Bonjour tous et toutes,
Voici ce qu'un prof de Concordia donne à lire à ses étudiantEs dans un
cours nommé "propagande".
Assez absurde comment il inverse la situation...
AECSAUM - Externe
AGITATION PROPAGANDA (June 12, 2012)
June 21, 2012
Introductory Message to the Course
Welcome to COMS 361 Propaganda for the second summer term of 2012. This
course runs for a month and a half (6 ½ weeks) unlike the regular semesters
(Fall, Winter) which take up 13 weeks.
What follows is an essay I have written regarding what those of us who
reside in the Province of Quebec have lived through for the past four
months. I mean it as an introduction for you to understand how and why
propaganda works. This essay is followed by a suggestion for your
information regarding the Discussion Boards which accompany the lessons as
well as a caution in thinking about propaganda analysis as laid out in the
Since February 2012, the Province of Quebec has been living under a
relentless crisis precipitated by post-secondary students refusing to
accept tuition increases for higher education. The protests have, for a
full third of a year, exposed us on a daily basis to Agitation Propaganda
which we have not normally experienced as a people in our society giving us
a rare glimpse into this fundamental category of propaganda
Jacques Ellul in Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Minds, whose analysis
of propaganda you will encounter throughout this course, writes as follows
on page 71:
“Propaganda of agitation, being the most visible and widespread (form of
propaganda), generally attracts all the attention. It is most often
subversive propaganda and has the stamp of opposition. It is led by a party
seeking to destroy the government or the established order.”
A protest is characterized by a commitment to an ideal, an openness to
others, a willingness to dialogue responsibly in choosing to identify
oneself for this purpose (propaganda cannot tolerate dialogue), and
circumstances devoid of violence. As the student demonstrators have amply
demonstrated, Agitation Propaganda is the direct opposite of such protest
or civil disobedience. This conclusion comes from observing the effects of
their actions on the population, on those opposed to their views, and on
Ellul goes on to say that “Hatred is probably the most spontaneous and
common sentiment” (73) in the Propaganda of Agitation and that it is “. . .
always translated into reality by physical involvement in a tense and
overexcited activity.” (72)
Agitation Propaganda is rooted and manifested in Maoist China, Leninist
Soviet practice, Nazi orchestrated violence against the Jews in the Third
Reich, Rwanda’s period of terror, etc. One tactic of those who employ
Agitation Propaganda is to have themselves portrayed as VICTIMS of an
unresponsive system or population, thereby hiding the fact that it is they
themselves, the perpetrators of Agitation Propaganda, who are the
oppressors of freedom of thought and action.
Agitation Propaganda is first and foremost a weapon in propaganda’s
arsenal. Taking on Victimhood in their public appearance, those who use
this weapon camouflage their underlying intent to oppress those who oppose
them. Social Cohesion is the target of such propaganda.
The counterpart to Agitation Propaganda is Integration Propaganda. As Ellul
writes: In contrast to this propaganda of agitation is the propaganda of
integration - the propaganda of developed nations and characteristic of our
civilization; in fact it did not exist before the twentieth century. It is
a propaganda of conformity. (74)
By default, any organization responsible for social cohesion must do
Integration Propaganda. This is what underlies all social agreements for
action and for shared values. Integration Propaganda requires large
organization to carry it out. These organizations are normally religions,
educational systems and, in the current case, governments.
Us vs. Them: Symbols of Identity:
One of the fundamental characteristics of propaganda is that it is always
based in conflict: Us vs. an Enemy. Any enemy is always a major threat to
social harmony. There is a common practice whereby THE enemy, or one’s own
supporters, are easily recognized in any situation. This practice is the
use of some easily identifiable symbol or icon which erases all ambiguity
in identifying the side on which one falls. Such is the case of the Red
Square worn by the student activists and those in the public who support
them in their quest which now includes opposition to Bill 78, a law which
lays out penalties for illegal actions in the strike. If someone does not
brandish a red square he or she is identified, by default, as being against
the movement, at least in the minds of the wearers.
The efficacy of such public signs is found in the recent history of those
who relied on agitation propaganda to achieve their desired ends: the
yellow star Jews had to wear in the Third Reich; dunce caps for those who
were persecuted by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in China,
the wearing of glasses which was presumed by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia
thirty years ago to identify intellectuals, that is, candidates for
termination. In Nazi Germany and in the China of the 1960’s, these
identifying symbols were imposed by those persecuting others. In the last
example, the wearing of glasses was a ‘self-imposed symbol’ by those who
were being prosecuted only because these individuals needed to have glasses
In contrast to these examples, the red square worn by the striking students
and their supporters is the opposite of the dunce caps and the yellow stars
since those who wear the red square do not see themselves as the problem.
They see themselves instead as righting the wrongs of the society in which
they live which is common among those who pratice Agitation Propaganda. Yet
the fundamental principle remains the same in all these examples. Whether
it is the yellow star or the red square, the symbols represent a chasm
between Us and Them. “We are not and never will be them,” says the symbol
to the target audience, be it friend or foe. Not a particularly fertile
ground for dialogue no matter whose idea it is to wear such symbols.
A historical example of self-imposed symbols is what we know as the Brown
Shirts under the National Socialists in Germany eighty years ago. Here
people willingly and with pride wore “their heart on their sleeve,” so to
speak. The same would apply to the infamous hoods of the Klu Klux Clan in
the first half of the twentieth century in the United States of America.
As Lieutenant Colonel Colin Robinson (Retired) wrote to me in discussing
this text, “The red square is self-imposed and implies a threat of violence
– much like the Brown Shirts worn by the NAZI SA enforcers, or Mussolini's
black shirts. It is a way for the group to show their identity,
differentiate themselves from the general population and build cohesion.”
You will also hear from Lieutenant Colonel Robinson in the lesson on target
audience when he discusses psychological warfare.
We are living under a barrage of propaganda from all sides in this current
Quebec conflict. We choose the propaganda we favour but we don’t call it
propaganda, which makes it easier to identify the other side as the
problem. As Dr. Ray Taras, Professor of Political Science at Tulane
University and recent Willy Brandt professor, Malmo University, Sweden, and
from whom you will hear from later in the course, attests: "Amazing how
propaganda as an explanatory concept has been vanishing.” Propaganda is
back in full force.
The scope of the protests has greatly enlarged since mid-winter. Now many
social issues are merged into public displays of dissatisfaction. In one
fundamental sense, the original impetus for agitation propaganda is
obscured or lost because of this development.
However, once this burgeoning process starts, there is usually one
important consequence which follows. The overall issue becomes so diffused
in focus that the seeds of its own undoing are planted and germinate down
the line. It is a good bet that the same process will happen here. The
passage of time will let us know.
Suggestion # 1
The Discussion Boards are reserved for Lessons 3 – 12 and will serve as
your participation grade in which you receive a grade of 2% each for a
maximum of five discussions giving a total of 10% participation grade. As
this summer session lasts only seven weeks, you will see that for every
full week, starting on Tuesday, June 25, two new lessons are opened. I very
strongly suggest in terms of your time management that you do ONE
discussion Board (maximum 150 words) for five of the following six weeks of
the course week by choosing one of the two lessons per week to comment
upon. DB responses end with Lesson 12. DB comments are due on the Monday
following the previous week’s Lesson.
Finally, a frequent fallacy among those who have taken this curse
previously: All Propaganda elicits a YES response. This does not mean that
all YES responses are necessarily propaganda – see Lesson 2.
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*Association des étudiants aux cycles supérieurs
en anthropologie de l’Université de Montréal*
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