Mass Political Literature

Mass Political Literature


(agitational and propaganda literature), in Soviet bibliology, a term referring to all the printed popular works on ideology and politics that are designed to form stable, conscious orientations toward social-class values among the broad masses. In the USSR and other socialist countries mass political literature is an important means of accomplishing the communist enlightenment and upbringing of the people.

A mature agitational and propaganda literature emerged in the second half of the 19th century as an effective means by which political parties conducted ideological and organizational work among the masses. As early as the end of the 1840’s, Marx and Engels noted the necessity of “disseminating cheaply published popular works and pamphlets with communist content” to unify the workers (Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 19). In Russia revolutionary democratic works written especially for the people appeared in the early 1860’s (various leaflets and the Historical Library, which was issued by N. A. Nekrasov, N. G. Chernyshevskii and I. I. Panaev). Agitational works “for peasants and factory workers” were published illegally in the 1870’s by the revolutionary Narodniki (Populists)—A. V. Dolgushin’s “To the Russian People” and V. E. Varzar’s “Gimmicks,” for example.

A new stage in the development of mass political literature opened in 1883-84, when Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labor group began to issue two series of pamphlets, The Library of Modern Socialism and The Worker’s Library, which popularized Marxism as the scientific ideology of the proletariat. In the work of Lenin’s Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class (1895), mass political literature was closely associated with the struggle for socialism (Lenin’s pamphlets An Explanation of the Law on Fines, 1895, and On the Rural Poor, 1903, for example). Although they considered political periodicals to be of prime importance, Lenin and the Bolsheviks also published popular pamphlets on aspects of Marxism and the revolutionary struggle, addressing them to various groups of readers (workers, peasants, and soldiers). In 1904 mass political literature was published by the V. Bonch-Bruevich and N. Lenin Publishing House of Social Democratic Literature in Geneva. Among the tasks set by the Third Congress of the RSDLP (1905) was the production of agitational and propaganda pamphlets in the languages of the various nationalities of Russia. During the Revolution of 1905-07 an unprecedented quantity of mass political literature was published legally. In Lenin’s words, “Millions of inexpensive publications on political subjects were being read by the people, the masses, the crowd, the ’lower ranks,’ as avidly as no one had ever read before in Russia until then” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 22, p. 83). Mass popular Marxist literature was published by Bolshevik publishing houses (Vpered and Zerno, and later, by Zhizn’ i Znanie, Priboi, Prosveshchenie, and Volna), as well as by a number of democratic publishing houses (for example Znanie and Parus). After the October Revolution of 1917 mass political literature was used to promote socialist construction. It was published in the 1920’s by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee’s publishing house, the Kommunist Publishing House, the party literature department of Gosizdat (State Publishing House of the RSFSR), and the Krasnaia Nov’ Publishing House, and in the 1930’s, by Masspartgiz (Mass Party Literature State Publishing House) and the Moskovskii Rabochii Publishing House.

Today Soviet mass political literature is produced by the majority of central and republic publishers and by regional and oblast book publishers. The largest publishers of mass political literature are Politizdat (Political Literature Publishing House), the Znanie Publishing House, and the Molodaia Gvardiia Publishing House. In 1971 more than 5,000 books and pamphlets were published (about 139 million copies; in 1940, 63.8 million copies of 3,300 titles were published). Mass political works were also published in more than 6,000 newspapers of various types and in party, Komsomol, sociopolitical, and literary magazines.

The Communist Party has day-to-day control over the publication and dissemination of mass political literature and defines its tasks at every stage of communist construction. (See O partiinoi i sovetskoi pechati, radioveshchanii i televidenii: Sbornik dokumentov i materialov, Moscow, 1972.) Lenin and writers of the Leninist school made a great contribution to the development of mass political literature and to the elaboration of the fundamental principles of the theory behind it.

There are two principal types of contemporary mass political literature: propaganda literature and agitational literature. In the hope that knowledge will develop in the people an active attitude toward public life, socialist propaganda literature elucidates for mass readers the epistemological, class, and practical meaning of ideological theories (philosophy, political economy, and scientific communism) and helps them to understand the essence of social phenomena and processes and the lawlike regularity and progressive character of the activities of Marxist-Leninist parties and socialist states. Most agitational literature reflects typical, politically significant, emotionally charged facts and current events and evaluates them in an emotional, moral, and political way from the standpoint of the class ideal. Drawing heavily on the first-hand experience of the masses, such literature tries to mold a generalized, class-evaluative, emotional image of social phenomena.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Kommunisty i Karl Geintsen.” Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, pp. 268-85.
Engels, F. “Predislovie k pervomu nemetskomu izdaniiu ’Razvitiia sotsializma ot utopii k nauke.’” Ibid., vol. 19, pp. 321-23.
Lenin, V. I. Chto delat’? Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Popiatnoe napravlenie v russkoi sotsial-demokratii.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. Partiinaia organizatsiia ipartiinaia literatura. Ibid., vol. 12.
Literaturnoe nasledie G. V. Plekhanova, no. 8. Moscow, 1940.