German Propaganda Archive Calvin University


Background: This is a chapter on methods of agitation from a book published in 1988 for agitators and propagandists in East Germany’s military. This material is in classic GDR Marxist-Leninist prose, and is rather challenging to translate. It is taken from the 500-page handbook for political work in the army. One should keep in mind the Marxist distinction between propaganda and agitation when reading this. Propaganda was the in depth treatment of issues, agitation the bringing of the material to the masses. The full chapter outline of the book is as follows:

The source: Handbuch für politische Arbeit in Truppenteilen und Einheiten der Nationalen Volksarmee. Inhaltliche und methodische Hinweise für Kommandeure, Politarbeiter und Funktionäre der Partei- und Massenorganisationen(Berlin: Militärverlag der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, 1988), pp. 336.

Chapter 7: Agitation in Military Units

7.1. Agitation — A primary method of political-ideological work in military units

Along with propaganda and cultural work, agitation has the task of strengthening the leading role of the SED [the GDR Communist party] and its connection to the masses, of building the socialist convictions of members of the military, especially their understanding of the role of the soldier in socialism, of maintaining a high level of battle-readiness and fighting ability, of preparing them politically, morally and psychologically for battle (See also Chapters 1 and 2).

CoverThe specific tasks of agitation include:

The effectiveness of agitation will be increased if agitation:

The tested forms of agitation in military units include:

The sources for oral agitation include the press, radio and television of the GDR, the central informational and argumentation material, as well as films and tapes. The most effective methods are political conversations and individual contact.They allow for daily contact “on the scene” that can take into account the immediate situation in informing members of the military and civilian employees, enables each individual to be informed, persuaded and mobilized. The primary field of operation is the military or work place collective.

7.2. The forces of agitation in military units

Under the policies governing agitation, agitation is carried out primarily by members and candidates of the SED, by functionaries of the FDJ [Free German Youth], the trade union and the ASV “Vorwärts.” That means:

IllustrationAgitators are appointedto carry out agitation in the military or work place collective. These are generally members and candidates of the SED as well as active members of the FDJ and the trade union who display firm class standpoint, exemplary fulfillment of their duties, commitment to the party, knowledge and ability, have a good reputation in the collective, are good comrades, and enjoy working with people.

Agitators are chosen by the company StKPA [the aide to the unit’s head of political work] (in companies without a political officer, by the company commander). They generally serve for six months of training or for the duration of their reserve service. They should form an agitator collective for army members.

Agitators should be chosen carefully. Experience shows that the proper selection of agitators provides the foundation for effective agitation in a military unit. The commander and his aide for political activity along with the leadership of the party, FDJ, and trade union should be sure that:

The success of agitators in daily political life depends on their political motivation, on their preparation, and on continual work. The following matters are particularly important:

Agitators should receive a briefing once a weekfrom the StKPA of the company (or from the company commander). If necessary briefings can be held more frequently. In the interests of quality and effectiveness, these should be thoroughly prepared. Experience shows that if agitators are dealt with individually, if they are given clear and feasible tasks, if they are given persuasive arguments, if they are properly trained and assigned, they will be prepared for independent daily agitation.

The briefing provides concrete political-ideological and educational advice to agitators. In general, it should include:

The briefing should give agitators clear information on the how and why.Attendance at the weekly briefing should be as high as possible.

The StKPA of the battalion as will as the leader of the political division of the StKPA of the unit along with the relevant officers have the duty to provide systematic assistance in maintaining the high level of the briefing,

Biannual agitation meetings are held that have as their primary goals:

The following should participate:

Experience has shows that effective agitation meetings should include:

Three to four hours generally are necessary. Experience shows that meetings lasting less than three hours generally are not successful. The leader of the political division/StKPA has the responsibility for organizing, leading and evaluating the meeting. He also informs the commanders, functionaries, and agitators who could not attend of the main issues discussed and of their assignments.

7.3. Oral agitation in military units

7.3.1. Personal political discussion

Political discussion is the best and most effective method of agitation. Nothing is better able to reach the heart and mind of a soldier, or to persuade him of the correctness and strength of the policies of the SED, or to encourage him to fulfill his assigned tasks, than a relaxed exchange of ideas.

Personal conversation enables communists, superior officers, functionaries and agitators to talk with army members about their achievements in political and military training, their behavior, character and experiences, and interests and preferences. Their questions and uncertainties can also be discussed. Almost anything can be discussed in personal conversation with army members and civilian employees. Topics include the relationship of the individual to his state, the nature of the soldier in socialism, the daily life of a soldier, the great questions of our day, or even his purely personal problems.


1. Remember that you serve a great cause: planting the seeds of communism in the hearts of our people. Give your full time and effort to the task.

2. Remember that if you want to teach others, you must always be learning yourself. Events are occurring at lightning speed. Follow and understand them.
3. You can learn to speak well and teach others only through hard work and experience.
4. Do not speak without preparation. Gather material from newspapers, books, or pamphlets.
5. Speak only when you have thought the subject through. don’t merely repeat things from newspapers and pamphlets. Speak only about things you understand, and of which you are persuaded.
6. Pay attention to your audience. If people stop listening, you must change your plan and include a good example or an interesting piece of information.
7. don’t interrupt questioners. Let them talk, listen carefully, think about the question, and give a good answer. If you do not know the answer, say you will answer it the next day. Do not use empty phrases.

Advice for agitators from the Red Army, 1920

Political conversations are appropriate everywhere in military settings. They should be conducted daily by superior officers, by all communists, appointed agitators, and FDJ, trade union, and ASV functionaries. They should be conducted individually or in small groups.

Successful political conversation that reaches army members and civilian employees, persuades them, affects their thoughts and feelings, rouses their enthusiasm and mobilizes them to action require the following elements:

Agitation actions by party organizations and officers occurs particularly at key political and military high points. These actions fall into a particular time frame and must be keyed to particular groups. They depend on:

Agitation actions in military units are planned as they are needed. Such actions should be carried out with those who have just joined the army, as well as with those who are about to leave active duty.

The planning and organization of these agitation actions, recruiting the participants, and evaluating the results is the responsibility of the political division/AGpA in conjunction with the leadership of the local party organization or the central party leadership.

Experience shows that superior officers can conduct these actions in conjunction with inspections and controls. Such actions can have lasting emotional and mobilizing effects, and give the superior, communists and appointed agitators valuable support for their individual and collective political discussions.

Preparing such agitation action requires a precise analysis of the attitudes and opinions of the audience on the part of the leader of the political division/StKPA or the StKPA of the unit, in order to allow for a precise evaluation of the ideological situation and to determine the questions and problems that concern the majority of the army members in the unit.

These agitation actions in units are to be prepared politically and organizationally, and must be thorough evaluated afterwards. In that evaluation, each proposal and suggestion must be carefully analyzed, and each criticism by army members considered.

7.3.2. Daily and weekly political briefings

Each day, about 15 minutes should be available for providing political news to soldiers and noncommissioned officers, generally in their unit or group. No daily political briefing is given on days when there will be political training, on Saturdays and Sundays, on holidays, and on the day for the weekly political briefing.

The unit leader will determine the content, time and place for daily political briefing. He is responsible for its quality and effectiveness. Besides the unit leader, the briefing can be given by group leaders, agitators, party and FDJ functionaries, as well as suitable soldiers.

The purpose of the daily political briefing is to informparticipants of the news from the daily press, the radio and television of the GDR, to mention important articles and programs, to present arguments and assignments for training, to strengthen military discipline, to deal with problems in the collective, and answer questions.

Daily political briefings must be current. Rapid informationarouses interest and encourages the participants to read the newspaper themselves or follow events on radio or television, and to discuss them in their collective. Delayed information loses its effectiveness.

The weekly political briefing is provided to soldiers and noncommissioned officers. It generally requires 45 minutes, usually within the company or unit. It should be a regular part of the schedule. In weeks of political training, the weekly political briefing is canceled. Those carrying it out include:

The weekly political briefing offers more time than the daily briefing, Participants can be informed on decisions by the SED, current political events, or military problems. They can be given facts, arguments and viewpoints. These briefings can prepare participants for upcoming political and military high points. Articles from the daily newspapers and the army newspaper Volksarmeealong with radio and television programs from the GDR can also be discussed. The weekly political briefing also has the task of handling the content of the central information and agitation material, and of dealing with questions by the participants.

The success of the weekly political briefing depends on the leader:

Determining the themes of the weekly political briefing, providing advice on its content and methods, and evaluating the results is normally the responsibility of the battalion StKPA. If a superior unit determines the content, the responsibility falls on the leader of the political division/StKPA of the unit.

The situation briefing lasts 15 minutes, and prepares army members to do their duty. The situation briefing includes:

The situation briefing is the responsibility of the company or battalion StKPA.

7.3.3. Political meetings

Political meetings should be held on important political and military occasions, important social events, and significant anniversaries. These include pep meetings, roll calls, brief meetings to make resolutions, take positions or assume tasks, speeches, forums with leading officials, discussions with commanders, political offers and specialists, party functionaries, or labor veterans.

The purpose of political meetings is to help persuasively show the significance of the high point, event or memorial, to encourage class conscious thinking, feeling and actionre important ways of building the class consciousness of members of the unit, and of providing them with varied and differentiated information on questions of the domestic, foreign and military policies of the SED, of military service, etc. They can discuss matters freely and clarify matters. Alongside the content and form of political meetings, a high priority is to be put on their emotional and mobilizing effect.

7.3.4 The mass media

Oral agitation should consistently use the mass media of the GDR, in particular the press, radio, television, films, and tapes. The following principles should be followed:

The commander and the leader of the political division/StKPA should ensure:

The mass media will be used effectively in oral agitation if agitators who carry out the daily and weekly political briefings are familiar with important information in the press, and if they are informed of important political programs on the GDR’s radio and television.

7.4. Working with written information and arguments

Directives for the content of agitation are provided by the information and argumentation material of the Central Committee of the SED, particularly Informationen,WAS und WIE,[the publication for agitators] as well as the Argumentationpublished by the political headquarters of the army. They should be used particularly by commanders, political officers, party, FDJ and union functionaries. The leader of the political division/StKPA of the unit is responsible for organizing the use of the central agitation material, and seeing to its rapid and efficient distribution. The instructor or officer in charge of agitation has a particular responsibility here.

Using the central agitation material effectively requires that it be reviewed, and sorted according to the user and audience, as well as determining which information is suited for the daily political briefing, the weekly political briefing, agitation advice, GWW, political education, or in speeches addresses, or other political events. This includes:

Working through the material oneself and putting into one’s own effective and persuasive words during political conversation hinders a simple parroting of the content of the central agitation material.

Remember that the material is often usable for a long time, and that with appropriate updating it can be used later with new recruits or with army members who are about to be released from active services. Experienced political officers and party and FDJ offices know that they should save the central information and agitation material for use on later occasions.

The leader of a unit’s political division/StKPA is authorized to distribute flyers, leaflets, notices, and other written agitation material in his area. In the field, written material is used only in exceptional situations and to a limited extent. Under particular circumstances, for example during maneuvers, leaflets, flyers and notices may be used to supplement oral agitation. The costs and benefits should be weighed carefully to use material and funds carefully.

At times flyers and other agitation material from other political offices can be distributed, for example from the political division of a group. To avoid duplication of effort, agreement with superior offices is necessary.

In producing written agitation material, the following should be considered:

The effectiveness of written agitation material will be increased if it is used in the oral agitation of superiors, communists, or appointed agitators.

7.5. Visual material in military units

Visual agitation in the unit provides ways to support the ideological education of troops, and encourages them to independent action in maintaining high morale battle-readiness. Visual agitation uses words and pictures to explain the foundations of SED social and military policy, current political events, and the political, military and military-economic tasks that must be done. It encourages socialist thinking, feeling and action on the part of the unit’s members, promotes the proper political view of the nature of the soldier under socialism, and builds support for fulfilling the class mission.

Visual agitation fulfills these tasks through:

Visual agitation should follow the following principles:

These principles should be followed both in indoor and outdoor visual agitation.

Indoor agitation is appropriate everywhere that army members spend their duty and off-duty hours. The following principles should be followed:

Wall NewspaperIndoor agitation works best when it is attractive and exciting, when it is current and concrete, and when it provides the viewer with new and interesting information. The high demands made on indoor agitation require that a large number of members of the unit participate in various ways in making it.

Indoor agitation and cultural material should work together harmoniously in hallways, clubs, and barracks.

The wall newspaper has a central role in indoor agitation. Normally, it changes every month.

The wall newspaper is the StKPA’s direct means of carrying out his political-ideological educational work. It is the mouthpiece of each collective, a way to exchange opinions and ideas. It encourages political discussion, promotes independent action, and furthers the growth of the collective. It popularizes the positions of the party and the FDJ on matters regarding the daily fulfillment of daily political and military duties, including tasks, requirements, results and experiences. It points out successes, but also problems that are yet unsolved. It praises exemplary conduct, points out the work of the best soldiers, and in a comradely way criticizes inappropriate behavior. It informs members of the unit in a current, interesting and exciting way about events, facts and goings on, makes visible connections, and helps develop a class conscious position.

To make the wall newspaper lively and to give at an up-to-date form is the demanding task of the company StKPA, the party and FDJ leadership, and the wall newspaper editors. The following principles should be remembered:

For a well laid out wall newspaper to be effective, the following conditions are necessary:

The field wall newspaper is an effective method of political work under field conditions. It provides army members with the news, and encourages them to do their duty in military training, on regular duty, in battle, bon maneuvers and in combat. The use and content of the field wall newspaper should always be directly relevant to the concrete tasks in the situation.Soldiers in the field have a greater need for information, which puts particular responsibility on the field wall newspaper.

Among the task of the field wall newspaper are:

A good field wall newspaper avoids general material, and says concretely what this or that collective or this or that army member needs to do to fulfill his duty.

It is particularly important that field wall newspapers be up-to-date. This requires fast communication between the unit’s commander, his aide for political work, the party and FDJ functionaries, and the wall newspaper editors. The field wall newspaper should be found everywhere where the masses of army members are.

It is a good idea to gather material for the field wall newspaper while the maneuver is being prepared. Many wall newspaper editors have special folders in which they gather important material that they can draw upon for this purpose.

In many units, there is special visual agitation for socialist competition. It supplements the material in the wall newspaper, pointing out tasks, obligations, initiatives and results, thus expanding and deepening their impact. Being up-to-date, concrete and fresh increases its effectiveness and attractiveness. Avoid confusing statistics and tables, formal announcements of “competition places,” etc.

Experience shows that bulletin boards on socialist competition work best when their words and pictures focus on solving the problems that will influence the course of the competition, and encourage new activities in the military collective. Ways of doing this include:

The company StKPA (or the company commander) is responsible along with the party and FDJ leadership for appointing editors for the wall newspaper, giving them their assignments, and providing regular guidance and material. A wall newspaper editorship generally has 5 to 7 army members, each of whom has a specific task (e.g., editor, layout). This is an important part of the company, one with high demands. Members of the wall newspaper editorial team should:

The company StKPA must ensure that the wall newspaper works closely with the party and FDJ leadership, the sports leadership, the club council, and the photography club. It must also maintain close contact with superiors, communists, FDJ activists, specialists and the best in socialist competition, including their material in the wall newspaper.

Experience shows that the wall newspaper should have a monthly plan that outlines the most important activities and deadlines.

Experience also shows that many wall newspaper editorial teams have difficulties finding fresh political themes each month for the wall newspaper, and reflecting the variety of company life. Therefore, the company StKPA and the party and FDJ leaders must help the wall newspaper staff deal with the following questions:

Outdoor agitation includes all items that are within or outside of the military facility. To have the greatest impact, these should be put at entrances, central points, DHS guard positions, airfields, maneuvering grounds and firing ranges, as well as training facilities.

The following matters should be taken into account in outdoor agitation:

Outdoor agitation should have the approval of the corresponding party and government offices near the base.

Each unit should work to produce its own outdoor agitation. Talented army members and civilian employees should be won over for the task. Many units use techniques that can quickly be learned by less experienced people, for example tracing or projection.

Experience shows that it is good to form a collective of members of the unit who can conduct outdoor agitation for an extended period of time, These volunteers need material and methodological help. Opportunities to give them further training should be used. This collective should have the proper working conditions.

Visual agitation in the unit is supervised by the leader of the political division/StKPA. He is responsible for seeing to it that it fits within the larger political-ideological work and that its quality meets the expectations of political and military life.

Directing visual agitation requires many things. The content must be consistent with the political and military goals and social high points. Text and pictures must be developed for central agitation. The personnel, material, financial resources and organization must be provided. The wall newspaper staffs and those who handle outdoor agitation must be guided. The effectiveness of visual agitation must be evaluated. The centrally supplied material must be passed on efficiently to the users. Its use must be evaluated. The instructor or officer in charge of agitation has these particular responsibilities.

Experience has shown that visual agitation should be planned over the six-month training period. This requires a six-month plan which should take into account the following matters:

Experience shows that a six-month plan is valuable in conducting visual agitation when the individual measures and activities, the necessary staff and means, and the deadlines are as clear as possible.

7.6. Leading agitation in the military unit

7.6.1 Responsibilities and duties of the commander in directing agitation in a military unit

Experience always shows the following: Agitation is effective when it is part of the whole process of political work, when it is part of the complex leadership of political work, and when it constantly receives the proper attention.

The commander of the unit has the responsibility to lead agitation. He must:

This requires:

7.6.2. The responsibilities and duties of the leader of the political division/aide to the commander for political work in the unit in leading and carrying out agitation

The leader of the political division/StKPA is responsible to the commander for directing agitation in the unit, and for coordination with other elements of political work. He should:

In addition, he must:

The leader of the political division/StKPA and members of the political division/AGpA have a direct influence on meeting and evaluating the assigned tasks in agitation, and in raising its level and effectiveness.

Guiding, helping and evaluating are to be conducted regularly according to plan. At the start, there must be clarity about the goal, content, and resources, as well as the timing and methods.

This should be done in a way that encourages initiative and creativity as well as independent work.

A critical part of the guiding, helping and evaluating is the education of unit commanders and political officers to meet their assigned tasks in the organization, to conduct political conversations, political briefings and meetings, and direct the agitators serving under them.

Guidance, help and evaluation must occur regularly and in a timely manner, not only when problems surface. If necessary, they should act until the work is done at a quality level. Guidance, help and evaluation means more than simply hearing a report that the task has been completed. It means being informed over the concrete methods being used, over the problems, and the results. To help, one must know the situation well. Only then can one give useful advice or suggestions.

After seeing the results of the guidance, help and evaluation in the battalions and companies, decisions should be made about the future leading of agitation and its content. In meetings, during meetings of party and FDJ secretaries, and in consultations with party offices, these conclusions should be passed on, along with good examples and experiences.

7.6.3 The tasks of the local SED organizations and the mass organizations in guaranteeing effective agitation.

Prerequisites for effective organization include raising the fighting spirit of the party local organizations, increasing their connection to the masses, and firming up the ideological strength of each communist.

The local organization trains communists to explain effectively the party’s policies to the masses, provides them with information and arguments for political conversation, regularly evaluates the agitation activities of its members and candidates and draws the necessary conclusions, organizes agitation actions in its area of responsibility, and encourages exemplary behavior by communists in carrying out their political and military duties. The local party organization is responsible to see that all communists daily conduct political conversations, discussions and exchanges of opinions and thoughts with the members of the unit.

The FDJ organization also is active in agitation. Its members are activists, agitators, or wall newspaper staff members. They provide information and arguments in membership meetings and in meetings of the Circle of Young Socialists that encourage lively discussion.

Through specific activities such as personal political conversations with FDJ members, youth forums, club meetings, debates, social gatherings and meetings, the FDJ makes its own contribution to interesting and varied agitation.

The trade union organization of the civilian employees concentrates on agitation and political discussions within the work collectives, in arranging good visual agitation that explains political, military and military-economic duties, and in mobilizing the civilian employees for socialist competition. It uses the Schools of Socialist Labor to explain Marxist-Leninist knowledge, party decisions, and current political problems.

The army sport society and the ASV “Vorwärts” sport groups organize varied sport activities and make an active contribution to visual agitation.

[Page copyright © 1999 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]

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