Agitprop has a negative connotation due to its ties to political propaganda in the Soviet Union. When someone creates agitprop, they’re attempting to convince a group of people, perhaps those viewing a play or reading a novel, of a particular social cause or set of beliefs. They might use “agitation” to anger their reader and make them want to stand up against something, or they might use propaganda to convince them of a particular ideology.
Definition of Agitprop
Agitprop is a form of propaganda that originated in the Soviet Union. It originally took the form of educational units in schools, traditional propagandistic art, and even plays. These sources of information and grievance were created in order to get and keep the citizens of the Soviet on the government’s side. The term is often associated with brainwashing and control.
The term comes from Soviet Russia and is short for “agitatsiya propaganda.” The Department for Agitation and Propaganda was part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The department was established n 1920 and was focused on overseeing the dissemination of information and education in schools. They monitored communications and tried to ensure that all citizens of the Soviet Union believe in the same causes.
The word “agitation,” as defined by George Plekhov, referred to a single idea that’s spread among a large group. Propaganda was defined as several ideas spread to small groups or an individual. Someone who creates propaganda is trying to spread information about social causes, using arguments with some basis in history and science, as defined by Vladimir Lenin. The agitator uses speech to appeal to the listener’s emotions and make them angry or passionate about a particular subject—the latter appeals to people’s grievances and frustrations.
During this time period, traditional Soviet agitprop helped create agitprop theatre. That is— theatre that was highly politicized and had a goal. It was written in order to convey a certain set of beliefs. The theatrical tradition spread around Europe but has its origins in Soviet Russia. The performances were minimal, containing as few actors and props as possible. They often used cardboard cutouts and allegorical characters that sought to bring the message of the Revolution to as many people as possible.
In Russia, these performances were often mobile, traveling around the country, making it far easier for the middle and lower classes to see the performances. The vast majority of the Russian people were illiterate at this time. Therefore, performances were one of the best ways that the government had to communicate its message to the public.
Today, Bertolt Brecht’s plays are often associated with this kind of political theatre. They include works like The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and The Threepenny Opera. There is no shortage of contemporary politically fueled plays and musicals. Hamilton is an ideal example.
Types of Agitprop
Agitprop was usually visual. It took the form of posters, pamphlets, leaflets, and other forms of propaganda distributed by workers. These people often boarded trains and ships in order to distribute their papers, allowing the material to reach a wide variety of people and penetrate into the more rural parts of the country. Specific agitation trains allowed agitators to reach into Eastern Europe and set up what is known as “agitprop stations,” according to The Birth of the Propaganda State. The trains used their own printing presses and radios to great material and reported back to central hubs, like those located in Moscow. They received instructions in regard to how to better use their time, customize specific pieces of propaganda, and where to go next.
Another part of the agitprop movement was a literacy campaign run by the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment. They sent teachers into the countryside, attempting to boost literacy rates among the population. By some estimates, around 70% of the Russian people were illiterate at the time. But, this was an ongoing process, meaning that agitprop was also delivered orally. Workers traveled into the countryside in order to spread their messages from person to person. For the more literate citizens, there was also a steady stream of agitprop in newspapers.
Why Do Writers Create Agitprop?
Writers created agitprop in the 1920s in order to spread as much information about the Revolution in Russia as possible. The Soviet government sought to control its population with a specific stream of information. If they could control all the information the public received, then they figured they would have the public’s trust and understanding. But, agitprop did not end with the Soviet regime.
It is still created to this day in the form of visual arts, literature, like novels, plays, articles, and even films. Although the term evolved from a very specific source, it’s often used today to refer to any kind of politically fueled art/writing. It’s created for the same reasons as it was in the 20s—in order to change people’s minds and inundate them with a particular political point of view.
One might say: “Don’t listen to that musical performance. It’s filled with agitprop.” Or, “Did you see that art exhibit? It was complete agitprop.”
“The Threepenny Opera” is a play by Bertolt Brecht. It’s an example of agitprop due to its clear criticism of capitalism. It’s considered a socialist play. The play was initially criticized but quickly turned a corner and became a huge success.
In drama, agitprop refers to a specific genre of performance and writing. Agitprop theatre is a politically motivated kind of theatre that tries to convince the audience that a particular ideology is the right one. It has its roots in Soviet Russia.
Agitprop art is art that has a political motivation. It is seeking to change viewers’ minds through its depiction of a specific subject matter. The art might seek to make a viewer angry, make them laugh, or make them feel pride in a particular way of life.
It is important to study as it is an integral part of the history of propaganda. It’s also important to understand as it is still in use today. Knowing what agitprop is can make you more aware of when it’s being used in order to convince you of something.
Related Literary Terms
- Propaganda: a type of information spread in order to influence opinion. It can be negative or positive, depending on the source.
- Didacticism: refers to a type of literature that’s mean to convey instructions or very specific pieces of information.
- Logos: the use of logic to create a persuasive argument in writing.
- Pathos: an appeal made by the writer to the audience’s emotions in order to make them feel something.
- Persuasion: a literary technique. It’s used by writers to ensure that their readers find their written content believable.
- Play (Theatre): a form of writing for theatre. It is divided into acts and scenes.
- Listen: What is Agit Prop?
- Watch: 7 Propaganda Techniques Used on You Every Day
- Listen: Introduction to Propaganda