Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

On the Role of Agitation and Propaganda

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First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 15, December 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Communists often talk about the crucial importance of revolutionary agitation and propaganda. And with good reason. Together, agitation and propaganda, are a mighty and indispensable weapon in the Party’s revolutionary arsenal. How else but with vivid, compelling agitation, as well as propaganda, can the hatred which is provoked by daily life under capitalism be further aroused and sharpened against the bourgeoisie? How else but by agitation and propaganda can the word, the sparks, and the lessons of struggles waged by now one, now another, section of the masses be spread nationwide? How else can class struggle be waged in the crucial arena of public opinion against the ruling class–whose ideas also are the ruling ideas in society and who spend millions and millions of dollars yearly to produce a deluge of their own agitation and propaganda spreading confusion, defeatism and reaction?

Is there any way other than communist agitation and propaganda to arm the masses themselves with the science of revolution and the Party’s line so they can take it up and wage conscious struggle for revolution? And in what other way can the influence of the Party, its views, its presence be spread so openly, broadly, and consistently among the masses as by agitation and propaganda–in all its forms, spoken and written, but particularly in newspapers? As Stalin put it, “A whole generation of the revolutionary proletariat was reared by Pravda [a mass communist paper].” Or looking at this country in recent years, can we forget the influence of the tens of thousands of copies of the Black Panther paper sold each week in each of many major cities at a time when the Panthers stood for violent revolution in the minds of millions?

In fact it is impossible even to conceive of the Party itself–and the revolutionary stamp it aims to put on all its work–without the glue of agitation and propaganda unifying and giving all around revolutionary character to all its work. With all this in mind it is possible to see why Lenin described “systematic, all-around propaganda and agitation, consistent in principle” as “the chief and permanent task” of communists. (“Where to Begin,” CW, Vol. 5)

And with this in mind today we must greatly step up and sharpen our revolutionary agitation and propaganda. And we must give special emphasis to agitation which overall plays a more central role in our ongoing work. While this includes making full use of the Party press and leaflets, it also means widely and boldly doing spoken agitation. For agitation lends itself especially to the spoken word. But what is agitation and just what role does it play?

What Is Agitation?

Agitation, whether spoken or written, generally focuses on one event, and one contradiction, and seeks to make a single idea powerfully clear to broad numbers of people. It is like a sharp knife seeking to expose and make raw a glaring contradiction and draw blood around it. An agitator, focusing, say, on the U.S. government’s support for the Shah of Iran under the banner of bringing democracy to that country, would focus on the “democracy” the Shah is bringing to the people by shooting them down in the street, and would bring out the class content of this imperialist democracy. Or in an example cited by Lenin, pointing to the death by starvation of an unemployed worker’s family, an agitator would seek to show “the senselessness of the contradiction between the increase of wealth and the increase of poverty [and] he will strive to rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this crying injustice.” (What Is To Be Done?, Section 3B) A fuller explanation of this contradiction, Lenin points out, will be left to the propagandist–who has to present many ideas and their interrelation, so propaganda will be understood in an all around way by a smaller number of people.

Why then is agitation such a particularly important weapon in the Party’s hands? Is it just that we want to be “more mass” than propaganda allows us to be? While we certainly do seek to influence the broadest numbers of people, this is not the heart of the matter. First agitation is a necessary form of class struggle in order to go at it toe to toe with the bourgeoisie for public opinion. The bourgeoisie is constantly drumming its view of events along with its. upside down world view through the course of a constant stream of particulars. If we abandon this field of battle to the enemy we will lose by default. Only timely, revolutionary agitation can clear up the smoke and point the finger at its source in each of these cases.

What Mao said about the process of gaining knowledge is relevant to the role of agitation in building class consciousness:

As regards the sequence in the movement of man’s knowledge, there is always a gradual growth from the knowledge of individual and particular things to the knowledge of things in general. Only after man knows the particular essence of many different things can he proceed to generalization and know the common essence of things. When man attains the knowledge of this common essence, he uses it as a guide and proceeds to study various concrete things which have not yet been studied, or studied thoroughly, and to discover the particular essence of each; only thus is he able to supplement, enrich and develop his knowledge of their common essence and prevent such knowledge from withering or petrifying. These are the two processes of cognition; one, from the particular to the general, and the other, from the general to the particular. (“On Contradiction,” Selected Works, Vol. 1, p. 320.)

Mao here, and throughout his works, is not advocating stages–which would translate into agitation first, then later propaganda–nor is he separating this whole process from the struggle to change the world. But he is summing up laws of the process of consciousness and what he says applies to the importance of wide ranging and sharp revolutionary agitation dealing with many different things.

What he says here also speaks to the content of agitation. It is exactly by focusing on the “particular essence” of the thing it is dealing with that agitation plays its part in painting the general picture of capitalist oppression and exploitation. Exactly because this general picture, this basic class contradiction, resides in an endless number of particular instances, agitation in this way can play its role in pointing toward this “common essence,” as Mao puts it.

This kind of sharply focused agitation around a particular contradiction is not narrow and revisionist. It is quite the opposite of the revisionist line of making everything “palpable,” to reduce the general down to one or a few particulars. This line, with which we have had recent and rich experience with the Mensheviks in our own Party’s ranks, seeks to reduce all understanding to the most narrow and banal.

If someone should begin to get the idea that imperialism is the enemy in Africa, for example–how terrible, how hopelessly abstract. Quick, let’s “put a face on the enemy,” as they would say, and target some local bank–how much more concrete and how much easier for the masses to swallow. If someone begins to get an inkling that capitalism is behind unemployment–hurry and put out that “useless” spark of understanding and pin the blame on the President’s policies.

This is dead against the correct understanding of the fact that the general resides in the particular. Its motion, its thrust, is headlong in the opposite direction. Real agitation, by dealing with the particularity of contradiction, seeks to point forward to the broader picture. Its aim is not to leave things at the level of the particular. As Lenin put it, “we must make it our concern to direct the thoughts of those who are dissatisfied only with conditions at the university, or in the Zemstvo [town council], etc., to the idea that the entire political system is worthless.” (What Is To Be Done? Section 3E)

Still this does not negate, but in fact emphasizes, the importance of dealing with the particularity of contradiction. It is through repeatedly digging in to many different particulars, that agitation plays its important role in indicating the bigger picture. This is true, for example, of our Party’s Worker newspapers–which combine local news with a central news service. Although they contain important propaganda articles, they consist mainly of agitation. Each issue should present an overall picture of our society and indicate-the need for proletarian revolution to overthrow the present order and establish socialism. But this picture should emerge from a whole series of articles that concentrate powerfully on one central point and drive it home. This, in fact, will be far more effective in presenting this overall picture than if each article attempted to cover many points and make, in general, the overall points about capitalism and the need to overthrow it. Such a paper would contain many words, but say very little.

This point about the general and’ particular also speaks to the principle behind an important statement made by Lenin on exposures, which are mainly in the form of agitation. In What Is To Be Done? Lenin points out that in order to develop class consciousness workers must gain a “clear picture” of the nature of the system and the different classes in society, and this

.. .cannot be obtained from any book. It can be obtained only from living examples and from exposures that follow close upon what is going on about us at a given moment; upon what is being discussed, in whispers perhaps, by each one in his own way; upon what finds expression in such and such events, in such and such statistics, in such and such court sentences, etc., etc. These comprehensive political exposures are an essential and fundamental condition for training the masses in revolutionary activity. [And in this same section Lenin also says] In no way except by means of such exposures can the masses be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity. (What Is to Be Done? Section 3C)

These statements clearly speak to the central importance of timely and sharp agitation. It is not enough, to explain to the masses that they are oppressed or that their interests are antagonistic to the capitalists. As Lenin puts it “Agitation must be conducted with regard to every concrete example of this oppression.” (What Is to Be Done? Section 3A) While propaganda plays a genuinely important role, such general explanations, especially when tagged on to basically reformist work and when done in a sterile stereotyped way, play an “important role” only in dulling our agitation and boring the readers or listeners.

If we carry out our work around capitalism, socialism and communism in this kind of bookish, stilted, simplistic way it will often seem to people that we talk too much about politics. And we will not really have broken with reformism. But if we carry out the kind of all-around political work and agitation Lenin calls for, and in this context also conduct scientific propaganda, then people will not be able to get enough of such politics.

If, for example, around the question of imperialist aggression and war we largely confine ourselves to repeating the same general statements about “imperialism and war and plunder” and “the superpowers are contending and preparing for war,” we will fall way short of the mark. But if we shed our laziness and really dig into the heart of what imperialism means in a thousand specific instances to the people of the whole world, if we actually expose the real conditions, feelings and struggles of the masses subjected to imperialist enslavement, as well as the actual character of wars fought by the imperialists, then we will be making real strides in the crucial task of instilling among the American workers a hatred for the American flag and all it stands for.

Contradiction–the Heart of Agitation

All this speaks to the need to sharpen our agitation, to make it more revolutionary. And as already indicated in a number of ways, the key to this, the heart of agitation, is a grasp on the question of contradiction. When we speak of doing exposures, for example, what are we basically speaking of exposing? Contradiction and its class content. Exposure means revealing what is hidden and covered up. This, however, means more than radical muckracking, although bourgeois muck should indeed be raked for raw material that concretely exposes the class character of society.

Fundamentally what is hidden and covered up by capitalism are the basic laws and class character of the contradictions in society. Behind such murky mists as “equal exchange” (work for wages), “democracy,” and “national interests” lie exploitation, capitalist dictatorship and worldwide reaction, all of which demand the sharp knife of exposure, especially agitation, to lay them bare and raw.

This task of laying bare contradiction has to be grasped consciously. In opposition to eclectic, reformist and boring stuff that meanders here and wanders there, communists must muster revolutionary spirit and science to develop agitation that dives right to the heart of the contradiction and rips the bourgeoisie and bourgeois society. A contradiction bared raises people’s interest and also raises their fighting spirit. If we grasp contradiction, then our agitation will really hound and tear at the bourgeoisie. If we grasp contradiction, then our agitation can powerfully popularize and draw the lessons from the struggles of the people. And since humor, as even any good bourgeois comedian knows, is based on contradiction and contrast then we can even wield this weapon. And what would be so bad about that? It is not required that communists be dull and humorless. No law, nothing in Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought mandates it.

To grasp contradiction and to wield the weapon of revolutionary agitation, then, we have to discard what Mao refers to as the “formalist method, classifying things according to their external features instead of their internal relations.” (“Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing”, SW, Vol. 3, p. 61.) According to this method a war of liberation and an imperialist war of aggression could be lumped together since both involve bloodshed. Then he goes on to warn,

If one takes a conglomeration of concepts that are not internally related and arranges them into an article, speech or report simply according to the external features of things, then one is juggling with concepts and may also lead others to indulge in the same sort of game, with the result that they do not use their brains to think over problems and probe into the essence of things, but are satisfied merely to list phenomena in ABCD order. What is a problem? A problem is the contradiction in a thing.

But is it enough to simply pose the problem, or state the contradiction? While this may suffice in some cases, generally, to fully play its role, agitation re quires more than this. Around a central contradiction, and a clear cut stand, facts and analysis must be mustered–all to strengthen and drive home the central point. Agitation does not exclude analysis, because analysis means probing, investigating and thus laying bare contradiction. It is not enough for an agitational article on a tax hike to leave it at “the little man gets screwed.” For one thing this doesn’t distinguish communists one whit from populists and common reformers. Not to mention that a constant barrage of such stuff will leave a reader with a very bored and empty feeling. It is necessary to go deeper, to analyze the forces involved in producing and profiting from such an attack and indicate the basic class relations and laws of society standing behind and underlying it. The revolutionary solution to this contradiction should be indicated too. Of course agitation cannot do this in the same all-around way as propaganda and develop the relation of this particular case to imperialism, crisis and the inevitability of socialist revolution. Mao spoke to this whole problem quite pointedly,

Some of our comrades love to write long articles with no substance, very much like the “foot-bindings of a slattern, long as well as smelly.” Why must they write such long and empty articles? There can be only one explanation: they are determined the masses shall not read them.. .If long and empty articles are no good, are short and empty ones any better? They are no good either. We should forbid all empty talk... above all we need articles that have substance. (“Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing,” SW, Vol. 3, p. 56.)

When exposing the bourgeoisie, revolutionary agitation must above all be bloodthirsty. It must mercilessly lay bare the vicious oppression and disgusting hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie. The need for violent overthrow of this rotten system should pierce every issue of our newspapers. It must break clearly with all notions of bourgeois “respectability”, reformism or trade-unionism and speak wholeheartedly for the proletariat–the class that truly has nothing to lose but its chains. How else is it possible to cut through the crusty layers of crud, including bourgeois ideology, that permeate bourgeois society and certainly penetrate into the working class.

We must firmly uphold the truth, and truth requires a clear-cut stand. We Communists have always disdained to conceal our views. Newspapers run by our Party and all the propaganda work of our Party should be vivid, clear-cut and sharp and should never mutter and mumble. That is the militant style proper to us, the revolutionary proletariat. Since we want to teach the people to know the truth and arouse them to fight for their own emancipation, we need this militant style. A blunt knife draws no blood. (Mao Tsetung, “Talk to Shansi-Suiyan Daily Editorial Staff,” SW, Vol. 4, p. 245.)

If agitation (and propaganda for that matter) do not start from this “clear-cut stand” then they are worthless. When supposedly agitational articles wander about from point to point, qualifying themselves and equivocating, there is usually something wrong with the line as well as the style. And adding a few paragraphs about capitalism and socialism on to the end of an essentially trade-unionist (or reformist political) article won’t save it from being non-revolutionary. In fact this is often a tip-off that the agitation didn’t draw a bit of blood in the first place.

Of course taking a clear-cut stand means more than militant posturing or just cursing the enemy. A pig can–and should–be called for the beast that he is. But as an overall approach this won’t measure up. Mao also condemned writing that “strikes a pose in order to intimidate people... Against the enemy this tactic of intimidation is utterly useless, and with our own comrades it can only do harm.” (“Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing,” SW, Vol. 3, pp. 57-58.)

By digging into a contradiction, by taking a clear cut stand, agitation seeks to unite with the basic class feelings of the masses* and raise them to a new and higher level. In defining agitation, Lenin said it should “rouse discontent.” He did not say it should squelch it under a dry pretense of a “scientific approach”–which is not at all the revolutionary science of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought. Our agitation must aim to hone, sharpen and intensify basic class anger, by raising it to a higher, class conscious level.

But to do this requires being selective. Agitation must focus not on petty, but really typical and glaring evils. Agitation, it is true, is mainly characterized by its broadness, its all-around character. (Here we are speaking of agitation as a category, not any one example of agitation.) As Lenin put it “communism springs from positively every sphere of public life.” And the light of agitation must be brought to bear on all these spheres. In keeping with this our Party has formulated the policy of “concentrated struggles and broad exposures.” But in a sense agitation must be “concentrated” too. There are some events that lend themselves much more than others to powerfully laying bare the contradictions of capitalism.

Take for example the Houston cops’ murder of Chicano veteran Joe Torres and the resulting $1 fine imposed on these pigs. Because it concentrated so starkly the contradictions of national oppression and police terror, there was deep response among the masses to agitation around this. Many took up as their own the excellent agitational slogan “Joe Torres dead. Cops go free. That’s what the rich call democracy.” Other, less stark, events–such as the personal story of an immigrant worker, for example–may also powerfully typify and concentrate broadly felt and important contradictions. But many other events cannot and will not have the same effect.

Understanding this and carrying this through requires the mass line. The point Mao made about methods of leadership applies here, “take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own.”

To realize its full power agitation must have a national scope. For agitation to play its full role, really sharp and typical cases must be selected and some must be spread nationwide. For this reason, as well as to provide for unity of political line, the Worker newspapers are linked together into a network by the Party centrally which provides these papers with exposure and propaganda on a national scale.

Agitation and Mass Action

Agitation that sharply exposes the bourgeoisie and puts forward the struggles of the people will clearly be a powerful force in relation to the task of mobilizing people for struggles against the enemy. But it is important to be clear on just how agitation does relate to this task. Lenin points out clearly in What Is To Be Done? that agitation is not a call to action. This was in direct opposition to a narrow economist line that tried to reduce the tasks of communists to promoting struggles for immediate, palpable results. In speaking about the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary agitation and propaganda around a famine in Russia, Lenin sarcastically remarked, “Their articles contained–oh horror!–not a single, can you imagine it?–not a single ’concrete demand’ ’promising palpable results’! Poor doctrinaires!” (What Is to Be Done? Section 3A) If agitation is seen basically as calls to action, then communists, far from being tribunes of the people, will become chickens with their heads cut off and petty reformers running after everything and accomplishing nothing.

Lenin, of course, while opposing this revisionist line was hardly against bringing the masses forward in action. The Bolsheviks constantly did so around major questions of all sorts. Neither did Lenin fail to see the connection between agitation and bringing the masses forward in action.

As for calling the masses to action, that will come of itself as soon as energetic political agitation, live and striking exposures come into play. To catch some criminal red-handed and immediately to brand him publicly in all places is of itself far more effective than any number of “calls”.. .[And Lenin also called for organizing] “wide, striking and rapid exposures of all the shameful outrages. When we do that (and we must and can do it), the most backward worker will understand, or will feel, that the students and religious sects, the peasants and the authors are being abused and outraged by those same dark forces that are oppressing and crushing him at every step of his life. Feeling that, he himself will be filled with an irresistible desire to react... (What Is To Be Done? 3C)

Of course this does not mean that there will or should be a struggle around everything that is the subject of agitation. There is not that kind of narrow, one-to-one relation between agitation and action. But the overall effect of agitation will be a powerful force in compelling people to action, often around a new question or outrage which is completely unrelated to the specific things exposed before. Of course the Party must seek to concentrate on promoting such major struggles, and its agitation must play a role in publicizing, popularizing and organizing them. There is a role for calls to actions, but they should not be confused with agitation which occupies an overall more important place than such calls to action.

Agitation (along with propaganda) and struggle are dialectically related. In fact, as with any unity of opposites, each aspect can be transformed into the other. Agitation can be transformed into struggle. This is the case in many examples which do not start out as a big struggle, but develop into one after being the subject of repeated sharp exposures. Also agitation itself can be a form of struggle. Lenin talk about how factory exposures–declarations of war of a sort–can greatly raise the morale of the workers, and even cause the owners to give in quickly to some demands, fearing worse consequences if they don’t. And he speaks of how “.. .political exposures in themselves serve as a powerful instrument for disintegrating the system we oppose...” (What Is To Be Done? 3E)

Struggle can also be transformed into agitation. Take the example of a picket line. Basically it is a form of struggle. But it contains agitation–including slogans on the picket signs. Of course the picket signs themselves can be transformed into a form of struggle–when appropriately used to knock some scab or cop upside the head. And this, in turn, is a form of “education”–for any fellow pigs and low-life scabs in the vicinity.

The current struggle in Houston against police and national oppression is a recent example of the relation between agitation and struggle. Why did people erupt in the powerful rebellion around Cinco de Mayo? Fundamentally it was a result of a police attack and the underlying hatred for the daily oppression of the Chicano people at the hands of the system. To fail to see this, and that such rebellions will continue to take place independent of any conscious communist activity, would be to depart from the basic materialist understanding that oppression breeds resistance.

But, from the point of view of advancing the struggle, it would be an even more serious error to fail to see the relation between such resistance and the ongoing work of communists. Before the rebellion, there had been months of persistent agitation and action by the Party and other mass organizations, exposing and going straight up against the capitalists and cops around the murder of Joe Torres and combatting all sorts of reformist dead-end schemes advanced as a “solution” to police terror. This had a major effect, especially in focusing the anger of the masses against the class enemy. So it was no accident that when the people rebelled on the night of Cinco de Mayo many took up the slogan “Joe Torres dead, Cops go Free, That’s what the rich call democracy” as a battle-cry against the murdering cops.

Linked to the Masses

To really play this kind of role in concentrating the deep feelings of the masses and raising their class consciousness, agitation must be revolutionary and powerful. And the masses must feel it truly speaks for them. This kind of agitation is impossible without applying the mass line and without knowing the masses–their experiences, their feelings, their language. In short, it is necessary to learn from the masses in order to educate them. Without this constant process agitation will become sterile and stereotyped, learned from a formula instead of concentrated from life.

But learning from the masses, knowing them and knowing them well as Mao puts it, is not a question of individual self-cultivation, “rubbing elbows” with the masses. Learning, too, involves agitation.

Lenin made this point, for example, when writing during an ebb period about what kind of investigation was needed to determine when a new rise of the revolutionary tide was at hand. While pointing to the need for detailed study and analysis of Russia’s economic crisis, he stressed that this was not enough:

... if the general groundwork exists, that does not permit us to conclude whether the depression will for a time retard the mass struggle of the workers in general, or whether at a certain stage of events the same depression will not push new masses and fresh forces into the political struggle. To answer such a question there is only one way: to keep a careful finger on the pulse of the country’s whole political life, and especially the state of the movement and of the mood of the mass of the proletariat.

And, in the same article, Lenin insisted that key to this was to “multiply tenfold our agitation among the mass of proletariat.” His conclusion was,

Only agitation can reveal on a broad scale the real state of mind of the masses, only agitation can make for close co-operation between the Party and the whole working class, only making use for the purposes of political agitation of every strike, of every important event or issue in working-class life, of all conflicts within the ruling classes or between, one section of those classes or another and the autocracy, of every speech by a Social-Democrat [communist] in the Duma [parliament], of every new expression of the counter-revolutionary policy of the government, etc.–only work like this can once again close the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat, and provide accurate material for judging the speed with which conditions for new and more decisive battles are coming to a head. (“The Assessment of the Present Situation,” CW, Vol. 15, pp. 278-279.)

Central Role of Agitation

All this underscores and gives broader dimension to the overall importance of agitation. In fact, for communists, agitation is key in giving revolutionary “political identity” to their work. Agitation should be the “glue” holding all their political work together. Does this mean the Party should be a propaganda sect–or an “agitation sect”? No it shouldn’t be a sect of any kind. But the Party collectively and comrades individually should be (in Lenin’s phrase) “tribunes of the people,” and agitation is central to that.

This brings us back, from a different angle, to the statement by Lenin quoted earlier in the article that “In no way except by means of such exposures can the masses be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity.” Even though in this same passage, Lenin was combatting the revisionist Martynov’s theory of “raising the activity of the working masses,” Lenin is not arguing against the principal and decisive role of struggle–including the fact that people can learn more in the course of struggle, especially broad and revolutionary struggle, than by “being told.” But Lenin is arguing against a narrow conception of communists’ tasks and a line of bowing to and tailing after spontaneous struggle. People need their own experience. But their own experience, and even the most correct summation of their own experience, will never reveal to them what they need to know to make revolution. These points were dealt with at length in the article “Sharpen Weapon of the Party Press,” (Revolution, June 1978) but it should be pointed out again that it is impossible to do revolutionary work in today’s non-revolutionary situation, to strain at the limits of the objective situation, simply by building the struggles that are going on today or merely–even mainly–doing agitation and propaganda directly in relation to them. All-around revolutionary work is impossible without maximizing the role of revolutionary agitation and propaganda in relation to every sort of event in society.

All this becomes clearer still when we grasp that in today’s situation, communist work is preparatory work–building up strength for the revolutionary showdown that lies ahead. (In the future, in a revolutionary situation, agitation will play a role on an even greater scale. It will be crucial in reaching broad sections of the masses, rousing their energy, heroism and enthusiasm and focusing their efforts on the most important tasks of the hour, as the situation develops through intense and rapid twists and turns. Today the work is preparatory in a different and more long-term sense.) In combatting narrow views of such “preparation,” Lenin said:

We ask our Economists: What do they mean by “the gathering of working class strength for the struggle?” Is it not evident that this means the political training of the workers, so that all the aspects of our vile autocracy are revealed to them? (What Is To Be Done?, 3E)

This kind of all-around work is impossible without broad revolutionary agitation.


Grasping today’s period as one of preparation also sheds light on the role and importance of propaganda today. Whether in the form of carrying out exposures, analyzing developments in the various movements or society as a whole, or of directly propagating Marxism, propaganda is at all times a crucial part of the struggle against the bourgeoisie and its grip on the masses. There are many questions and topical issues that demand the more thoroughgoing illumination that only propaganda can provide. Today, for example, such questions as “Buy America,” immigration and “illegals,” and inflation–just to name a few–are on the minds of many and are the constant subject of reactionary propaganda by the bourgeoisie. While each of these questions and many others must be the subject of agitation, such questions also clearly demand to be taken up in propaganda. In this way the reactionary theories and “explanations” of the bourgeoisie can be dissected, the root of these questions in capitalist society can be traced and their links to the present imperialist crisis and the need for socialist revolution can be shown in an all-around way.

But today there is a more general reason for giving special attention to propaganda, though agitation now should play a more central role in the Party’s work. Because this is a period of preparation and not a period in which giant forces are being drawn around and into the Party, it is a period in which special effort can and must be made in training the advanced forces–including training them in the science of Marxism-Leninism and the line of the Party. This requires a leap in understanding, and in this leap propaganda plays the key part. This does not mean that training the advanced can be isolated from mass struggle or from the tasks of doing all-around exposure of the system (mainly through agitation) and raising the general level of consciousness of the masses. It cannot. But exactly because propaganda (which includes spreading the science of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought) involves many ideas and more thoroughly goes into basic questions such as the inevitability of crisis and the laws of imperialism, it plays the decisive part in enabling people to get a clear grasp of the stand, outlook and method of Marxism.

This does not imply propaganda is only for the advanced and agitation for the broad masses. For one thing, even though propaganda will, as Lenin put it, “be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons” it will be understood in part by quite a few more. The questions dealt with by communist propaganda are not academic and esoteric, but are questions that deeply affect the lives of the broad masses. Propaganda and agitation must be closely linked, not falsely separated. Lenin argued against the view

... that a workers’ newspaper should devote its pages exclusively to matters that immediately and directly concern the spontaneous working-class movement, and leave everything pertaining to theory of socialism, science, politics, questions of Party organization, etc., to a periodical for the intelligensia. On the contrary, it is necessary to combine all the concrete facts and manifestations of the working-class movement with the indicated questions; the light of theory must be cast upon every separate fact; propaganda on questions of politics and Party organisation must be carried on among the broad masses of the working class; and these questions must be dealt with in the work of agitation. (“Draft of a Declaration Of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya” CW, Vol. 4, p. 326.)

Of course Lenin did not mush everything together and made distinctions according to the needs of the struggle and of different sections (both in regards to class composition and political understanding) of the masses. The “declaration” quoted above was in fact introducing two publications one of which he said “should serve mainly for propaganda” and the other “mainly for agitation.”

Today our Party also publishes various kinds of literature, including different periodicals. Revolution, the organ of our Party’s Central Committee, contains chiefly propaganda. Its main audience is advanced workers, Party supporters and other revolutionary-minded people, as well as Party members, and it seeks especially to answer the questions most decisive for them and for organizing the Party’s work. The Worker newspapers, on the other hand, reach a broader audience; their overall role is political exposure and they contain mainly agitational articles along with some important propaganda. This is not a matter of a division between talking down and high falutin’ academics. It is aimed at moving struggle and consciousness forward. Mao also said,

The cadres are the advanced elements of the masses and generally have received more education; literature and art of a higher level are entirely necessary for them. To ignore this would be a mistake. (“Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” SW, Vol. 3, p. 83.)

By arming the masses with an understanding of the basis of events in society (and the Party’s actions) and by arming them with a scientific outlook, propaganda plays an important role. The Party cannot adopt the view that revolution will be made by a “conscious” Party leading the “blind” masses in struggle against their oppression. This is nothing but the “heroes make history” line. Through the work of the Party, both learning and leading, and together with the development of the objective situation, larger and larger sections of the masses must become increasingly class conscious and armed with revolutionary science.

This is certainly important to stress in the U.S. today. This is so both because of the influence of revisionism internationally and because of the strong pull of pragmatism historically in this country–“never mind the reasons; if it works, do it.” This leads to a weakening of Marxist propaganda and a downplaying of theoretical work, which provides the underpinning and much material for both propaganda and agitation. There can be no revolutionary Party that does not make a radical rupture in theory and practice with this whole approach.

One reflection of this thinking, which has found its way into our own ranks, especially with the right-idealism and economism of the departed Mensheviks, is the downplaying of the importance of propagandizing among the broad masses against the influence of opportunist lines. While it is true that no opportunist group exerts wide influence among the masses at this time, it would be a dumb joke to think that we live in a vacuum–which contains only the Party, the masses and the bourgeoisie. It would be even more foolish to think that in the minds of the masses the Revolutionary Communist Party is the first and only group they ever heard of that calls itself revolutionary. Especially those workers who are most awakening to political life are likely to be aware of or even influenced by several different groups, including opportunists. But, if correctly understood and acted on, this can be turned from a bad thing into a good thing. Marxism and an understanding of Marxism develops in struggle against bourgeois ideology, including phony Marxism and other opportunism. And the viewpoint and interests of the proletariat become clearer in contrast to the views and interests of other classes. When propaganda is developed that exposes opportunist lines and their class basis, this struggle between Marxism and opportunism can greatly raise the class consciousness of advanced workers and bring them closer to the Party.

Propaganda and agitation must today be closely linked together and expanded in their scope in order for the Party to truly meet its responsibilities to the struggle. And those responsibilities are great and expanding, both in uniting with and developing today’s movement and in safeguarding the future, upholding the revolutionary interests of the working class.

Revolutionary agitation and propaganda are weapons of a special sort. They are weapons in smashing the chains of the pessimistic, revisionist view described by Lenin as: “That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the present moment.” (What Is To Be Done? 2C) They enable the Party to relate closely to today’s key events of society and to the present level of struggle without being chained to this level, without revolving everything around it. They are key in enabling the Party to awaken, stimulate, and inspire the exploited and oppressed who are hungry for a way out of this torment of capitalism. Agitation and propaganda are vital in nourishing the seeds of the future in the movement of today.