Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Report from the Editor: Agit/Prop Department Holds Seminar

Building the Party Press

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 5, No. 3, February 15, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Forging real revolutionary cadres in order to provide revolutionary leadership to the working class and its allies in the struggle for socialism is the main task of the CPUSA/ML in this first period of its work. Set by the Founding Congress, this task includes mastering Marxism-Leninism, internalizing the Program and Constitution of the Party, and testing cadre in the heat of the class struggle.

As a part of this program, the Central Agit-Prop Department of the Party held a seminar on agitation and propaganda work. The department studied Lenin’s book, What is to be Done?, and a speech on art and culture by Comrade Ernst Aust, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany/ML (KPD/ML), and adopted a year plan of work.

One of the main aims of the seminar was to deepen the understanding of the department about a major deviation in its work in order to work on the plan to overcome it. This deviation had been pinpointed as a narrow approach to its role and responsibilities. It had been manifested in economism in the agitation and propaganda in the pages of the newspaper, as well as in the tendency to belittle responsibilities other than production of the newspaper.

The Role of the Newspaper

One of the main tasks of the A-P department is the development of Unite!, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the CPUSA/ML. In order to carry out this task well, it is extremely important to grasp the role of the communist press and its relationship to the class struggle. Lenin’s What is to be Done? is a classic guide for building the communist press in the interests of the working class. The basic theoretical premises which Lenin laid out in this work remain the cornerstones for the development of the communist press in each country.

Lenin states that one of the fundamental responsibilities of the press is to build the political consciousness of the working class. But in Lenin’s time, as now, there were two paths advanced as the best means to accomplish this end.

On the one hand, Martynov, a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, maintained that the working class came to political consciousness primarily through the economic struggle–that is by waging the struggle for better working conditions and wages. He believed, therefore, that the main task of the newspaper should be exposures of factory conditions. He believed that through this kind of economic exposure and through the economic struggle, gradually the working class would come to a conscious understanding of the need to overthrow the Tsarist regime and establish socialism under the leadership of a communist party.

Lenin took the exact opposite position, stating that Martynov’s position was nothing more than trade unionism. Lenin argued that the political consciousness of the working class is built primarily outside the confines of the economic struggle. Lenin maintained the primary task of the newspaper was political exposures of the government, of the conservative as well as the liberal bourgeoisie, and of all forms of political repression no matter what class or strata was affected. In an all-around way, political exposures train the working class to understand the relationship between classes and to respond actively to every kind of tyranny wherever it exists. Only in this way, Lenin said, could the working class come to political consciousness.

Lenin argued that confining communist agitation and propaganda to narrow economic struggles was to inform the working class of nothing it did not already know. Economism belittles what workers are interested in and belittles the knowledge which is crucial to their overall understanding of class society.

How is it that the economic struggle will train the working class to understand that in order to qualitatively change the conditions of life, to end political repression, to end imperialist war, the old society must be destroyed and the new one built? If the struggle is confined to improving working conditions and higher wages, why then would the working class understand the need to support and build their communist party, instead of simply improving the functioning of the trade union? How is it that the narrow economic struggles will train workers to respond to every instance of oppression when it does not affect them directly?

The answer Lenin provides is that the economic struggle alone can do none of these things. It can only build trade union consciousness, not political consciousness. Martynov’s position limits the struggle of the working class to .fighting for better terms for the sale of labor power, not to the political struggle to overthrow the entire system of wage slavery.

The A-P department discussed these theoretical points and then looked at some of the past work in Unite! to analyze whether or not Unite! suffered from some of the deviations Lenin raised. There was a lively discussion of the past work of Unite! and the danger of economism, and it was agreed that there were definitely some economist deviations in the newspaper.

In the past, a view existed that the trade union section of the newspaper was the most important section of the paper, and that this was the section workers were most interested in. In addition, political exposures in the paper had been limited in scope and depth, thereby not training the working class in an all-around way about the relations between classes in the U.S., the policies and nature of the bourgeois government and the role of the social props of the bourgeoisie.

For example, on a number of occasions Unite! bypassed important topical issues which would have provided excellent opportunities for political exposures. It was not until after the 1978 elections were over that Unite! spoke to this event of bourgeois democracy. Election exposures are especially important in the United States, where the charade of democracy for all is so strong. These particular elections also held some significant issues of concern for the working class, like the right-to-work law in Missouri and the Briggs Amendment in California.

Another instance was the death of Golda Meir, the darling of U.S. Zionists. For days the bourgeoisie utilized every form of media to barrage the working masses of the U.S. with Zionist propaganda. Yet Unite! was silent on this issue and did nothing to expose and combat these reactionary views.

When the first test tube baby was born it was the major topic of discussion everywhere. Yet where was the proletarian viewpoint? Certainly not with the CP/ML, who said test-tube babies were a bourgeois plot to develop a master race. This would have provided an excellent chance to address the questions of medicine and technology under capitalism, issues the working class is affected by and interested in.

These are a few examples comrades in the department raised to point to the narrowness of political exposures in the newspaper. While it was noted that Unite! is limited in space for articles, it was completely agreed that this was not the fundamental problem. Rather, the problem was one of correct political judgment.

In determining the contents of the paper, articles must be chosen based upon which topic will advance the political understanding of the working class overall. It was agreed that this narrow approach stemmed from the economist deviations Lenin spoke of, which objectively says the working class is not interested in these issues or that the issues themselves are not important tools for raising the political consciousness of the working class.

What Does it Mean to Lead?

Another point Lenin raised is that the working class party is the vanguard fighter for democracy. Lenin said “He is no communist who forgets that communists support every revolutionary movement or who forgets his obligation to be ahead of everybody in advancing, accentuating and solving every general democratic problem.”

The point Lenin raises here is two-fold. First, the Party and its press must not limit itself to the immediate needs of the working class, but instead must address all the democratic tasks of all progressive strata, be they students, teachers, farmers, women, oppressed nationalities or youth.

Second, around these tasks, the Party must be more than a voice on paper. When Lenin speaks of political exposures, it is not the same as yellow journalism. It is not simply a question of exposing the particular class forces involved or the particular incident of injustice, but also arousing the masses to struggle and organizing and leading this struggle itself.

Now Lenin was also quite clear that this does not mean that the Party runs hither and thither from one struggle to the next without any plan or judgment of “the relative importance of particular struggles. Rather, Lenin was very clear at certain times there are particular tasks which must be accomplished.

The A-P department summed up that in the past, Unite! has been approached too often as a newspaper of analysis without considering the question of organizing the struggle. This is another manifestation of a narrow and incorrect approach to the leadership responsibilities of the newspaper in die class struggle. The task of the newspaper must be to point the direction into a particular battle, explaining why this battle is important overall and what must be done once engaged in the battle, and then finally to sum up the lessons once the battle is over.

The Newspaper as a Collective Organizer

The third main lesson in What is to be Done? is that the newspaper must not only be a collective agitator and propagandist, but it must also be a collective organizer. The newspaper acts as a collective organizer because it points out a common line of march in the class struggle all over the country. But it also organizes the class struggle through the networks, both open and secret, that are built around the distribution and contribution of material to it.

As Lenin said, “The mere technical task of regularly supplying the newspaper with copy and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united Party.”

This network marks the contours of the Party’s organized influence and promotes the growth of the Party. Communication is enhanced and work is broadened so that a common view of common national results is gained. This goes a long way in combatting the narrowness and localism of any particular region. The A-P department set as one of its main tasks for the upcoming year to politically train cadre of the Party to understand this important aspect of A-P work and to overcome any tendency to reduce distribution to a mechanical and bureaucratic task.

Overall, in order to accomplish the task of building up and perfecting the revolutionary press, Lenin emphasized the importance of training a staff of professional revolutionaries. This task coincides closely with the main task of the Party of forging real revolutionary cadre.

For the A-P department in particular, this means mastering Marxism-Leninism as the only sound basis from which to analyze and advance a correct viewpoint and plan of action. Second, it is essential for the A-P department to come to know the U.S. inside out–its history, its class forces, its domestic and international policies and its culture. Only in this way will it be possible to soundly assess the current position and direction ahead for U.S. imperialism and the proletarian revolution. Thirdly, the A-P department must fully grasp the program and tactics of the Party in order to be able to advance the correct path for the revolution in the United States.

The study of Lenin’s What is to be Done? provided many rich and powerful lessons for the comrades in the A-P department of the CPUSA/ML. As always, using the tested science of Marxism-Leninism, a sound basis is provided from which to assess past work, overcome deviations and adopt a plan for future work.

Art and Culture

The second part of the seminar was used to study a speech by Comrade Ernst Aust of the Communist Party of Germany/ML, entitled “Open Up the Revolutionary Front of Culture, Unify Agitation and Propaganda”

Aust starts from the Marxist-Leninist premise that culture and art are not above classes, but deeply reflect and serve a particular class. The bourgeoisie utilizes culture to promote its ideology and to crush progressive democratic and socialist culture. Bourgeois culture is increasingly decadent and reactionary in the epoch of imperialism. At the same time, within every modern nation, there is democratic and socialist culture serving the interests of the working class and its allies.

In his speech Aust says, “Literature and art should also become weapons which smash breach after breach into the ranks and bastions of the class enemy, which give the people the courage and the strength to wage the struggle for a more beautiful life, for a life without human exploitation, until its victorious climax.”

The A-P staff discussed the importance of the question of culture and many of the particular questions around this issue which exist in the United States.

First, the U.S. bourgeoisie is one of the most powerful the world has ever known. It has aggressively spread its reactionary and decadent culture on a world scale, everywhere attacking progressive culture. Hence the U.S. proletariat has a special responsibility to combat the reactionary influence of the culture of the U.S. bourgeoisie.

Second, within the U.S. numerous national cultures exist. Each nationality emigrating to the U.S. carried with them different national and folk cultures. Other cultures have developed within the oppressed nations of the U.S. As well there is the culture of the working class of the oppressor nation. Therefore, in assessing what is progressive culture in the U.S., it is important to utilize the science of Marxism-Leninism overall as a guide, taking into account the particular national features of each nationality in the U.S.

The A-P department agreed it was extremely important to begin to open up the cultural front as an important means of conducting agitation and propaganda among the masses. It was agreed that one of the first tasks in this area was to revive the heritage of many progressive U.S. artists, like Langston Hughes and Mike Gold. Through the study and promotion of such artists combined with the study of Marxism-Leninism on art and culture, the Party would begin to place this crucial tool in the service of the proletarian revolution in the U.S.

The A-P seminar concluded successfully with the adoption of a year plan of work which included a plan for Unite!, other Party publications, cultural work, distribution and cadre training.

All comrades of the Department agreed that the seminar was extremely useful in deepening the understanding of the staff of the tasks of the Party’s Agit-Prop Department and served to further unify the department around the goals set out by the Central Committee. The department looks forward to more department seminars as an important means of improving and perfecting its work.

Build the Party Press!