James P. Cannon

Before the Party Convention

For a Three-a-Week Appeal
On the Road to a Daily Paper

(27 June 1939)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 45, 27 June 1939, p. 5.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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A program of expansion such as the party needs at the present time should be a rounded program which sets tasks to be fulfilled in all the most important fields of work. It should aim to push the party forward on all fronts. At the same time, if the program of expansion is not to remain on paper, as the product of irresponsible wish-thinking, it should combine the resolute will of the party to take a step forward with a realistic appraisal of the practical possibilities.

Every item of the program should be judged by the convention in this light. We cannot afford to indulge in idle speculation about what we would like to do if we had unlimited resources at our disposal. Rather, our plan, and every separate item of it, must be geared to the resources at our disposal in the shape of human energy and material and technical needs. There is one more proviso, however. In elaborating our plan we must take into account the imperative political necessities of the time which impose upon us, as a condition for advancement, a greater expenditure of energy, more sacrifices in the spirit of bolshevism and a faster pace all along the line.

No Question about Necessity

The proposal for a three-a-week Appeal, like all the other items of the program, must be weighed and examined within the framework established by the foregoing considerations. Many factors enter into the discussion of this somewhat ambitious project. Is it politically necessary and advantageous? Have we the technical facilities to produce it? Can we maintain it financially? And finally, can it be effectively distributed by the members of our small organization?

There can be no question about the political necessity and the enormous advantage of a three-a-week publication over the present two-a-week. Things are happening very rapidly in the world today. Problems multiply and questions arise in dizzying succession. A party which answers soonest and oftenest has an incalculable advantage over its slow-poke rivals. The twice-a-week Appeal, which has so clearly

put us in a commanding position in the radical labor field, is already inadequate for our needs. Here in this issue, for example, we are obliged to print two extra pages to take care of the convention discussion. Apart of that, the editors tell me, their desk drawers are choked with excellent and timely articles and stories for which they have no space; and other vital material, already set up in type, has to be left as hold-over on the printshop stone. The framework of the twice-a-week Appeal is already too narrow for our political and agitational needs.

We Have the Forces

Have we the journalistic facilities to produce a paper three times a week without too much difficulty? For one who knows the rich literary resources of our party, to ask that question is to answer it affirmatively. I don’t think it is boasting but merely stating obvious facts to say that our staff of writers is second to none, in literary and journalistic competence and political quality. One has only to compare our bright and interestingly written Appeal with its dull, gray and spiritless rivals to satisfy himself on this point. And I refer not merely to the professional staff of the Appeal, who are all journalists who know their trade, but also to the occasional contributors, and the small army of voluntary workers and developing apprentices who wait only the call for full-time service.

In addition to that, we have a vast reserve in the shape of worker-correspondents in the field, a reserve which unfortunately has been all too little utilized up till now. Room must be found for the contributions of these worker-correspondents in order to give the paper a more proletarian stamp and make it a truer reflection of the workers’ lives.

From a journalistic and technical point of view we could start the three-a-week tomorrow morning without any serious hitch in the schedule.

The Money WILL Be Found

Can we find the money to produce and maintain a three-a-week Appeal? This question is not to be airily dismissed. Money, like type, does not stretch; and nobody has yet invented a way of producing three papers as cheaply as two. But on this point our experience with the twice-a-week Appeal is the best criterion we have to go by. In one 60-day campaign our comrades contributed close to $3,500 to launch this enterprise. Despite difficulties, accidents and miscalculations, this reserve fund was sufficient to carry us through to the present.

When the convention convenes the twice-a-week Appeal will be five months old. With the exception of a crisis a few weeks ago, caused by delinquencies in the payment of bundle orders, we had no serious financial difficulty. Even in that crisis we did not have to appeal for contributions. All we asked was that special efforts be made to pay up bundle order accounts. And the really inspiring response of the branches to this emergency call was sufficient to alleviate the crisis. It demonstrated the determined will of our party comrades to maintain the twice-a-week Appeal.

In consultation with the comrades responsible for the financial management of the paper, it has been estimated that we can safely undertake the three-a-week publication if we raise a preliminary fund of $5,000. That can be done, not because our comrades have more money than the members of other parties – on the whole they are poorer and have less – but because they have a more serious and determined revolutionary spirit and are willing to pay more for any project which will advance their cause.

Distribution Is the Problem

It is noteworthy that in the comments I have heard and received about the project of the three-a-week Appeal, nobody has seriously questioned the capacity of the party to manage it financially. On the financial question, as well as on the technical side, we can speak right now with complete confidence in the feasability of the enterprise. The convention delegates can be presented with facts and figures on all sides of these two aspects of the question which leave no room for doubt that from a technical and financial standpoint, the proposal of a three-a-week Appeal is no pipe dream but a practical and feasible project.

It will be difficult. It will be a little more of a strain than we were accustomed to in the desultory days of the past. But it can be done.

There remains one more question: Can the three-a-week Appeal be adequately distributed by the party members? Here we cannot speak with the same assurance as on the technical and financial sides. The convention delegates, who will represent all sections of the country, who have already accumulated a considerable experience with the problem of distributing the twice-a-week, will have to say the word, However, some provisional opinions on this point will not be out of order. The same question of distribution arose in connection with the project of the two-a-week Appeal. Many comrades who are not at all inclined to pessimism, had misgivings when the twice-a-week Appeal was first projected, and even when the decision to launch it was finally taken.

The experience of five months of the twice-a-week Appeal has been very illuminating. Despite difficulties, dislocations and maladjustments here and there, the twice-a-week Appeal, on the whole, has been effectively distributed. It is a fact that we print and sell twice as many papers per week as we did five months ago. And no more than half of them, roughly speaking, go to the same people. We increased the circle of our literary propaganda by a good fifty percent at one stroke. And those who subscribe to the paper, or buy each issue regularly, get the message of bolshevism twice a week instead of once.

Humdrum Routine Disappearing

These facts outweigh all other considerations. The publication of the paper twice a week acted as a form of mechanical compulsion upon the branches to devise new and more effective means of distribution. The old humdrum routine had to give way before the deluge of papers coming to the branches twice as fast as before. The system of handing out the weekly bundle order at branch meetings, and perhaps assigning a comrade or two to cover some radical meeting or other, broke down. In order to dispose of the papers the comrades had to get on the street with them. They had to break into new fields. This, in turn, resulted in the establishment of new contacts, and a general invigoration of the life of the party branches. We have seen, in this transformation of the method of distributing our paper, the beginning of a transformation of our methods in general from routine propaganda to mass agitation.

Our party and youth members, by and large, have taken the distribution of the twice-a-week Appeal in their stride. There is good reason to believe they will tackle the still more difficult problem of distributing the three-a-week Appeal and solve it in action.

If the problem of distributing the paper three times a week looms in the minds of some comrades as an insuperable obstacle, it is pertinent to ask: How and when are we going to distribute a daily paper? We are by no means three-a-week fanatics. We see it only as another transition step on the road to the Daily. That is the direction in which we must be pointing all the time. In a country like the United States, above all others, it is somewhat ridiculous to hope to become a serious factor in the political life of a country without a daily paper. It is only when a party ceases merely to contemplate events and to comment on them long afterward, through the columns of a monthly or weekly review, and begins to give answers and to pose actions from day to day, that it breaks out of its propaganda shell and becomes a living political movement.

With the Will to Move Forward

We must aspire towards a Daily, and exert every possible ounce of energy to take another step in this direction by the decision of our anti-war convention. The political and agitational advantages of the three-a-week publication do not need to be labored. They are obvious enough on the face of it. The moral effect of the twice-a-week Appeal on our members, on sympathizers, on the radical labor movement in general, has already been enormous. A further step forward to a three-a-week Appeal will operate similarly, with cumulative force.

A decision by our convention to establish a three-a-week Appeal – which everybody will understand is going to be carried out to the letter, for we do not make idle gestures – will ring throughout the progressive labor movement like a clarion and rally new supporters to our movement. It will be felt and said on every side: These Trotskyites stop at no obstacle; they have the determined will to move forward and to conquer. And that’s the truth of the matter, too.

Last updated on 17 January 2016