An appeal to members, supporters and friends
John Bridge looks forward to higher Weekly Worker production quality and calls for those who value the paper to raise financial contributions
As reported in this paper, we have experienced more and more aggravations with our old sheet-fed Komori print machine (made in Japan in the 1970s, we bought it second-hand in the early 1990s). Breakdowns have become frequent. Overall print quality, never particularly good, has sharply deteriorated. Getting enough copies together - of sufficient quality - to send out to subscribers, libraries, bookshops and for sales at demonstrations, meetings, etc has become increasingly problematic too. On a few occasions we have actually run short. Bulk orders have had to be pared down. Obviously an unacceptable situation.
The CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee has constantly monitored the situation. We were more than aware that matters were coming to a head. That something had to be done and done soon. It was decided to pencil in a major item for discussion at the first aggregate of CPGB members in 2008 … where the PCC would put forward concrete plans.
However, events moved quickly - more quickly than had first been anticipated. Print quality reached what can only be described as crisis point. We therefore began the final CPGB membership aggregate of last year, December 9 2007, with an unscheduled report about our mounting problems ... and the vital importance of maintaining and improving the Weekly Worker (see Weekly Worker December 13 2007).
At that aggregate I sketched out the origins of our present paper, how it evolved from a quarterly journal The Leninist, launched in November 1981, and evolved stage by stage, by way of a monthly tabloid and a weekly single sheet, to the 12-page format we have today.
There is a close relationship between form and content with any publishing enterprise. That is certainly the case with us.
From the beginning we were committed to:
l Promoting debate and the development of Marxist theory.
l Elaborating a communist programme based on the principles of extreme democracy, proletarian internationalism, working class rule and the goal of universal human liberation.
l Combating opportunism in all its guises: ‘official communism’, auto-Labourism, national socialism, left sectarianism, social imperialism, etc.
l Training and organising communist militants to fight for a single, democratic centralist Communist Party and thus ending the debilitating domination of bureaucratic centralist sects.
Necessarily that demanded a press that was squarely directed at the existing left. Especially those groups and individuals who define themselves as Marxists, revolutionary socialists and communists. In the 1980s that meant first and foremost the ‘official’ CPGB. Today it means the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Scottish Socialist Party, etc.
Under current conditions nothing serious can come from premature and impatient attempts at going directly to the masses. Hence the length, polemical style and assumptions of the articles we routinely carry. Readers are expected to have a working knowledge of the ABCs of Marxism and an interest in the existing left. To use a Russian analogy, we are still at the stage of Iskra, the primitive accumulation of cadres, not the final readying of the class for the conquest of state power.
Throughout our existence as a political school of thought we have placed great stress on the vital importance of programmatic and theoretical clarity, and therefore focused on disagreements and disputes on the left. Whereas others view internal rivalry and dissent as a matter of shame, we have taken an opposite approach and argued for honesty and openness. Something that applies to ourselves, of course.
Every time there are important disputes within our ranks - and there have been more than a few - they are fearlessly and always extensively reported. Minorities in our ranks have the right and duty to express their views. As can be seen from this piece, we continue to practise what we preach. Disagreements, factions, splits and even technical difficulties are not private matters to be kept hidden away from the eyes of the working class (as opposed to special branch, MI5 and the other organs of the secret state).
We have a proud record. Our press provided the only worthwhile coverage of the slow disintegration and final liquidation of the ‘official’ CPGB. The trogladyte factions were mercilessly exposed to the harsh light of day and full public scrutiny. We warned time and again against the liquidationist logic of the Marxism Today Eurocommunists, the Morning Star’s supporters, Straight Left - the lot of them. Sources of information included those in the highest echelons of the official structures. Anyone who wanted to know what was really going on in the CPGB had to read our press.
Likewise with similar, more recent episodes on the left.
It is surely a disgrace that ordinary rank and file members of Militant Tendency first got to hear about the schism between Peter Taaffe and Ted Grant from the letters page of The Guardian, not Militant. Fullest and most accurate coverage was found in our press, however. Internal bulletins were handed over by disgruntled members. Cadres broke ranks.
The same went for the split between Scottish Militant Labour - now Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity - and what became SPEW. Our reporters were able to follow and analyse each and every factional nuance and twist and turn.
Ditto with Respect. Socialist Worker hardly acknowledged what had actually been going on before the split. Coverage, where there was any, took place fully in the bureaucratic, and deeply patronising, spirit of Stalin’s Pravda. Official optimism, diplomacy, anodyne press statements, barefaced lies. Not the unvarnished truth. Unsurprisingly, SWP and other comrades turn to various leftwing websites, such as those run by Andy Newman and Liam Mac Uaid, to BBC 2’s Newsnight ... and to the Weekly Worker, naturally.
Countless other examples could be cited. But the unequalled and invaluable role of the Weekly Worker is recognised by friends and foe alike. And not only in Britain - the paper has a very substantial international readership.
Uniting form and content means we also aim for high quality in terms of how articles are packaged and presented. Bold front covers, unique photographs, strong contrasts, clear design, intriguing pictures.
The price we charge is meant to reflect all these features. When Socialist Worker and Militant were selling for 20p or 30p, our paper cost 50p. Today the Weekly Worker is the most expensive paper on the left - and deliberately so. Hence the doubling of the price in October 2004 to £1. Despite that, circulation proved robustly solid and in fact continues to slowly expand. On the web readership has exploded, doubling time and again.
People read what we have to say because it is of quality, not because of reassuring and essentially vacuous snippets about the latest strike, demonstration and rally. They want reliable, authoritative and well edited polemical debate and thoughtful political analysis.
Hence our readership more than favourably compares with papers such as Socialist Worker, The Socialist and the Morning Star. Papers - or, should I say, advertising sheets - which have organisations with far more resources behind them both in terms of money and sellers. But precisely because we are committed to quality we have declined to go down the road of ‘publish everything online’ - seen on various websites and email discussion lists, such as the UK Left Network. Full of endlessly rambling, inconsequential, unaccountable, half-crazy postings, they are hardly worth the bother of reading (I completely gave up on UKLN some four or five years ago).
Given the state of our Komori and the resulting poor-quality printing, there has clearly been a divergence between content and form that needed correcting. Washed out and patchy print hardly helps the reader or allows them to aesthetically enjoy the graphics and overall presentation.
At December’s aggregate I discussed various options: muddling on, overhauling the Komori, dropping the tabloid format altogether for an A4 journal produced on a new laser machine.
On balance, however, I recommended immediately looking for a commercial, or semi-commercial, printing deal. That would guarantee much higher quality, and incidentally involve changing to a different, more convenient, slightly more spacious and cheaper, office location. Undoubtedly, though, there would be a not insubstantial additional financial burden.
I stressed this was an urgent matter. And that therefore we should immediately launch an appeal to raise the necessary extra income.
However, this option did not gain sufficient support. Comrades, including leading ones who are on the PCC, either favoured muddling on for a time, getting expert advice on repairing the Komori and getting it into full working order; that or abandoning the tabloid format altogether for an A4 journal (not only for reasons of expense, but because the bulk of our readers are now on the internet and at present have to make do with a half-sized version of the paper if they print it off at home).
Doubtless regular readers will remember the final edition of the Weekly Worker of 2007. No702 featured a full colour reproduction of Alfredo Rostgaard’s wonderful poster, ‘Christ guerrilla’ (1969). Needless to say, that was not produced on our Komori. As with other full-colour front pages, we looked to friendly printers (though done on a commercial basis). The two inside sheets of No702 were our work, though. Quality was poor, especially faded on the left; more than that, we did not even manage to print enough copies to meet agreed orders.
The first edition of 2008, No703, January 10, is clearly better in terms of print quality. However, sad to say, this was not because the Komori had been successfully put to right over the two-week winter holiday.
In fact we had to abandon the attempt to print the Weekly Worker on the Komori on Thursday afternoon. Quality was appalling and could not be improved upon despite heroic efforts. The decision to abort the run was taken by the printer himself. Not myself or Peter Manson, the Weekly Worker’s editor. We had to negotiate to get the paper printed commercially, inevitably at a one-off, higher, price. That was done on Friday morning, hence the delay some subscribers may have experienced in getting the paper through the post.
The Komori, as far as I am concerned, is now scrap. But scrap for which we still pay floor rental. Our gallant (ex-) printer, Phil Kent, fully agrees with this assessment.
It was against this background that the PCC discussed the situation on Sunday. Rightly we decided on decisive action. We were unanimous, by the way.
The Komori will be quickly sold for whatever we can get. New, cheaper, offices were agreed. Our change of location will be completed within no more than a week or two. The Weekly Worker will now be printed commercially. Extra finances will be raised to pay for this change. Over the next six months the PCC has set a target of increasing regular standing orders by £500 per month.
That means appealing not only to CPGB members. The PCC is convinced that a wide body of supporters and friends exists which is more than ready to lend us a hand. Some will hardly have to be asked.
This issue includes a standing order form. If you already have a standing order, please increase it. If you only occasionally donate to our monthly fighting fund, become a guaranteed monthly contributor. If you support or even just sympathise with our project, now is the time to help out.
In is absolutely true - ending the in-house printing of the Weekly Worker is a setback for the CPGB. We make no bones about that. Nevertheless we are not only confident that the extra £500 per month needed can be raised; with the change to commercial printing we can achieve an immediate return to the sort of print quality that matches the quality of our politics.
The decision of the PCC will have to be ratified by the next aggregate of CPGB members. In principle other options remain open. However, the PCC is convinced that the right course of action has been taken and is confident that the whole organisation will raise itself accordingly.