Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

PRRWO: Anarcho-Socialism U.S.A. Expose PRRWO’S Hustlerism!


B. Propaganda Is Our Chief Form of Activity

PRRWO’s line on advanced workers – that they are like the advanced workers in 1899 in St. Petersburg, and their position that the vast majority of workers are backwards – directly links up with and reflects their line on agitation and propaganda and on providing communist leadership to immediate struggles. They think that they can win over advanced workers by their pure abstract propaganda alone. It is no wonder, then, that they don’t understand that leading and participating in mass struggles is itself a form through which to do propaganda. In practice, they regard participation in mass struggles where communists have no clear leadership as “bowing to spontaneity.”

Propaganda – the chief form of communist activity – must be done in the thick of class struggle, aided by agitation, linked up to concrete issues, and must be done in the context of providing communist political leadership to the day-to-day immediate struggles of the workers.

With the thorough exposure of RCP’s right opportunist line, the position that “propaganda is the chief form of activity” of communists in this first step of winning over the advanced has become the prevailing position on this question in the anti-revisionist movement. The question now before us is exactly how to carry out this propaganda. On the surface, PRRWO mouths that they have been the most consistent in upholding this line. However, as the Chinese comrades put it, communists must be vigilant about letting one tendency cover another. The right opportunist line of the RU covered PRRWO’s dogmatic stage theory of the practical tasks of communists. This is partly how PRRWO got over in the old days.

Opposition to Leninist guidance on propaganda, and an inability to do this analysis deeply, is shared by both the right opportunists such as the RCP and OL, and the “left” opportunist PRRWO.

PRRWO’s interpretation of the slogan “propaganda is our chief form of activity” is that propaganda is the only task for communists in this period. Never once they mention agitation. To them, that slogan means that communist participation in mass struggles of the working class equals bowing to spontaneity and committing the sins of economism. This is why PRRWO recently accused WVO of trying to move prematurely from the first step of consolidating the vanguard to the second step of going out to the broad masses. They accused us of following the RU line of building the mass movement as the principal task. This is the mold of PRRWO’s thinking that led them to scab a job action supported by over 150 workers and at another time refuse to do propaganda and agitation in a demonstration supported by over a thousand workers where they themselves are being fired.

According to PRRWO, in this period during the formation of the party, “we concentrate on winning over the advanced and uniting Marxist-Leninists”. Well and true. But how? We repeat the passage PRRWO quoted on the formation of the party,

The first period was the period of formation, of the creation of our party. The party confined itself to mapping the movement’s strategic plan, i.e., the route that the movement should take; and the party’s reserves–the contradictions within the camp of the enemies inside and outside of Russia –remained unused, or almost unused, owing to the weakness of the party. In this period, the party focused its attention and care upon the party itself, upon its own existence and preservation.

The principal task of communism in Russia in that period was to recruit into the party the best elements of the working class, those who were most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat party and to put it firmly on its feet. Comrade Lenin formulates this task as follows: ’to win the vanguard of the proletariat to the side of communism.’ (Stalin, “The Party Before and After taking Power, 1921, Vol.5, SCW, p.104)

The question is: how is the party to accomplish these tasks of the first period? And what in fact did Lenin do during the whole first period of party formation which ended only in 1905, the year of the bourgeois democratic revolution? Did Lenin and the revolutionary Social-Democrats spend their time sitting in their study circles propagating the general truths of Marxism with an absolute disdain towards the struggles of the working class? Did they drop their responsibility of providing communist leadership to the spontaneous struggles of the working class? What is the relationship between propaganda and participation in the immediate struggles of the working class? Did Lenin polemicize against the economists just by writing generalities? We must retrieve these historical lessons. The only thing the dogmatists know how to do is to take the words of MLMTTT, tailor them to their own needs and throw the concrete conditions, time and place out the window.


In WITBD, Lenin broke down the step that Stalin called “first period of the formation of the party” into four smaller periods. The first period was the struggle against the Narodniks, lasting from 1884 to 1894.

This was the period of the rise and consolidation of the theory and program of Social-Democracy. The number of new trends in Russia could be counted in units. Social-Democracy existed without a working class movement; as a political party, it was undergoing a process of fetal development. (WITBD. Conclusion.)

The second was the period from 1894 to 1898, when the Narodniks were defeated and ideological unity prevailed among the Social-Democrats. It was a period when practice came to the forefront of the work of the Social-Democrats.

At that time, the main attention of the Social-Democrats was centered not on clearing up and deciding various internal Party questions...but on the ideological struggle against the opponents of Social-Democracy, on the one hand, and on the development of practical party work, on the other. (Preface To The Second Edition Of The Pamphlet, The Tasks Of The Russian Social-Democrats. Lenin. 1902. LCW, Vol. 6, pp. 211-216.)

The third period, which began in 1897-8, was the period of ideological wavering, when Lenin fought and won a determined battle against the economists.

The final victory over economism was sealed by WITBD and paved the way for the Social-Democrats to enter into the fourth period in 1903, when broad practical work once again came to the forefront of the struggle as it had been in the second period.

Lenin identifies periods of ideological and political disunity in which theoretical work is the principal need (“those times of which Lenin said, ’Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” (On Contradiction, Mao.)) and periods characterized by ideological unity which makes broad practical work possible.

We laid out in detail these four periods of the development of the Social-Democratic Party from its embryonic years to 1905, when it began its transition to a mass workers party, to bring home the point that it is not enough just to mouth the “first period of the formation of the party” as if this is a big long monotonous stretch and as if hanging on to this most general formulation will free today’s communists from their duty of providing leadership to the spontaneous struggles of the working class.


Let us take another flash-back to this “first period” of building the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party.

The working class movement in Russia went to a flow period in the early 1890’s, which coincided with the victory of Marxism over Narodism. Before 1894, the Social-Democratic movement existed apart from the working class movement because the latter was in a lull. But after 1894, the task of the Russian Social-Democrats became clear: to fuse the two movements by bringing the science of Marxism to the working class in the course of the day to day struggle of the working class. The task of communists is always to forge the link between theory and practice in providing communist leadership to the struggles of the working class. Lenin made one of his first statements on the practical tasks of the Social-Democrats in 1894 in the conclusion of his polemics against the Narodniks:

In thus emphasizing the necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of the Social-Democrats, I by no means want to say that this work should take precedence over PRACTICAL work (on the contrary, the practical work of propaganda and agitation must always take precedence, because, firstly, theoretical work only supplies answers to the problems raised by practical work, and, secondly, the Social-Democrats, for reasons over which they have no control, are so often compelled to confine themselves to theoretical work that they value highly every moment when practical work is possible –[Lenin’s footnote])–still less that the latter should be postponed until the former is completed. Only the admirers of the ’subjective method in sociology,’ or the followers of Utopian socialism, could arrive at such a conclusion. ...the task of the socialists is to be the ideological leaders of the proletariat in its actual struggle against actual and real enemies (emphasis added) who stand in the actual (emphasis in the original) path of social and economic development. Under these circumstances, theoretical and practical work merge into one aptly described by the veteran German Social-Democrat, Liebknecht, as:
Studieren, Propagandieren, Organisieren (Study, propaganda, organization).
You cannot be an ideological leader without the above-mentioned theoretical work, just as you cannot be one without directing this work to meet the needs of the cause, and without spreading the results of this theory among the workers and helping them to organize.
Such a presentation of the task guards Social-Democracy against the defects from which socialist groups so often suffer, namely, dogmatism and sectarianism. (“What The “Friends Of The People” Are.” Lenin. 1894. LCW, Vol. 1, pp. 297-298.)

This quote has been used by the opportunist RU to justify their right economist line of “practice, practice, practice.” In WV #2, we pointed out that:

As they themselves note, the RU’s quote dates from 1894. As we have seen, this was the time of transition in the communist movement from the first to the second period, from the initial struggle against Narodism to consolidated victory over it, from ideological disunity and extremely limited practical work to unity and quickly expanding practice. It was also a transitional period in the mass movement, the very beginning of the mass struggles. Therefore while Lenin’s article is still mainly devoted to finally smashing Narodism, he also noted the rising aspect, the quickly increasing need and ability to undertake the broader practical task. (“RU: American Pragmatism or Marxism,” WV, Vol.1, No. 2)

In struggling against RU’s distortion of Lenin to cover up for their right economist line, we stressed in the above passage how Lenin’s formulation of practical and theoretical tasks addressed the particularities of the period. What we need to draw out from Lenin’s quote now is the general truth in it, and that is the question of how communists become genuine ideological leaders of the working class in this first general step of winning over the vanguard. What Lenin pointed out here is very clear – communists should dialectically link up “theoretical work to meet the needs of the cause”, “spreading the results of this theory among the workers and helping them to organize.” Concretely, it means that communists unite the theoretical and the practical tasks largely through the form of propaganda (as well as through forms of theoretical work), agitation and organization.

We hold that in this period of party building “theoretical work” should not be separated from the task of spreading the fruits of our theoretical task among the working class to help them organize to fight. PRRWO, by tearing the propaganda out of the immediate struggle of the working class has separated the link between these two components of ideological leadership and the link between theoretical and practical tasks thus forcing themselves into dogmatism and sectarianism, the two ideological deviations that Lenin so aptly warned us to guard against.

In WV #2, we correctly stated that “in this period of the consolidation of the vanguard, we must concentrate on taking propaganda to the advanced elements of the working class... we must engage in immediate struggles, providing ideological leadership through propaganda in popular language, as well as practical leadership” (WV, Vol. l, #2, p. 29)

This PRRWO never understands. In trying to fight the RU’s vulgar form of practice, PRRWO ends up abstaining from all practical tasks. In absolutizing propaganda into the only form of communist activity and making theoretical justifications for their dogmatism and sectarianism, PRRWO finally ends up coming full circle to achieve their unity with the right opportunist line of the RCP of liquidating the role of communists as ideological and political leaders of the working class.

Communist must undertake our practical tasks among the working class as theoreticians, propagandists, agitators, and organisers.

The question is clearly not one of whether communists should do practice or not in this period, but what kind of practice. It is a question of whether communists go into immediate struggles of the working class in a planned way to provide communist leadership to carry out the political education of the class.

This Leninist formulation of what makes up ideological leadership of the working class explained why at the end of 1897, when theoretical work was becoming principal, Lenin at the same time called for the deepening of the “practical side of Social Democracy, about its political programme, its methods, its tactics.” (The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats.)

In 1900, also in the third period when theory was principal, Lenin continued to point out that “our principal and fundamental task is to facilitate the political organisation of the working class”, (The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement, LCW Vol.4, p.369) This again shows that theory has to be linked concretely to the “needs of the cause”, “its actual struggle against actual and real enemies”, and “the practical sides”.

In Lenin’s time, Martynov invented a “third sphere”, or “third function” of “practical activity” and put it apart from propaganda and agitation to show how the Iskraists “devote attention only to one side of the case” and how by just doing propaganda and agitation, “force into the background” the struggles for the immediate gains of the working class. Isn’t this what PRRWO is objectively doing today? “Building the mass movement” was created as a third sphere and used to criticize WVO for just concentrating on this “third sphere” and liquidating propaganda and agitation. Of course, Martynov and PRRWO came out differently, one from the right and the other from the “left”, but the essence is the same – a mechanical materialist understanding of the interrelationship between propaganda and agitation and the day to day struggles of the working class.


The socialist activities of Russian Social-Democrats consist in spreading by propaganda [emphasis original] 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, an understanding of the various classes [emphasis original] in Russian society, of their interrelations, of the struggle between these classes, of the role of the working class in this struggle, of its attitude towards the declining and the developing classes, towards the past and the future of capitalism, an understanding of the historical task of international Social-Democracy and of the Russian working class. Inseparably connected with propaganda is AGITATION [emphasis in original] among the workers, which naturally comes to the forefront in the present political conditions of Russia and at the present level of development of the masses of workers. Agitation among the workers means that the Social-Democrats take part in all the spontaneous manifestations of the working-class struggle, in all the conflicts between the workers and the capitalists over the working day, wages, working conditions, etc., etc. Our task is to merge our activities with the practical, everyday questions of working-class life, to help the workers understand these questions, to draw the workers’ attention to the most important abuses, to help them formulate their demands to the employers more precisely and practically, to develop among the workers consciousness of their solidarity, consciousness of the common interests and common cause of all the Russian workers as a united working class that is part of the international army of the proletariat. (“The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats”. Lenin. 1897. LCW, Vol. 2, p. 329. Emphasis added.)

It’s clear that in this period, right errors are the main deviation in communist propaganda. The belittling of the consciousness of the advanced elements and the tendency to fall into bourgeois reporting instead of providing a real Marxist-Leninist analysis of events, are the main danger.

The most dangerous idea, which is common in the communist movement, is that we have to lower the level of propaganda for the advanced workers. No I The advanced workers have a very close contact with the reality of the class struggle. They quickly and deeply assimilate the truth of MLMTTT, provided we present it in a clear and concrete manner. We can’t provide them with enough advanced, Marxist ideas.

In WITBD, Lenin further developed the relationship between propaganda and agitation. The propagandist is a person who presents “’many ideas’, so many indeed that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons.” The agitator “speaking on the same subject, will take as an illustration a fact that is most glaring and most widely known to his audience... and utilizing this fact, which is known to all and sundry, will direct all his efforts to presenting a single idea to the ’masses’,...he will strive to rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this crying injustice, and leave a more complete explanation of this contradiction to the propagandist.” (WITBD. 1901. Peking edition, p. 82.) (Emphasis original)

Both propaganda and agitation are indispensable for the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness. While struggling against the economists’ line of “lending the economic struggle a political character”, etc., Lenin also pointed out that education of the working class cannot be confined to the propaganda of working class hostility to the autocracy alone.

It is not enough to explain to the workers that they are politically oppressed (no more than it was to explain to them that their interests were antagonistic to the interests of the employers) . Agitation must be conducted over every concrete example of this oppression.... And inasmuch as this oppression affects the most diverse classes of society, inasmuch as it manifests itself in the most varied spheres of life and activity, industrial, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific, etc., etc., is it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling our task of developing the political consciousness of the workers if we do not undertake the organization of the political exposure of the autocracy in all its aspects? In order to carry on agitation around concrete examples of oppression, these examples must be exposed. .. (WITBD, IIIA. Peking ed., pp. 70-71. Emphasis original)


PRRWO’s liquidation of agitation and the immediate struggles of the working class inevitably condemn them to an utter inability to do all-sided political exposure which Lenin said is absolutely necessary and a paramount task of the communists’ activity.

This is justified by PRRWO with a seemingly profound stand with the working class, which in fact is substituting their own narrow outlook for that of the working class, especially the advanced workers In their latest IWWD editorial, PRRWO laughed at us for analyzing the gay question because, according to these clowns and jokers, for the working class, the gay question is “no question.” (Palante, Vol. 6, No. 4, April, 1976) (emphasis in original)

On Watergate, they once said that “the working class is not concerned by that, they are concerned about the real issues of wages and jobs.” They cannot and are not concerned about the liberal and right-wing fascist movements, because they refuse to see the process of fascization and all the changes in tactics of the bourgeoisie. They ridicule WVO’s stress using “topical events” and how we use “topical events” to impart the science of MLMTTT to the working class.

Lenin made this question of communist propaganda very clear. He said:

...one of the fundamental conditions for the necessary expansion of political agitation is the organization of comprehensive political exposure. The masses cannot be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity in any other way except by means of such exposures...working class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected... The consciousness of the masses of workers cannot be genuine class consciousness, unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current) [that’s right, Lenin said it! – Ed] political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual, ethical and political life of these classes; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and materialist estimate of all aspects of life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population. Those who concentrate the attention, observation, and consciousness of the working class exclusively, or even mainly, upon itself alone are not Social-Democrats, for its self-realization is indissolubly bound up not only with a fully clear theoretical – it would be even more true to say not so much with a theoretical, as with practical understanding, of the relationship between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through experience of political life. (WITBD, III, C, Peking edition, p. 85)

Lack of concrete application of Marxism to concrete burning political, ideological, and economic issues of the day is a sure sign of the dead, petrified dogmatism of PRRWO. Let these “Marxist-Leninist” clowns joke about “topical issues” and “current events”. Let these petrified “communists” get more ossified with their generalities and their verbal acrobatics. For the masses and, in particular, the advanced workers, will treat them as clowns, as jokers, as irresponsible creatures to the working class and to the workers’ struggles against the bourgeoisie. The confusion they try to spread will only affect their own organization. Advanced workers will see through this nonsense for what it is.