Peter Manson assesses the road travelled in reaching issue 750 of the Weekly Worker
This 16-page issue of the Weekly Worker, the last edition of 2008, is our 750th. We began publication back in 1993, intending to systematically build upon the achievements of what had been our fortnightly-cum-three-weekly, The Leninist (which was launched in 1981 as a quarterly journal). We quickly made the transition from a single sheet paper to a four-pager and then to eight pages. Finally, in April 2001, with issue No369, we moved to our 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. In Britain, apart from the CPGB only the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales publish weekly. (As an aside, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) publishes a little A4 paper called Workers’ Weekly, which strangely, given its title, appears to come out less than once every two weeks.)
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 members. Money from sales and subscriptions are secondary in terms of finance and we get precisely nil revenue from advertising.
Just under a year ago, 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, 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. 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, Respect-type popular frontism, Campaign for a New Workers’ Party halfway-housism, social-imperialism, national socialism, 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 Gordon Brown 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 just under the 20,000 mark each week. Sometimes it is a little lower, sometimes much higher - we hit well over 40,000 a couple of years back. Admittedly this is tiny, 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 therefore, view those readers in a very different light to the capitalist media. 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 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 help 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 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.
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 at least a full page of letters - often it is 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 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 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 economic crisis, the imperialist war threat and the inadequacy of the left response; the SWP leadership split, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s social-imperialism, the need for the unity of Marxists as Marxists; theoretical questions of revolutionary strategy, a workers’ Europe, Israel-Palestine, a working class response to rapid global warming, etc. 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.
Undoubtedly we will step up the use of our website - currently in the final stages of a redesign - to a much greater extent. Along with its relaunch, a new web editor will be appointed, facilitating a more responsive online version of our paper, with a better and more efficient archive section. Print and electronic are not really alternatives. They should instead complement each other - although with the print version providing the primary fuel or raw material.