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Agitprop

AGITPROP

Agitprop, the agitation (speech) and propaganda (print, film, and visual art) section of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, was established in August of 1920, under the direction of R. Katanian to coordinate the propaganda work of all Soviet institutions. Agitprop was originally divided into five subsections, the two most important being the agitation subsection, which directed propaganda campaigns and supervised local press, and the political education subsection, which developed curriculum for Party schools. The three remaining subsections were concerned with publishing Central Committee works, addressing problems with the distribution of propaganda in literature, and coordinating work among the parties of the national minorities. Agitprop, whose activities reached their fullest height during the Stalinist era, was one of the most important Central Committee sections by 1946. The role of Agitprop during the Brezhnev years and beyond included overseeing publishing, television, radio, and sports, directing agitation and propaganda work, guiding political education within the Party, and conducting cultural work with trade unions.

Agitprop techniques, based on the political education of the immediate postrevolutionary period, were basically solidified in the 1920s. Early Agitprop in the cities included parades, spectacles, monumental sculpture, posters, kiosks, films, and agit-stations, located at major railroad stations, which had libraries of propaganda material, lecture halls, and theaters. These varied activities continued throughout the Soviet period. Agitation and propaganda were taken to the countryside during the civil war by agit-trains and agit-ships, a unique Bolshevik method for the political education of rural citizens and front-line troops. These modern conveyances functioned like moving posters with exterior decorations of heroic figures and folk art motifs accompanied by simple slogans. The trains and ships brought revolutionary leaflets, agitators, newsreels, and agitki (short propaganda films), among other items. Agit-trains were reinstituted during World War II to convey propaganda to forces at the front. After the civil war, and throughout the Soviet period, propaganda continued to be exported to the countryside via radio, traveling exhibitions, posters, literature, and film. Agitprop, like other Central Committee departments, had become relatively stable in its organization by 1948, and remained so until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

See also: central committee; higher party schools

bibliography

Kenez, Peter. (1986). The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 19171929. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Stites, Richard. (1995). Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900. New York: Cambridge University Press.

K. Andrea Rusnock

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agitprop

ag·it·prop / ˈajitˌpräp/ • n. political (originally communist) propaganda, esp. in art or literature: [as adj.] agitprop painters.

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agitprop

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Agitprop

Agitprop (ˈædʒɪtˌprɒp) Agitpropbyuro (formerly, Soviet bureau in charge of agitation and propaganda)

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Agitprop

AGITPROP.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Agitprop, short for agitation and propaganda, was a communist theatrical genre in interwar Europe, largely scripted and performed by amateurs, designed to inculcate communist values into the consciousness of workers. Its origins are debated; some scholars point toward medieval passion plays as a distant antecedent. Most, however, would agree that agitprop proper originated in Russia during the civil war (1918–1920) that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, when agit-trains carried acting troupes ("living newspapers"), pamphlets, and musicians to the largely illiterate Russian peasantry.

Agitprop's aesthetic called for scenes that were short, fast-paced, ideologically correct, current, and concrete. Whenever possible, they addressed local problems. Thus, excepting any so-called lead articles—pieces that addressed issues of interest to workers across the country—no central agency prepared the troupes' scripts. Troupes shared their work with each other. The scripts might speak to any aspect of working-class life or thought, including foreign policy, working-class organizations, and private concerns. Music and dance heightened scenes' agitational possibilities. Although pianos generally provided musical accompaniment, jazz bands were common. No musical style predominated; performances might include pastiches of both operatic arias and the most recent hits.

Costumes and other trappings were as simple as possible. Players often wore plain blue shirts matched with either black skirts or trousers and boots. Details indicated character types. For example, drunks wore red noses. As troupes prized mobility, simplicity was a point of principle; they used props only when necessary. Posters, however, were important to provide facts and figures to accompany performances. A characteristic of such work was its rejection of conventional forms as bourgeois, in favor of newer, supposedly proletarian forms. Here the troupes anticipated the style of Bertolt Brecht, interwar Germany's most important playwright.

Apart from the Soviet Union, agitprop theater was most important in Germany—the home of western Europe's most significant Communist Party—during the Weimar Republic, the period between the end of the First World War and the Third Reich. Agitprop arrived in Germany in 1927, when a Soviet troupe toured the country. The movement quickly became very popular. By 1930–1931, the Communist Party claimed approximately three hundred troupes.

German troupes were relatively small, having between six and twenty members. Most included women, but they were always outnumbered by men. Players tended to be young, often teenaged. Young workers probably joined such troupes to adopt a different personae, that is, to transform their identities from "mere" workers into representatives of the victorious revolutionary proletariat. The symbolic act of controlling their lives extended to the names the troupes adopted, such as Column Left, Curve Left, and the Red Megaphone. Agitprop theater was performed where workers lived and gathered: on the streets, in apartment courtyards, in bars, at sporting events, and at party-sponsored meetings. The most common issues addressed by the troupes included the Communist Party and Comintern (Communist International), development of the Soviet Union, religion and cultural reaction, the press, "social democratic treachery," unemployment, elections, and the police.

Communist music and literature in the 1920s and early 1930s conformed to rules similar to those of agitprop theater. The various national communist movements sponsored the writing of proletarian novels that would be cheap, gripping, and sharp. Soviet fiction of this period needed not only to be interesting but also politically acceptable and aesthetically progressive. Much of this work proved to be more politically appropriate than entertaining. It seems not to have engaged the expected proletarian audience.

This was also true in the West, where plots of such novels often centered around the growing class consciousness of urban workers who, having come to grasp their situations, affiliate with the Communist Party. Other themes included the unmasking of political enemies to show their true natures. Generally these enemies were social democrats. Fascists and Nazis rarely emerged. This weakness certainly detracted from their purported realism.

Agitprop music included street singing of protest songs, as well as the performances of organized revolutionary choruses. Singers avoided the notion of art for art's sake, replacing it with a fully politicized repertoire. As Hanns Eisler, a prominent twentieth-century composer and collaborator of Bertolt Brecht, put it, "even our singing must represent struggle" (quoted in Durus, p. 4). Nevertheless, the movement struggled with, but never resolved, the question of whether classics could be rehabilitated or needed to be relegated to the past. A second debate addressed the costs and benefits of parodying contemporary hits. In Germany the Nazi Party came to power before these issues could be resolved. Indeed, like agit-prop theater and agitational literature, agitprop music fell victim to the radical political shifts in Germany after the Nazi seizure of power.

See alsoBrecht, Bertolt; Propaganda; Theater.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bodek, Richard. Proletarian Performance in Weimar Berlin: Agitprop, Chorus, and Brecht. Columbia, S.C., 1997.

Durus. "Arbeitergesang und Agitprop." Kampfmusik (May 1931).

Mally, Lynn. Revolutionary Acts: Amateur Theater and the Soviet State, 1917–1938. Ithaca, N.Y., 2000.

Stourac, Richard, and Kathleen McCreery. Theater as a Weapon: Workers' Theatre in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, 1917–1934. London, 1986.

Richard Bodek

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