Thomas Bell

Propaganda and Agitation

Source: The Communist, October 1, 1921.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THIS is the second of a series of articles explaining the decisions taken by the Communist Congress in Moscow, which I attended as a representative of the Party. A further article will follow. This article deals with propaganda and agitation.

Communist propaganda and agitation should take root in the common interest, aspirations and struggles of the proletariat, and not be conducted in a formal manner, by means of casual speeches without special care for the concrete revolutionary substance of such speeches or writings. Special attention must be given to the Communist watchwords and attitude towards concrete questions. To achieve this, propagandists, agitators, and party members must be carefully instructed.

The principal forms of propaganda are (a) individual verbal propaganda; (b) participation in the industrial and political labour movement; (c) propaganda through the Party press and distribution of literature.

Every member must participate regularly in one or other of these forms of propaganda.

Systematic house-to-house canvasses, specially organised outdoor poster campaigns and distribution of leaflets. A regular, personal agitation in the workshops, accompanied by distribution of literature will give satisfactory results. The Communist agitators must be constantly on the lookout for new forms of propaganda to meet the backward workers half-way, and facilitate their entry into the revolutionary ranks. At the same time, the limited and confused demands of the massess should be regarded as revolutionary germs and a means of bringing the proletariat under the influence of Communist propaganda. For our Communist organisation to be recognised by the masses as the courageous, intelligent, and faithful leadership of their own labour movement, we must take part in all the elementary struggles and movements of the workers and defend their cause in all conflicts with the capitalists on the concrete questions of the day, e.g., hours, wages, conditions of labour, etc. The Communist must help to formulate the demands of the workers in a practical and concise form, and awaken the consciousness of community of interests among the workers as a class. Only through such elementary duties and participation in the daily struggles of the proletariat can the Communist Party develop into a real Communist Party, as distinguished from the propagandists of the hackneyed, so-called pure socialist propaganda, which invariably consists of recruiting new members and talking about reforms or use of parliamentary possibilities or impossibilities. Conscious participation in the daily struggles of the working class is essential for carrying out the dictatorship of the proletariat. It its by leading the masses in the petty warfare against capitalism that the Communist Party will acquire the capacity for leadership in the ultimate struggle for supremacy. The Communists must try to acquire the reputation among the struggling masses of being courageous and effective participants in their struggles, and however small or modest the demands may be, the Communists must never make that an excuse, or non-participation in the struggle.

Trade Union Activities

In the Trade Union movement it is easy, but not fruitful, to keep preaching the general principles of Communism and then take up negative attitudes of commonplace syndicalism against the concrete questions of the day. Such practices only play into the hands of the Yellow Amsterdam International.

Instead of resisting theoretically and on principal all kinds of agreements, we must rather take the lead in the struggle over the specific nature of these, as recommended by the leaders. Since, of course, it is the aim of the capitalists and their henchmen to tie up the workers’ hands, it behoves the Communists to open the eyes of the workers to these aims and advocate, say, in the case of a wages arrangement, such a system as would not hamper the proletariat in their preparations for the revolutionary struggle. In connection with unemployment, sickness, strike-pay, and other benefit funds of trade union organisation against these on mere principle is ill-advised. The Communist should point out that the manner of collecting these funds and their use as advocated by the leaders is against all the interests of the working class. If we are to win over the workers from their small bourgeois conceptions, it would not do for us to oppose those trade union members who are still anxious to secure sick benefits, etc., by simply prohibiting such payments, since we may not be understood by them. But we should insist on the abolition of the contributory system and all binding conditions upon voluntary funds. In this connection an intensive personal propaganda is essential.

Unmasking The Yellow Leaders

In the task of unmasking the yellow trade union leaders and the leaders of the various labour parties, it is not enough to call them “yellow,” nor can we hope for much by means of persuasion. Our method is to deprive them of their following by continual and practical illustrations of their true character and their treacherous conduct, whether in the union activities, Labour Bureau of the League of Nations, capitalist administrations, written messages to the Press, speeches in conferences or parliament and, above all, their vacillating and hesitating attitude in all the struggles of the workers, even for a modest rise in wages. All those offer constant opportunities for exposing the reactionary leaders. Participation by the Communists in conferences and meetings of the trade union organisations, or in connection with workers’ meetings, election meetings, demonstrations, etc., of hostile organizations. All these should be carefully prepared. For instance, proposals should be elaborated before hand by the Communist fractions, lecturers selected, and capable, experienced, energetic comrades put forward as candidates.

Where the Communists convene their own workers’ meetings, they should have groups distributed amongst the audience and every effort made to secure the most satisfactory propaganda results. The Communists must learn to draw the unorganised and backward workers permanently into the ranks of the Party. We must not only induce the workers to join the trade unions and read our Party organs, but educational boards, study circles, sports’ clubs, dramatic societies, co-operative societies, consumers’ associations, War Victims’ associations, etc—all these may be used as intermediaries between us and the workers.

Everywhere the Communists must endeavour to combat the petty bourgeois ideology, and hostile organisations of capitalism, and win the confidence of the workers for Communism. Valuable work can be done in villages, farmsteads, and isolated dwellings in the local districts by house-to-house canvass.

Communist Anti-Militarism

The Party rejects on principle, and combats with its utmost energy the military institutions of capitalism. Our agitation, however, is directed not against the military training as such of the youth and the workers, but against the bourgeois militarist régime and the domination of the officers. Army, rifle clubs, citizen guard organisations, are useful institutions for giving the workers military training for the revolutionary battles to come, while the social composition and conduct of the troops and officers should be unmasked before the entire population. The Communist rejects the anti-militarist agitation of the pacifists as extremely detrimental and of assistance to the bourgeoisie in its efforts to disarm the proletariat. And, while the methods of propaganda are to be adaptable to the peculiar conditions in each country, the class antagonisms revealed in the bad treatment and social insecurity of the common soldiers must be made very clear to the latter. The agitation must bring home to the rank and file that its future is inextricably bound up with the exploited class.

The Organisation of Political Struggles

No matter how weak a Party may be, every exciting political event on strike affecting the economic system affords an opportunity organised political activity. Mass meetings in the centres of political importance, or strike areas, should be energetically pushed forward by the Party’s nuclei or workers’ groups. Special commissions should prepare such meetings thoroughly, and, where a party meeting cannot be arranged on its own, then suitable comrades should be selected to address the meetings organised by the strikers or any other section of the struggling proletariat. Our demands should be formulated and argued in motions or resolutions which should be put before other sections of the workers in different localities for adoption. In this way, we shall extend our moral influence and have our leadership recognised. After all such meetings the participating Communists must hold conferences and draw the conclusion from their experiences.

The practical demands of the workers should be made public by means of posters, handbills, leaflets, etc., proving how the Communist policy agrees with concrete needs of the situation. Suitable spots for posters should be selected, while halls, stations, works, market-places, dwelling-houses—everywhere that the masses can be reached ought to be flooded with our leaflets, handbills, or papers. Parallel activity must go on in the trade union or factory meetings, where suitable Communist speakers and debaters must utilise every opportunity for serving the general purposes of our movement and the particular situation prevailing.

Demonstrations require very mobile and self-sacrificing leadership, and ability to discern the possibilities in every gathering. If the issue is of real importance, no matter how small it may be, it is bound to become of ever greater interest for the large masses. The backbone of a well organised demonstration is to be found in the in instructed and experienced group of diligent officials mingling among the masses from the departure from the factories, which is the best basis for a demonstration, until its dispersal. Responsible party workers must be systematically distributed among the masses to enable the officials to keep in contact and active service, and maintain the requisite political instructions.

Not the least important task of the Party is the overcoming of the influence exerted over the mass by the treacherous so-called Socialist leaders. The experience in Germany has been fruitful, where the Communist Party addressed itself to other mass organisations of the proletariat at a moment of desolation, demanding from them whether, with their alleged powerful organisations, they were prepared to co-operate with the Communist Party in the struggle against the destitution of the proletariat. This method of the “Open Letter” puts the treacherous leaders to the test before the eyes of the masses. Discussion of the Party’s demands must be brought before the workers by our factory groups and trade union officials. Our press should elucidate the problems to be faced for the moment and by means of short simple articles treat the various phases of the questions from every possible point of view.

The parliamentary and municipal groups or representatives of the Party must work systematically for the promotion of such struggles, bring the movement into discussion by the requisite motions and resolutions and must consider themselves besides responsible officials and party representatives as conscious members of the struggling masses.

Concentration by the active groups of organised workers, under the Communist leadership, gives power to the Party, therefore, wherever a number of local organisations such as industrial committees, etc., have been influenced to support action of immediate advantage to the proletariat, general conferences should be called and our delegates put before them favourable resolutions for adoption. Since the main task of the Communists is to unify and consolidate all the struggles and movements arising out of the situation, the closest ties of organisation must be maintained betwixt the various nuclei and factions. Whenever movements break out, the leadership should be assumed through the district committees and central committees. It may be better in many cases to forgo any specific demands and rather appeal to the members of the Socialist Parties and the trade unions pointing out how distress and oppression have driven them into the unavoidable fights with the employers, despite the attempts of the bureaucratic leaders to evade a decisive struggle.

All political demonstrations and economic mass movements, as well as local actions, provide valuable experiences which should be discussed at broad conferences of the leading officials and responsible party workers.

The ties of mutual confidence between the leading officials and responsible party workers with the shop delegates are the beat guarantee that there will be no premature political mass action, out of proportion to the circumstances, and the actual strength of the Party.