Marshall Plan Posters

  • At the end of the Second World War in 1945 more than a third of Europe’s industrial sector was destroyed. More than 60 million people were unemployed. Over 100 million people were living on what we would now regard as a starvation diet. There were millions of refugees and former soldiers trying to get back to their homes. Europe needed food, raw materials and industrial equipment and the only potential supplier was America. But Europe lacked the funds to pay for these supplies. The United States government provided $9 billion in emergency loans but this was only scratching the surface of the problem. War-torn Europe needed complete reconstruction.

  • On 5 June 1947 U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, gave a speech at Harvard University in which he announced a major program of economic assistance to Europe – the European Recovery Program (ERP) which came to be known more popularly as the Marshall Plan. At first these resources were offered to all European countries, including the Soviet Union and those countries within central and eastern Europe that came within the USSR’s sphere of influence. The Soviet archives which are now available to researchers show that Stalin initially hoped that the Marshall Plan would provide the means to reconstruct Soviet industry after the war. He also encouraged the governments of countries within the Soviet sphere of influence to attend meetings about the Marshall Plan to see what kind of economic assistance they could obtain. 

  • At that time Stalin believed that in spite of ideological differences the Allied cooperation that had worked during wartime might still continue in peacetime. 

    As details of the Marshall Plan began to emerge the Soviet leadership changed its view and began to see the Plan as a means of consolidating the development of Western Europe, including Germany, but also of seeking to undermine Soviet control in eastern Europe. By mid July 1947 the Soviet leadership was informing the Communist leadership in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania and Finland not to continue to participate in negotiations around the Marshall Plan.

  • What is significant about the posters in this source gallery is the date when they were commissioned: the autumn of 1950. This is three years after the Plan had been announced at Harvard by George C. Marshall and two years after the ERP had become operational. By now the Soviet Union and its satellite countries had established their own programme, NATO and the Warsaw Pact had been established and ERP aid was being supplied to all the countries of Western Europe. Every delivery of supplies was stamped with the ERP logo. People talked about Marshall Plan wheat and bread, ERP tractors, and so on. There was no need for a poster campaign to highlight the benefits of ERP aid and technical assistance. 

  • So what these posters were designed to do was to promote the idea of greater Western European integration: the removal of trade barriers and the establishment of inter-governmental institutions to facilitate that integration. It is not surprising therefore that the winning poster was a ship formed from the word Europe with many sails, each of which represents the flag of a country participating in the ERP and with the caption “All our colours to the mast”.

    Propaganda posters constitute one of the most poignant documents that remain from the Spanish Civil War. As the remarks of numerous eyewitnesses demonstrate, the posters provided an essential part of the visual landscape in which individuals living the tragedy of the war went about their daily business of survival. 

  • The British writer Christopher Caudwell wrote home from Barcelona in December of 1936:"On almost every building there are party posters: posters against Fascism, posters about the defense of Madrid, posters appealing for recruits to the militia...and even posters for the emancipation of women and against venereal disease." As a result of their ability to conjure up the experiences of the war, the posters are vivid testimonies of the event. 

  • The sudden appearance of these images must have played a similar role to that of other symbolic changes that took place after the outbreak of the conflict, such as the renaming of streets, or the changes in speech (the word adios was replaced by salud in much of Republican Spain, and mi mujer -literally "my woman," which is employed in Spanish for "my wife"-was replaced by mi compañera, or my companion). For contemporaries, the presence of the posters on the walls of their cities was a conspicuous and inescapable reminder that a new reality was upon them.