German Propaganda Archive Calvin University


Background: The GDR’s Ministry for National Defense published a bimonthly magazine for agitators in the armed services called Radar.It doesn’t strike me as very good, but I am including it as an example of what the East German military thought was good agitation. The magazine ran 64 pages, and was about the size of a 4 x 6 index card.

The source: Radar, #4/1988.

The Right Word at the Right Time:

On the Work of the Agitator

by Colonel Wolfhard Schmidt

The headaches begin as soon as the agitator tries to find the right word (argument). It has to be both personal and warm. It should encourage the comrade to express his opinion openly. It should encourage the right mood.

Each word has to be weighed, for as Goethe says in “Faust”: “If a person only hears words, he has to think about them” (Mephisto).

Be there with advice and action

Too many words often flood over us. One can hardly be mad at the person who says “Please, no agitation. I can read the newspaper by myself.” Why not, even though it is clear he just wants to be left alone. Has he not earned it? And have not I, as an agitator, deserved it just as much? Spent the whole day at work like everyone else? CoverLearned, practiced, tested, sweated, become hungry and tired? I should still read the paper? When...?

After dinner and before clean up, there are 140 minutes. There is time for letters, books, newspapers, television, and movies, as well as for the club. Each has something to do. An agitator must know how to use time. It is, after all, his free time too. No one else gives it much thought. Only when things get interesting does everyone suddenly remember who the agitator is. He is always there when questions need to be answered, since “where ideas fail, the right word is needed at the right time...” (Goethe again), even those who usually do not have any questions for the agitator. A word or slogan by itself explains nothing and proves nothing. The Agitator gives the idea the right expression (the right word), the argument, our argument.

The right word, the right idea about the matter, handwritten for the bulletin board, advances competition, discipline and order, tactical and sharp shooting exercises. It encourages people to read the bulletin board, and advances our cause. What does one put on the bulletin board? Factual analyses and comparisons. Who has been successful? How and why? Who still has a ways to go? One posts the names of the best, naturally, to spur them on, and those of the not so good, selected by their company leader. We may not and cannot leave anyone behind, hence the names. Everyone should understand that being a good soldier depends on good training. Three hours of work and free time. When the lights go out, the work is done. The next morning, the encouragement has more impact on some than morning drills.

Sometimes a discussion results because the agitator has found the right word, or he was misunderstood. After one discussion about about whether one should feel responsible for another, the agitator became the agitee. Two who were preparing for the next political training session came out in favor of responsibility. Because the agitator knew that the competition they were involved in required a “good” or “very good” grade in politics, he joined them. The assignment proved the old truth: together they came up with the best arguments.

The right word for everyone

Who cares about the worries of an agitator? On the one hand he is supposed to be the political conscience of the collective, but on the other hand no one wants to be the “agitee.” He must proceed with sensitivity.

He is always an equal among equals, since elevated language and excessive wisdom guarantee a belly flop. Nonetheless, he needs to find the right word at the right time, but carefully, and directed to the right person. How hard that can be... He sees that as the marriage of the older comrade next to him falls apart. Can he be a good conversational partner even though he is only twenty years old and thinking about girls all the time? One doubts it, of course. One fears his well-meaning advice will be misunderstood. In this midst of this seemingly hopeless situation, the elder suddenly wonders about whether he should remain a soldier. How hard it is to explain to him cautiously that the world is still the same, even if his own little world is falling apart. He should realize that he is still important for society. In this case, we, his collective, need him. One has to argue pragmatically: It is not our habit to give up on his abilities, his strengths as a soldier. The right word, the right argument, how difficult it can be...

Being heard

To be an agitator means to be heard. In any situation where the right word is needed. That sounds good. But how does one get heard? Volume? With jokes? With clever phrases? With quotation-packed verbiage? Or is one simply heard? Arguments must be believable and persuasive! They must be friendly, trustworthy, based on mutual respect. Honesty and modesty are the best ways. That means keeping everyone informed of the goals and plans of the collective from the beginning, and informing everyone sufficiently and in a timely way.

It takes ability to be heard between answers to daily political questions and the obligatory discussions of the Free German Youth action “The strength of youth for military success.” The agitator must show his own military ability. That is the strongest argument.

Even when the agitator is at the beginning of his service, depending on well thought out plans of his predecessors, his class standpoint is important. Then he can speak, he can “hit the mark with words,” to quote Goethe’s Mephisto one more time. To hit the mark today means persuading the collective to work hard in socialist competition, to produce many-sided, lively and good work. That is what the agitator works toward, gets headaches about — to find the right word that will be heard, and thus advance the meaning and spirit of the FDJ-Campaign DDR-40.”

[Page copyright © 1998 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]

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