Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

Polemic with ATM: Factory Propaganda and Agitation

First Published: The Communist, Vol. III, No. 2, January 27, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This article will take up the question of propaganda and agitation, with the focus an exposure of the economist positions taken by the August 29th Movement (ATM) in defense of the narrow character of their work at a particular factory. This dispute was first taken up in the April, 1976 issue of THE COMMUNIST, Vol. II no. 7, and then a response was written in the October, 1976 issue of REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE, Vol. 1, no. 9.

* * *

The Workers Congress in its party-building resolutions states:

It is opportunism in all its forms which keeps the proletariat from communism and which is the primary obstacle to welding the core. The chief form of our activity must therefore be propaganda in order to win the vanguard to communism.

Through Marxist-Leninist propaganda we win to our side, train and develop the political consciousness of the advanced of the proletariat; we provide direction and leadership to the burning questions and tasks of our movement. Marxist-Leninist propaganda is an essential requirement in our present struggle to build a new communist party.

Within our movement there is a lot of controversy over the correct use of communist propaganda and agitation. Economist and opportunist conceptions still continue to narrow the political content of these valuable tools. There are views that justify the refusal to bring communist propaganda to the working class because “the workers won’t understand it”, or that claim that because Marxist-Leninist terminology is unfamiliar to workers, we should scrap it and restrict our literature to only bourgeois terminology. Another error, which stems from the failure to understand that we must direct our propaganda to raising the level of the most advanced and politically conscious workers, is the practice of artificially restricting in our press the full, wide and varied scope of ideas and information that we are in reality capable of bringing forward. This practice ignores Lenin’s own crystal clear definition of the role of the propagandist: “In a word, he must present ’many ideas’, so many, indeed that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons.” Downplaying the ideological requirements of this particularly conscious section of the working class ignores the pervasive and destructive influence of bourgeois ideology and leaves wide ’open the door to revisionism and various forms of opportunism. Other deviations from an orthodox Marxist-Leninist stand on propaganda that continue to infest our movement are that propaganda is for cadre only, while agitation, and economic agitation at that, is fit for workers; and the view that agitation must always be linked to specific demands.

The consistent result of this latter error is that it restricts our work to economic agitation or political agitation on an economic basis; it means that we give workers ideas that “promise palpable results” rather than, God forbid, something “dry and stale”, like Marxism-Leninism. These many distortions and confusions are rampant in our movement, and the narrowness of these views on propaganda and agitation reflect the continuing opportunism, fragmentation, local circle spirit and disunity of our movement. Any attempts to ideologically justify this amateurishness and confusion must be overcome if we are to win a decisive victory over opportunism.


ATM has criticized the WCML’s position on propaganda and agitation as being dogmatic, abstract and unconnected to the day to day struggle of the working class. But in doing so, ATM attempts to justify a narrow, economist view that restricts our path. We welcome the opportunity to sharpen the difference between the application of Marxism-Leninist and opportunist principles on this question of propaganda and agitation and its application to our practical work.

We do not however sharpen our differences by whining like ATM has done that the work referred to was under their discipline but not by their cadre. Nor do we conduct struggle in full view of the movement by saying “The WC will hotly deny this... but facts are facts” or by complaining that the WCML “slandered” ATM in private discussions with workers by calling them right opportunists. Lenin writes:

Every sensible person understands that if a bitter struggle is raging on any subject, in order to ascertain the truth, he must not confine himself to the statements made by the disputants, but must examine the facts and documents for himself, see for himself whether there is any evidence to be had from witnesses and whether this evidence is reliable. (Lenin, Collected Works, (LCW) Vol. 19, page 149)

The reader should check ATM’s polemic – how have they presented the question so that the reader can examine the facts. Knowing the reader can’t make an accurate assessment on the basis of ATM’s bare assertions and knowing that the reader has no way to test the correctness of these kinds of statements, ATM attempts to insinuate that they have been injured by unprincipled methods of struggle. Without presenting evidence, they ask the reader to take their word for what happened.

Facts are facts however, and we intend to present the facts in this dispute. In our article we criticized work that ATM had done in a particular factory, arguing that the line they defended was that economic agitation was for the workers in the plant, while propaganda was reduced to use only in study circles. ATM responded:

First, ATM is accused of limiting agitation to only economic agitation. This was never the issue in dispute. The struggle which we had with the WC was not over whether communists must first put out economic or political agitation – but over the political content of communist agitation and propaganda. (page 9 of REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE, October, Vol.1, no.9)

They said that the struggle with the WCML was “over the political content of communist agitation and propaganda.” This is perfectly true. When we tear away ATM’s fig leaf, we will show how the position they took in this dispute leads to the conclusion that they do only give workers ”economic agitation or political agitation on an economic basis. Lenin described this position in this way:

We have already shown that the ’Economists’ do not altogether repudiate ’politics, but that they are constantly straying from the social-democratic (communist–ed.) to the trade unionist conception of politics. (What Is To Be Done (WITBD) Page 67)

This is where the differences should be focused on. For ATM not only strayed into the realm of trade unionist politics – but more importantly, they tried to justify this stand as consistent with communist practice. They said:

We will refer to two examples of 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 that they were merely manifestations of a deepening capitalist crisis, which itself flowed from the fact that a capitalist class controlled the means of production (not the exact wording) in society. They laid out to the workers that the ills of their own shop as well as the ills of society flowed from capitalism. They then pointed out to the workers that it was only through a united and intensified (ATM’s emphasis–ed.) 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. (Page 9, REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE)


The text of the leaflet ATM was referring to is as follows:

This is not the first time that a shop steward had been fired at Western Yarn. (Name omitted) was fired six months ago for doing the same thing. The other shop stewards are also being threatened. But this is not an attack against the shop stewards, it is part of the general attack by the government and bosses against the working class. This firing happens when prices for food, gasoline and rent are skyrocketing, a time when unemployment is reaching 10 per cent, when workers from Mexico are terrorized by the government and bosses. This firing happens at the same time that the bosses at Western Yarn began stepping up their efforts to divide us and make us pay for their economic crisis. We’re being made to pay for the crisis through speed-ups and by forcing workers to run two or three machines like in spinning and twisting departments. All workers face the same conditions and injustices we face at Western Yarn. It is important that we stand up against these latest attacks by the company. If we don’t take a firm stand now, they will throw the gains we have won out the window and will stop at nothing to keep us divided and exploited. We must participate in our union and make it work for us, we must realize that the union officials are powerless, that it is only the united and organized workers that has real strength. The workers are the union.

It is obvious that this leaflet contains some errors and much ambiguity. Most glaring is the statement that the “trade union officials are powerless.” Union bureaucrats are not powerless – their ruthless and quite powerful hand is felt daily as it is used against the workers, handicapping their struggle against their employers.

But most importantly, is the great gap between what political concepts are brought out in this leaflet in reality and what ATM had claimed it to be. When they said “not exact wording” it was an understatement – for nowhere is mentioned “capitalist class controlled the means of production” (even in non-scientific terms) or putting “the means of production into the hands of the working class.” As the reader can now see, the content of the leaflet is narrow and could use a lot of improvement. ATM could have openly and honestly admitted the limited character of this literature. But instead they defended it as fitting communist political exposure.


ATM claims that their leaflet was political agitation, which it was – but it was trade union political agitation, which is what Marxist-Leninists mean by political agitation on an economic basis. This kind of political education is provided in trade union papers, and must not be confused, as ATM does, with communist political agitation. Lenin describes in some detail the character of this trade unionist political education:

For the trade union secretary of any, say British trade union, always helps the workers to conduct the economic struggle, helps to expose factory abuses, explains the injustices of the laws and of measures which hamper the freedom to strike and the freedom to picket...explains the partiality of arbitration court judges who belong to the bourgeois classes, etc., etc...In a word, every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct ’the economic struggle against employers and government. (WITBD page 99)

The character of the above-mentioned exposures is the same as that of ATM’s leaflet, revealed in statements like “... it is part of the general attack by the government and the bosses against the working class... This firing happens at the same time the bosses at Western Yarn began stepping up their efforts to divide us and make us pay for their economic crisis....All workers face the same conditions and injustices we face at Western Yarn...only the united and organized working class that has real strength.... the workers are the union.”

ATM not only characterized their trade unionist agitation as communist, but criticized our attempts to raise the trade unionist politics of the working class to the level of communist politics as dogmatism. ATM raised their criticism in this way:

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.(Page 9 RC)

We can only conclude from, this that ATM is using the old and worn economist argument that our political agitation was abstract, divorced from real life because it did not raise “concrete demands”. But this argument reduces our communist tasks around propaganda and agitation to only narrow and often reformist demands rather than using our literature to raise the scientific theories of Marxism-Leninism. This argument equates Marxism-Leninism with dogmatism and abstractness. This is exactly what ATM is saying:

The workers did not want to hear about socialism in the abstract (and many workers are definitely open to socialism) but they wanted to know concretely how their struggle (ATM’s emphasis–ed.) can become part of the struggle for socialism. (Page 9, RC)

Later they say:

Our task as communists was to give political direction to the workers in that factory. (Ibid.)


Comrades, here is revealed the narrow, economist view that keeps the workers’ outlook restricted to their given region, trade, union and even plant. ATM’s leaflet is presumably an example which shows concretely how the workers struggle can become a part of the struggle for socialism. We let the reader judge for himself. When ATM says “Our tasks as communists was to give political direction to the workers at that factory ” – they fail to realize that the leaflet provides a trade unionist political direction, not a communist one. It is to fool the workers to pretend that a narrow concern with economic conditions in their plant is the way to connect their struggle to the class struggle for socialism.

We ask ATM, how can the “intensified class struggle” that you speak of, actually develop if the focus of attention of our agitation is kept within the confines of the plant? This merely maintains what spontaneously develops trade unionist consciousness. What is necessary are comprehensive political exposures and the introduction of Marxism-Leninism – in that way the struggle against individual employers or certain government officials can be transformed into a struggle against the whole bourgeoisie and its state apparatus. Lenin says:

The struggle of the workers becomes a class struggle only when the foremost representatives of the entire working class of the whole country are conscious of themselves as a single working class and launch a struggle that is directed, not against individual employers, but against the entire class of capitalists and against the government that supports that class. Only when the individual worker realizes that he is a member of the entire working class, only when he recognizes the fact that his petty day-today struggle against individual employers and individual government officials is a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and the entire government does his struggle become a class struggle. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.4 pp 215-6)

In other words, in order for the workers to consciously take up the class struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and for socialism, they must look beyond the confines of their factory or local experience, they must develop an understanding of the historical mission of the working class and learn to react to manifestations of the political tyranny of the capitalist class on e nationwide, a world-wide basis. But ATM criticizes us for not limiting our political direction to a given factory situation and ignoring concrete conditions.


ATM criticizes the WCML’s newsletter for its failure to speak to safety and health conditions and other partial demands:

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 byproduct of capitalism...

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’

Again, they are implying that the WCML’s political education was abstract, divorced from real struggle. Unfortunately for ATM, facts are facts. In our newsletter, “Working Class Consciousness”, THIS is what we stated:

In the recent history, workers from this company as any other company under the capitalist system, the workers have suffered a common oppression and exploitation. At Western Yarn, for example, this can be seen within the last three years there has been no significant wage increase, in spite of soaring inflation. Also this has been accompanied by hazardous and inhuman working conditions. The increase and speed-up of production and striving for greater profit have brought about an ever-increasing work load to the workers of Western Yarn. In particular, this has meant that women workers are forced to push heavy carts and lift heavy bobbins. Furthermore, in recent times workers have been harassed and have been intimidated for not putting out “enough production”.

These conditions described above are the conditions that working people as a whole are subjected to under the capitalist system of the bourgeoisie. In taking up and analyzing the problems that we as workers are confronted with, it is not enough to see our position at Western Yarn apart from other industries, there workers face similar exploitation. In order for us to understand the whole of exploitation, we need to take up the task of political education through the means of political exposure.

When we speak of political exposure it is first important to recognize that we as workers are part of the working class (the proletariat) and because of this we own nothing but our labor power (i.e. the ability to work) and the Bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) owns all the means of production (the machinery, land, raw materials, mines, etc.) and because of this, we are forced to sell our labor power to the capitalists in order to live and raise our families. This is how the; bourgeois class exploits the working class and other sections of the population. Flowing from this, the bourgeoisie through its media and newspapers and magazines, constantly mislead and misguide the proletariat that workers and employers have a “common” interest and should cooperate for the good of society. But as we look at the US today, we can see the growing upsurge of working people; layoffs, cutbacks, growing unemployment, soaring inflation, high cost of living, etc.: these are the things that directly and indirectly affect the working class in all aspects of their life. This is why we, the authors of this newsletter will take up the consistent task of the organization of comprehensive political exposures, providing political consciousness, so that the workers will be armed theoretically to recognize the bribes and the tricks of the bourgeoisie to dull the working class consciousness and divert them from the things that affect their interests as a class. For example, look at the company newsletter, November 26, 1975 and the other one dated December 16, 1975. One can see the shallowness and, narrow content of their newsletter. In the one dated November 26, they say, “This is to help all of us share in the many little things that are going on in our company.” But if we notice, the newsletter goes on to say nothing of the “big things” that really confront the workers at Western Yarns, like the low wages the workers receive, the brown-lung disease that effects the textile industry, the unsafe working conditions, speed-ups, especially this point, because it should be made known that the company is expanding the plant and increasing the volume. And as a result of this, they say that this will “mean added job security”. But any class conscious worker knows that no worker’s job is secure under capitalism. Look how many workers have been laid-off in “supposedly” stable industries like public service industry, medical industries, auto industries, etc. Moreover, why doesn’t the company talk about higher wages and benefits, the things that are hard-felt at the moment, because we know that expanding of the plant and increasing production means speed-up and harder work for the workers with the same low wages.

While we resolutely take up the immediate demands of the working class, we will make it clear that the only fundamental guarantee that will emancipate the working class and other sections of the population from the exploitation and oppression is the forceful overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of a socialist society.


As the reader can see, ATM’s criticism of the newsletter’s supposed abstractness is unfounded; and the reader can also judge who has maintained a correct stand on the character of Marxist-Leninist political education. ATM writes off our newsletter as “an abundance of revolutionary language” that “provided the workers with absolutely no revolutionary direction.” No, ATM, not merely direction toward concrete demands – but instead to openly and honestly speak to the workers about the task of taking up Marxism-Leninism, so that they can take as their own the revolutionary tasks facing us today and indeed make “their struggle... part of the struggle for socialism.”

All this talk of “no revolutionary direction” by ATM is nonsense and an attempt to justify their literature which maintained a trade unionist political character, rather than a communist political character. The economists argued against Lenin in his day with similar arguments: contrasting “concrete demands that promise palpable results” to ISKRA’s “propaganda of brilliant and finished ideas” which they accused of one-sidedly placing “the revolutionizing of dogma higher than the revolutionizing of life.”

We ask ATM in print – how did our newsletter ignore partial demands or safety conditions? ATM’s method here is not very “concrete”. In order to give the reader the impression that we talk about socialism in the abstract, they ignore the section in the newsletter that speaks to those conditions. This is not the first time in our movement that we have seen polemics waged on the basis of conclusions reached before an investigation of the facts!


Our primary quarrel with ATM is not that they put out economic exposures, but that they tried to justify them as communist political agitation. Economic exposures do have a place in our work and can serve a purpose in our revolutionary activity. Lenin say

In a word, economic (factory) exposures were and remain an important lever in the economic struggle and the will continue to retain this significance as long as capitalism exists which creates the need for the workers to defend themselves.(WITBD p.68)

Lenin continues,

These exposures could have served (if properly utilized by an organization of revolutionaries) as a beginning and constitute part of social-democratic activity, but they could also have lead (and given a worshipful attitude towards spontaneity, were bound to lead) to a “pure” trade union struggle and to a non-social democratic working class movement.(WITBD page 7)

This is why we struggle against this stand on ATM’s part – because they refuse to see that just this kind of economic factory exposure is inadequate to conduct the political struggle of the proletariat. There are given situations where communists will do economic exposures in a given setting and this is connected to our all-sided activities, such as building nuclei, running study groups, working on negotiating commit tees, etc. But, this is not to be confused with making economic work the general basis of our work. Lenin concludes:

Hence, it follows that social-democrats not only must not confine themselves to the economic struggles; they must not even allow the organization of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities.(WITBD page 70)

The position taken by ATM in this dispute is one of bowing to spontaneity, failing to inject proletarian class consciousness into the working class at the factory. ATM too: the position of justifying our already too narrow political education, thus narrowing the tasks of political agitation and propaganda, and restricting the role of propaganda as the chief form of activity.