In the critical year 1932, during the apex of capitalism¿s crisis and democracy¿s demise in Germany, I argue that the medium of photomontage emerged front and center as the pictorial means of mass agitation. The two radical challengers to the Weimar Republic¿the German Communist Party and the National Socialist Party¿saturated the public sphere with psychologically-provocative propaganda, rallying a volatile electorate politicized by crisis, fear and dissatisfaction. Both parties mobilized the burgeoning mass media, photography in particular, to galvanize the masses for four national electoral campaigns in a single year. In an aggressively visual political culture, photomontage evolved into propaganda¿s centerpiece.
Significantly, in this embattled year, the popular photomontages of John Heartfield occupied the front cover of the pro-Communist weekly Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung, contributing to the combustible tenor of the public sphere. I examine Heartfield¿s photomontages in this volatile context and reconsider the epithet `propaganda¿ during a period of political extremism. Moreover, in the year 1932, when the power struggle between the Communists and the Nazis reached its violent climax, I show that the Nazis experimented with the `leftist¿ medium of photomontage in their weekly Illustrierter Beobachter. After losing to the Communists in the November elections, Nazi propaganda imitated John Heartfield¿s polished, seamless photomontages.