Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State is the first illustrated survey of the propaganda art, graphics, and artefacts created by the totalitarian governments of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the USSR, and Communist China. The iconography produced by these regimes is universally recognized as their "brands": the swastika and aggressive typography of Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's streamlined Futurist posters and Black Shirt uniforms, the stolid Social Realism of Stalin's USSR, and Mao's Little Red Book and ceramic figurines from the Cultural Revolution.
Written by the eminent designer and design historian Steven Heller, who has long collected two- and three-dimensional examples from this period, Iron Fists focuses on graphic materials such as typefaces, logos, posters, advertisements, children's books, flags, and medals. As Heller explains, Mussolini fancied himself an art director and the Nazis had a sophisticated graphic program, featuring Hitler as "logo," that is remarkably similar to modern corporate identity systems. Heller also explores the meaning of color systems (each dictatorship had a distinctive palette), the development of regime-specific typefaces, and even the slogans used to both rally and terrorize the populace. Delving into the history of once-innocent antecedents in heraldry, color symbolism, and sacred and secular symbols, he demonstrates how these elements were put to disturbingly effective use in selling the totalitarian message.