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The Voice of the Communist Movement

Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

The following article by Cannon was published in the Daily Worker on June 26, 1928. Cannon had submitted it three weeks prior to its publication, and on June 27 he wrote a letter to the Political Committee protesting the paper’s delay in publishing it.

At a recent meeting of the Political Committee of our party the report of the management of the Daily Worker was the first point on the agenda. It was not a new subject for us. The material difficulties of our paper have become an old story.

We have to admit that the leading committee of the party, overburdened with duties and responsibilities, has often taken the existence of our paper too much for granted and has not always given it the direct supervision and support, technically and politically, which its place as the voice of the party demands. This negligence has been reflected in the party circles also and we all share the blame.

At the meeting of the Political Committee to which I have referred, however, a changing attitude was shown and a new note of interest and concern for all the affairs of the paper was struck. I was especially sensitive to this new current because I had come back from my tour of the country with a higher regard for our daily organ and a greater appreciation of its worth to the movement than I had ever felt before.[1]

The Daily in Danger

The report of the management gave the whole committee new realization that greater attention and support from the entire party is a life and death question for the paper. Those who were present there know that the alarming notice of danger which has again been issued to the readers of the paper is no “wolf” cry, but a statement of actual facts.

The discussion on the report naturally covered a wide field and dealt with the various aspects of the Daily, since they are all bound together and are all part of one general problem. The discussion culminated in a motion to consider the political, technical and financial strengthening of the Daily Worker as one of the party’s foremost immediate tasks.

This was a necessary and a highly significant decision. It is true we have passed similar motions before which remained only on paper, but the recognition of the overshadowing importance of our central organ is growing and there is reason to believe this motion will bring positive results.

It is time now, in the light of the motion and the exigencies of the moment, to review the whole question of our leading organ openly before the party in order that the party membership will participate in the work of giving life and substance to the motion.

Long before we started to publish the Daily we were many times admonished by the Executive Committee of the Communist International, and by Lenin personally, that we must take up this heavy task at all costs. Lenin often said that the publication of a national, daily political organ was one of the first prerequisites for the consolidation of a real political party. His maxim that such a paper should be “the collective propagandist, agitator and organizer of the movement” is familiar to most Communists.

Our paper, despite weaknesses and shortcomings, is fulfilling this role to a much greater degree than many of us realize. Its great authority and influence is especially to be noted by one who travels the country and sees the movement as a whole. The Daily shapes the ideological unity of the party and gives a lead to the entire left wing movement on all decisive questions, even in the farthest outposts of the class struggle and the remotest sections of our vast country.

It is needless to say that the Daily is highly valued by the party members and is the staff of life to the militants in every field of the labor struggle. The comrades in the field are of the opinion that the paper is improving in many respects. This does not mean that they are blind to its faults. They criticize it with a freedom and often with a sharpness which one only employs toward an institution he feels to be his own.

The party members know that the staff of the Daily performs miracles with the resources at hand and with the inadequate support they receive. When we criticize the paper it should be understood that we are criticizing the party. The faults of our daily are the faults of the movement and they can be overcome only insofar as they are freely discussed and the improvement of the paper becomes the collective responsibility of its supporters. The readers of a Communist newspaper must help edit it as well as finance and circulate it.

Needs of Daily

In line with the resolution of the Political Committee for the political and technical strengthening of the paper, I wish to set forth a few ideas of what our daily organ needs and will gain with the help of the workers who maintain it.

A stronger staff, from a Communist political standpoint, is one of the first prerequisites to the execution of the decision of the Political Committee. The staff as a whole must be nearer to the party and, for the most part at least, have a stronger background of party experience and political understanding. It is true that newspaper work is a trade for which certain technical qualifications are more or less necessary. It is also true, however, that Communist journalism can be successfully practiced only by those who have a certain minimum of acquaintance with the principles of Communism and the history of the labor movement. Workers can be trained for these tasks. It is easier, as a rule, to make a journalist out of a Communist than to make a Communist out of a journalist.

Worker Correspondence

Worker correspondence—letters from workers in the shops and in the fire of struggle—are the cornerstone of proletarian journalism. We have made but little headway in encouraging and training workers to write for our paper despite the efforts which have been made. More hammering along this line, more deliberate and systematic stimulation and organization of worker correspondence is a necessity.

Our paper should have more articles of a political and general nature and should not be confined to the groove of any established “newspaper” standard. We should not fear to blaze a new trail in form as well as in substance and to make a pattern of our own. We must have more features in the paper, especially light and interesting features, as a balance to the heavier material. The tabloids which have broken away from the old newspaper models consist mainly of light features. Without copying their substance we can learn from their technique. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on this point if we really want to extend our circulation and reach new strata of workers.

The staff of the Daily is short-handed and overworked, and underpaid to a scandalous degree. The lack of material resources prevents proper and necessary division of labor.

It has already been acknowledged by the leading party committee that the Daily has been greatly handicapped by the limited number of qualified party representatives assigned to work on the paper. Important matters are too frequently entrusted to politically inexperienced reporters, or still worse, we depend on reports of the Federated Press, with their inevitable liberalistic bias. Our Daily badly needs, in addition to the present staff, a Washington correspondent and one or two political feature reporters who can be sent out to report important events, from a convention of a political party to a strike or a labor convention, with the assurance that he will draw the correct political inferences as well as tell the story in a readable and interesting way.

The style of our paper must be such as to make every incident in the class struggle an inspiration to the workers for further endeavors. The more accurate it is in handling facts, the more the readers depend on the truth of its accounts, the better will it succeed with this aim. Issues and events of the class struggle must be played up, not played down, but irresponsible exaggeration, which defeats itself, is a fault to be avoided. A reputation for reliability is one of the greatest assets of any publication. The more the workers learn to depend on the truth of our reports the greater will our real influence grow.

A Communist paper cannot take any other journalistic form for its model, least of all in determining the make-up of its staff. Journalists employed on capitalist and reformist papers are merely journalists. They are disconnected from life and struggle, and become mere functionaries of a machine without any connection with its motive forces. That is why they almost always become good-for-nothing cynics, mere craftsmen whose trade is barren words.

Bureaucracy and routine are to a certain extent inherent in the trade of journalism, but they are alien to a Communist newspaper. The staff must be directly and organically connected with general party activities and mass struggles of the workers, and the contents, style and tone of the paper must be a true reflection of this party and labor life.

Our Daily which, in spite of enormous difficulties and many shortcomings, has nobly fulfilled its role of guide and voice of the movement for more than four years, is again in the direst straits.

We know that the appeal of the Management Committee was prompted by imminent danger to the life of the paper and we must stake everything on the hope and confidence that the loyalty and self-sacrifice of the workers who love the Daily Worker will pull it through the present crisis.

For the future we must aim to put a stronger and broader foundation under the paper. The resolution of the Political Committee showed the way for this and, it is to be hoped, will lead to a closer unity of the Daily Worker and its editorial and business staff with the entire party and the left movement of the workers of which it is the voice.

If the greater prominence which the affairs of the Daily are to have on the agenda of the CEC, as indicated in the resolution, is reflected in the party ranks, there can be no doubt that the new resources and energies drawn into the work for the paper will firmly establish and safeguard its future.



[1] Cannon was on national tour in March and April, speaking on “The American Frame-Up System.” It was his first national tour since 1924.
The Daily Worker was in almost continual financial crisis in the late 1920s. On 2 June 1928 its front-page headline read: “Grave Crisis May Close Daily Worker Soon.” The lead article reported that an ultimatum from the printer required the paper to raise $10,000 in two weeks, or close. The first Political Committee meeting to discuss the crisis was held on 14 May 1928. The DW Management Committee proposed a number of measures, including cutting the editorial payroll from $500 to $400. Cannon opposed this measure, but he lost the vote.