"New Shackles for the People of the Congo," 1960.

The hands of Cold War-era America reached far. In this cartoon from 1960, Efimov characterized the beginning of what would be a six-year crisis in the Congo after it gained independence from Belgium. He did so by linking three prominent participants in the power struggle to American power, again symbolized by hands and gloves bearing the dollar sign.

Moise Tshombe, who would declare his home province of Katanga a separate state in the crisis, links arms with Joseph Kasavubu, the first democratically elected President of the Congo. Kasavubu links his arm through the steel jaws of Joseph Mobutu, who would seize power in 1965, rename the country Zaire, and rule over an authoritarian system until 1997. Although the three men disagreed on many points, Efimov drew them together, linked through American manipulation.

Absent is Kasavubu’s prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, who had helped to bring about independence and, after the initial chaos of 1960, appealed to both the United Nations and the United States for assistance. When he was refused, Lumumba turned to the USSR and received aid. This turn brought Kasavubu and Mobutu, who served as chief of staff, closer together. They had Lumumba arrested and executed by a Katangan firing squad in 1961.

In 2014, when the U.S. State Department published documents on the Congo crisis, they confirmed that the CIA had played a role in Lumumba’s assassination. The Office of the Historian has stated officially that from 1960 to 1965, “the United States repeatedly attempted to create a stable, pro-Western regime through vote buying and financial support for pro-Western candidates.”

In Moscow, Soviet media consistently maintained that the hands of American power had orchestrated the events in Congo. In 1961, Soviet officials even renamed their year-old People’s Friendship University after Lumumba.

"The Predatory Hands of the 'Free World,'" 1961.

The predatory land-grabbing hands that had once belonged to fascist leaders such as Mussolini turned exclusively American after World War II.

In this 1961 cartoon, an American general eyes Cambodia; his finger puppets bray “there are communist bases in Cambodia,” providing the justification for intervention. His gloves betray a different story, for they are marked “Thailand” and “South Vietnam.” While depicting this rapacious appetite as routine, Efimov is also mocking the 1947 Truman Doctrine, which declared that the United States, as the “leader of the free world,” must provide political, military, and economic assistance to all democratic countries threatened by authoritarianism.

Untitled Drawing, 1967.

Cold War-era cultural exchanges and tourism were CIA fronts, at least in this Efimov imagining from 1967. A shadowy figure who would not have been out of place in Mad magazine’s “Spy vs Spy” series (created in 1961), is marked with the Russian letters for “CIA.” The smiling American tourist’s hat exposes him: it is branded with NSA, for the National Security Agency. His folders may state “cultural exchange” and “tourism,” but his legs are supported by the dollar and his movements are orchestrated by his shadowy puppet master.

"The Hands of the Pentagon over the Middle East," 1970.

Despite Efimov’s Jewish background, he drew a number of nasty, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist cartoons after 1967 and received numerous angry letters from Soviet Jews. In this cartoon, though, he toned down these tendencies to characterize American support for Israel as aid that slotted into a tendentious tradition. An American military figure has a dove finger puppet bearing in its beak a document promising a peaceful settlement to the Middle East conflict. His other hand, however, betrays this promise, for its puppet delivers military aid to Israel.

Untitled Drawing, 1985.

Efimov would return to his vision of American hypocrisy in this cartoon, which lambasts the “Star Wars” (SDI) initiative under Ronald Reagan. With a rhyming text that declares, “Their love of peace is cracking at the seams when such a shield hangs over the world,” Efimov once again casts a crouching American military figure, with dollar signs on his epaulettes, grabbing a shield for “defense” in his long arm. The shield, of course, acts as cover for the offensive capabilities of the United States.

Here Efimov captures the Soviet view that the United States was “militarizing space” in the Cold War, a view that even colored Soviet reviews of George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy.

"Uncle Sam's Puppets," 1986.

During the 1920s, Sir Austen Chamberlain held finger puppets of Central European dictators controlled by British capital. While the figures, fingers, and hands changed, the basic sentiment expressed in these early Soviet cartoons—that the “West” conspired to manipulate events behind the scenes—did not.

In this cartoon, the 85-year old Efimov returned to one of his favorite themes. This Uncle Sam pulls the dollar-sign strings of chairs marked with “El Salvador dictatorship,” “Guatemala dictatorship,” “Paraguay dictatorship,” “Chile dictatorship,” and “Haiti dictatorship.”

In 1925, Chamberlain’s puppets included authoritarian leaders such as Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim and Józef Piłsudski. By 1986, the “West’s” chief puppet master was Uncle Sam; his puppets included Augusto Pinochet and Alfredo Stroessner. The principals had changed; the song remained the same.

The West and Russia’s Conspiratorial Worldview

In an interview from 1999 with PBS for its “Red Files” documentary, Efimov stated the following about his cartoons and their depiction of “the West”:

Cartoonists’ images reflect reality, what is going on in the world, what is going on in our country. Cartoons are a mirror to reality. In my caricatures and political drawings, I portrayed the West. Although “the West” is a very broad term, if you take it to mean everything outside our country, it seemed to us unfortunately for many years something of an enemy, something contradicting the order and values we had in our country. It is not because people wanted it to be that way, that we should be the opposite of the West. It just happened that way. I should say that there were two types of cartoon. There was the humorous cartoon, funny, kind, entertaining, but there was also the cartoon that was bitter, mean, offensive, exposing, those which were used as satirical weapons for those countries that considered themselves in danger. Although I made many simple, humorous cartoons, happy ones that entertained people, at the same time my job as a political cartoonist was also to expose and make fun of or brand a disgrace whichever of our enemies the given occasion demanded. That was my main task.

When asked about how he turned wartime allies into Cold War enemies, Efimov answered:

When the war finished, and our allies stopped being our allies, there was created a situation where we started to depict them as a kind of enemy, as aggressors. During the war I was already caricaturing the Americans with dollar signs. It was, of course, still something both unclear and also unpleasant. But that was the politics of the Soviet Union at the time. The same was true of the politics of the West. We portrayed Churchill and Truman as aggressors and warmongers, and the West portrayed Stalin and Molotov as aggressors and warmongers as well.

Efimov’s exhaustive output from 1922 to 1991 contained repetitive themes, in turn visualizing a remarkably consistent worldview. Efimov was not the only caricaturist who constructed this Soviet vision; dozens of friends and peers produced thousands of similar images across the history of the USSR.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and American President Donald Trump meeting in July 2017 at the G20 Summit.

Boris Efimov was a propagandist and historian all at once. He regularly interpreted current events, giving them meaning by slotting them into a framework he had helped to construct. His cartoons played a major role in the cultural construction of the new Soviet society and he attempted to fashion a “Soviet” way of seeing the world.

This way of seeing the world has evolved since 1991, but persists nonetheless. Russian television viewers today can tune in to Dmitrii Kiselev’s popular Sunday program, “Weekly News,” to hear about how the West continues to work against Russia.

Among other recent claims, Kiselev has stated that the United States sided with ISIS in Syria in order to “destroy Syria as a secular state.” For English-language readers, Sputnik, an arm of the state media agency Rossiia Sevognia, regularly publishes articles aimed to counter what it argues is Western propaganda against Russia (Kiselev is the agency’s chief). Recent articles have contended that the CIA has fomented unrest in Ukraine since 1991, that Euromaidan was a U.S.-Polish “special operation,” and that sanctions against Russia highlight an American obsession with regime change.

Perhaps the best example of the connections between past and present worldviews can be located in another recent Sputnik article on Syria. Entitled “Bloody Track Record,” the article disputes the June White House report claiming Assad is preparing for another chemical weapons attack.

Vatalii Podvitskii, "Trophies," 2017.

Vitalii Podvitskii’s cartoon, “Trophies,” accompanies the Sputnik report. It’s a very Efimov-like portrait of Uncle Sam’s willing hands, an image Podvitskii has rendered in other caricatures. In an email exchange, Podvitskii stated that he continues Efimov’s work of “pro-Russian patriotic cartoons,” a tradition no other contemporary Russian caricaturists took up. While his work is inspired by present-day American political cartoonists, Efimov “remains a true teacher.”

Efimov died in 2008, shortly after his 108th birthday. The worldview he helped to construct, one full of conspiracies, duplicity, fake news, hidden hands and not-so-hidden aggression, however, has lived on.


Boris Efimov’s original drawings are located at the remarkable poster archive in Prague: Ne Boltai! Collection.