The 400th issue of the Weekly Worker gives us an opportunity both to review the history of our publication and to look forward to its tasks in the fluid period the left is moving into.
First though, on behalf of the leadership of our organisation, I send congratulations to the editorial team, the comrades in charge of the technical arrangements for its production, the regular contributors to its columns and to its coffers. Comrades, we all have important criticisms of our paper. However, it is a major achievement of our still small group, something we can be very proud of. Today, perhaps more than ever in its life, this publication - and its electronic edition - is indispensable reading for anyone who wants to know the real state of the contemporary revolutionary left in Britain.
1992 was a pivotal year for the Communist Party of Great Britain. In November of the previous year, the Euro-opportunist leadership of the Party had accepted the judgement of history and committed hara-kiri. The 1992 general election offered us an ideal opportunity for diciplined party members to counter the idea that this equated with the death of the CPGB and communism itself. We stood four candidates - in England, Scotland and Wales - and relaunched the Daily Worker for the duration of the campaign. I personally remember the feeling of excitement and pleasure when picking up bundles of the paper from Cardiff railway station early in the morning, ready for a hard day?s campaigning in the Rhondda constituency where I was standing for the Party.
Not everyone was that pleased to see the paper, however. The Morning Star - the dismal rag associated with the declining Communist Party of Britain - sent us a solicitor?s letter demanding that we ?desist from using the title Daily Worker? and threatening legal action if we did not ?halt publication forthwith?. In terms of bourgeois law the Morning Star publishers ?owned? the title Daily Worker.
This did not detain us too long, however. We occupied the Star?s offices in protest and demanded that the matter be settled by a workers? ?court?. The Star backed down and in practice relinquished to us the name.
Later in that year, there was a massive upsurge against the threat to decimate what was left of the mining industry. Clearly our journal of the time - The Leninist - simply was not appropriate to intervene. We needed the Daily Worker again, but this time geared to fight for the slogan ?Prepare for a general strike? and to intervening in a mass movement of working class action and protest.
The influence and circulation of the Daily Worker grew impressively. On the back of its success, we started to take important organisational steps forward. Supporters branches began springing up around the country and our Party centre drew a new layer of comrades into high intensity work.
Of course, the miners? fighting energy was eventually frittered away by the misleadership of Scargill and the NUM executive. As the struggle ebbed and died, it was clear that our organisation also had to retreat. We started production of the Weekly Worker. However, there was never any question that we would go back to square one, to reproduce the pace of work and style of intervention associated with the fortnightly-cum-three-weekly The Leninist. Some comrades advocated this, but they found little support within our ranks.
The paper had to continue regular production and build on the gains that had been made, even though its format was limited to an A3 broadsheet by our printing capabilities of the time. We clearly needed to expand its size, to encompass more substantive articles and debates. The paper could only take that qualitative leap forward by winning hearts and minds of readers and that could never have been achieved by an organisation that lacked ambition. Our principle has always been to fight for what is necessary and not to passively wait for financial and other resources to arrive before acting.
So with issue 42 the Weekly Worker was expanded to a four-page paper, aiming to combine the best of the traditions of The Leninist and Daily Worker. Since that time, the paper has been akin to the heart and brain the organisation. With the Weekly Worker we collectively think and act.
Surveying the paper every hundred issues underlines just how much has changed and just how far we have come as an organisation in our fight to build a revolutionary working class party.
Issue 100 on June 29 1995 noted that the Tory government of the day was ?disintegrating?, but warned against illusions in Labour. Our front page underlined that the forces of the working class had to organise ?against the likelihood of a new and viciously anti-working class Labour government?. On the inside pages, Jack Conrad developed the theme and pointed out the key task facing the left if was to be effective in taking on Blair:
?The division of revolutionaries into tiny, ineffective groups, marked out by this or that theoretical nuance or tradition, must be overcome. Different opinions are natural and, as long as they are within the theory of Marxism, perfectly healthy. The unity of different opinions in one organisation is what we must fight to achieve ? We partisans of the working class have a duty to come together in one party.?
Issue 200 hit the streets on July 17 1997 and its ?Party notes? column reports on a CP members? aggregate which endorsed a shift in the focus of our work - away from the rapidly declining Socialist Labour Party and towards the Socialist Alliances:
?? we will continue to fight uncompromisingly for democracy in the SLP, to expose any and every manifestation of bureaucratic intrigue ? It must be said, however - the space in which we conduct this fight is rapidly contracting ? In this context, we encourage the SLP left and those comrades we influence to work more closely with the various Socialist Alliances where they exist and possibly to initiate them where they do not.?
Weekly Worker 300 (August 19 1999) reported on a ?relaunch? of the London Socialist Alliance, initiated by individuals who have now generally faded from view.
However, the Socialist Workers Party remained very equivocal about the whole project. Peter Manson noted that the SWP?s internal culture was one where ?genuine debate is unknown, where the politically naive, constantly revolving membership must be protected from alien forces, particularly those to its left. So full participation in the SA is for it a high-risk business. It may also expose its political frailty in another sense: if the working class is seething with frustration and open to socialist ideas, as Socialist Worker claims, then the SWP ought to expect large votes. Knowing this was not the reality, a section of its leadership was only too pleased to use the excuse of Arthur Scargill heading the SLP London list in June?s EU elections to pull out, provoking the collapse of the alliance.?
This current issue of the Weekly Worker - No400 - with its reports of the latest signatories to the CPGB-initiated platform, ?For a democratic and effective Socialist Alliance?, illustrates how much has changed. The logic of the SA project - consistently pointed out and championed by this paper - is for a united, revolutionary party. The influence and readership of this paper has grown commensurate to that understanding spreading ever more widely amongst the working class militants involved.
We call on these comrades to move on from being simply sympathetic readers of our press. We need them to become active partisans of the project associated with it - the fight for a united, revolutionary party of the working class.