Marxist Dracula meets Vlad the Impaler and the Propaganda Men

I wrote this paper about the connections between Russia and Dracula a year ago and thought I would get it published. It was kind of just an interesting ‘spin off’ of my research on Nostradamus. Now I lost interest in revising and publishing it, so it is for the blog.

Since I have written this, I have made some advances in my theory and personal understanding of anti-Semitism and antifascism. You may find it somewhat ‘primitive’ compared to my more recent analyses. But the nuts and bolts hold true in my opinion.

Marxist Dracula meets Vlad the Impaler and the Propaganda Men:

Dracula as Strategic Communications about Russia


Vlad Tepes, also known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ and ‘Dracula’ was a 15th century Wallachian warlord whose brutality was immortalized in the stories of contemporary European publicists. These stories were brought to Russia and became the basis for Russia’s first belletristic text: “The Tale of Dracula”. The 16th century Russian Tsar Ivan IV (a.k.a. ‘Ivan the Terrible’) was a critical figure in implementing a cohesive Russian mythology, and he was equated with many stories formerly related to Dracula. The first English-language book which combined the concept of vampires and the historical figure of Vlad Tepes was Karl Marx’ “Das Kapital”. There is evidence that Marx influenced Bram Stoker’s conception of Dracula as a character. In the 20th century, film-makers have developed the concept of Dracula in ways which may undermine Stoker’s arguably Russophobic and anti-Semitic context while also introducing 16th century Russian mythology and modern geopolitics to the vampire story.

Keywords: Dracula, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Third Rome, Propaganda, Russian History


The character of Vlad Tepes or “Dracula” was probably the subject of Russia’s first historical novel or “belletristic text” (McNally & Florescu, 1994, 199). Vlad Tepes was a popular figure in 16th century Europe, known for his use of psychological warfare — earning the name “Vlad the Impaler” due to a reputation for impaling the Turkish enemies he faced on the battlefield as a demoralizing warning (Miller, 2005, p.95). Ivan Vasilyevich, (aka Ivan IV, The Terrible) was a critical figure in Russian history equated with many of the Dracula legends via the “tsar-Dracula” literary convention (Poe, 2000, 159-160). The use of Dracula tales to highlight the fearful tendencies of tyrants was likely a form of 15th and 16th century political propaganda (de Madariaga, 2006, Ch3 ¶12-14).

According to Marxist literary critics, Bram Stoker’s 1897 book “Dracula” has many thematic parallels with Karl Marx’ 1867 book “Das Kapital” (see Moretti). Marx’ contribution to gothic literature is likely to have been a major thematic influence on Stoker as he wrote Dracula, though Stoker was not a Marxist (Graham-Dixon, 10:20-10:45). Stoker’s character of Dracula can be interpreted as anti-Semitic which is also connected to themes in Marx’ work (Bloom, 1942, 3). The concept of the Jew as an amalgamation of “otherness” shares many parallels with the construction of gothic monsters (Halberstam 1993).

Beyond a subtext which closely parallels Karl Marx’ imagery, Dracula can be interpreted from the lens of Stoker’s response to perceived foreign threats to Victorian culture (Halberstam 1993) as well as Russophobia in the post-Crimean war era (Cain, 2006, 13). (Marx’ early career was also marked by Russophobic attitudes (Borowska, 2002, 87).)

Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola are known for their sexualized adaptations of Stoker’s Dracula story (Canby, 1992; Fleming 2015). A major change in the Marxist literary analysis of Coppola’s 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” relates to the replacement of metaphors for economic capital with metaphors for sexual capital (Coppola 283). In addition, Welles and Coppola had a shared fascination with Joseph Conrad’s 1899 gothic novel “Heart of Darkness” which Coppola adapted as “Apocalypse Now”. This film has arguably made a gothic monster out of American imperialism in the form of the Dracula-like Colonel Kurtz character. Kurtz is seemingly constructed from anti-war conspiracy theories and alleged Kremlin narratives promoted during the Vietnam War era.

Coppola’s addition of several novel scenes to his Dracula movie imbues new meaning that brings his version in line with 16th century Russian state mythology. His script scrubs away much of Stoker’s Russophobic and anti-Semitic context and implied imagery, but may create new “bad blood” in the area of disrupting sexual norms and promoting an inflammatory depiction of Islam.

The most popular Dracula stories chart the character’s evolution from a 15th century tyrant king to a late 20th century sex symbol. These narratives may be interpreted as strategic communications which convey(ed) contemporary political objectives relative to cultural identities of Wallachians, Russians, the British, and Jews. The repeated “narrative hijacking” of Dracula for purposes of strategic communication and propagandizing – first in the Russian language in the 16th century, then in English in the 19th century, and arguably in Russian (via English) once again in the 20th– is a consistent theme from this analytical perspective. Dracula is propaganda.

Historical Russian Context of Dracula

Vlad Tepes (“Vlad the Impaler”, aka “Dracula”, 1428/1431 – 1476/1477) was a popular literary figure in 15th century Europe, but relatively little is known about him (thus ambiguity even on his dates of birth and death). His popularity stems from his legend as a brutal but just Christian protector of Europe from fears of (Muslim) Turkish invasions, who as his nickname implies, is said to have impaled his enemies on sharpened wooden stakes. Late 15th century “German publicists” developed a literary style of dark humor which emphasized the cruelty and effective leadership of Vlad Tepes. In one of the most notable of these stories, two Muslim diplomats had refused to remove their hats in his presence, and so it was written that Vlad Tepes had the hats nailed to their heads in a form of grim irony (Poe 2000, 159-160).

The Vlad Tepes stories were popular throughout Europe and Russia. This eventually evolved into the “tsar-Dracula” myth which eschewed the character of Vlad Tepes entirely and associated the literary style with Russian tsars, specifically Ivan IV (Poe 160). Credible Russian historians have argued that the first “belletristic text” (literature as fine art, or novel) printed in Russia was a mix of fact and fiction about Dracula which circulated from the 15th to the 18th century: “The Tale of Dracula” (McNally & Florescu, 1994, 199). The text, produced by the monk Efrosin (Evfrosin), is likely to have been cobbled together from Vlad Tepes tales brought back to Moscow by a foreign ambassador in the late 15th century (de Madariaga, 2006, Ch3 ¶12-14; McNally & Florescu, 1994, 199; Poe 2000,160).

McNally and Florescu’s research unearthed an important connection between Russian cultural history and the legend of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula)

Ivan the Terrible (“Ivan IV”, 1530 – 1584) was a critical figure in integrating Russia under a unified national identity in the 16th century. He also instituted the first Russian political police: the Oprichniki – “the hellish host” – known for their fearful dress and terrorization of the Russian population (Perrie & Pavlov, 2014, 112-113).

Ivan IV had adopted some of the legends of Vlad Tepes as his own – including the tale of the nailing of hats to the heads of diplomats (Poe 2000, 160,170). In the tsar-Dracula renditions of Ivan IV, the Muslims who had their hats nailed on were either replaced with Frenchmen or Italians, depending on who was telling the story (Poe 2000, 160). Similarly, there are parallel stories about Ivan IV and Vlad Tepes rounding up nobles on Easter in their finest clothes to do hard labor (Melton, 2010). One must wonder what is true and what is not around these tales, but what is unambiguous is that Ivan IV also took on the connotation of an “impaler” in contemporary propaganda as well. Ivan IV allegorically adopted the habit of skewering his enemies on spikes – and he is notable for being the one and only Russian Tsar to employ this tactic in historical literature (de Madariaga, 2006, Ch3 ¶12-14).

The tsar-Dracula stories of Ivan IV can be interpreted in the context of political propaganda which appealed to the common peasant population due to their darkly humorous format. Seeing nobles, perceived traitors, and foreign dignitaries humiliated by the Tsar – or at least hearing stories to that effect – may have been inspiring to the population (Perrie & Pavlov, 2014, 159-160).

Stories which applied the tsar-Dracula literary format to Ivan IV appeared both inside and outside Russia (Poe 2000, 160). This image of Ivan IV as a tyrant seems to have been cultivated by both Russia and its enemies and Ivan IV may have welcomed such a fearful and legendary status from a psychological perspective (Perrie & Pavlov, 2014, 159-160). Ivan IV’s Russian name, “Ivan Grozny” is said to be better translated to English as Ivan the “Awe Inspiring” and “Terrifying”; rather than “Terrible” which has an English meaning which might ascribe poor leadership performance (McLellan, 1990).

Regardless of who was promoting the tsar-Dracula story, Ivan IV’s notoriety swept across much of Europe where he was negatively known as “Ivan the Tyrant” (Poe, 2000 159). Within Russia, however it was argued that Ivan IV’s cruelty promoted social order because of the terror which he imbued in the population (McNally & Florescu, 1994, 98), and there was a connection drawn between the Tsar’s sadism and his divine privilege as a ruler ordained by God (de Madariaga, 2006, Ch3 ¶12-14).

The philosophical root of Bolshevism was a combination of Marxism and Russian messianism, which had its root in the Russian concept of “Third Rome” (Poe 1997, 4). Third Rome was a critical part of the mythology surrounding Ivan IV and was a prophetic perspective on Russia’s place in the world proposed by the Orthodox monk Filofei of Pskov (also spelled Philotheus, Filofey) (Perrie & Pavlov, 2014, 34-35; Poe 1997, 3). It was the view that First Rome had fallen (Rome), Second Rome had fallen (Constantinople), and Third Rome was Moscow, and there would never be a “Fourth Rome”. “Rome” in this sense was the perceived seat of Orthodox Christian legitimacy. Like the cobbling of the Vlad Tepes stories into the legends of Ivan IV, the acts which had conferred the title of protector of the Orthodox on Ivan IV and legitimized the mythology of Moscow as Third Rome are suspect; and as some scholars have argued, largely based on a system of fakes and forgeries (Dashkevytch, 2014).

Bram Stoker’s Russophobia and Anti-Semitism

Stoker’s Dracula was written during a time of heightened tension between Britain and Russia, shortly after the Crimean War (see Cain). Stoker himself never travelled to Transylvania, but his brother George Stoker had been a surgeon during the Turko-Russian war working for the Imperial Ottoman Army and had been in areas like Bulgaria. George Stoker seems to have been critical of Russians and Jews in his writings and likely influenced his brother Bram, who he was close with (Cain, 2006, p.103, 115, 157).

From the start, Dracula had a negative connotation in English associated with Eastern Europe. The word Dracula had actually appeared in an 1820 book in English by William Wilkinson entitled “An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova”. A footnote defines Dracula as the word for “devil” in the Wallachian language and was given as a surname to anyone who “rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning” (Wilkinson, 1820, 19).

The Wilkinson text makes no mention of impaling, nor anyone with the name of Vlad. Despite a reference to implied cruelty and evil, in the Wilkinson reference, the figure named Dracula who “crossed the Danube” escaped and the Turks were victorious imposing treaty terms on the Wallachians – hardly terrified into retreat and submission (Wilkinson, 1820, 17-22). (This clearly conflicts with the legends of Vlad Tepes which were recorded by the Greek historian Chalkondyles which made him legendary as an “impaler”. Following his retreat, this Dracula was also accused by his successor of being in alliance with the Turks and called a traitor (Miller, 2005, 96).)

The character of vampire has been associated with scapegoating, including of Jews and expressions of female sexuality (Neocleous, 2003). In Stoker’s Dracula, the cross-fearing, aquiline-nosed (hooked) Eastern European exudes the otherness of the Jew in anti-Semitic literature (Halberstam, 1993). Stoker was familiar to such imagery having worked for actor Henry Irving who had long played a complex – and not necessarily classically anti-Semitic –  Shylock in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” during a long run of the play at the Lyceum in 1879-1880 (Belford, 2002, 118).

Stoker’s vampire accumulates many of the traits of “otherness” which are emblematic of the monsters of gothic, as well as contemporary 19th century Jewish stereotypes. The concept of “gothic monstrosity” is a combination of “bad blood, unstable gender identity, sexual and economic parasitism, and degeneracy” which has clear parallels to “the monster Jew produced by nineteenth century antisemitism”, and the blood-tainting character of Dracula himself (Halberstam 1993). Other subtle clues of antisemitism may be related to Dracula’s hoarding and lust for gold, metaphorical bleeding of gold when slashed by Harker, as well as a description that Carfax Abbey smells of “ole Jerusalem” (which follows other unfavorable depictions of Dracula’s smell in the text, paralleling 19th century stereotypes of Jewish otherness) (Halberstam 1993).

Marxist Subtext in the Stoker Book and Coppola Film

Marxist literary criticism is primarily focused on matters of economics and capital examined through the lens of class struggle. Dracula is often used as a template for Marxist literary analysis because of the clear parallels between blood and capital in Stoker’s book. The more Dracula feeds and accumulates blood, the more powerful he becomes, while those he feeds on grow increasingly weaker. Dracula can be considered as the bourgeoise monopolist or aristocratic autocrat who literally hoards gold and survives by “accumulation” of it (blood again as a metaphor for gold) at the expense of lower classed characters (Moretti, 1982).

Karl Marx took on the role of a literary “Van Helsing” in some ways — relating the specter of capitalism to ghosts, werewolves, and vampires, and prescribing methods for their annihilation. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that literary critics view the horrific imagery in Das Kapital in the context of a gothic novel, much like Dracula is (Graham-Dixon, 6:30-10:15).

In this analytical perspective, in a literary landscape where “all roads lead to Dracula”, “Gothic without [Das Kapital] is like Dracula without blood”; and the industrialization of the world via monstrous images of “blood sucking” capitalism which were introduced by Marx are seen to have been a clear influence on Stoker (Graham-Dixon 6:30-10:15). Stoker was not a Marxist, though Dracula is convincingly influenced by ideas first introduced into English by Marx, since Stoker was connected to men like the “gothic revivalist”, “pamphleteer”, and “revolutionary socialist” William Morris who had an early copy of Das Kapital which he had gilded and treated with great care (Graham-Dixon, 11:00-12:25). As early as 1886, Morris knew Stoker well enough to refer people to him by name at the Lyceum where Stoker worked (Morris, 2014, 586).

In Das Kapital, Marx introduces the idea of burdens placed on the working class by an autocratic “Wallachian boyard”, who by reference checking turns out to be Vlad Tepes, but Marx does not call him “Dracula”. However, Marx made at least three references to vampirism in Das Kapital.  It is said that “it is clear that the vampire motif, if not the vampire himself, runs like a red thread through his work” (Neocleous, 2003). For example: “capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks” (Marx 1867, Pt3.Ch10 ¶7).

Regarding the implied anti-Semitic subtext in Dracula, we once again find parallels between Marxist theory and Stoker’s vampire. In his 1844 essay “On the Jewish Question”, Karl Marx said: “What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money… The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money…” (Marx, 1844, 22-25). The stereotype of Jew as international moneyman was reinforced in Das Kapital: “The sum of the values in circulation can clearly not be augmented by any change in their distribution, any more than the quantity of the precious metals in a country by a Jew selling a Queen Ann’s farthing for a guinea” (Marx, 1867, Pt2.Ch5 ¶7).

In addition to the themes of Dracula, vampirism, and gothic antisemitism, which are shared between Stoker’s Dracula and Karl Marx’ writings, a theme of “Russophobia” and “pronounced anti-panslavism” permeated Marx’ early work (Borowska, 2002, 87).

Whereas Stoker seems to have viewed blood and gold in “Dracula” as metaphors for power derived from capital, in Coppola’s version, there is almost no emphasis on equating blood with gold – instead the classical examples of gold are replaced with sex. Coppola addresses this in his notes for the film: “Blood is the symbol of everything – of passion, of life. It is the main metaphor in the film; it is the sauce that makes the characters potent” (Coppola 1992).

Marxist critics have observed that in Stoker’s story, “when Harker explores the castle, he finds just one thing: ‘a great heap of gold…gold of all kinds, Roman, and British, and Austrian, and Hungarian, and Greek and Turkish money, covered with a film of dust, as though it had lain long in the ground.’ The money that had been buried comes back to life, becomes capital and embarks on the conquest of the world” (Moretti 1982; Stoker, 1897, 52). (The gold is also seen to be emblematic of countries who went to war with Russia in Stoker’s lifetime (Cain, 2006, 131).)

Consistent with Coppola’s notes, instead of finding a hoard of gold of clear chimerical nationality when he explores castle as in Stoker’s text, Coppola’s Jonathan Harker finds an illuminated treasure chest filled with perfumes immediately before engaging in graphic bloodletting and lovemaking with three bare-breasted female vampires; which places him in a submissive gender role and in a weakened state while the vampire women grow more powerful.

A Marxist perspective on gender roles is perhaps a better critical lens to view the themes of blood and sex as capital in Coppola’s Dracula than one based on financial capital as in Stoker’s book. Whereas from a Marxist lens, Stoker’s Dracula was a metaphor for the accumulation of power (potency) through economic capital (Moretti 1982), Coppola’s Dracula is therefore a metaphor for the accumulation of power through sexual capital by way of exchanging gold for sex in the film but leaving the blood metaphors intact. In contrast with Stoker’s book, in the Coppola film, nearly all the men are seduced at one point – even Van Helsing, and arguably even Dracula himself – who for all his mental powers does not foresee being “stood up on a date” by Mina and is in the end destroyed by her. In the Coppola film, the women have the power and the power is through their sex and men’s willingness to do anything for it — even die if they cannot have it (of course, blood and female fertility are closely intertwined concepts).

Coppola’s addition of a love story which includes a new scene where Mina’s self-professes a desire to embrace Dracula’s power has been interpreted by modern Marxist critics as her self-destructive and selfish embrace of capitalism (Latham, 2007, 32). In the broader context of the love story, it is also clear that Mina’s initial fascination with the count stems from her curiosity about his nobility which conflicts with the more humble means that Jonathan Harker can provide, and is coupled with Mina’s narrative confession that Jonathan fears that she has grown accustomed to living with the wealthy Lucy Westenra (this can be read as Marxist commentary on Mina’s internal struggle with her ability to use her feminine sexual capital to move between the hierarchy of Marxist social classes, despite the matrimonial arrangements she has already made with Jonathan).

Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness

In retrospect, the career of blacklisted American filmmaker Orson Welles – who was a major career influence on Francis Ford Coppola –  is tainted by his connection to Russian espionage and radical politics. Specifically, Welles was politically mentored by Russian spy Louis Dolivet and also through the same network was connected to the Cambridge Five spy ring — who he effectively collaborated with in his participation in the creation of 1949’s The Third Man(Hotchkiss, 2017). Many of Orson Welles’ scripts can be examined from an antifascist, anti-imperialist, Marxist, or anticapitalist perspective, including his first production, the Marxist agitprop play: “The Cradle Will Rock”, which an Act of Congress attempted to prevent (Hecht, 2012). “Citizen Kane” (1941) was deemed to be communist propaganda by the FBI because of its negative portrayal of the industry magnate Kane which was said to resemble anti-Communist William Randolph Hearst (FBI, 47-53).

Welles’ perceived connection to Russia was so great that by the time he arrived in Stoker’s hometown of Dublin in 1951 (where Welles got his first big break in 1931), he was encountered by Catholic protesters suggesting he visit Moscow instead of Dublin and calling him “Stalin’s Star” (Callow, 2016). This was close to the time Welles was producing his “Othello” adaptation, and was being financed by Michael Olian, a Russian financier of “extreme dubiousness” who was suspected of Russian espionage connections and was a person of interest to the CIA (Callow, 2016, Ch.6 ¶2; Wisner, 1953,  3). Welles’ association with the communists was not limited to the Catholic establishment or US law enforcement alone – even capital-loving atheist legend Ayn Rand’s correspondences indicate she believed Orson Welles was a “red” propagandist (Rand, Letter to DeWitt Emery, 5/17/1943).

Orson Welles’ first cinematic credit was to be an interpretation of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 book “Heart of Darkness” which is ostensibly about Belgian colonialism in Africa. Welles’ script was deemed too ambitious, and the movie Citizen Kane was made instead. Marxist themes of capitalist exploitation and anti-imperialism dominate Heart of Darkness according to literary critics, and Conrad’s specific intent in writing Heart of Darkness was to critique imperialism (Raskin, 1967). While Welles never made a film of Heart of Darkness, he did produce a successful radio version of the book in 1938, along with his radio version of Dracula, which is noted for its sexualized context (Fleming, 2015).

Coppola’s Colonel Kurtz: A Gothic Monstrosity of Anti-American Conspiracy Theories?

Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is an interpretation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which is a “gothic imperial” novel that has many parallels with Dracula, including the main villain, Colonel Kurtz, whose camp is surrounded with Vlad Tepes-like heads on spikes (Graham-Dixon, 33:45-39:15). Coppola applies Conrad’s story about imperialism in the Belgian Congo to the US military experience in Vietnam. Coppola’s documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now, “Hearts of Darkness” underscores the importance of Orson Welles’ vision to Coppola’s inspiration for the film, with Welles’ voice serving as narration throughout (Hinson, 1992). Critics debate whether Apocalypse Now is a pro-war or anti-war film today. Whether it is pro-war or anti-war is less relevant than which narrative the film served.

The World Peace Council (WPC) was the “archetypal front organization” of the Soviet global communist machinery and responsible for the “Stockholm Conference on Vietnam” (USDS, 1985). From 1967 – 1972, the Stockholm Conference produced inflammatory propaganda about American atrocities in Vietnam (Pacepa & Rychlak, 2013, 297-298; USDS 3). Soviet intelligence defector Ion Mihai Pacepa claims that this was part of an active measures operation concocted by Yuri Andropov called “Operation Ares”, which was intended to “[transform] the world’s leftists into deadly enemies of American “imperialism”” (Pacepa & Rychlak, 2013, 298).

Coppola is connected to at least one member of the “Winterfilm Collective” who produced the “Winter Soldier” documentary based on the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) “Winter Soldier Investigation” which promoted a belief in American atrocities in Vietnam (Lachman & Wingerath 15). The imagery from the Winter Soldier parallels the narrative promoted by John Kerry’s 1971 testimony to the US Senate that US soldiers “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned on the power, cut off limbs, blew up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan” (Pacepa & Rychlak 293). According to Pacepa, this testimony has never been corroborated with substantial physical evidence and is the result of KGB disinformation efforts (Pacepa & Rychlak, 293-298).

In addition, Coppola’s scriptwriter John Milius based his Col. Kurtz character loosely on real life Col. Robert Rheault, a US officer who had been courts-martialed in 1969 for the summary execution of a high ranking South Vietnamese official he claimed had actually been a North Vietnamese spy. Rheault had accused the CIA of involvement in a killing conspiracy and it formed the basis for negative coverage of the CIA in left wing magazines. The charges against Rheault and his codefendants were dropped when the CIA refused to cooperate with the army investigation, which conspiracy theorists saw as evidence of CIA complicity in the affair (Childs, 2013, 20-22).

John Milius, seen as an anti-communist for his scripts like “Red Dawn” seems to have thought of Rheault as a “great man” (Vitello, 2013). Unlike Milius, who presumably did not harbor pro-Castro views, in his unsuccessful pursuit to make Apocalypse Now in Cuba, Coppola reportedly courted the communist dictator Fidel Castro with the cooing: “Fidel, I love you” (Bergan, 1998, 53). Perhaps an artistic conflict between director Coppola’s potentially leftist background and his writer’s prototypically right wing background may underlie the inherent controversy over whether Apocalypse Now was a pro-war or anti-war movie.

What is clear in retrospect is that by making Apocalypse Now, which traded Conrad’s Belgian capitalist imperialists for US soldiers (specifically casting them as cruel psychopathic characters), modeled after various antiwar conspiracies – Coppola was making a movie that undermined the moral integrity of America, and served a contemporary anti-US narrative out of the Kremlin which made America the imperialist enemy. Following Halberstam’s (1993) description of gothic monsters as constructions of the zeitgeist, Coppola seems to have created an American gothic monstrosity in the character of Kurtz and the other American soldiers who embody the perceived horrors of supposed US “imperialism” in Vietnam as projected by the anti-war (and presumably Russian) conspiracy theories of the time.

Thinking About Dracula as Propaganda

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary applicably defines propaganda as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person” or “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause”. In this sense, Stoker’s publication of Dracula as a response to perceived foreign threats to England fits the definition of propaganda, conjuring up images of “otherness” as monstrosity in order to protect the identity of his own culture. Marx’ portrayals of Jews and capitalists as thieves and monsters in order to sell his politics also fits these definitions of propaganda. The characterization of Vlad Tepes as an “impaler” and Ivan IV as “tsar-Dracula” were historical forms of propaganda as well.

Considered as pieces of pro-Russian propaganda, Welles and Coppola’s adaptations can be interpreted to be a psychological attack on the very nationalistic sense of Victorian-era virtue and cultural purity which Stoker may have attempted to use literary terror to protect (Halberstam 1993). Stoker’s propagandistic attempt to use the Dracula character to create a fear of “otherness” collapses on itself, and Coppola’s vampire corrupts and unleashes female sexuality – as opposed to constraining it. As the 1992 New York Times review of Coppola’s film elaborated: “the Stoker novel is really about Victorian England’s fear of unleashed female sexuality” (Canby, 1992).

“The year, 1462. Constantinople had fallen” is the first line of the 1992 Dracula film. This aligns with modern Russian geopolitical strategy and resurrected “Third Rome” national identity (Galstyan 2016; Poe 1997, 16-18; Weiss, 2015, 10-19). The opening line was accompanied by imagery of a stone cross falling to the ground and shattering, while being replaced by a Muslim crescent. Insidiously, while imagery indicative of Judaism is removed from the story and Marxist concepts are reinterpreted, the movie opens with a threat from a new religious enemy: “Muslim Turks”.

Coppola’s film also references the character of Dracula as Impaler, which did not exist in Stoker’s book (although the Count did refer to crossing the Danube to fight the Turks). The images which are promoted in modern Dracula films of Muslims being impaled, or being unentitled to Constantinople are seen to be Islamophobic, and a sign of Hollywood’s war on Islam (Rahman, 2014). Like Apocalypse Now, once again, one of Coppola’s films has arguably contributed to anti-Americanism (and potential problems for the CIA) in a way that seemingly aligns with Moscow’s strategy.


Francis Ford Coppola’s first directorial credit was for his 1962 recut and English language dubbing of the Russian sci-fi film “The Heavens Call” or “The Sky’s Call” (1959), which notably inspired sci-fi legends George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick (Kaganovsky, 2014, 40). He was also inspired by Russian director (and sometimes-propagandist) Sergei Eisenstein to take up directing (Bergan, 1998, 9). Fittingly for a directorial career which got its start from Russian film influences, in 2005, Coppola was hosted at the Kremlin by Vladimir Putin, President of Russia who broadly praised Coppola’s filmography “that so accurately tell[s] of the horrors of war”, and Coppola was the recipient of a Russian “Golden Eagle” film award in the category “Contribution to World Cinema” (USA Today, 2005); one of only two Americans to receive the distinction to date (the other being Roman Polanski in 2007).

I think these guys like each other.

In the award ceremony, Putin apologized for anti-Semitism in Russia and Coppola specifically related the event to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Russian troops (USA Today, 2005). Ironically, the most famous instance of anti-Semitic propaganda which plagued Europe in Stoker’s time was the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (circa 1895 – 1899) which was itself a product of the Russian Tsarist secret police (the Okhrana); and the wave of Jewish refugees to England in 1880-1890 from Russia which many of Stoker’s popular anti-Semitic images may have been drawn, were actually fleeing the new Tsar and his injustices (Will Eisner 3; Marshall, 2015; Pacepa & Rychlak, 2013, 93-95). Ion Mihai Pacepa, who has been in CIA protective custody since the late 1970’s, claims that as head of Romania’s intelligence services during the Cold War, he was tasked by the KGB with reigniting anti-Semitism in West Germany (1959) and in the Islamic world (1972) by spreading copies of the Protocols (Pacepa & Rychlak, 2013, 91, 257). Lest we begin to think this era of Russian anti-Semitism was left behind in the past –despite Putin’s apology for Russian anti-Semitism alongside Coppola in 2005 – even in 2016-2017, ultra-right political parties and neo-Nazi groups who promote anti-Semitic beliefs and are tied to Kremlin financing are once again on the rise (Higgins, 2016); this, even as Putin directly appeals for Jews to return to Russia in order to flee anti-Semitism (Sokol, 2016).

As nation-state propaganda, Dracula is bad blood. The bad blood of the Wallachians and the Turks. The bad blood of Europe, the USA, and Russia. The bad blood of Marx and Stoker, and their anti-Semitic libels. Coppola’s script is seemingly tainted with the bad blood Orson Welles carried with the Hollywood-government establishment that had him blacklisted. The healing of old wounds by Russia’s theoretical recapture of the Dracula narrative transmits the bad blood virus to Hollywood and the USA. Now, with images that depict impaled Muslims as the religious enemy as the film opens rather than anti-Jewish imagery. Like the curse of the vampire, Dracula as propaganda is a contagion that has survived the ages growing stronger as it feeds on bad blood dividing humanity. Hopefully one day Dracula’s curse can be laid to rest.

Works Cited

Belford, B. 2002. Bram Stoker And The Man Who Was Dracula. Da Capo Press.

Bergan, R. 1998. Francis Ford Coppola, Close Up: The Making of His Movies. Thunder Mouth Press.

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The paper refers frequently to this video, “The Art of Gothic – Blood for Sale” which appeared on BBC. Where appropriate the paper references the timestamp from the video if you are looking to check the reference (the documentary is written and narrated by a foremost art and literature critic).: