Strategy for Revolution in 21st Century
Agent Provocateurs Its Relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century


Marx and Engels:
Communist Manifesto

Civil War in France


Theory of History

Marx and Engels:
On Human Nature


Violence and the Origin of the State

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Marx, Engels, Lenin:
On Dialectics

What is to be done?


The State and Revolution

Lenin: War Communism

The Cultural Revolution

Left-Wing Communism

The American Revolutions

The French Revolutions

On Workers Control

On Religion

On the Arms Race

Militarization of Labor

Russian Revolution

The Women's Question

Role of Communist Party

On Violence

On the Army

On Women

Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Mao and Fidel:
Fall of the American Empire

Man and Socialism in Cuba

Hall and Winston:
Fighting Racism

National Liberation and Culture

Cabral: National Liberation and Culture

Nkrumah: Neo-Colonialism

Among our many debts to the French Revolutions, we owe the term "agent provocateur" to them. This is the term for the government agents sent secretly to disrupt revolutionary movements. The stronger the revolutionary movement, the more it can expect to have agent provocateurs in its midst.

Provocateurs have always been used by capitalist governments against revolutionary movements. As Lenin remarked to the Second Communist International (point 12): "Notwithstanding their false and hypocritical declarations, the governments of even the most enlightened and freest of countries, where the bourgeois-democratic system is most "stable", are already systematically and secretly drawing up blacklists of Communists and constantly violating their own constitutions so as to give secret or semi-secret encouragement to the whiteguards and to the murder of Communists in all countries, making secret preparations for the arrest of Communists, planting agents provocateurs among the Communists, etc., etc. Only a most reactionary philistine, no matter what cloak of fine "democratic" and pacifist phrases he may don, will deny this fact..."

On the one hand, Lenin says that faced with the internal culture of war, revolutionary movements must go underground and secret, but this has costs of its own, as discussed elsewhere. On the other hand, he goes on to say to the Second International, that no matter how strong the repressive measures of the government, the revolutionary movement must somehow remain visible: "in all cases without exception, the parties should not restrict themselves to illegal work, but should conduct legal work as well, overcoming all obstacles, starting legal publications, and forming legal organisations under the most varied names, which should be frequently changed if necessary."

The danger of provocateurs is associated primarily with secret, underground work, as Lenin experienced on numerous occasions. The agents penetrate into secret organizations and make known their membership and their plans to the government authorities, leading to arrests and to disruption of actions that have been planned in secret. The more public the work of a revolutionary movement, the less effective is this work of the agent provocateur.

The government also uses provocateurs to establish phony organizations that compete with revolutionary organizations in order to divide the movement and confuse the people. Lenin describes one such organization, the Independent Social Labour Party established by agent provocateurs in St. Petersburg in 1905. Within a few years, as is typical for these phony organizations, it went out of existence.

Typically, provocateurs prey on individuals and small groups of revolutionaries trying to convince them to adopt illegal methods, especially the use of violence, in order to trap them and justify their arrest and imprisonment, or even their outright murder at the hands of the police. Lenin's advice was to "spurn ... the efforts of wretched provocateurs to provoke it to fight single-handed..."

Ironically, provocateurs sometimes do more good than harm for the revolutionary cause, because they are forced to do revolutionary work in order to keep their position. Thus, Lenin recalls the case of Roman Malinovsky, who was revealed to have been a secret agent of the Tsar: "As member of the Party’s Central Committee and Duma deputy, Malinovsky was forced, in order to gain our confidence, to help us establish legal daily papers, which even under tsarism were able to wage a struggle against the Menshevik opportunism and to spread the fundamentals of Bolshevism in a suitably disguised form. While, with one hand, Malinovsky sent scores and scores of the finest Bolsheviks to penal servitude and death, he was obliged, with the other, to assist in the education of scores and scores of thousands of new Bolsheviks through the medium of the legal press."

Provocateurs often accuse others of being provocateurs, not only to avoid attention on themselves, but also to discredit effective revolutinaries and to sow disunity and disruption in revolutionary organizations. In his 1903 book, Revolutionary Days, Lenin honored the priest Father Georgi Gapon who mobilized the masses of Russian believers against the Tsar. Many in the movement spread rumors that Father Gapon was an agent, but, as Lenin said, "Only the course of historical events could decide this, only facts, facts, facts. And the facts decided in Gapon's favour."

There are important lessons here for revolutionary organization. The teaching of Gandhi must be taken seriously: "hate the sin and not the sinner." Rules and enforcement procedures should ensure the organization against the behaviors that agents are paid to do: against inciting violence, accusing others of being agents, and promoting disunity and dissension. But disciplinary action should be aimed at specific behaviors, not at persons, so that you don't fall into the trap of accusations and disunity you are trying to avoid. Follow the advice of Lenin: "facts, facts, facts."

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Revolutionary socialist culture of peace

Culture of War

Internal Culture of War

Culture of Peace

Education for nonviolence and democracy

Sustainable development for all

Human rights vs exploitation

Women's equality vs patriarchy

Democratic participation vs authori- tarianism

Tolerance and solidarity vs enemy images

Transparency vs secrecy

Disarmament vs armament

Revolutionary leadership

Revolutionary organization

Proletarian Interna- tionalism

National Liberation

Guerrilla Warfare


Agent Provocateurs

Communica- tion systems

Psychology for revolution- aries

Capitalist culture of war

Socialist culture of war

Winning Conflict by Nonviolence

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South African
Peace Process

Soviet Union
Disarmament Proposals

Soviet Collapse

Has Socialism Failed?

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Ecology in Cuba

On Religion

Human Rights in South Africa

on Nonviolence

on Nonviolence

on Communism