German Propaganda Archive Calvin University


Background: Fred Oelßner was a member of the Politbüro and responsible for the SED’s Propaganda Department at the time. It is typical of a large number of speeches and resolutions on the SED’s part on the necessity of improving propaganda.

The source: Über die allseitige Verbesserung unserer politisch-ideologischen Massenarbeit. Diskussionsrede auf dem IV. Parteitag der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1954).

On the General Improvement of our Political-Ideological Work among the Masses

by Fred Oelner

Comrades! Our party is strong because of its efforts to base its entire activity on the scientific foundation of Marxist-Leninist theory and undefeatable because of its unbreakable connection to the working class and the other working people of our nation. The ideological-political work has a central role in all of the party’s activities. Propagandizing the ideas of Marxism-Leninism and tirelessly explaining the policies of our party to the broad masses are among the most important activities of the party.

PAMPHLET COVERBut it would be a big mistake and an idealistic deviation from Marxism if we considered the propaganda and agitation of the party independent of the party’s economic and political activities. The correct political line is a necessary prerequisite for effective ideological-political work with the masses, for the masses judge political parties not by what they say, but what they do!

W.I. Lenin taught us how to win the masses for the party when he wrote:

“Propaganda and agitation by themselves are not enough to win the whole class, the broad masses of the workers oppressed by capitalism. The masses need their own political experiences as well.”

We may never lose sight of this of this fundamental Leninist principle. Agitation that contradicts the facts fails. Facts are the best arguments. That does not mean that ideological-political work with the masses is secondary, but rather that propaganda and agitation must always stand in close contact with the party’s practical work. They must build firm consciousness on the basis of the political experience of the masses.

The 15th Plenum of the Central Committee last July determined the new course and drew the consequences of the Fascist Putsch attempt in June. It set two primary political goals for the party:

To win the overwhelming majority of the working class;

To strengthen the alliance between the independent farmers and the collective farmers.

These tasks are of particular significance for the political-ideological work with the masses. They require not only a general and comprehensive increase in our efforts, but also the use of new methods in our work with the masses.

In the following eight months we have clearly improved our work with the masses. That is particularly clear in the growing number of political meetings. The figures:

October: 2727
November: 4267
December: 5588
January: 11,953
February: 25,087

Growing numbers of leading party comrades speak at these meetings. Comrade Kurt Seibt, First Secretary of Bezirk Potsdam, spoke in 15 public meetings in January and February. Their quality is also improving, Political questions are being increasingly tied to concrete problems in factories and villages so that the meetings advance our cause. An example. Nearly 1000 of the 12,000 workers attended a meeting at the Food Kombinat “Albert Kuntz” in Wurzen. Thirty workers and administrators spoke during the discussion. 34 of the best workers announced that they had formed an activist collective, which has already made 44 proposals to improve production of foodstuffs. The success was the result of careful preparation on the part of the party leadership. But there are also bad examples. In Bezirk Cottbus, for example, only 17% of communities held meetings. 24 of the planned 54 meetings in February were canceled. The Halle and Neubrandenburg Bezirke are also lagging behind in holding public meetings. Comrade Steffen spoke today about the importance of public meetings and it is to be hoped that Bezirk Neubrandenburg will remedy its failings in this area.

We have also made progress in the area of personal agitation. Our comrades in the factories hold more personal conversations with their colleagues, organize group meetings during breaks, or read out loud important announcements from the newspapers. Visiting workers at home, as is done by the comrades from the Leuna factory or the coke plant in Lauchhammer, is also becoming more common.

We have also made significant strides in agitation in the countryside, as is evident in the county Sundays and the development of village newspapers. Particularly significant is that some county party organizations in Leipzig county have begun to appoint party members in the villages as regular agitators. This follows an important suggestion by Lenin, who wrote of the necessity:

“To visit the apartments of workers and the dwellings of rural workers, as well as the isolated farm houses, to go to the bars where the simple people gather, as well as to the meetings of clubs, associations, and chance gatherings of ordinary people.”

The type of agitation that the comrades in Leipzig county have begun must be used in every village of the republic. In general we can say that we have had some success in recent months with our agitation, which has contributed to an improvement in the relations between our party and the broad masses. Even those who are not party members increasingly believe that:

“The Socialist Unity Party of Germany is the party of the working people that has no goal other than to represent the interests of the working people!”

Our successes should not leave us overly pleased with ourselves, however, since there are still many weaknesses. The main problem is the sporadic character of our agitation campaigns. We have still not learned how to carry on persistent, systematic educational work among the masses. One problem is the fact that we have too many campaigns going on at the same time or one after another, so that the poor agitators often don’t know what they should do first! The art of political leadership is concentrating energies on several main tasks to win lasting successes.

A further important weakness in our agitation is that in some places, notably in big factories, we are too bureaucratized. That is evident when the party leadership does not provide relevant material for agitators, but rather gives them so-called written arguments that are often nothing more than badly condensed newspaper articles. A comrade from the Eisenhüttenkombinat West explained how this “works” at a recent agitator’s conference. We don’t need to talk with people any more, he explained. We just give them the arguments on paper so they can read them at home. Of course, we do use printed material in our agitation. The factory papers, which have generally improved, have an important role, and party offices should use wall newspapers, short pamphlets and leaflets much more than they do. However, written agitation can never replace oral persuasion, which is and will remain the main form of agitation. Party offices must constantly train and lead agitators so than they learn how to draw arguments from the newspapers, and see to it that they understand conditions in the factories to help agitators learn to connect the larger issues with what is going on in the factories. The most important element in agitation is daily conversation between the party and the workers. Our agitators (and all party members) must learn to answer all the questions they get from their colleagues and provide answers that convince the masses of the correctness of our party’s policies.

Our agitation also is not yet tied closely enough to concrete matters of production in the factories. Agitators often speak too generally about political questions and fail to understand how to connect these to the concrete production tasks, such as competition, the battle to increase productivity, the improvement of discipline, and improved use of material. This failure is particularly evident in visual agitation. In many factories one sees slogans and bulletin boards that have been unchanged for years and are therefore of necessity very general. Many factories, as for example the “Fritz-Heckert” Factory in Karl-Marx-Stadt and the VEB “Horch” in Zwickau still do not have bulletin boards honoring their best production activists. Other factories have such bulletin boards, but the pictures remain unchanged for months, as for example in the Buna Factory. The Frida-Hockauf Movement has developed in many places during the past year. There are thousands of Frida Hockaufs in our republic, but often the party leadership itself does not know who the best activists in the factory are. For example, the comrades in the Bezirk Halle office could not tell us who the best activist in the shoe factory “Banner des Friedens” was, nor could the editors of the Ostsee Zeitung tell us who the best activist in the Fish Kombinat Saßnitz was. Party offices should see to it that every factory has a bulletin board for the best activists, and that it updates the board monthly. We can no longer neglect competition and popularizing the best activists and their experiences, for it is one of the most important tasks of political work with the masses.

These are only a few of the weaknesses in our agitation that we must work to overcome. The most important step to take is to systematically train and guide agitators. Such guidance requires overcoming the still frequent underestimation of agitation by some party offices.

One of the most important means of ideological-political work with the masses is our press,which J.W. Stalin correctly observed is the party’s strongest and sharpest weapon. The party speaks to millions of people daily through its press, informing them of its policies and increasing their socialist consciousness. The newspaper is the most important instrument the party leadership has to carry out its leading role. The significance of the press cannot be overestimated.

At the same time, however, the press has another side to it that is often overlooked or neglected by party offices and editorial offices. The newspaper is one of the most important parts of the daily life of the masses. “Man does not live by bread alone.” Newspapers and books are as important to people today as bread and meat. They are intellectual food. An important element of our new course is to better satisfy, both in number and quality, this need for intellectual nourishment. The needs in our republic are enormous, as is shown by the growing circulations of all of our newspapers and magazines, and even more by the fact that we cannot entirely meet the demand either with regards to our party press or even less so in the case of magazines like the Wochenpost.

Given this situation, it is simply incomprehensible why the comrades of the State Planning Commission planned not an increase in the print industry, but rather about an 8% decrease in paper production. This does not seem to me consistent with the new course, and a way must be found to correct this error.

At the 16th meeting of the Central Committee in September, the Central Committee considered ways to improve our press and made a series of concrete decisions. We have made considerable progress. Editors are working to make our newspapers effective mass organs which are written not only for party functionaries, but also for the masses who are not party members. That is shown by the increase in subscriptions by every party newspaper in recent months.

That by no way means, however, that we have already solved the major assignments of the 16th Plenum. Our press still has many weaknesses we must work hard to remedy.

The main weakness in the press is still the low quality and the simple neglect of propaganda. Our writers often make absolutely basic errors. For example, Der neue Tag in Frankfurt/Oder published an article titled “Our People have Good Democratic Traditions” in its 2 October issue. It referred primarily to parliamentary activity, even including the Frankfurt National Assembly of 1848 that Marx called the “United Parliament of the Junkers and the Middle Class.” It praised it as “our country’s first great show of will.” Das freie Wort in Suhl printed an article on 5 March titled “Why Can’t there be Class Harmony in Villages?” The article claimed “Our goal is that working farmers be the democratic forces exercising power in the villages...” At the least, such a statement is likely to confuse the question of power in the Republic and the class relationship between workers and farmers. The Leipziger Volkszeitung made a fundamental error in an article on 14 March titled “The Right-Wing SPD-Leaders ” Main Hindrance to Understanding,” even though a memorandum from the government of the German Democratic Republic of 30 January said clearly that “the Treaties of Bonn and Paris rule out the possibility of a reunified, peace-loving, and democratic Germany.”

One of the causes for such errors is that editorial staffs criminally neglect propaganda, only rarely print propaganda articles, and do a poor job of supporting the party training courses by writing about ideological problems. Some newspapers seem positively allergic to printing theoretical articles. The Ostsee-Zeitung in Rostock is a classic example. The Institute for Social Sciences of the University of Rostock sent it an essay about the necessity to eliminate the former government structure according to Marxist theory. The editorial staff refused to publish it not because they objected to the content, but rather — as they wrote on 24 February — “because it deals only with certain theoretical questions that are not appropriate for a daily newspaper.” Apparently the comrades of the Ostsee-Zeitung are of the opinion that since a daily newspaper has less room than a magazine, it should print only short articles. Exactly the opposite seems the case to me, since our newspapers also print some long theoretical articles that could be handled in less space.

A major failing of our newspapers is that they have still not learned how to fight certain false and enemy viewpoints that are common among the people. Most newspapers avoid clear polemics. When they do polemicize, it is mostly directed against American imperialism or right-wing Social Democratic leaders in West Germany, not against the representatives of false opinions in their own backyard.

Finally, I must say that we are only at the beginning stages of realizing the 16th Plenum’s call to develop a true mass press. Nearly all of our newspapers have made progress in this direction, but much remains to be done. One example. The newspapers were instructed to report regularly on the courts not only because many people are interested, but also because we can thereby inform our people about the activities of an important branch of our democratic government. Several newspapers have made a good beginning, but the organ of the Central Committee [Neues Deutschland] itself has as yet done absolutely nothing to carry out this task.

If we seek the causes of these weaknesses, we find first the inadequate training of our editors and the other work they are called on to perform. Few editors have the time to participate in the party training course or study on their own. Furthermore, many or our editors are not capable of independent work. If they encounter a problem they don’t work to solve it themselves, but rather wait for instructions from “on high.” There is not and cannot be, however, an office that relieves editors of the obligation to think. The task of the Central Committee and the party offices is to guide editors, to give them a general line, but not to do their work for them.

Editors are responsible to put out a newspaper following the line of the party and the instructions of the party leadership. To ensure that they are in a position to do that, the party leadership must keep watch to ensure that the editors can devote most of their time to editorial work. Our party leadership sins greatly in this regard, however. It is all too easy to give editors party assignments, since the newspaper will appear somehow. A study showed that most chief editors of our Bezirk newspapers are so burdened with other party work that they cannot give the newspaper their full attention. Comrade Gropp, chief editor of the Volkswacht in Gera, reports that only two to three days a week are available for his editorial work, for example. And Comrade Aulbach, chief editor of the Volksstimme in Karl-Marx-Stadt, has only six to eight hours weekly. We cannot do things that way, comrades! The party leadership must see to it that editors have the bulk of their time for editorial work, and that they also have time to study.

That brings me to the party’s propaganda work.I must begin by saying that although there have been clear successes in recent months, propaganda remains the most backward area of our ideological work.

Despite the tasks assigned by the 15th Plenum, we still have not clarified to the party’s membership or the masses a number of principal questions that are related to the party’s practical work. Let me mention several.

The central task in the struggle to maintain peace and promote the democratic reunification of Germany is the struggle against the war treaties of Bonn and Paris, and the struggle against a revival of German militarism. Our opponent is laying the ideological foundations for his war plans by encouraging chauvinism and revanchism. The chauvinistic incitement has found support in certain backward sections of the German Democratic Republic. Criticisms of the Oder-Neiße peace border have surfaced increasingly of late, often including openly Nazi views (e.g., the Fascist lie of the need for living space). The task of propaganda would be to put its energy into the fight against chauvinism and revanchism, on the basis of the line laid out by the party, in order to combat the influence of the warmongers and educate the party and the people in the spirit of proletarian internationalism and democratic patriotism. This has to be in the forefront of our propaganda today.

Another question neglected by our propaganda is the character of worker and farmer power and the alliance of the working class with the farmers as a foundation of our state’s power. How else could it happen that a certain part of the party underestimates the importance of independent farmers? Some comrades thought only of the collective farmers and neglected work among independent small and mid-sized farmers, as Comrade Steffen from Neubrandenburg reported. The alliance of the working class with the farmers is an essential question of Leninism. To neglect it means transforming Leninism into social democracy. To loosen the alliance between the working class and all farmers is to weaken the political foundations of our worker and farmer power. That is why a lack of clarity in this question and the resultant uncertainties in our position toward small and mid-sized farmers is so dangerous. The Central Committee’s 15th and 17th plenums warned explicitly against neglecting independent farmers. Comrade Ulbricht stressed this yet again in his report. Still, our propagandists have not drawn the proper conclusion.

A further weakness of our propaganda is that we have dealt insufficiently with the concrete questions relating to our economic growth, which need to be explained from a theoretical standpoint. As a result, there are a number of uncertainties that lead to mistakes in practice. I will give one example, which was also referred to by Comrade Ulbricht in his report: the question of norms. After the mistakes of the first half of last year, and the resulting corrections, some confusion remains. As a result, some factories are repeating the old mistake of “voluntary increases in norms.” For example, the “Fritz-Heckert” factory in Karl-Marx-Stadt has tried to get individual workers to agree to a voluntary increase in their norms. The background is as follows: The decision of last June on returning the norms to the level of 1 April 1951 was not carried out. Instead, workers received a bonus of as much as 35%. This bonus is now to be eliminated by “voluntary norm increases.” The best brigades with the highest productivity and responsibility are unhappy because they receive reduced pay. The whole problem could have been avoided if we had clarified the norm question in our propaganda by explaining that “voluntary increases in norms” on the party of individual workers or brigades contradicts the ability principle that is the cornerstone of our whole pay system. It cannot be the case that different norms for the same job exist in the same factory, meaning that the better workers with greater productivity get less pay than less effective workers with lower productivity. Raising norms is permissible only when the requirements have been established and the masses are convinced of the necessity of the new norms, and when the new, technically supported norms are introduced at the same time for all workers who do the same job.

It is high time that our propaganda turns to these and other practical economic questions to contribute to the success of the year of great initiatives.

A few remarks on the party training year.As Comrade Walter Ulbricht observed, participation has worsened recently to about a quarter of members and candidates. One cause is that many party offices, members and candidates have used the principle of volunteerism in a way that allows them to “voluntarily” avoid study. These comrades have forgotten that our party’s statutes obligate each member and candidate “to steadily raise his political consciousness and to master the foundations of Marxism-Leninism.” The party training year gives members and candidates the best opportunity to fulfill their party duty. Another reason for bad participation in the party training year is the defective guidance and supervision of the groups by party offices. Many party offices think they have done their duty merely by registering the participants. For example, only 25 of the 400 workers at the potash plant “Glückauf” in Sonderhausen participated in the party training year. The Bezirk office in Erfurt noted the fact and reported it to the Central Committee, but did not do anything to change the situation. Three circles at the MTS [machine tractor station] Nonnendorf in Jöterborg county were not held because the leaders were sent to a party school, but neither the party office nor the county office bothered to find replacements.

The primary reason, however, for low participation in the party training year is that they are dull, spiritless, and boring. In places where the circle leader knows how to make the theme interesting, and can relate it to the tasks of the party group through lively discussion, circle attendance is both good and regular. The main goal is the proper selection, training and guidance of circle leaders. There has been clear improvement in the involvement of leading functionaries in the circle work, particularly in conducting seminars for propagandists. That is good. Still, at times we cheat. Kyritz, Anklam, Rübeln, Malchin, and others counties, for example, simply closed the county evening schools and used the students as propagandists for circles and training seminars. These county offices remind me of a tailor who cuts a piece from the front of a pair of trousers to repair a problem in the rear. I do not think we should tolerate such behavior in our party!

Another reason for the inadequate level of work in the party training year is that propagandists and frequently members of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation are overwhelmed by other party work. Members of these offices in Leipzig, Gera and other areas tell us, for example, that they have had no time in recent weeks to work on the party training course, since they had to prepare for the delegate conferences. The neglect of propaganda is showed by the Eberswalde county office, which promoted the leader of the party cabinet in November 1953, and still has not found his replacement. It is certainly a good thing to promote our propaganda cadre, but it cannot occur in a way that we simply assign them to a new job and do not worry about who will carry on their propaganda activities!

I do not want to suggest that everything in the party training year is in bad shape. Where it functions effectively it brings the party success, not infrequently direct improvements in its practical work. For example, the entire work force of the Sawmill Rechenberg-Bienenmühle in Karl-Marx-Stadt resolved as a result of the training year to fulfill its plan for the first quarter early. The propaganda efforts in Brand-Erbishof county won 356 new members for the Society for German-Soviet Friendship between December 1953 and January 1954.

A relatively new branch of our propaganda is lecture propaganda. We already have some successes in this field. The Bezirk offices have speaking collectives that include from 35 to 130 speakers. The themes of the speeches have increased significantly in number. In Bezirk Cottbus, 163 lectures were given in January and February, to an audience of 6329. However, we are doing a poor job of reaching the countryside. Only 17 of the 163 were held in the countryside. The interest of the rural population in good lectures is great. For example, two MTS [Machine Tractor Station] lectures in Grimmen county, Bezirk Rostock, drew 190 people. Bezirk Magdeburg also reports that farmers want more lectures. Here is a untilled field that we must prepare ideologically.

The main weakness of the lecture propaganda is that the themes are still not broad enough. The natural sciences in particular are neglected.

Before I leave the area of propaganda, I must speak about another area that is neglected by nearly all party offices, although it is of great political significance. I refer to literature. Certainly I could say critical things about book production, but I do not have the time. However, publishing books makes sense only when the books, pamphlets and magazines that we put out actually reach the masses. The serious concerns the party leadership expressed to the First Publishing Conference in May 1953 have been ignored. Publishing has not shown significant improvements; indeed, it has sometimes worsened. For example, sales of J.W. Stalin’s works have fallen since the fifth volume. That is not because interest has decreased, but rather because the Bezirke and particularly the counties have not put much effort into promoting our publications. The serious political consequences are clear when, for example, we consider comrade Mückenberger’s speech at the 17th Plenum. This is an important speech that, along with the decisions of the 17th Plenum, lays out our long term strategy in rural areas for an extended period. Although work in rural areas is today in the foreground of our program, the pamphlet from the 17th Plenum has sold only 150 copies in Strausberg county, and 45 in Königs Wusterhausen county. No one at the MTS Pötzsee had a copy, not even the party secretary or the political leader. Nor did anyone know about the pamphlet at the “Aufbau” collective farm or the people’s farm in Tippensee. How can comrades in these villages carry out the decisions of the 17th Plenum when they have no idea what they are? The party offices that view literature not as a part of political work with the masses, but rather as a business question, have the primary responsibility here. We must overcome this underestimation of publications and do everything to get our economic and political literature to the masses.

Comrades! In the time remaining, I can only deal with a few matters relating to our political-ideological work with the masses. I turn to several questions that seem to me cardinal issues in our whole ideological work.

The primary task in every area of our ideological-political work with the masses is to raise its level, to carry out truly scientific work, to study thoroughly. That requires time. There is no point in talking about increasing the scientific level if we do not make sufficient time free. One cannot study the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin during the lunch break or on the streetcar. Even less can one write a scientific article between two meetings. The reality however is that many of our functionaries have no time for study or to prepare their political work with the masses. We have done some interesting studies of the schedules of functionaries, which all reach the same conclusion. I have already spoken about the chief editors. Comrade Labowski, party secretary at Bergmann-Borsig in Berlin, reports that he spends an hour and a half late in the evening preparing for the party training year. He reports that it takes until Wednesday to get around to newspapers that he has not had time to read since Sunday. That means that he directs the political work in the factory for three days without knowing what is in the newspapers. On Wednesday there was also a lively discussion with the secretaries of the lower party units, who complained of overwork.

Comrade Rudolf said: “I may as well bring my bed into the factory. I do everything I am supposed to, but I’m collapsing under the strain. I haven’t been home on time for ten weeks.”

Comrade Jekschtat says: “It can’t go on like this. Every night there is some sort of job to do. There are too many meetings. I’m having problems with my wife.”

We have to take these complaints by our functionaries seriously. Party offices cannot forget that our functionaries are also people who have a right to relaxation and spare time. If the party requires that they increase their knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, it must also see to it that they have the time to study magazines and books.

What must we do to see to it that party work gets done, since party work does have to get done and the tasks are not decreasing? Three things:

First, we must energetically fight against multifunctionalism. For example, comrade Schubert in Zellendorf, Jöterborg county, is party secretary, mayor, chairman of the National Front, and second secretary of the Society for German-Soviet Friendship. One can hardly expect that he perform them all well, much less find time to study. And he hardly has the record for offices, as a report of the Central Review Committee demonstrates. We must find new people. There are enough of them, comrades, splendid people are out there. The delegate conferences have shown this.

Second, we must do something about both the number and length of meetings, discussions, and appointments. We said that back at the 15th Plenum, but not much has happened. Many functionaries spend most of their lives in meetings. In Halle, the meeting of the Bezirksecretaries lasts from 10 a.m. to 5 or 6 a.m. the next morning. Not much good can come of such meetings. Matters are talked to death. Meetings, discussions, and commissions have spread like the plague. Comrades run form meeting to meeting, without having the time to gather their wits. We must put a stop to it. We have eliminated other plagues, comrades. I think we can do something about this one as well! If meetings are properly prepared, if no matters are on the agenda that have not been thought about, if participants can study the matters in advance, then the meetings will be shorter and more productive. In short, the second task is to reduce meetings, deliberations, etc., to the absolute minimum.

Third, we must reduce the avalanche of decisions, directives, instructions, etc., both from the party and the state. Our party offices, from the Central Committee on down, produce too many long decisions that no organization and no comrade can digest. Comrade Labowski from Bergmann-Borsig, whom I have already mentioned, asks when he has time to study the decisions and orders. He points to a large stack and said “How can I deal with them? And I have more at home!” The third task is to have fewer decisions, shorter decisions, better decisions, but more practical supervision of their execution.

Comrades! These are not small or insignificant problems! It is clear that we are not raising the level of our ideological work because we lack the time to study the scientific material that both undergirds our policies and can help us to solve the practical problems we face.

We are in an excellent position to carry out a broad ideological offensive. Our enemies are getting one blow after another because the peoples are steadily realizing their criminal and warmongering nature and resisting them. Thanks to the generous support of the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic has defended its sovereignty. The broad masses daily see the success of our new course in building the power of workers and farmers. Our job is to increase our ideological-political work with the masses in every area, and to use this favorable situation to develop the socialist consciousness of the masses.

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