A Fresh Look at the Role of the Communist Press

September 22, 2001

Based on a Jan. 2001 opening to the CPUSA National Board

Communist press has a long and proud history. Its philosophy, to paraphrase
Marx, is "journalists write about the world, the point is to change
it." Communist journalists, like John Reed, revolutionized journalism
itself. By reporting, not on the sidelines as some "objective"
reporter, a corporate media-illusion, but by taking the side of the workers
and oppressed.

The media
and the class struggle have changed dramatically since the days of Reed
and so the purpose of this article is to take a look at whether or not
we are measuring up to today’s challenges. The following is intended to
get ideas flowing on building the communist press in the present-day working
class and people’s battles.

The People’s
Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo
is the present form of the Communist
Party’s newspaper. Predecessors include the Daily World, People’s
, La Voz del Pueblo, People’s Daily World and the
famous The Worker, The Daily Worker and Sunday Worker.
There have been local editions of these newspapers as well, including
DuSable edition or individual state pages.

The PWW/Mundo
is an important vehicle in the present struggle against the ultra-right
and monopoly corporations. It’s a tool for the working class movement
in the fight to defend and expand democracy, especially free speech, in
this period of mega-media mergers and corporate, ultra-right domination
of the press.

Parties around the world have a great tradition of groundbreaking journalism
that educates, informs, exposes and organizes. Vladimir Lenin argued for
an all-Russia Communist newspaper instead of a number of local and irregularly-produced
newsletters. Lenin wrote,

class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the
workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence
and abuse, no matter what class is affected – unless they are trained,
moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic [communist] point of view
and no other. The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine
class-consciousness, unless the workers learn, from concrete and above
all from topical, political fact and events to observe every other social
class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical and political
life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis
and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of
all classes, strata and groups of the population."

journalists have to find the class struggle lessons in all parts of life.
Not in a forced or mechanical way, but from life’s developments itself.
Our main premise as Marxists is the class struggle is the motor force
of history, so we should be able to find it in news and all of life’s

The PWW/Nuestro
Mundo Today

The Communist
press has a lot of resources and accomplishments. It has an established
labor reporting record. In many ways the PWW
stands on the shoulders of a giant – The Daily Worker – a name
and tradition we should strive to live up to.

The paper
has a good record on important campaigns and issues – like the fight against
racism and for equality, public education, peace and solidarity issues,
regular health care and economic columns, reporting people’s history,
women’s equality, the environment, student and senior issues. We have
made some progress reporting on gay and lesbian issues too.

is a great part of the paper. The PWW/Mundo
may be one of the few bilingual progressive national weekly newspapers.
And that’s an important accomplishment.

and Mundo are grassroots, organizing
tools with a national, grassroots distribution, fundraising, organizing
and stringer network. The national aspect of paper is appreciated around
country – especially in smaller, less urban areas.

The PWW/Mundo
does a good job covering "coalition partners’" view point. This
is an important aspect to our work since the corporate-dominated media
does not do this in a consistent way. It often times distorts or ignores
the labor and people’s leaders, for their own ruling class aims. So it
is important for the working class movement for progress to have a newspaper
that is friendly to their goals and consistently on their side. We go
to demonstrations, call organizations on the phone, check their websites,
attend their press conferences all in an effort to get out the broad working
class movement’s point of view.

This wasn’t
highlighted any better than when Tim Wheeler, PWW
editor, went to Florida and reported on events there. Tim got the voters’
point of view at a time when every other mass media source ignored it.

Let me just
mention some areas where we have to improve. All areas – political, ideological
and organizational – of the PWW/Mundo
would be served well by a fresh, updated look.


Art Shields,
a great reporter for the communist and labor press, wrote and exposed
the conditions workers and oppressed people are forced to live under.
He went to the heart of struggles, always exposing the company or the
government or the systemic nature of exploitation and oppression, from
the experiences themselves. But we can’t do all of that in one story.
Too often PWW stories try to
cover all the political and ideological bases.

has to be a political and ideological tool not only for Party members,
but for the movement at large. Our stories have to be the kind where they
are clipped and hung up, used in a public agitational way, by grassroots,
community and labor activists and leaders or everyday readers. That means
we have to do coverage of events and issues that are on people’s minds,
including culture, sports, science and human interest stories.

That is hard
political work. Staying on top of major news stories, covering national
and international developments, keeping abreast of the major campaigns
and issues affecting labor, women, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans,
American Indians, and other coalition partners. Doing research and footwork,
getting to your story, conducting interviews, and thinking of the important
questions. Being bold. The PWW
has to have the attitude of competing with the corporate press. They may
use their deep pockets but the communist press has to use working class-know
how to get a story and build left-center unity with all kinds of media
organizations and people.

There are
many parts of putting together and improving a newspaper, from writing
to editing to layout to photos to distribution. But the most important
by far is political attitude and writing. The PWW
has to bring to light the main political emphasis and balance, developed
collectively by the Communist Party.

There are
aspects to strengthen in the writing. We need to improve our current writing
as well as gather new writers – Communists and non-Communists. A well-known
reader of the paper once said the PWW
writes like everyone agrees with it. That’s not what people want from
our newspaper.

We have to
improve the militant tone in our articles, not through sloganeering, but
through exposing better the viewpoint of the corporations and the ultra
right. Articles can be too repetitive, too strident and not looking into
a wider experience to find stories. Reporting has to be realistic, not

We have to
be willing to go to the belly of the beast, so to speak, going to the
boss during a strike, to government officials and demand answers to our
questions. That’s one way we can break exclusive stories.

For example,
the PWW‘s "sister"
TV show, "Changing America" (the PWW
is to "Changing America" as The Washington Post is to
MSNBC) went to the stockholder’s news conference during the Newport News
strike and got the CEO to admit on tape that the Navy was indeed strike-breaking.
That, according to the USWA, was a turning point in their negotiations
and helped to win the strike.

We have to
provide this kind of information to the movement. It heightens our militancy.
It exposes the ruthlessness of the ruling class. This will make us better
writers and a better newspaper. Lenin also wrote about that:

we ask of a newspaper is not so much ‘petty’ exposures, as exposures of
the major typical evils of factory life, exposures based on especially
striking facts and capable, therefore of arousing the interest of all
workers and all leaders of the movement, of really enriching their knowledge,
broadening their outlook and serving as a starting-point for awakening
new districts and workers…"

The quality
of writing and the increase in circulation are linked. If we provide the
information needed in the broad working class and democratic movements
the paper will want to be read and circulated.

The daily

a daily online is critical for our newspaper. If we want to make a break-through
in circulation, the daily online can play an important role. It’s not
the only thing, by any means, which can increase circulation, but it can
and will play an important role. Accepting credit card payments online
by itself will be a breakthrough in fundraising and subscriptions.

A daily online
also forces us to view ourselves in a different way. The new technology
forces us to reach out more and develop coalition partners in a new way.
Like all developments in the means of production, the Internet and technology
don’t just affect the Party, they affect all of society. And I think it’s
important to look at the direction corporate media is taking.

In American
Journalism Review
‘s article, "Get Big or Get Out," the writer
tackled the issues of Internet journalism and media alliances. She started
out by describing a daily schedule of The Washington Post and MSNBC.com
where these two competitive bastions of corporate journalism are forced
to cooperate on story distribution.

The author
uncovers that media organizations are being forced into these alliances
because of the Internet revolution. Their budget constraints mean they
can’t hire the staff people to keep their competitive edge. She says,
"News organizations are forced to form media alliances just to keep

we’ve just seen the beginning of media alliances," says one site
manager in the article. "The idea seems to make sense for companies
to partner in new ways they never thought they would because of the Internet.
The Internet has changed the equation. It’s changed our view of the universe."

Well – that’s
a surprise to hear dog-eat-dog capitalists talking about partnering! If
they are doing it for their own class aims, why can’t the left and alternative
media? In fact there are some attempts in the independent media to do
just that. The development of the Independent Media Centers around globalization
actions and other progressive, media-savvy organizations are taking steps
to form media alliances.

The development
of our own daily online can help tremendously in this movement. We don’t
have to wait for the daily online to relate and contribute to these developments.
But a daily online could take it to a new level. With the outlook of building
a broad working-class-led center-left coalition we can help build alliances
and bridges to the labor press, the Black press, Spanish-language press,
student and community press, etc.

Online work
makes it possible for the PWW‘s
articles to be reprinted far and wide, not just by the independent media.
Indeed, even corporate-owned newspapers, especially in smaller markets
who rely on AP solely, may take advantage of the PWW‘s
articles, especially if it’s in a context of a progressive rival to AP.

With a renewed
approach like that it helps us strive for a broader approach on coverage
and in general helps sharpen our political thinking.

Our online
daily has to host links to as many progressive or community/labor-based
press sites as possible. We have to have links to the organizations we
feature in our stories and the online has to give people the opportunity
to take action as well.

between the Communist Party and its press

There has
to be a special relationship between the Party as an institution and the
PWW. This seems common sense,
yet during different times in the communist movement’s history there have
been wide gaps in our respective work.

There has
always been a tendency in the communist movement to separate the paper
from Party. Lenin even wrote on this. He argued in establishing Iskra
that "to contrast paper work" of a political newspaper to "live
political work in the localities is plainly ridiculous."

Yet building
the communist press is essential to building the Communist Party. "The
mere function of distributing a newspaper would help establish actual
contacts. Organizational work would immediately acquire much greater scope,"
Lenin argued.

One gap is
the description of the paper. There were debates, years ago, whether or
not the PWW was the Communist
Party’s newspaper or the newspaper for the broader movement. The editorial
board concluded the paper is both. There may be some contradictions, but
they aren’t irreconcilable. The Party’s interests are the interests of
the working class and socialist movement and therefore that’s whose interests
we serve in our editorial line. We can do both – maintain the broad, working
class line of the Party, and be consistent with our coalition partners.

Yet this
gap exists in the Party and we have to figure out how to close it. The
gap may exist more in our collective minds than in the movement’s minds.
To people outside of the Party, the PWW
is seen as the voice of the Party. Yet in the Party and at the paper,
that may not be seen as clearly.

In writing
weekly editorials there is a lot of responsibility when you view it as
the Party’s line. The editorial board has to take responsibility in knowing
the collective discussions unfolding in the Party on the topic or consulting
the various collectives that may deal with the issue at hand. Newspapers
play an important role in American life. And our newspaper has to reflect
that as well. The PWW should
be and is similar as every other newspaper but with our own editorial
line and emphasis.

In the long
run the newspaper serves its class interests. Yet as American newspaper
tradition has it even corporate newspapers may print a letter to the editor
or even an op-ed which may not be their editorial line. And so too for
the PWW. We don’t just print
stories which are statements of Party policy. Many PWW
authors are not communists. And it’s important to have that balance. There
is a lot of room for discussion, especially letters to the editor, pieces
which may fall in a grey area. That is how discussions and conversations
are built.

The editorial
board has to have content standards. Our editorial standards have to reject
slander whether directed against the Party or the broader working class
movement, nothing derogatory towards working class people, or allies.
Nothing racist, anti-immigrant or anti-Semitic. Nothing derogatory towards
women, gay and lesbian people, youth, seniors, the disabled. Nothing which
would glorify ruling class ideas.

But if you
read a column or letter that may be a bit provocative, then write and
respond to it. That’s the kind of newspaper we have to have. One that
invites conversations, discussion and even debate. This is important for
our newspaper. The letters and the op-ed pages should be seen as more
flexible avenues to take up "sticky questions" which are being
discussed in the broad left and working class movement. There are many
opinions on sticky questions and not always one single answer.

How the Party
as an organization is covered in PWW
is an issue we should explore. Generally, Party coverage comes in a few
ways: either articles by party leaders, articles of Party events or Party
statements. We may have to experiment with other forms. As with all experiments,
we are bound to make mistakes or provoke healthy discussion on the topic.
But if we want to make the Party more natural, more transparent in the
working class movement for democracy, then we have to improve the quality
and thoughtfulness of the coverage.

is a vehicle to "get in the mix," on the content side as well
as the distribution side. But we can have all the best content in the
world, but if it doesn’t get read or distributed who cares? What kind
of impact will we really make?

The link
between Marxism, the Party and its press to disseminate widely and expand
people’s understanding of their own situation as a class is key to any
kind of party building. We have to dramatically increase the circulation
of our press. Outside of some key initiatives, we haven’t had a circulation
drive in years.

One important
initiative which we should build on was before the elections and afterwards
the PWW was sent to the largest
2,200 trade union locals in the country. This is significant in a number
of ways. One it’s a targeted campaign to build the PWW
circulation to the section of the movement that we want to have a base
in. Secondly it was done in a way that’s done all the time for magazines
and newspapers. You get some sample copies and then you are asked to subscribe.
We should consider building on this method to include elected officials,
civil rights organizations, women’s groups and all organizations involved
in the broad democratic movement. How many people do you know and work
with that should read the PWW
but haven’t been asked to subscribe?

In Minnesota
they have one of the biggest distributions in the country. They drop it
at laundromats, bookstores, campuses and coffee shops around the area,
so the comrades distribute about 1,600 weekly. That was a method they
developed and fits their situation. They have developed a wide-readership
in this method. Maybe it won’t fit other areas but this is one example.

The circualation
drive can be tied to a political initiative, expanding free speech, for
example. Getting the PWW to
places it has never been before is a way to expand free speech. In many
smaller, less urban areas this is a big issue. In upstate New York, one
student started distributing the paper on his campus. The campus officials
clamped down on him and he turned it into a free speech campaign, garnering
media attention and wide support for freedom of expression. The campus
backed off its censorship and now the PWW
is allowed there.

In today’s
struggles marked by corporate mergers and their domination of news and
information, which is increasingly aiding and abetting the ultraright
and the Bush administration’s agenda, The
People’s Weekly World
is a voice for the movements of the working
class, the racially and nationally oppressed, women and other forces for
social change. The communist press can play an important role in the struggles
to defend and expand working class free speech rights while continuing
the legacy of revolutionary journalism. And to paraphrase Lenin – all
of which we urgently have to get done.


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