Agitprop ( /ˈædʒɨtprɒp/; from Russian: агитпроп [ɐɡʲɪtˈprop]) is derived from agitation and propaganda, and describes stage plays, pamphlets, motion pictures and other art forms with an explicitly political message.
The term originated in Soviet Russia (the future USSR), as a shortened form of отдел агитации и пропаганды (otdel agitatsii i propagandy), i.e., Department for Agitation and Propaganda, which was part of the Central and regional committees of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The department was later renamed the Ideological Department.
The term propaganda in the Russian language did not bear any negative connotation at the time. It simply meant "dissemination of ideas". In the case of agitprop, the ideas to be disseminated were those of communism, including explanations of the policy of the Communist Party and the Soviet state. In other contexts, propaganda could mean dissemination of any kind of beneficial knowledge, e.g., of new methods in agriculture. Agitation meant urging people to do what Soviet leaders expected them to do; again, at various levels. In other words, propaganda was supposed to act on the mind, while agitation acted on emotions, although both usually went together, thus giving rise to the cliché "propaganda and agitation".
The term agitprop gave rise to agitprop theatre, a highly-politicized leftist theatre originating in 1920s Europe and spreading to America, the plays of Bertolt Brecht being a notable example. Russian agitprop theatre was noted for its cardboard characters of perfect virtue and complete evil, and its coarse ridicule. Gradually the term agitprop came to describe any kind of highly politicized art.
In the Western world, agitprop has a negative connotation. In the United Kingdom during the 1980s, for example, socialist elements of the political scene were often accused of using agitprop to convey an extreme left-wing message via television programmes or theatre.
After the October Revolution of 1917, an agitprop train toured the country, with artists and actors performing simple plays and broadcasting propaganda. It had a printing press on board the train to allow posters to be reproduced and thrown out of the windows as it passed through villages.