People’s World: The voice of the party, a voice for the movements

BY:C.J. Atkins| May 21, 2024
People’s World: The voice of the party, a voice for the movements

This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors


The views expressed below are those of the author, writing as an individual party member. They are not necessarily those of the full People’s World Editorial Board.


The discussion document “Build the Clubs, Build the Party” challenged the CPUSA to get back to building the party around the press. That approach isn’t something pulled out of thin air or a scheme to justify asking members for fund drive contributions.

It’s rooted in a conceptualization of the Marxist press that started with Lenin and the “party of a new type.” Just as the working class needs its own political organization, Lenin argued that it needs its own newspaper, too. Furthermore, the growth of that newspaper was the necessary ingredient for building a workers’ party—a Communist Party.

“A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and collective agitator,” Lenin wrote, “it is also a collective organizer.” He likened the party press to the scaffolding erected around a building under construction. It connects the builders, allowing them to distribute work and survey the results of their collective efforts.

“With the aid of a newspaper…a permanent organization”—a revolutionary political party—“will take shape that will engage not only in local activities, but in general work…[it] will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance…and develop means for the party to influence these events.”

In this sense, the publication is a web linking local struggles and party clubs together in coordinated political work. It has a national perspective with a grassroots reach. It is also a place where education happens, where Marxist analysis of events can be developed and strengthened.

It is the medium through which the party broadcasts our thinking to allies and partners on a daily basis. It is our means of presenting socialism as the solution for the crises of capitalism to a mass audience and of highlighting the central role workers play in making systemic change happen.

As Marxist-Leninists, we know that without a conscious Communist sector, the working class won’t arrive at a deeper understanding of events spontaneously. It won’t just wake up and realize its historic task one morning. The working class needs a Communist Party to help it understand the challenges it faces, and the Communist Party needs a tool to transmit its ideas—a tool that reaches further than an internal organ or newsletter can.

That tool is the outwardly-facing People’s World.

Voice of the party, voice for the movements 

It’s not a one-way street, though. Our newspaper is not simply a megaphone for the Communist Party; it is also a publication for the broad movements we are a part of — like organized labor, the movement to save democracy from fascism, the movements for a ceasefire in Gaza and peace generally, the African American people’s movements, women, immigrant rights, LGBTQ equality, disabled rights, and more. These movements must always be able to see and hear themselves in our pages.

Being simultaneously the voice of the party and a voice for the movements might seem contradictory at first glance, but it’s not necessarily so. At a 1986 meeting of People’s World staff, CPUSA leader Gus Hall said:

“The PW fights for united front policies, but it is not a united front paper. The PW fights for reforms, but it is not a reformist paper. The PW fights for left unity, but it is not a united left paper. The PW fights for coalitions and alliances, but it is not a paper of coalitions and alliances. The PW fights for militant trade unionism, but it is not a trade union paper.”

People’s World is the link between the party and the movements. It brings our views to the movements while integrating the movements’ thinking and experience into the development of the party’s strategy and tactics.

The connection to the party—which everyone recognizes—is the source of People’s World’s strength. It is the “Communist Plus” that gives it a reputation as a fighter for the things Hall talked about—the united front, left unity, reforms, coalitions and alliances, working class unity—while still maintaining its own Communist identity and its perspective on the necessity of revolutionary change.

As a fighter for all those things, People’s World regularly centers the voices of workers, mass movement leaders, and progressive elected officials—including non-Communists—that build consciousness and contribute to getting people organized.

Our newspaper must be a platform for those ignored or censored by the corporate media. As part of the pro-democracy, anti-corporate, independent media alliance, it is one of a handful of progressive outlets fighting back against media monopoly and the right-wing propaganda ecosystem. To be a builder of class and socialist consciousness, Lenin said the newspaper requires as many people “as possible to contribute their ideas and experiences.”

Staying united

The press, he thought, also had to be open even to opinions that some party members may think inconsistent, as long as they’re offered in a constructive way that’s not detrimental to unity in action. This was necessary, Lenin believed, “even if it involves certain departures from tidy patterns of centralism and from absolute obedience to discipline.”

This aspect of our press has presented some trouble in recent years, and worries around the topic have even popped up in pre-convention discussion. A few comrades I’ve heard from say our press should be placed under the control of some unnamed ideological guardians (despite the fact that most of People’s World’s editors are members of the CPUSA’s National Committee or National Board). Others want to transform it into a strictly Communist Party newspaper that sticks to reports on club activities and official statements.

Such views, and far more stringent ones, can also regularly be found on Twitter (X), Discord, and other online places outside our channels for collective discussion. There are even some members who’ve spread the idea that People’s World is simply a “liberal” publication floating free of the CPUSA.

I don’t want to set up a straw man, but the argument some critics make, as I see it, is that People’s World includes too many voices that stray from the “party line” or that it’s too focused on elections and other (non-Communist) movements. “If it’s not the official view of the National Committee of the CPUSA,” someone once tried to convince me, “it shouldn’t be in our paper.”

Most of the critiques that have surfaced in the past few years have related to particular opinion articles, usually those commenting on either electoral strategy in the U.S. vis-à-vis the Democratic Party or international affairs, like the war in Ukraine.

Perhaps an acknowledgment is in order, first of all. Every one in every job makes mistakes; journalists are just unlucky that we put ours in print for everyone to see. Are there a few articles that have appeared on in the past which were less than helpful? I can probably think of a few.

But with nearly 2,000 unique articles published in an average year, People’s World’s record is pretty good. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted and divided over an article here or there which diverges from majority opinion. By all means, give critical feedback when it is due, but keep it comradely. Promoting a vibrant, critical thinking culture is a major responsibility of our press.

Improving our publication

Now, back to the pre-convention discussion—a number of articles have offered comments and suggestions on how the publication can better fulfill its role. Several of these submissions contain useful and productive ideas that merit broader discussion.

As the newspaper’s managing editor, I too recognize some of PW’s weaknesses and areas that cry out for improvement. I see them on a daily basis.

We have too few writers contributing quality material that’s beneficial for our party and the movements. We have too few editors to process the amount of material that does come in. Our social media game needs to be faster, nimbler, and more interactive. Video and on-the-spot reporting remains a shortcoming.

PW-sponsored national town halls and webinars have been successful and politically useful, but we don’t hold them frequently. Our “Beyond the Page” podcast, made dormant by the pandemic and staff layoffs, hasn’t been revived. The main website itself, now 8-years-old, is becoming more outdated and regularly presents fresh technical problems.

Many topics need better coverage: labor, African-American affairs, LGBTQ news, and others. The culture section needs to expand beyond its usual theater, book, and film reviews. Our reporting on the activities and campaigns of the Communist Party is too sparse. We don’t seek quotes from the party in articles with the frequency that we should. Not enough party leaders at all levels are writing for PW.

Distribution remains a problem, and this gets back to the challenge of “building the party around the press.” The readership is largely spontaneous. Two to three million reads are tallied in an average year lately, with that number ballooning to over four million in election years, but most are from an online audience not otherwise connected to the party.

It’s good that progressive and labor movement folks are reading us, but what about our own people? Too few comrades read or share our articles. What about the people who know us as Communists in our communities? Are they even aware that our organization has a newspaper? Do we tell them about it? Do we write (or ask them to write) articles about their activities?

The truth is that only a handful of party clubs around the country make People’s World a central aspect of their organizing work—well-established districts like Connecticut come to mind, as do newer clubs like the one in Peoria, Ill. Each of these places are charting unique approaches to using PW—one focuses on door-to-door neighborhood print distribution while the other has zeroed in on particular workplaces with digital coverage of their labor struggles.

As the “Build the Clubs” document said, part of the problem with centering our party-building efforts around the press is the longstanding challenge of how to distribute our publication when it is no longer a weekly print tabloid.

We in the editorial board are exploring ways to address that challenge, including a re-vamp of our weekly print-ready digest edition that’s currently mailed to incarcerated readers, transforming it into a tool for all clubs and districts to use in their organizing. Furthermore, we are working to develop instant “flyer” versions of individual articles for members to take with them to picket lines and demonstrations.

Another old practice that should be revived is the use of PW articles as the foundation for club discussions and educationals. More articles by party officers and commission leaders on particular political questions and debates would be helpful in this regard.

In other areas, there have been significant gains worth noting which should be expanded. This includes the development of local writers’ groups in Ohio, Michigan, and other places. New Writer Classes, led by Editor-in-Chief John Wojcik, have been bringing in dozens of young comrades from across the country; these must be systematized and brought to larger audiences.

Now, we come to money matters. Want more reporters? Want editors for specific departments like labor and international affairs? Want sleak and quick videos? Well, funds will be needed to do all of that. The work of the current staff can perhaps be reorganized a bit, but that only gets us so far. We have far more tasks than we have personnel capacity to carry them out.

The annual $200,000 fund drive only covers a portion of People’s World’s costs, barely erasing our yearly deficit, if we’re lucky. And for 2024, the drive is way behind. With a target of $125,000 by May Day, the thermometer sits stuck at $95,000 as of this writing—$30,000 behind more than two weeks after the deadline.

Clearly, there is a lot more People’s World could and should be doing, and there are plenty of challenges to tackle in order to do that work. We have to get serious when it comes to thinking about what it means to build the party around the press. It can’t just be a talking point that we let fade after our June convention.

People’s World should always fight for the strategic, tactical, ideological, and political line of the Communist Party in its coverage. And everyone in the Communist Party should always fight for the political and financial health of People’s World. It is our newspaper, and it needs the unified support of the membership if it is to survive and thrive.


    C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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