The Salvadoran military put a new spin on its propaganda war against the guerrillas recently when the national police fanned out to record shops and seized hundreds of what they considered communist-inspired albums.

"International communism in its zeal for massive infiltration at all levels," said an armed forces statement in the local papers, "is making use of music as its best vehicle, mainly through protest songs."

The statement added that record shops, knowingly or not, have been aiding the guerrillas by "propagating doctrines contrary to democracy," because some of these protest records contain "coded messages, which have been interpreted by militants of the clandestine organizations." The statement did not indicate what those messages might be.

The government consistently gets a bad press, and even though much of the propaganda effort of the guerrilas is clumsy -- their clandestine radio station broadcasts on a wavelength few radios here receive -- the government and especially the military are constantly on the defensive.

One Western counterinsurgency expert here said that in his opinion one of the greatest failings in the fight against the left has been the inability of the government to offer the guerrillas "some serious incentive to come across" to its side.

While some other countries have won over insurgents by offering cash rewards, land and protection if they surrender with their weapons, and in some cases have been able to mobilize them to fight their former commrades, El Salvador's government has shown little imagination even when it offered them amnesty.

The military reportedly has claimed that about 1,800 "guerrillas" turned themselves in during an amnesty program earlier this year. But of a group of five who dutifully kissed the flag at the San Vincente barracks in March, not one admitted to having actually sympathized with the guerrillas.

Two brothers said they had been forcibly recruited by the left but never even given any guns and the others said they had come "to get that paper" -- saying they had surrendered and were now definitely progovernment -- because of threats against them from right-wing paramilitary forces in their villages.

One man said he went to a lettist "mass organization" session two years ago. "A relative of mine who has friends in the National Guard told me they might kill me for this, so I came here," he said.

Some success in diminishing popular support for the left can be attributed to the extensive agrarian reform begun last year with the idea of "taking away the flags" from the Marxists and preempting their promises. But the general government propaganda effort remains clumsy and often naive.

Instead of refining its efforts, the government seems to be striking out haphazardly.

While some field commanders are obligingly cooperative with the press, others are openly hostile. A CBS television crew that visited La Bermuda refugee camp last month, for instance, was searched at gunpoint and its reporters' notes were confiscated by a military patrol on the road out.

A woman propagandist for the guerrillas was captured with several documents and the military have repeatedly said that these papers indicate some local and foreign journalists were tied to the left and sympathetic to the insurents. But instead of specifying who these journalists might be, the government has seemed to implicate the entire press corps.

Now there are the musical raids.

A survey of several shops indicates that American protest singer Joan Baez's albums somehow escaped unscathed, but at Queta's record shop in the Metro Centro shopping center an album by the British rock group Traffic was almost snatched from the shelves when a young police officer caught sight of the long-haired subversive types on the dust jacket, an employe said.

The records consistently confiscated were by such artists as Nicaragua's cultural hero Carlos Mejia Godoy, with his "Nicaraguan Peasant Mass" and Chile's Victor Jara, who was killed in the military coup of 1973. More than 100 such records and tapes were taken from the Kismet shop.

"They gave us a receipt for the records they took," said a young woman beside a Donna Summer poster. "But we're a little afraid that if we go down to claim compensation they'll think we're with the [guerrillas] or something. Of course, if we don't, then we'll never get anything for them."