Background: After the popular uprisings of 17 June 1953, the GDR realized it had a problem. The workers of the workers’ state were not happy. This article, published in the newsletter for agitators, explains changes in agitation practice that are to result. This would have been read (or at least received) by thousands of appointed agitators in factories and offices throughout the German Democratic Republic.
The source: “Für eine grundlegende Verbesserung der politischen Massenarbeit, “ Notizbuch des Agitators, #13/1953 (July).
In their remarks at the meeting of Berlin party activists, Comrades Otto Grotewohl and Walter Ulbricht discussed the critical task of the party in increasing its contact with the masses, and above all with the working class. The “Declaration” released at the 14th Plenum of the Central Committee on 21 June called on the whole party to organize political education among workers with the greatest possible energy.
To carry out the Central Committee’s decision, leading functionaries of the party and government, along with the mass organizations, have conducted thousands of public meetings in recent weeks to acquaint the public, and especially workers, with the new course established by the party and government, and to explain the background of the Fascist provocation of 17 June. This increased meeting activity, as well as individual agitation, had doubtless led the majority of workers to distance themselves from 17 June and those who were behind the scenes, and to welcome the new course and the related measures of the Ministerial Council, along with the new tasks of peaceful constructive work.
However, it would be a big mistake to overlook the fact that the party has only begun its efforts to increase its connection to the masses through political agitation. The fact that a large number of party organizations in factories, cities, and villages have not yet organized active and aggressive persuasive work is proof that we are only at the start of our political work with the masses. This weakness in our party work results because, although workers in a number of factories have distanced themselves from the banditry and provocations of 17 June, they still do not understand all of the political connections of 17 June and the extent of the new course instituted by party and state, and therefore stand aside.
What are workers waiting for?
They are rightly waiting for the party to help, for action. A number of party offices and party members thereby draw the false conclusion that they should neglect political education and focus exclusively on solving economic and social questions. Some party members have even fallen prey to enemy-inspired chatter that agitation is not necessary. That is fundamentally false, and evidence of defeatism. Our workers are not opposed to agitation, or to our agitation; they are only opposed to bad agitation. Where does this bad agitation come to expression? In the majority of cases, our agitation is general, superficial, and not concrete. The experiences of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] teach us that political education is effective and valuable only when it is focused on concrete, practical results. But what are the practical results that the political agitator should concentrate on today?
First, defeating false, backward views, above all those of the enemy, thus revealing the provocateurs.
Second, mobilizing the workers for the rapid and exact execution of the decisions of the Ministerial Council to raise people’s living standards and to strengthen our democratic order.
Why is the first and most important task of political agitation to aggressively confront enemy opinions and to reveal provocateurs?
Although the enemy was defeated on 17 June, he continues his subversive activity against the GDR and against peace. The powerful, steadily growing movement of the peoples for peace, for peaceful negotiations, makes the position of the imperialists ever more difficult, changing the international balance of power more and more in favor of the camp of peace and democracy. Therefore, American and West German imperialists are making frantic efforts to hinder an international relaxation in tensions. That is the reason behind the Fascist provocation of 17 June against the GDR, that is the reason behind the US-inspired objections of the “Korean Adenauer,” Li Syng Man, against a cease fire in Korea, that is the reason behind the departure of such enemies of the people as Beria, formerly so well concealed and hidden behind a mask.
The most important lesson of 17 June that our party must get across to the masses is this: Under the conditions of the division of Germany, the imperialist occupation of the West, and the existence of the imperialist bridgehead in West Berlin, all citizens of the GDR, indeed all peace-loving Germans, must be doubly alert. Political alertness, however, means: concrete, aggressive discussion about the democratic character of our state, about the policies of the party, and the government. Their fundamental correctness over the past months cannot be disputed, despite the mistakes that have been made. In this fundamental question, however, many party members are still on the defensive. Many party members discuss only the mistakes, and thereby leave the field open to the enemy, instead of persistently explaining the facts of the historic accomplishments of the German working class under the leadership of the party, which must be driven into the consciousness of each worker, instead of proving through daily agitation in word and writing what the GDR has done for the factory, instead showing how the decisions of the Ministerial Council have improved the living conditions of the population with regards to everyday needs.
First, however, the enemy must be rendered harmless. We do not discuss our mistakes with him. We must constantly make clear to people the tight connections between solving the question of knives and forks with satisfying their material and cultural needs, and firming up and strengthening our democratic state power. Only when the people defends and strengthens its rule will it have work, food, and peace. The lack of aggressive discussion, the insufficient unveiling of provocateurs, makes it possible for the opponent to spread rumors and provocative demands.
Inadequate aggressive discussion of false and enemy arguments is probably the main problem with our political agitation today, but it is not the only one. These weaknesses in our agitation come to crass expression because the leadership and organization of mass agitation by party leaders is entirely inadequate. Only a few party units conduct agitation collectively. The agitation conference at the Berlin Bergmann-Borsig factory shows that the party leadership of the factory does not collectively conduct its most important task, political work with the masses. The agitation conference showed that the first secretary of the party leadership, Comrade Buse, does not sufficiently know the arguments of the workers in the individual departments. No wonder, since he hardly knows our agitators. Only the secretary for propaganda and agitation concerns himself with agitation. Instead, each member of the party leadership should personally be involved in training agitators, organizing meetings for them to exchange experiences, and actively working out the arguments to be used in agitation.
This is not an isolated example. In general, the secretaries of the county and district party organizations do not participate actively in leading and organizing groups of agitators. The experiences of the CPSU, however, show that members of the party leadership, the secretaries themselves, must appear before the speakers, propagandists, agitators, and editors of factory radio stations and newspapers. It is true that most of our functionaries very often repeat the famous words of Stalin that the party’s main method of leading the masses is through persuasion, but their daily conduct is not consistent with this important principle. These weaknesses are particularly evident in district offices like Berlin, Halle, and Magdeburg. But also within the Central Committee, functionaries often participate in political work with the masses in only formal ways.
Alongside the development of an effective, principle-based, aggressive agitation aimed at securing practical results, a fundamental improvement in leading and organizing daily educational activity is of great significance.
The party leadership of the factory party organizations must give concrete party assignments to members about revealing provocateurs. The members of an agitation group should meet daily with the party leadership of their department just before the beginning of work for the day to receive instructions about the most important magazine and newspaper articles. As a rule, all the agitators of the factory should meet once a week to exchange ideas and receive instructions from the leadership of the county office. Each individual agitator should use breaks as well as travel time to and from the factory to talk with colleagues. He should deal firmly and decisively with false and enemy opinions and rumormongers, but he should listen carefully and sensitively to the problems, complaints, and criticisms of his colleagues. Our agitators too rarely represent the interests of the workers, working to rapidly eliminate misunderstandings or satisfying justifiable requests. That is the third major weakness of our agitation. Here, too, we should learn from the CPSU that the content of agitation consists not only in explaining domestic and international politics, in mobilizing the workers to increase labor productivity, but also in the constant concern to better their living conditions, to rightly respond to their criticisms and complaints. The agitator should simply talk past people, but rather he must be open for the justifiable concerns that his colleagues have. That increases his authority and gives workers evidence of the consistency of our policies and our practice.
Changing the methods of leading political work with the masses in the county and district offices is of great importance. It must become a firm rule in the entire party, from the Central Committee down to county offices, that each leading functionary engage at least once every two weeks in political work with the masses. This may involve a talk, a speech, leading a meeting of agitators, or by responding publicly to questions from workers. The county and district offices have the important task of organizing speeches about the international situation, about political aspects of the new course, and about the situation in West Germany. The county leadership of the Mansfeld Kombinat “Wilhelm Pieck” has begun to organize meetings and discussions not only in the mines and factories, but also in the villages where factory workers live. Leaders in district and county offices should regularly assist the editors of factory newspapers and radio stations. It is essential to hold regular political meetings in private concerns. The political education conducted by members of the county and district leaders in factories must be supplemented by regular reports from functionaries in the state apparatus, particularly functionaries in commerce, the HO and cooperatives, and the housing and social offices. The district leadership should be sure to provide support for political work with the masses through the press in the form of answering workers’ questions, popularizing the methods of good agitators and speakers, and providing concrete examples of the steadily increasing standard of living that the workers enjoy, etc. Today, district offices are often content to simply pass on the centrally produced material to the county and lower level organizations, without paying any heed to the structure or conditions within their district. Often, meetings of the secretaries of the district and county offices are content to simply organize agitation. As a rule, however, each meeting of the secretariats of the district offices should concern themselves with the content of agitation.
Each party member should be actively engaged in political work with the masses. Let us be patient in daily contact with workers, implacable against the enemy, open to criticism from the masses, unforgiving in the face of problems and inefficiency. Then the workers will be behind the party and the government and our new course will move forward successfully.
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