Enhancing our flexibility
Weekly Worker production and the imminent Communist University dominated July's aggregate. Mary Godwin reports
The aggregate of CPGB members held in London on July 12 voted to authorise the PCC to purchase a digital printing machine to enable the party to print its own leaflets, A4 publications and other printed material. But in the medium term at least the Weekly Worker itself will continue to be produced in the current A3 format using commercial printers.
As we reported in February, following the irretrievable breakdown of the CPGB’s own print machine an aggregate decided to launch an appeal to readers and supporters to raise £500 extra per month in standing orders to pay for commercial printing, and to review after six months the success of this appeal and the options for the format of the paper (see Weekly Worker February 14). This six-month period having ended, editor Peter Manson reported back on the fundraising drive, and comrades discussed the relative merits of different options suggested by comrades at the February aggregate - either continuing to have the paper commercially printed or producing it in house in A4 format using a digital printer (an A3 digital machine cannot be obtained).
Comrade Manson confirmed that well over £500 in additional monthly standing orders had been achieved by the campaign, and there were still some contacts to be approached and offers to be confirmed. It is clear that there is support for the paper. This extra income has covered the cost of printing the paper commercially, using a reliable small company. Estimates produced by comrade Tina Becker of the cost of buying and running a digital printer and using it to produce a 28-page A4 publication with a colour cover came to more or less exactly the same as theWeekly Worker currently pays to have the paper printed in A3 format. As comrade Jim Moody explained during the debate, this applies equally whether such a machine would be leased for, say, four years, or bought outright.
It is possible to make financial, practical/technical and political arguments for and against the two options, as comrade Manson explained. Financially, however, there is no difference between them, and advocates of the A4 option needed to support it with political arguments, he said. For his part, comrade Manson recommended that production of our paper should continue at present.
Comrade James Turley reported that an experimental A4 issue of Communist Student had been very well received, and comrade Ben Lewis argued that a the party needs its own digital press - for example, it could be used to print the next issue of Communist Student ready for the start of the new academic year. Comrade Becker reminded comrades that having such a machine would enable the party to produce good-quality leaflets and other material more cheaply and quickly than it can at present, and comrade Lewis added that the current increase in the pace and volume of campaigning makes this essential. National organiser Mark Fischer said that in one sense the current content and political tempo of the Weekly Worker has more the feel of a magazine than a campaigning newspaper. Nevertheless, he was not recommending a switch to an A4 magazine format.
Comrade Turley argued that political independence is a more important question than the size of the pages of the publication, and that it is good practice for a revolutionary organisation to maintain its own press. Comrade Mike Macnair said that in his experience switching to A4 format is perceived as a step backwards, and is usually accompanied by a decrease in publication frequency. Comrade Becker, in contrast, was not convinced and contended that such a change would be a step forward and could be portrayed as such.
In the modern world the website is the most important route of communication between the party and its audience, in the view of comrade Moody. There is no need for the electronic version of the Weekly Worker to be limited to resembling the print version. It is crucial that the improvements currently being made to the website are continued (a redesign is expected to be launched within the next few months). Comrade Becker replied that several comrades living too far away from London to work at the office have volunteered to work on improvements to the website, such as archiving and making videos. Younger comrades in particular often have the time and ability for this.
Potential technical and practical problems involved in a switch to desktop printing were discussed. Comrade Macnair stated that a switch to A4 would be, or perceived to be, a step towards competing in the weekly magazine market. That would require an improvement in finish and quality that could probably not be achieved by our overstretched production team. Comrade Becker countered that the example of Permanent Revolution demonstrates that a switch to A4 need not require more pictures or be more difficult to lay out once the operators got used to it.
Comrade Macnair also pointed out that, in order to contain the same quantity of material, a smaller format would in fact require proportionally more pages and therefore suspected that it would be more costly. He thought it would need at least 36 A4 pages, not the 28 upon which comrade Becker’s costing was based. There is also the question of space in an already cramped party office to consider.
Despite this problem, comrade Fischer declared himself in favour of obtaining a digital print machine - irrespective of the Weekly Worker’s format. While he thought the paper should continue as an A3 newspaper, a digital printer would give us more flexibility in producing party material in general, and would allow us the capacity to print a magazine-type publication.
Comrade John Bridge re-emphasised comrade Manson’s point that the decision should be based on political rather than financial or technical considerations. He was in favour of continuing with the current commercially printed A3 paper, but accepted that one argument for a change would be if outlets such as WH Smith could be persuaded to sell the Weekly Worker in magazine format. Comrade Moody, however, warned against imagining we could produce a glossy publication capable of competing with the likes of the New Statesman - for him a switch would result in an A4 newspaper. Comrade Turley agreed it would be ridiculous to imagine we would be in competition with the likes of The Economist, but thought it would be a good idea to try to get the Weekly Worker on sale in many more bookshops.
One of the most powerful arguments put forward by the advocates of the party owning its own print machine, even if it is only a desktop digital A4 machine rather than the full scale printing press we used to have, is, of course, that such independence protects us from the threat of being prevented from printing what we want, either by state bans or by threats of libel action, which may persuade commercial print companies not to cooperate. Comrade Turley urged comrades not to let the party become over-reliant on commercial companies.
Comrade Macnair accepted there is some value in this argument as it related to libel threats. But owning a machine would be no help if at some future time the party was forced underground. Other comrades said the security argument is a red herring. If we could no longer publish legally, we would be having a totally different debate.
Comrade John Bridge urged comrades not to think of the issue at stake as one of either the current arrangement or acquiring a digital printer. Party finances are tight as always, but we have seen in the last six months that people value the paper and we can raise extra money when we need to. Comrade Bridge himself continued to argue strenuously for the A3 format, but said whether or not to invest in a print machine should be a completely separate question. Comrades accepted this position, and voted in principle for the party to purchase a digital printer. Depending on the success of the Summer Offensive (see p3), it may be possible to do so sooner rather than later.
As comrade Macnair concluded, this would not only provide facilities for printing leaflets and so on, but also give the opportunity to experiment with different styles of printing different types of party publication. However, it was agreed without opposition that the Weekly Worker should continue in its current format and with the same printing arrangements.
See you at CU
Comrade Fischer gave brief reports to the aggregate of preparations for Communist University 2008 and of the progress so far of the 2008 Summer Offensive fundraising drive.
With less than four weeks to go until the start of Communist University the programme is almost finalised. Publicity for the event is going well, thousands of promotional postcards have been distributed, and publicity material is also being circulated with the Weekly Worker. An important part of the CU will be the issue of Iran, he said, which would enable the party to argue its position within Hands Off the People of Iran most effectively.
Comrade Fischer reported that Kevin Bean, author on Irish republicanism, and socialist anthropologist Lionel Sims are amongst the latest confirmed speakers. Both will be addressing sessions during the first weekend. The AWL has declined an invitation to debate its positions on Iran, and comrades urged that this development should be publicised.
Last year, introductory sessions for students and comrades new to Marxism were held, led by comrade Jack Conrad. These were a great success and will be repeated again this year. The number of comrades who have already confirmed their attendance compares well with this time last year and suggestions were made at the aggregate about social activities in the evenings.
On the Summer Offensive, comrade Fischer reported that a little more than £5,000 had been raised so far towards our £30,000 target. However, a slow first half is normal for our annual fundraising drive and he was sure some initiatives would start bearing fruit very soon. CPGB stalls are being held in several towns and special badges have been produced for sale at a number of events. Turkish comrades are planning a barbeque for the first weekend of the Communist University.
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