Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed May 03, 2017 7:18 pm

<2017 “What a columnist owes his readers isn’t a bid for their constant agreement. It’s independent judgment. Opinion journalism is still journalism, not agitprop.”—New York Times, 30 April>
Never heard of it, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing.


agitprop: noun and adjective (Popularity: Bottom 50% of words [[agreed]]): Propaganda; especially: political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, or art.

Etymology: Agitprop is a curious sort of portmanteau, blending parts of two words, each from a different language. It comes from the Russian word agitatsiya (“agitation”) and the English propaganda (“the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person”). An agitprop agent is called an agitpropist.

THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY offers the following historical usage in addition to the above:

Usually with capital initial. A department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or a local department, responsible for ‘agitation and propaganda’ on behalf of Communism; the activities of this department. Also: a person engaged in agitprop.
<1925 “ Both the responsible members and the staff of these courses will be under the supervision of the ‘Agitprop’, or Agitation-Propaganda Committee of the Comintern.”—Times (London), 25 April, page 15/4>

The following quotes are from the OED and archived sources:
<1959 “The whole tone [of the play] is ten times heavier and cornier than any of the agitprop from the old Unity Theatre.”—The Spectator (U.K.), 6 November, page 629/2>

<1968 “The classroom is used as a forum for racial agitprop.”—Voluntary Servitude by C. J. Levy, iii. page 61>

<1991 “Some of its work is feverish right-wing agitprop—three-page briefs written by crew-cutted interns from Oklahoma on why the contras should be given nuclear weapons.”—The Economist (London), 21 December, page 85/3>

<2000 “There was a huge social revolution going on and a great deal of agitprop. We hated the ruling classes and imperialism.”—The Daily Telegraph (London), 13 June, page 9/5>

<2010 “The play . . . was only on for a week, a piece of agitprop that people were writing angry or enthusiastic letters to the paper about.”—The Finkler Question by H. Jacobson, x. page 249>

<2015 “. . . relations with Cuba have begun to ease, it might be a good time to take another look at Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov's agitprop paean to Fidel Castro's fledgling Communist regime, ‘Soy Cuba’ (1964).”—The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), 3 May>

<2017 “All languages borrow words from other languages - Americans may recognize agitprop [[!]], sputnik, babushka or cosmonaut .”—The Washington Post (D.C.), 28 April>
Note: There were 2,087 hits in one news archive I checked, which is a sizable number. So, the word, although not a barnburner, is more widely used than I had imagined and it seems especially appropriate in the present political climate.

Ken Greenwald, May 3, 2017

Re: agitprop

Post by tony h » Thu May 04, 2017 12:32 am

Ken: it surprises me that you hadn't heard of agitprop. It was commonly heard in the UK in the 1960s (probably following on from the 1950s) when talk amongst young people was politics. Politics was clear: Labour was heading towards communism and the Conservatives weren't. Elections were highly charged.
I wonder, I have no experience to apply here, whether McCarthyism in the USA meant that such discussion was less common and as such such word were used less often.

I also think there are a lot of parallels between agitprop and McCarthyism.
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: agitprop

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed May 10, 2017 5:19 pm

I did Drama at University and in First Year we did units on agitprop theatre. This was mainly street theatre where impromptu performances of a political nature would be performed in public streets and parks and the like. The aim was to create agitation and spread propaganda. In groups we wrote some actor impro plays and performed them around Newcastle. Ah the sweet days of youth.

WoZ on the red carpet
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: agitprop

Post by Phil White » Wed May 10, 2017 9:11 pm

Like many words from the political realm, "agitprop" seems to me to be what I like to call a Janus word. It can be viewed from both sides with entirely different connotations. For the (hard) left it is a legitimate means of spreading the message and awakening the slumbering masses. For the right it is a subversive activity that eats away at the foundations of society.

For me? It is, and always has been a supremely ugly word. I shall be uncharacteristically coy as to my opinion of its value as an activity...
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: agitprop

Post by JosephPa » Tue May 30, 2017 6:04 pm

tony h: Gospodin (sir)
That sword is not blunted.
Very familiar with the political usage and I see it here in the US now (what goes around comes around)
Once again the failure inherent in human nature (tail gunner Joe, sigh) shows me that McCarthyism is still relied upon despite its historical repercussions.

tony h - you are a very good teacher in your explications.

Re: agitprop

Post by JosephPa » Tue May 30, 2017 6:12 pm

I have never heard this word before and I am 63. This word really threw me!

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