Party Notes: 500th edition
Notching up 500 issues of the Weekly Worker is an undoubted achievement in itself, says Jack Conrad
We began publication back in 1993. The declared intention was to systematically build upon the achievements of our fortnightly-cum-three-weekly, The Leninist. We quickly made the transition from a single-sheet paper to a four-pager and then to an eight-pager. Finally, in April 2001, with issue No369, we moved to the present 12-page format.
Few organisations on the revolutionary left have managed to raise themselves to the point where they can envisage, let alone sustain, such a frequent publication. Most happily content themselves with a monthly or an even more sluggish rate. For example, inside the Socialist Alliance only the CPGB and the Socialist Workers Party maintain weekly papers. Outside the SA the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Scottish Socialist Party are to all intents and purposes alone in matching us.
However, the Weekly Worker is noticeably different from the SWP’s Socialist Worker, SPEW’s The Socialist and the SSP’s Scottish Socialist Voice. Firstly, and least importantly, the CPGB is still a smaller organisation. Therefore our paper has a narrower base from which to generate finances.
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 members. Money from sales and subscriptions are secondary in terms of finance and we get precisely nil revenue from advertising.
The reason the Weekly Worker can raise the necessary sums is easy to explain. In a word it is … politics. Our paper exists first and foremost to champion the cause of revolutionary unity. Without the organisation of communists, revolutionary socialists, progressive anti-capitalists 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 polemics and the honest reporting of differences - is inexorably bound up with the aim of forging a mass Communist Party. Principled unity is possible only with success in an ongoing battle to overcome opportunism in all its many and various guises - economism, first campism, national socialism, ‘peace and justice’ liquidationism, etc.
We therefore shun the shallow moralistic condemnations of imperialism’s unfairness, the trite editorials chastising Tony Blair, the hopeless pleas for an ethical foreign policy and the endless official optimism served up by our rivals. A dull and unappetising diet. The Weekly Worker strives to tell the truth - above all telling the truth about the state of our organisationally and ideologically fragmented movement and what is urgently needed. As a result we consistently achieve a level of income comparable to bigger organisations. Hard politics and 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 hovers around the 10,000 mark each week. Sometimes it is a little lower, sometimes a little higher - though on one occasion we leapt to a 13,000-plus total. Nothing, when set against the mainstream capitalist media - we are painfully aware of that. But our readers are not passive consumers - overwhelmingly they are leftwing and trade union activists.
We view those readers in a very different light to the capitalist media. The Weekly Worker is not designed to achieve easy popularity or dovetail into some marketplace. Sometimes what we say is deeply unpopular. This is hardly surprising. Week after week our collective of writers doggedly confront and seek 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 to think for themselves.
There is another aspect to our paper. Production and distribution helps lay solid foundations. Necessarily we collectively organise according to the dictats of 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.
Nowadays most readers come by way of the web - the ratio of electronic to print readers is around 10 to one. The web has allowed us to partially compensate for the lack of personnel we are able to deploy on Saturday mornings, in workplaces, at demonstrations, etc.
To get an idea of the success of the Weekly Worker compared to similar publications one can usefully turn to alexa.com’s worldwide ranking of websites. I have not bothered to check out which sites are the most popular - though I would guess that pop music or pornography holds that particular honour. Idle speculation aside, the Labour Party is recorded as standing at 86,211. Of course, there are a huge number of websites and I give Labour’s ranking not because it is leftwing, but solely for purposes of comparison and juxtaposition.
Hence, whereas the Labour Party occupies 86,211th place, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty trails far, far behind. Its position is 2,395,087 - remember, we are not talking about readers, but ranking. Next up comes the International Socialist Group, just ahead at 2,358,266. The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain does considerably better - 1,668,846. And a neck in front of them comes the Scottish Socialist Party with its 1,542,212th placing. The SWP performs well - it ranks at 890,089. Surprisingly - at least to me - Workers Power is even more widely read. It is placed at 622,262. Nevertheless the CPGB does much, much better. Our position is 232,377.
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 CPGB members 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 a full page of letters. 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 inside page. 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 stupid, but most revealing, accusation is that our paper is nothing but the “gossip sheet” of the left.
That might be accurate, say, 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 European Social Forum, the SWP’s ‘peace and justice’ turn, the SA’s crisis and questions like Marxist theory, Scottish self-determination, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, etc. To describe such content as “gossip” is frankly 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? Though we have made some recent modest progress, there are three main fields of struggle where we have yet to properly or adequately engage. They are anti-capitalist youth, trade unions and the Labour left. Over the coming period we shall step up our reporting and organised intervention in all three areas.
Inevitably that means increasing the size of the Weekly Worker. Already we have to slice, leave over or spike too many articles. An alternative might be to simply turn to the web, which offers unlimited space. However, that would tend to produce journalistic flabbiness and wordiness. Up the number of pages we must at some point soon. Print and electronic are not really alternatives. They should instead complement each other - although with the print version always leading the way.