms).

Refs: André Liebich  – Halte aux menteurs! – Online article