L.J.Atkins & 9 others

What sort of paper?

(February 1958)

From Socialist Review, 8th Year No. 4, Mid-February 1958, p. 8.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IF THE TORIES are “hammering home the need for class politics,” then we need a Socialist Review that will be tolerably readable and attractive to working people who are active in the Labour movement, but who are not yet dedicated Socialists. Beyond certain limits, it is not possible to build up the circulation of a paper which seems to be written for professional revolutionaries. Is the Editorial Board really so incredibly out of touch with the reading habits and attitudes of its potential readership, as it seems after reading the paper? Compared with other left-wing papers Socialist Review reads like a junior version of The Financial Times. Even for “egg heads” like us it’s an effort to get through it. Is the Editorial Board really so complacent? If the fortnightly is to survive, a wider readership, a broader foundation is essential.

What is wanted – and quickly – is a heavyweight Marxist version of Tribune. This can be achieved without increasing our production costs (though the present large format is somewhat outmoded and unattractive). Contributors can be attracted when they see what the editors are really trying to make of the paper. If Socialist Review is to become a political force, the following changes in editorial policy are essential.

  1. A more attractive and up to date layout, especially to break up the longer features, even though this means an apparently less economical use of space. This means taking newspaper design seriously; the old rule-of-thumb methods just won’t do today.
  2. More popular, topical items, such as are found in other Left-wing papers, are needed. The odd concession to this principle pleases no one. This does not mean a Marxist Daily Mirror. Briefly, it means being a bit more human, getting closer to the readers, getting beyond the present cramping, rigid ideas about class struggle and class attitudes, however correct these may be. Socialists do not stop being Socialists when they talk about books or holidays or sport or read short stories. We want a paper that shows by its interests that Socialism is a real brotherhood and way of life, not a paper confined to a narrow political compartment for round-the-clock activists. Whatever abuses involved, British CP journalism is way ahead in this respect.

    As for the direct political stuff, a witty columnist, with an anecdote about the antics at the last GMC or Union Branch meeting, laced with racy workshop humour, can often get over a worthwhile political idea more successfully than a frightening ‘theoretically correct’ analysis, lumbering across four tedious columns of close black print, and written in a style fit for a book or learned journal not a fortnightly Socialist paper.
  3. Keep the long, heavyweight stuff down to one or two items: then they will get the attention they deserve. In such articles try to explain abstractions in simple, concrete terms taken from workers’ everyday experiences. Then the article will live and will be remembered. If you write about Workers’ Control of Industry, and you have to say “Participation in the control of management would restore dignity to labour,” at least remind the readers what you mean by ‘dignity of labour’ by specific reference to any of countless daily incidents in factory and mine in which the ‘dignity of labour’ is flouted almost as a matter of course.

These, we believe, are the main problems facing the fortnightly, and the key to its future. An open discussion in the columns of the paper, followed by definite decisions about what the paper should look like and read like, is urgently necessary.


L.J.Atkins, Ken Jones, C. Barber, Moira Jones, L.Barber,
J.Moore, B.R.Clark, E.Morris, V.J.Clark, B.Metson



Are we so out of touch as the comrades seem to think? We are proud to state that since September last year, that is, in the space of only 6 months, 25 new contributors have written for SR; we are also proud to state that circulation has not dropped at all despite our increasing the frequency of publication by more than double. These facts certainly disprove the allegation of being out of touch.

There is, of course, an explanation for the growing interest in SR. Whatever its technical shortcomings – and there are many, we know – it provides a political service and has a political appeal that militant socialists cannot fail to appreciate. What other paper in Britain presents such a clear, consistent socialist program? (What other paper, indeed, dares tie itself down by printing what it stands for?). What other paper raises so insistently problems of socialist thought and socialist practice?

Our readers are attracted to what we say, to our content. If they find that of sufficient importance, they will forgive a certain amount of looseness in form.

Not that we like our technical incompetence. We are very conscious of it and are doing our best to overcome it. But deal with us patiently. Our resources are limited, very limited. Readers can help by writing, criticizing and building the paper.

One final point. We are happy to print the letter from our comrades in Harlow. We hope it will stimulate discussion amongst, and correspondence from, comrades elsewhere. The paper is yours, Comrades. It is yours to fashion as you see fit. – Editor

Last updated on 16 February 2017