Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

August 29th Movement

Propaganda, Agitation, and Winning over the Vanguard: Response to the Workers Congress

First Published: Revolutionary Cause, Vol. 1, No. 9, October 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One of the important questions confronting our movement is that of winning over the advanced workers, and their training, as a vanguard – how this is to be done, and the relationship of these tasks to the mass movement.

First of all, we think that it is important to clarify why it is a necessity to win over the advanced workers. The reason is simply this: the advanced workers have historically determined the character of the working class movement. (This is also true for other mass movements, such as the national movements, students, etc.). Therefore, since it is the task of communists to change the world profoundly (i.e., overthrow capitalism, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and begin the construction of socialist society); and since such a task can only be the result of a truly mass struggle, then it only makes sense that the leading organization of such a struggle must be composed of those (the advanced) who can “determine” that the mass movement takes direction of socialist revolution. We will return later in the article to our view of how we go about winning over such elements, and the importance of training them to carry out their historic mission.

In the April issue of the COMMUNIST (the political organ of the Workers Congress), an article entitled “Lenin on Propaganda and Agitation” was printed. Part of this article contained a criticism of ATM for allegedly holding to an economist view of the tasks of communists. The criticism stated:

Recently comrades from WC (ML) and several comrades from the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM), who we are working with in a factory engaged in some comradely struggle around what in fact should be the character of propaganda and agitation work done by communists. The ATM cadre put forth the line that agitation is for the workers in the plant (meaning only economic agitation) and propaganda is for the ’advanced’. By emphasizing the former, they ignore political agitation and limiting the scope of the latter, they reduce propaganda to only study circles instead of recognizing it as a mechanism for spreading class consciousness in general.

The WC goes on to further criticize ATM for alledgedly saying that the working class will not “understand” Marxism-Leninism, Before going into our response we should like to clarify a few small points:

1. The comrades in the factory referred to by WC are not ATM cadre. They are worker contacts that we have in that particular factory. Nevertheless we do take responsibility for what people under our guidance say or do. We have all had previous bitter experiences with OL and the. RCP – where people “close” to their line, are scapegoated when the opportunism of that line becomes clear in the course of practical struggle.

2. It is not correct for WC to make the claim that the struggle they had with our contacts was always comradely. WC spent much of their time slandering us to other workers in the plant as “right opportunists”. When we would confront them with this, hot denials were the order of the day. We have yet to hear a self-criticism from the WC for this unprincipled practice.

Now, on to the criticisms. First, ATM is accused of limiting agitation to only economic agitation. This was never the issue in dispute. The struggle which we had with WC was not over whether communists must first put out economic agitation or political agitation – but over the political content of communist agitation and propaganda. ATM has never held to the theory of stages (i.e., first the economic struggle must be attended to, and then the political), although we cannot deny that we have, at times, fallen into economist work. But in this CASE the view put forward by our worker comrades was that the political work of the communists must give revolutionary direction to the workers struggle, and not proclaim to the workers (as did the WC propaganda), that a communist must “do political exposures” among them, so that they can get a “political education” (words of the WC propaganda). The workers did not want to hear about socialism in the abstract (and many of the workers are definitely open to socialism), but they wanted to know concretely how THEIR STRUGGLE can become part of the struggle for socialism. Our task as communists was to give political DIRECTION to the struggle in that factory. So, in other words, WC, there should be no need to tell the workers you are going to do a political exposure, rather DO A POLITICAL EXPOSURE! In a while we will discuss the actual content of WC’s newsletter, but first we must respond to the criticism that we “limit the scope of our propaganda to the advanced”. The ATM must accept this criticism.

Until fairly recently, our organization had viewed propaganda work in the narrowest sense–that is, as strictly illegal work confined to the advanced elements, mostly in a study circle setting. Based upon the experience of our political work, our study, and upon this, as well as other criticisms of our erroneous view we were able to see the incorrectness of the position published in our article “The Tasks of Communists in the Trade Unions” (Revolutionary Cause #3): “As a result of this political agitation and struggle, the workers will come forward and unite around our views, and in particular the advanced and intermediate workers. With these workers begins the emphasis on the illegal aspect of political work, i.e., propaganda and training.”

Comrades, this is WRONG. To view propaganda as only illegal work leads not only to narrowing the scope of propaganda, but also to a type of theory of stages – first political agitation among the masses of workers, then propaganda to the advanced. This error flowed from a deviation from our line on party building – i.e., seeing this task in the most restricted sense of study circle work with the advanced workers.

Lenin made very clear that communists have the task of imbuing the workers in the trade unions with the “spirit of the class struggle and the socialist aims of the proletariat.” It is clear that communists cannot accomplish such a task through political agitation alone. While this task requires a myriad of tools for accomplishment, (and its final accomplishment must, of course, be based upon the workers’ own experience) – propaganda has a very important role to play in fulfilling our communist obligations.

It is propaganda which explains the inner workings and complexities of capitalism and the class struggle. It reveals to the advanced workers (and to the rest of the class as well), the historical experience of the class struggle. It brings forth the lessons of that experience, and points to the leading role of the proletariat in directing that struggle towards proletarian dictatorship.

A further error in our article is the view which it presents of training. The implication of the article is that the communist fractions deal with the advanced workers only within the sterile confines of the study circle. Nothing could be further from the truth, unless of course we equate training textmongers with training a vanguard. The actual consolidation and training of the advanced workers takes place in the course of struggle, in the APPLICATION of Marxist-Leninist theory, in carrying out the line in practice.

In fact it is precisely our task to train the advanced to organize the class struggle so that they are ABLE to popularize the “socialist aims of the proletariat” among the middle and lower strata workers. This means that we must train the advanced to do widespread propaganda and agitation on a day to day basis around the economic and political questions facing the workers. Lacking this training, all of our talk about party building, building a vanguard, Bolshevization, etc., etc. amounts to nothing more than the most banal phrasemongering.


As we stated earlier, there is no validity to WC’s claim that we limit our agitation to strictly economic agitation. This argument is based on the “logic” that, since we narrowed the scope of our propaganda WE MUST therefore also narrow the scope of our agitation to the economic sphere. However, facts being the extremely stubborn things that they are, reveal exactly the opposite of WC’s assertions. We will refer to two examples o f: our political agitation. Both of them concerned the firing of shop stewards, and certain other shop issues. STARTING from these issues our comrades explained to the workers they were merely manifestations of a deepen capitalist crisis, which itself flowed from fact that a capitalist CLASS controlled the means of production (not the exact wording) in society. They then laid out to the workers that the ills of their own shop, as well as all the ills of society flowed from capitalism. They then pointed out to the workers that it was only through a united and INTENSIFIED class struggle that they would secure their partial demands, as well as achieving a society which put the means of production into the hands of the working class.

Admittedly, the ideas expressed in our a agitation could have been expressed more clearly and the socialist aims made much more definite; this comes with training – but we can see that the comrades understood their tasks as communists and they understood that the ideals of communism must be spread in concrete fashion, utilizing not only our ideas, but also our ability to answer the practical questions of the class. This means mastering the difficult skill of being able to organize the struggle so that our political agitation becomes a part of it – is not detached from it.

To return to the errors of the WC (at this plant). The WC printed a plant newsletter “Working Class Consciousness” (?!). While this newsletter contained an abundance of revolutionary language; and was salted with the phrases, “capitalist class”, “labor power”, etc., it provided the workers with absolutely no revolutionary direction. It did however call upon the workers to “raise their political consciousness and recognize the moves and inner workings of the capitalist system...” But we will quote directly from the newsletter and let the reader judge for himself:

In the thrust of our newsletter, we call upon all class conscious workers and advanced elements to join with us in taking up the task that we are confronted with. Only by the undivided support of the workers of X factory can we make our significance felt. Only by raising our political consciousness and recognizing moves and inner workings of the capitalist system can we convince ourselves that our unity lies with our class brothers and sisters across the U.S.. We must unswervingly train ourselves to respond to every grievance and outburst at X factory in an organized fashion. History teaches us that the proletariat must work in its own class interest...in organizing itself, not as workers against a single factory but as a class struggle directed against the whole capitalist class and the government that supports it. Workers must see this newsletter as their own, and use it in order to expose the conditions in factory. The greedy appetite of the bourgeoisie for bigger and bigger profits at the expense of the working class will teach us through our own experience for the necessity for a new social system, that is, a socialist system. The workers that are struggling in X must not see their struggle isolated from the struggle of the workers in general.

Ah, would that it were so easy! If all that we had to do to train the working class was to quote from the Communist Manifesto we certainly would not need a Communist Party. If all that we have to do is proclaim the historical mission of the proletariat and nothing more, then how simple our task (and life itself) would be. If only we did not have to make the struggle for socialism a concrete struggle, requiring concrete communist leadership then we could be perfectly satisfied with the work of the WC. But unfortunately life is too cruel – it puts rather stringent requirements upon us.

For example, it requires that we show the class exactly what to fight for - both in the realm of politics and economics – so that they can really get a political education. They must know exactly what slogans to fight for, how the class struggle is to be conducted, how the social props are to be isolated, whom to ally with, etc. These questions are posed daily by the mass movement in general and by the particular struggles that communists are involved in.

We must train ourselves and the advanced to be able to answer just these types of questions – otherwise socialism will remain a few words printed in “Working Class Consciousness”. The newsletter should have, for instance, taken the partial demands of the workers such as those around safety conditions and shown them: that bad safety conditions are an inevitable by-product of capitalism; that they are worse in X factory because the bulk of the work force is made up of oppressed nationality women – and that monopoly capitalism can live in no other way than by the super-exploitation of oppressed nationalities and women.

From there the question of democratic rights for oppressed nationalities and the question of the Equal Rights Amendment could have been brought in as concrete demands for the workers to fight for – demands beyond the narrow limits of their own particular conditions, but definitely within the scope of a CLASS struggle.

The struggle for these demands can then be linked to the overall struggle for socialism (which alone resolves the national question and the women’s question). And of course, such an approach not only makes greater demands upon both communists and workers, but also sharpens the inevitable conflict with the trade union bureaucrats (social props) into a political one.

We believe that if our propaganda and agitation is approached in this way that the struggle for socialism is linked to the workers’ own conditions and is not an abstract ideal. But more importantly, if we fail to carry out training on this approach, we must ask ourselves what TYPE of vanguard we are training?

If the WC believes that the work carried out in factory X is satisfactory and sufficient we could only conclude that they are not serious about really training the advanced – which training calls for much more than agitation and propaganda; and certainly doesn’t call for the type of propaganda done by the WC.


What is the relationship between propaganda and agitation in regard to carrying out our central task? In the words of Lenin, “as long as the question was, (and in so far as it still is) one of winning over the vanguard of the proletariat to communism, so long and to that extent, propaganda was in the forefront; even propaganda circles with all the defects of the circle spirit, are useful under these conditions and produce fruitful results.”

Lenin states that “propaganda was in the forefront.” The forefront of what may we ask? Propaganda comes to the forefront in consolidating and training the advanced workers as they are drawn forward in response to the communist leadership we provide to the mass struggles. Propaganda is an essential tool with which to teach the advanced a scientific understanding of their tasks. It is one of our important educational tools for giving the advanced orientation and direction in changing the world – of making their mass leadership a consistently revolutionary, communist leadership. This training can take place within the study circle, in forums, in communist journals and newspapers, in special conferences, etc. It also plays a crucial role in developing the unity of communists – giving them theoretical clarity, sharpening differences and bringing the “light of theory” to the important questions of our revolution.

In addition to our propaganda work with the advanced, Lenin made clear that communists have propaganda tasks with the middle and lower strata workers as well. He said:

The Socialist activities of Russia and Social-Democrats consist in spreading by propaganda the teachings of scientific socialism. In spreading among the workers a proper understanding of the present social and economic system, its basis and its development, and understanding of the various classes in... society, of their interrelations, of the struggle between these classes, of the role of the working class in this struggle, of its attitude toward the declining and developing classes, towards the past and future of capitalism, and understanding of the historical tasks of (communism) and of the.... working class. (Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats, LCW Vol.5).

What this means to us is that we must utilize different forms of propaganda to reach the middle and lower strata workers. And this, too, is part of training the advanced – for both communists and the advanced must master this task if we want to fulfill our historic obligations.

But our main point is that we must never restrict the scope of our propaganda to the advanced alone; rather we must broaden its scope so that the advanced can truly carry out their role as the vanguard of their class. These tasks (the wide spread dissemination of communist propaganda and the training of the advanced to carry on this dissemination), are crucial aspects of our work in carrying out the central task.


Is our formulation of “propaganda in the forefront” any different from our earlier formulation of “propaganda as the chief form of activity”? We see no essential difference. We use the former formulation, however, because our practice has shown that some comrades, our own cadre included, interpreted “chief form” to mean the “only form” of political activity, and it led to belittling the importance of political agitation. And as far as political agitation and its importance, our view has been summed up by Stalin:

Lenin put before the League of Struggle the task of forming closer connections with the working class movement and giving it political leadership (our emphasis – ATM). Lenin proposed to pass from the propaganda among a few politically advanced workers who gathered in the propaganda circles to political agitation among the broad masses of the working class on issues of the day. This turn towards mass agitation was of profound importance for the subsequent development of the working class movement in Russia. (History of the CPSU(B), p.20)

Stalin goes on to say that the League of Struggle was the first group in Russia which began to unite socialism with the working class movement, and he refers to the League as the prototype of the proletarian party. Therefore, communists must always recognize the importance of political agitation. Carrying out this agitation in connection with the mass struggles which we must lead will develop the fusion of the working class movement with communism, which must crystallize in the winning over, consolidation and training of the advanced and the formation of the new communist party, which will be a party truly linked “by a thousand threads to the working class masses”.