The Red Machine: The Dehumanization of the Communist Enemy in American Cold War Cinema




image of Russia; Cold War; US cinema; image of the enemy; dehumanization; propaganda


This article deals with the US Cold War cinematographic construction of the Soviet enemy. The researcher focuses on the means of dehumanising the communist enemy, external and internal, by equating it to a machine. The author applies Nick Haslam’s dual model of dehumanization (2006), according to which dehumanization is visible in two main forms: animalistic, by associating members of the out-group with animals, and mechanistic, by associating them with a soulless machine. The materials used consist of US films from the “Long Fifties”, in which Hollywood, equating the enemy to machines, developed three plots: the robotic existence of individuals in a totalitarian society; the transformation of Americans into zombies by communists by means of Soviet science; and the body snatching of Americans by an alien mind, an allegory of a future communist occupation of the USA. The article demonstrates that dehumanization was implemented by directly labeling the representatives of the communist world as robots and by attributing to them a lack of emotions, consciousness, will, individuality, initiative, warmth, love, friendship, creative abilities, and even the ability to smile. Such an image of the enemy implied a moral exclusion, treating them as an inanimate object unworthy of empathy, including in the event of their destruction. The author points out that the use of mechanistic dehumanization was very effective. Essentialization of the differences between “us” and “them” occurred: the symbolic border between them is presented as a boundary between living and nonliving. The image of mortal danger was created: the “Red Machine” is strong and merciless, it cannot be moved to pity, and so it is permissible to destroy it. This image contributed to the legitimation of power: the political opponents of the authorities are represented as internal enemies who are anxious to turn Americans into obedient executors of someone else’s will and to deprive them of humanity. At the same time, the machine also has weaknesses, and it is possible to defeat it: since it is devoid of human creativity, it is clearly inferior to the free human spirit embodied in America.

Author Biography

Oleg Riabov

Dr. Hab. (Philosophy), Professor, Leading Researcher, St Petersburg State University.

7/9, Universitetskaya Embankment, 199034, St Petersburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-5944-9668


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How to Cite

Riabov, O. (2020). The Red Machine: The Dehumanization of the Communist Enemy in American Cold War Cinema. Quaestio Rossica, 8(2), 536–550.



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