An overview: current state of anti-imperialist propaganda
Strategic initiatives and propaganda themes of imperialism pose new challenges and opportunities for the anti-imperialist movement. Progressive forces are persevering in explaining to the masses the complexities of the current situation, the roots of the crisis, the workings of finance capital, and the various contradictions at work. But anti-imperialist forces must lead in launching powerful counter-offensives in the many arenas of the propaganda war.
The continuing crisis of global capitalism is resulting in widespread social unrest, while more organized resistance against imperialism or capitalism in general is growing. But the much broader masses of people, who are also seeking solutions to the crisis, remain unreached by anti-imperialist groups.
All progressive forces must therefore redouble efforts at mobilizing and organizing the people through campaigns on current issues and demands at the local, national, and international level. These campaigns must be sustained and raised to the level of anti-imperialist and democratic movements.
In this regard, we value the role of all-sided and sustained political exposures or analytical and persuasive information pieces—in short, propaganda—in raising the people’s level of consciousness and organization and helping develop the anti-imperialist movement.
This input will be a summarized overview of the current state of anti-imperialist propaganda work, including the most urgent challenges and tasks in this arena of struggle. We hope to thus make an initial contribution to the immense propaganda effort that all anti-imperialists throughout the world must persistently undertake.
1. The raging propaganda war
Propaganda work covers a wide range of activities that we usually categorize as informing, or educating, or communicating with, the masses—our public. In propaganda, we deal with the content and style of our messages, and the media vehicles that we use as well to effective convey these messages to the masses.
Evidently, anti-imperialist propaganda does not operate in a vacuum. First, it is not a mere one-way communication from the anti-imperialist organizations to the masses, because the imperialists and other political forces as well also undertake tremendous propaganda efforts among the masses.
In short, there is a continual propaganda war—in each country and throughout the world—between imperialism and local reactionaries on one hand and the workers, peasants, and other oppressed classes and peoples on the other hand. This war is waged mainly on the plane of ideas and culture, but often overflows to the arena of law and politics as well. In whichever arena it is waged, the propaganda war reflects basic conflicts in class interest and related social views, with national and ethnic overlays. It is a relentless battle for people’s consciousness.
Second, the masses themselves are active generators of propaganda and incubators of new cultural material. They are not mere passive recipients of the propaganda of various political forces but participate in the discourse, if only spontaneously and as individuals. They communicate among themselves, absorb and resonate myriad political views, and in the process, create or influence new trends of political thought and cultural expression.
In short, the masses themselves, especially when they are politicized and organized, can become a powerful propaganda force. This means that anti-imperialist propaganda work must be integrated in many ways into the general mass movements, and must itself become a mass movement. The principles of the mass line must be applied in anti-imperialist propaganda work.
2. Anti-imperialist propaganda in the past century
With this framework in mind, let us now take a highly schematized look at the anti-imperialist movement in the past 100 years, and the type of propaganda wars it waged from one period to the next. Such an overview should help us better appreciate the prospects and challenges of anti-imperialist propaganda in the present situation.
In the pre-World War I period, working-class parties and movements in the advanced capitalist countries lead the mass of workers in trade-union struggles and in fighting for democracy and socialism. In the colonies, most national liberation movements were still led by bourgeois nationalist parties.
Marxist thinkers propagandized trade-union, democratic, and socialist demands, while at first bourgeois intellectuals (including the likes of Mark Twain and Tolstoy) were more prominent in supporting anti-colonial struggles and criticizing the worst features of imperialism. Lenin and other Marxists would soon clarify the monopoly capitalist basis of modern imperialism, thus providing a greatly expanded critique of its evils.
It was the time of revolutionary Marxists and bourgeois nationalists alike writing articles, essays and tracts, publishing books, pamphlets and newspapers, and successfully undertaking propaganda, mass agitation and mass organizing despite severe restrictions. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, in particular, showed the way in maximizing the role of the newspaper as collective propagandist, collective agitator, and collective organizer of the workers and other toiling masses.
The next period spanning 30 years, from 1914 to 1945, was the most globally turbulent thus far. The world was wracked by the worst evils of monopoly capitalism: a series of crises leading to the Great Depression; the rise of global Fascism; and two world wars fueled by imperialist greed in redividing the world. On the other hand, the anti-imperialist movement became truly global, with the first socialist state emerging and becoming the rallying point of the workers’ movements and staunch ally of the various movements for national liberation and democracy.
Throughout most of this period, imperialist propaganda was generally factionalized and often on the defensive. This reflected the intense inter-imperialist conflicts and the indefensible evils of monopolies, economic crisis, and Fascism. The greatly broadened anti-imperialist camp and anti-fascist united fronts won propaganda battles on all fronts, even within the Fascist-occupied territories, with the extensive use of radio broadcasts, the use of films and newsreels for propaganda, and varied forms of printed and visual propaganda. At the core of anti-imperialist propaganda offensives were the socialist state and the proletarian parties leading national liberation movements in many countries.
In the third period, 1945-1975, US imperialism became dominant as the world’s only superpower, later supported by junior partners in Europe and Japan. It engaged in the Cold War, intervention and military aggression in all continents, and anti-communist ideological and political offensives. This period saw the rise of powerful global propaganda machineries of imperialism, as exemplified by the huge chains of newspapers and magazines, TV networks, rapidly globalizing news wires, the glitz of Hollywood, numerous academic and cultural institutions with CIA links, and practically the entire UN system.
On the other hand, national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America expanded and won resounding victories. These led to the further expansion of the socialist camp and global alliances of newly liberated and non-aligned states, and further underscored the worsening isolation and internal crisis of the US-led imperialist bloc. The socialist camp was undermined by Soviet revisionism but reinvigorated by China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and victories in Indochina, which in turn inspired anti-imperialist and revolutionary mass movements throughout the world.
Strong anti-imperialist and pro-socialist currents influenced the anti-war, anti-nuclear and environmental movements, the radicalized trade union, women, and youth-student movements, especially throughout the 1960s up to 1975, and within the non-aligned bloc. Imperialist propaganda was greatly amplified by powerful corporate mass media, but anti-imperialist propaganda held its own. Outside socialist countries, progressive movements effectively reached the masses through their own small independent newspapers, magazines, journals, and radio stations; relentless leafleteering, posters, music, literature and arts, and other media outlets and cultural vehicles.
In the fourth period, 1975-1991, US imperialism went into gradual decline starting with its defeat in Indochina and recurring domestic crisis, while adjustments in its foreign policy somehow blunted the Cold War and arms race. On the other hand, the former socialist camp eroded until, at the end of the period, the discredited Soviet-bloc regimes imploded while the Deng clique restored capitalism in China.
Despite the loss of support from the defunct socialist camp, national liberation movements persisted especially in countries occupied by imperialism or ruled by imperialist-backed fascist dictatorial regimes. However, anti-imperialist forces were more systematically framed as terrorists (not merely as communist insurgencies) and linked to “rogue states” such as North Korea, Libya, or Iran, which in turn were increasingly demonized.
The stage was set for renewed ideological and cultural counter-offensive by imperialism. The emergence of personal computers, digital media for mass consumers, and expanding roles of IT in the telecommunications industry (expansion of satellite feeds, birth of the Internet) quickened the pace of the propaganda war, with more varied themes and forms. The imperialist camp clearly ruled the field in these realms of the propaganda war, while the anti-imperialist movement had to drastically adjust to the new situation.