Weekly Worker: The first one thousand
Editor Peter Manson looks back at the last 21 years and forward to the party we need
Everyone at the Weekly Worker is delighted to be able to celebrate our 1000th issue with this 16-pager. Number one came out as a single sheet back in 1993 and we quickly made the transition to a four-pager and then to eight pages. Finally, in April 2001, with issue No369, we moved to our current regular 12-page format. The Weekly Worker itself followed in the footsteps of The Leninist, which was launched in 1981 as a quarterly journal and eventually evolved into a fortnightly-cum-three-weekly.
Few organisations on the revolutionary left have managed to raise themselves to the point where they can envisage, let alone sustain, a publication that appears every week. In Britain, for a long time only the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales published weekly apart from ourselves (now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty does so too).
However, the Weekly Worker is noticeably different from the SWP’s Socialist Worker and SPEW’s The Socialist. Firstly, and not unimportantly, the CPGB is a much smaller organisation than both those two groups. Therefore our paper has a narrower base from which to generate finance.
In spite of silly or malicious rumours to the contrary, the CPGB is not on the receiving end of a flow of cash from special branch or a mysterious millionaire donor. Like the rest of the revolutionary and leftwing press, we rely on hard-earned contributions from sympathetic readers and our own comrades. Money from sales and subscriptions are secondary in terms of finance and we get precisely nil revenue from advertising.
But we have always been able to rely on those comrades for the financial support we need. Back in 2007, for example, we decided to give up printing the Weekly Worker ourselves, as we had been doing from the start. Instead of replacing our printing press, which basically died on us, we opted to have the paper printed commercially. Within months our readers and supporters had committed themselves to finding the additional £500 a month we needed to make this transition. This was achieved through new or extra standing order payments.
Why the Weekly Worker is able to raise the necessary sums is straightforward. In a word it is … politics. This is the really important difference that marks out the Weekly Worker from the Socialist Worker and The Socialist. Our paper exists first and foremost to champion the cause of revolutionary unity. Without the organisation of communists, revolutionary socialists and advanced working class militants in a single combat party - a Communist Party - there can be no hope of defeating the capitalists and their all-pervasive state machine.
The literary method we employ - programmatic consistency, open polemic and the honest reporting of differences - is inexorably bound up with the aim of forging a mass Communist Party. That means a party which counts its members in the millions. Principled unity on such a scale is possible only with success in an ongoing battle to overcome opportunism in all its many and various guises - economism, popular frontism, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition-type halfway-housism, No2EU national socialism, AWL-style social-imperialism, etc.
We therefore shun the shallow, moralistic condemnations of greedy bankers that are hardly distinguishable from green or brown anti-capitalism, the trite editorials chastising Ed Miliband for not being Keynesian enough, the hopeless pleas for a ‘fairer’ imperialism and the endless official optimism served up by our rivals. A dull, unappetising and at the end of the day poisonous diet. Despite what the opportunists say whenever we criticise them, the Weekly Worker strives to tell the truth - above all, the truth about the state of our organisationally and ideologically fragmented movement and the mass party that is urgently needed. As a result we consistently achieve a level of income comparable to significantly bigger organisations. Hard politics plus frank criticism and self-criticism makes partisans and wins commitment.
More than that though. The Weekly Worker has secured a relatively large body of readers. Circulation is currently hovering at somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 each week. Sometimes it is a little lower, sometimes much higher - we hit well over 40,000 a few years back. Admittedly this is tiny, when set against the mainstream capitalist media - we are painfully aware of that. Nowadays most readers come by way of the web - the ratio of electronic to print readers is around 20 to one. The web has allowed us to partially compensate for the lack of personnel we are able to deploy on Saturday morning stalls, in workplaces, at demonstrations, etc.
But our readers are not passive consumers - overwhelmingly they are leftwing and trade union activists. Therefore, we view them in a very different light from the way the capitalist media regard their customers. The Weekly Worker is not designed to achieve easy popularity or slot into some marketplace niche. Sometimes what we say is deeply unpopular. This is hardly surprising. Week after week our collective of writers doggedly confronts and seeks to positively overcome the widespread and often dearly held ideas that divide and blunt the effectiveness of the revolutionary left - not only in Britain and Europe, but globally. Our readers are educated to carefully follow high politics, study factional manoeuvres and theoretical arguments ... and think for themselves.
There is another aspect to our paper. Production and distribution help lay solid foundations. Necessarily we collectively organise according to a definite discipline - a weekly routine. And, taken together, our readers, sellers, contributors, technical workers and editors can be said to represent the skeletal outline of the Communist Party needed by the working class.
There is another criterion that has rightly been used to judge the Weekly Worker: the number of letters we regularly carry (and we are sometimes forced to cut them to the bone for reasons of space). These letters are, let me stress, real. We do not instruct our own comrades to mimic the wooden and meaningless drivel typically found elsewhere on the left.
From the beginning our press has encouraged readers to write critically. The result is that every week we have no problem whatsoever in carrying at least a full page of letters - more often two. The importance we attach to correspondents is shown by the prominence given to them. Other leftwing publications either receive no letters or as an afterthought tuck them away towards the back somewhere. In contrast we put ours over the first two inside pages. This is more than symbolic. It is about actively wanting engagement, accountability and a two-way exchange.
Naturally the success of the Weekly Worker - and we are far from complacent - provokes fits of jealousy. Perhaps the most foolish, but most revealing, accusation is that our paper is nothing but the “gossip sheet” of the left. That would be accurate if we specialised in reporting who is sleeping with whom or who is wearing what. But we hardly do that. Instead of sleeping partners and fashion sense, the Weekly Worker concerns itself with vital issues such as the latest imperialist threats, be they over Iran or Ukraine, the coordinated austerity attacks and the inadequacy of the left’s response. We have outlined in painful detail the splintering of SWP, exposed the total inadequacy of the subsequent splits and reported on the struggle to stop Left Unity becoming a useless reformist mish-mash. We are proud to play our part in the development of theoretical questions of revolutionary strategy: a workers’ Europe, a working class response to rapid global warming, and, most of all, the need for the unity of Marxists as Marxists. To describe such content as “gossip” is quite clearly a surreal departure from the truth. Those who peddle such nonsense certainly display both a profound lack of seriousness and an inability to grasp the left’s crucial role as the bearer of our movement’s traditions, history and hope for the future.
Where next? We need to further enhance our paper by striving to raise the political level of articles and commission more non-CPGB comrades to write for us. We want to continue publishing supplementary pages in full colour, as with this edition, and, as our readers will already know, we plan launch our new Weekly Worker website in the very near future. But, of course, print and electronic versions should not be seen as alternatives. They should instead complement each other - although with the print version providing the primary fuel or raw material. Either way, you can rely on the Weekly Worker continuing to do what it has always done from the beginning - conducting that ongoing battle for principled Marxist unity.