Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Anita Fecht

The Call goes monthly: Why and what now?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 36, December 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The monthly Call. After four and a half years of putting out a weekly newspaper, are we really back to square one?

Many readers are undoubtedly asking themselves similar questions these days, and, as the managing editor, I’d like to offer my perspective.

What is happening in The Call is, first and foremost, a reflection of a struggle to criticize an ultra-left approach to building a revolutionary movement – an approach that has resulted in the CPML, for one, being largely cut off from the broad masses of American people.

Quite naturally, these errors had their manifestations in the Party press. For one thing, an ultra-left line on many particular questions – for example, the theory that the “main blow” in the trade union movement should always be directed at the reformists in leadership – was preached loudly in the pages of The Call. And it was in the newspaper that our dogmatic method of analysis came out most clearly – and painfully.

But beyond this, there was the Party’s view of the role of the newspaper itself – what we said it could accomplish, how it should be used, who we expected to read and write for it.

There isn’t space here to make a really thorough-going analysis of these questions. The theoretical underpinnings of our view especially need further study. But briefly, here are some things we said about the weekly Call and how they looked in practice.

Theoretically, our views on the role of the revolutionary newspaper, including the need for a paper that appears “at least weekly,” were based mainly on a study of Russian revolutionary experience and in particular of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done. At the time of the founding of the CPML in 1977, revolutionary education was said to be the main task of communists in this period; Lenin’s description of a national newspaper as a “scaffolding” for building the Party had been adopted as our own; and, flowing from this, the slogan was raised to “Put The Call at the center of the work.”

At the same time, we recognized the need for our Party to dig deep roots among the masses. “Build the Party in the heat of mass struggle” was an often-repeated byword. Regarding newspaper work, we criticized those who saw Party building as only propaganda work and whose press, consisting as it did of nothing but long theoretical articles, appealed (at best) to the intellectuals.

Our critique of these ultra-leftists, however, proved to be not nearly deep enough. And the short history of our Party shows a continuous effort to find the correct way to combine the task of revolutionary education with the task of building the mass struggle – a way that would neither isolate the communists from the masses nor obliterate their independent role. It wasn’t too long after the Party was founded, for example, that the formulation of “communist education as the chief form of work” was discarded in favor of the “three unities” including the unity between education and mass action.

We did not, however, alter our concept of “centering” work around the Party press. Instead, we began to emphasize the need to “make the paper a mass paper” and to use the weekly Call to “intervene” in the mass struggle. After all, if The Call was the “center of the work” and the work had to be rooted among the masses, then shouldn’t we try to use the paper in a very broad, mass way?

Our efforts to do this very thing led initially to a rather frenzied period of “Reading, Writing for, and Selling the Weekly Call.” When this didn’t work, and the masses in their millions didn’t become subscribers (let alone flock to join our Party), a steady deterioration in circulation set in – from 13,000 weekly in 1976 to about 4,500 today. Meanwhile, the leadership of The Call and the CPML failed to grasp the significance of this decline and called on people to “try harder.”

While many comrades blamed their own “rightism” for low sales and continued to try new methods of mass distribution, others increasingly began to find a more realistic level for their use of the paper and to develop a broader range of educational tools, including shop papers; community papers, writing for the bourgeois media, etc.

For many months, this trend in our practice ran ahead of our theoretical understanding. Only in the recent period have we begun to sum up and to base future plans for The Call on actual experience. Here are some of the aspects of this practice that are being criticized:

The Call was made the main organizing tool of the mass organizations we tried to build. In the factories, for example, Call discussion groups were seen as step number one in building a class struggle union.

In the National Fight Back Organization, many CPML members virtually made unity with the line of The Call a prerequisite for membership by using it as a main way to publicize events and as “study” material in Fight Back meetings. By the time of the Fight Back’s March for Jobs on Washington in 1978, this was already being criticized and corrected. But the roots of the problem, lying as they did in a whole ultra-left line on communist work, remained.

Following the inauguration of the weekly, Party members found themselves spending a lot of time and energy selling the paper, organizing Call circles, reporting on every strike and union meeting.

Conversely, as comrades began to see the error of this approach and began to base their work more on the needs of the mass struggle, less time was devoted to The Call and circulation began to fall.

* An overestimation of The Call’s role in the mass struggle also had its effect on the content of the paper. “Making the paper a mass paper” too often became a mandate to report on every breaking news event, even when all we could do was give a “left slant” to some fact that our readers most likely had already learned from their daily paper or TV. Not only did these kinds of articles not succeed in broadening our readership, they made the paper increasingly less interesting and less useful for most regular readers.

At the same time, a doctrinaire approach to political ideas and sectarianism toward the left and other progressive people led us to define our paper – every word of it – as “the Party’s line.” Therefore, even analytical articles on the major issues of the day subjects our readers were hungry for were too often just a predictable rehash of superficial truths about capitalist society.

In explaining what socialism had to offer, we pretty much limited ourselves to a glorification of China and left ourselves open to the charge of “mouth-piece” for the PRC and other socialist societies. Articles were judged not on how well they used facts to prove a point, but on how “correct” their conclusions were.

It has been our steadily deepening understanding of these problems which has led to changes you have already seen in the paper, most of which received “favorable reviews” in our Readers Survey earlier this year. The introduction of different opinions in the form of by-lined articles and debates; the greater attention paid to facts, including some beginning efforts at investigative journalism and on-the-spot reporting; the attempt to de-emphasize: straight news reports and replace them with in-depth analysis of the issues of the day all these changes reflect an effort to rectify ultra-leftism in the content of The Call.

* And finally, there was the problem of idealism in expanding the paper, in which the necessary relationship between building a regular readership at the base and expanding the paper at the center was largely ignored. If it was “correct” to have a weekly, never mind whether a readership existed that could financially sustain it.

It is this error, which went unrecognized for far too long, that has forced the Party to cut back to a bi-weekly and now to a monthly paper before we have in fact concluded the political summation to decide on the kind of paper we actually need and with what frequency.

But, we are not only learning from our mistakes. From the beginning, important positive experience has also been gained.

Most importantly, we have seen that the Party press can be an important – perhaps the most important tool – for building a class conscious section of the American people, especially among the workers and national minorities. There is no doubt, for example, that The Call played a major role in uniting those Marxist-Leninists who formed the CPML and has been a positive factor in continued unity efforts.

Perhaps even more important, The Call has been an instrument for introducing revolutionary ideas to working class and minority fighters, helping to win a small but significant number to join the fight against the capitalist system and for socialism.

It has even proved useful among broader forces, as long as its role and potential effect are not overestimated. This has been especially true where the work of the communists has been relatively well-rooted in a particular struggle, as for example in the campaign to free Robert “Smitty” Smith, a Black worker at Detroit’s Chevy Forge plant, during the trial for shooting his foreman.

Both the positive and negative aspects of our Call work will not be summed up fully and a new orientation set until the Party’s Second Congress in 1981. At that time, it will also be decided what the frequency of publication should be. Until then, the monthly can be a good basis from which to begin to build once again. Here are some of the ways I think it should be looked at:

Overall role: The paper should be seen not as the center of the work, but as one important tool of doing revolutionary education, which in turn is only one aspect of the work of communists.

Its aim should be to speak to and build its regular readership among the most active, class conscious people who are involved or wanting to get involved in mass struggle on many fronts, especially working class and minority activists. It should be one of a number of different forms – from pamphlets and forums to cultural presentations – for heightening the revolutionary consciousness of these forces in general as well as increasing the numbers, influence and collective knowledge of the revolutionaries in particular.

Content: As a monthly, The Call can and should place more emphasis on analysis – developing a Marxist perspective on the main issues of concern to our movement and to the masses of people in the U:S. and developing a revolutionary program of struggle around these concerns.

Starting from facts and conditions in the U.S., it should inform its readers about Marxist theory and the views of the CPML. But it must also become a forum for exchanging a broader range of political ideas about the multitude of questions that remain to be answered by the left movement.

It should also have information that is useful and interesting to its audience, including news that is hard to find elsewhere.

Format and style: More depth and debate shouldn’t mean more long, dry articles; and aiming at the “activists” shouldn’t mean aiming mainly at the intellectuals. Our guidelines should be to make the paper appealing to look at, easy to read, and familiar to an American audience. There is a special need to give El Clarin a more national form and content.

Our staff will try to plan each issue around a theme or “cover story” along the lines of the material on reindustrialization this month. This is one way in which we hope to broaden and deepen the content without turning The Call into a theoretical journal.

Getting back then to our opening question; the monthly, in my opinion, does not have to signal the beginning of the end. Nor are we back to square one. We’re learning some important lessons and they can put our movement in a good position to improve this aspect of its work.

But even the monthly can’t be built without everyone’s help – your articles, your fundraising, and your efforts to introduce the paper to new people. Most of all we need everyone’s ideas about the questions raised here, and we’d like to know that all our readers and others on the left are involved in the discussion in some way. Let us hear from you.