Communist Party of Great Britain

Literature as a Political Weapon

A Guide for Branch Committees and Literature Secretaries

Published: 1955
Transcription\HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
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WHY DOES OUR Party publish and sell political pamphlets, broadsheets, periodicals and books?

We all know the answer: in order to make our policy and programme known; to win support for it; to rouse people into action to win it; to give them an understanding of social development and Socialism; and in the course of doing all this, to win the most class-conscious and militant working people for membership of our Party.

The building up of the circulation of the Daily Worker is not dealt with in this pamphlet. Its special importance is such that it is rightly regarded as a political job on its own and is usually discussed at every branch committee meeting. Because of this some comrades think that the selling of other literature is not very important. This is a great mistake. Our Daily Worker gives the news and a fighting lead every day on all the topics of the day. Pamphlets deal with particular questions and are a necessary part of our campaigns on these questions.

Victories are won not by relying only on one weapon, even when it is so fine a weapon as the Daily Worker, but by the correct use of all weapons. Each pamphlet, book and periodical has its part to play in our fight for peace and a better life.

If our literature is really to serve as the political weapon it is intended to be, all those engaged in directing or organising its distribution and sale must always have firstly in mind the need to turn outwards with it, to take it to the people.

For example, Comrade Pollitt’s pamphlet In Defence of Peace was published in 1954 immediately after the Labour Party Executive had issued In Defence of Europe, in which the right-wing arguments for rearming Germany were given. The publication of Comrade Pollitt’s pamphlet was directly intended to answer these arguments and state our case against rearming Germany. This was the key political issue of that period; our pamphlet was a political weapon for the defeat of the right wing in the Labour movement, and so for helping to defeat the war plans of the Americans and the Nazis.

Whether such a political weapon is effective or not depends on the extent to which it is put into the hands of the people round us, in the first place the active members of the Labour Party, trade unions and co-operatives.

We know that opposition to the policy of the right-wing Labour leaders has steadily developed; and we know that our public statements and arguments, made known to tens of thousands through the Daily Worker and our pamphlets, have contributed a great deal to the changing outlook of the Labour movement.

Because the outlook of so many people in the Labour movement and outside it has changed, and is changing, in the general direction of our fight for peace and a working-class policy at home as well as in foreign and colonial issues, the sale of our literature is much easier, and every effort made brings positive results on an increasing scale.

And it is not only literature on current questions that sells. Very many people in the Labour movement already accept practically all our policies on immediate issues and they are looking for something more—some perspective for the movement, some deeper theoretical approach above all on the issue of Socialism.

It is only our Party, with its Marxist outlook, that can provide this. In The British Road to Socialism, the broadsheet This Good Life, and other publications dealing with our socialist aim, we have political weapons that can make a complete change in the outlook of those who are thinking of the future, and can win many new members for our Party.

Later on we shall say something of the Marxist classics and other books which can help in this development.

But the main job for the Party is always to reach out with our literature, and that means in the first place to secure a wider and wider sale for our pamphlets, which are direct weapons in the political campaigns of the Party and in the socialist education of the whole Labour movement.


Who should be responsible, at branch level, for ensuring that such a political weapon is most effectively used? The branch committee as a whole—the political leadership, whose job it is to mobilise and lead the members of the branch in political campaigns.

The branch committee should see each pamphlet not as an additional burden for the literature secretary “to get rid of” but as a new weapon put into their hands, by making effective use of which they can help to achieve vital political results.

Therefore, when a new mass pamphlet is published, its political purpose should at once be discussed by every branch committee, whether of a factory or local branch, and a plan considered as to how it can be most effectively used among the workers in the factory or the people in the area.

This means not a decision just to order some quantity that is thought “safe”, leaving the disposal of this quantity to the care of the literature secretary, but a campaigning plan. Such a plan will cover: to whom the pamphlet should be sold, how the members should be mobilised to sell it, how the results achieved should be checked up and recorded, so that the whole branch can get new confidence from the campaign.

When a branch committee has really tackled this job once, it has a basis on which to tackle each new mass-sale pamphlet that comes along, filling up gaps in the first plan, thinking of new channels for sale which experience has shown might be useful, and steadily building up the political results and the actual sales of each further pamphlet.


Every branch committee which is considering a plan for the sale of a particular pamphlet will have its own past experiences, the opportunities and energies of its branch members, special features of the Labour movement locally, and many other local features to bear in mind, as well as the political significance of the campaign to which the pamphlet is related.

Therefore all that can be done here is to suggest a number of points which, according to the strength and opportunities of the branch, might be included in a plan; or if not included in the first plan, might be added as the branch gets more experience and confidence.

The Labour Movement

Whatever the particular pamphlet, sales to the Labour movement are the most important politically, and should take first place in any plan.

How can the Labour movement be reached?

Lists of individual members of the Labour Party, trade unionists and co-operators should be built up in every branch. These should be visited with every new pamphlet—sometimes they are willing not only to buy one copy but to take some copies for sale to members of their organisation.

Then there should be a list of the date, time and place of meeting of every Labour movement organisation in the area. In many cases our own members will be attending these meetings and it is necessary to see that they are supplied with appropriate pamphlets to take with them; in other cases regular sales outside the meeting can be organised.

In some cases a complimentary copy to the branch secretary, with the offer of a speaker to explain our standpoint on the subject, has had good results.

Factories, Pits, etc.

For sales inside a factory, it is important to ensure that the job is not left to one comrade but is divided out among all the members as far as possible.

But there are shops or sections where we have not got members, and if we are to develop really mass sales and win political results through the whole factory, these other shops or sections must be tackled. For example, a reasonably good sale of 100 or 200 copies of a pamphlet in a factory may really have been made in two or three departments only, and there may be other thousands of workers in the factory who have not even had a chance of buying the pamphlet.

It may not be easy to solve this problem; but it certainly will not be solved unless the Party branch considers various ways of tackling it—through Daily Worker readers or fellow members of a trade union branch; or sales outside a particular entrance, carried out either by the factory branch or the local branch.

In any case, whether there is or is not a factory branch, sales by the local branch outside a factory will give increasingly better results if regularly carried out with each new pamphlet.

Specially good results have been got where the branch has distributed beforehand a leaflet saying that the pamphlet will be on sale outside on a particular day.

Then there is the question of the large number of factories where perhaps only one or two of our members are employed and there is no Party organisation. Regular sales by such comrades, even of quite small quantities, would take our policy to new groups of workers, and help very much towards recruiting and building Party organisation in these factories. But this needs special thought and attention by branch committees, both to make the comrades keen on doing the job and to ensure a regular link with the literature secretary so that they get the pamphlets.

Canvassing and Street Sales

Reference has already been made to visiting people in the Labour movement with each new pamphlet as this is available. This selective canvassing should also be extended to all individuals who are known to have a sympathetic outlook, even if only on a particular subject. For example, Daily Worker readers; people who have expressed sympathy when canvassed at local or parliamentary elections; people who have bought tickets for meetings or film shows. For this purpose, lists should be built up.

But apart from selective canvassing, there is also general canvassing. Door-to-door canvassing with a topical pamphlet always gets some results—sometimes very good results. And the results are better where the same street or block of flats is canvassed regularly, and the results recorded. Then there are pitch sales, with a pamphlet only, or with a pamphlet addition to the Daily Worker.

Experience shows also that a mass effort in a shopping quarter on Saturdays, carried out by a number of comrades with posters, can give extremely good results in a short time.

Sales at Public Meetings

We all know that current pamphlets should be on sale at our public meetings. Probably no indoor Party public meeting is without literature. But also no factory gate or other open-air meeting should be without literature—particularly at meetings dealing with an issue on which the Party is actively campaigning, one or more pamphlets should be on sale dealing with that issue.

Not only should they be there, but the chairman or speaker should refer to them, perhaps quote a passage, and say what the price is.

But it is not only at our own public meetings that our pamphlets can be sold. Outside any meetings or conferences run by other organisations we should have at least one appropriate pamphlet on sale.

This means that the branch plan for sales of a particular pamphlet should also be based partly on what other organisations are holding meetings in the weeks ahead.

* * *

These few suggestions for a branch plan of sales can be supplemented, according to the forces available, by sales to other groups of people, at cinema queues, outside co-operative shops, stalls at markets, and so on.

But the vital point is that there should be a sales plan drawn up by the branch committee, reported to the branch meeting, and put into operation, drawing in members of the branch for clearly defined jobs according to their opportunities.

If this is done, it is possible not only to get better sales than there have been in the past but to build up a basis for a more efficient job the next time.

The experience of one branch can help others; therefore it is important not only to report total sales to the Area or District Committee but to add bow the sales were planned and carried through.


While the planning of sales is the responsibility of the branch committee, every factory or local Party branch should have a literature secretary politically responsible for this department of the branch work. The literature secretary is the key comrade for organising the efficient ordering of supplies and distribution, keeping the accounts, etc., and, above all, organising the actual sales.

The literature secretary, therefore, is primarily an organiser; and since the work of organising the maximum sales of political literature is inseparable from all other public work of the branch, this comrade should, wherever possible, be a member of the branch committee. If this is not possible he should be linked to the committee through the propaganda secretary. Organising the sales of our printed propaganda is essentially propaganda work, and experience has shown that good literature sales stimulate discussion and political activity, lead to better attended meetings and above all are closely linked with recruiting to our Party, because the effect of the printed word is powerful and more lasting than any other form of propaganda.

It is necessary, therefore, for the literature secretary to be present at branch committee meetings when campaigns are discussed, because there can be no successful campaign without the relevant literature; and the branch literature secretary needs to advise the branch committee on what literature is suitable and available for the particular campaign.

While the branch committee is responsible for planning the sales campaign of mass pamphlets as part of the whole plan of branch work, the literature secretary should make proposals for the campaign and prepare a draft plan for discussion by the committee. He should also arrange for reports to be given to the branch on the contents of new pamphlets, especially those intended for mass sales. The political development of literature secretaries is vital, so that they can constantly show initiative and quickly grasp opportunities.

Literature secretaries are therefore not only organisers; they are political organisers on whose appreciation of the political role of literature depends to a great extent the attention given to it by branch—committees and the membership. The literature secretary’s watchword should be:

Never miss an opportunity for a sale—every sale is an opportunity for winning new people to our policy, for deepening their convictions.

But what do literature secretaries do? How do they carry out their important tasks? Let us start at the beginning:

What Literature Is Available?

First, literature secretaries must know what there is to sell, must know, or get to know, the different types of literature and their uses.

In this they are helped by Current Literature, the weekly bulletin for branches issued by Central Books, the national literature organisation of the Party.

This bulletin, obtainable from District or Area bookshops and literature depots, gives advance information of all forthcoming publications which are of value in our fight for peace and Socialism. It tells us not only what mass pamphlets, what books of major political importance, are about to be published but also includes information on pamphlets or books on specialised subjects, or on issues not directly affecting the whole movement but only a section of it, or on a particular phase of the struggle. It tells us what the book or pamphlet is about, its size, price and other details.

Branch literature secretaries should read this bulletin carefully because it enables them to prepare the plan of sales, to mobilise well beforehand the forces for the campaign, and to have the right literature for each campaign, each event, each group of people or individuals: in fact, it makes it possible to get literature on the right subject, at the right time, at the right price.

Literature secretaries should keep a file of this bulletin, for future reference.

Some comrades may think that there is- too much literature, and be bewildered by the variety of it. But we must always bear in mind that different people are engaged in different fields of work, or are interested in different subjects. That is why it is most important for literature secretaries to know what is available, where the available literature fits in with current campaigns and current problems.

How and What to Order?

Next, literature secretaries must know how and from whom to order their supplies: this varies from district to district, and branch committees will know the answer to this question. In all cases, however, all literature should be obtained through machinery set up the by the District Committee of the Party.

The quantities of mass pamphlets or major political books to be ordered must be decided by the branch committee, on the basis of the plan of campaign it adopts. But the literature secretary should keep the committee constantly informed about the progress of sales, and the stocks in hand. In this way the literature secretary will avoid running out of stocks that are badly needed, or alternatively being left with large stocks of unsold pamphlets at the end of each campaign.

As regards periodicals, standing orders based on actual orders from individual comrades should be placed with the area or district bookshop or depot. But the literature secretary should always be on the lookout for new orders, and from time to time should propose special drives, for example with World News or Woman Today or Challenge, and order extra copies for that purpose. Our periodicals, like our pamphlets and books, are not for Party members only but are intended for mass circulation amongst the people whom we want to win to support our ideas.

Mobilise More Comrades for Selling

The key to the success of literature work is, of course, the maximum participation of comrades in it. Therefore the branch literature secretary must always be on the lookout for involving more people in the work of doing the actual selling.

This is made easier where the branch committee has adopted a plan of sales and helps to mobilise comrades to carry it through. But in any case the literature secretary should look carefully at the suggestions made on earlier pages for campaigning plans, and think how to get various comrades to undertake special sales, however limited.

By giving them confidence in the power of our printed material, explaining to them how literature sales provide one of the most important means for developing contact with other people in the Labour movement and recruiting new members into our Party, it will gradually be possible to involve more and more comrades in the work.

While not everyone can be a good public speaker, everyone can learn to sell our literature, and our aim must be: every member of the Party a seller of our literature. Even if some comrades are not able to take part in team selling, factory gate sales, etc., it will often be possible for them to sell a few copies of a publication to workmates, friends, acquaintances.

In many branches it will be too big a job for the literature secretary himself to deliver to each comrade weekly. He must have help.

In some branches they arrange for the dues collectors to take the literature round each week. They take orders for books and pamphlets, and deliver them and the periodicals to the members on their lists. They are encouraged to campaign for increased sales especially among the non-Party friends and workmates of the members.

Literature at Meetings

There should be a literature stall at every meeting—whether branch meeting, public meeting, lecture, film show. The more attractively laid out and varied the literature on the stall the higher the sales.

To organise a good literature stall at a meeting, literature secretaries should know well in advance the subject, the speaker, and what sort of audience is expected, to ensure that the most suitable books, pamphlets and periodicals are obtained in good time. It will generally be possible to get a good selection of literature on a sale or return basis.

The literature secretary should be the first to come to the meeting, so as to have the stall ready when the audience begins to arrive. But the sale of literature at public meetings should not be left to the stall only—stewards should be selling the main pamphlets before the meeting opens.

It is essential not to try to use these literature stalls to sell old, out-of-date publications. Not only is nothing more depressing than the sight of a stall with old, dog-eared and out-of-date pamphlets, which take up valuable space and prevent the proper display of new up-to-date publications, but it can be politically harmful to sell publications which have been overtaken by events and which have been replaced by new pamphlets which take the new situation into account.

Returning Unsold Pamphlets

To avoid having out-of-date publications on hand, literature secretaries should bear in mind that Party pamphlets can be returned to their Area or District bookshop within a reasonable period after publication. They should therefore ask what sale-or-return facilities exist at the given time, what the procedure is for the return of unsold Party pamphlets, and in general ask advice in case of difficulties.

Regular Reports to the Branch Committee

The literature secretary should report periodically to the branch committee on the sales achieved, the experiences gained, the financial position, etc. This is, of course, only possible if records are kept in order. The branch committee, if it is to reap the full political benefit from sales, must know how plans have been carried through, what has been sold and to whom, and an efficient system of keeping records up to date will greatly assist in this.

Book Stamps

An increasingly important part in selling the more expensive books can be played by the Progressive Books Savings Club. The regular purchase of 6d. or 2s. stamps enables people, both in the Party and outside it, to buy books which in the ordinary way they would not be able to afford. In recent years this scheme has become more and more popular, and is now widely used in some districts. It. also makes the problem of presents a much easier one.

The Seeping of Accounts

Finally, there is the question of accounts. There can be no healthy literature position unless the financial position is sound, and that depends very much on the efficiency with which the accounts are kept.

Accounts should be as simple as possible, provided they give the necessary information, i.e., cash received and spent, amounts owing to bookshop or depot, and debts owed by members who bought literature; and profit for a given period. Some suggestions for accounts and records are given at the end of this pamphlet. The district treasurer or literature department will be glad to advise branch literature secretaries where necessary.


World News is of immense value and interest to our own comrades and to all active workers in the Labour movement, because it gives a weekly survey of the situation at home and abroad, besides a number of articles on current topics both political and cultural.

To increase its sales is of great political importance, both to our own members, to keep them informed and able to deal with enemy arguments; and to Left Labour people, to give them the kind of material which strengthens their outlook and draws them closer to our standpoint.

Some factory branches sell World News to non-Party workers; some area branches sell it at Daily Worker pitches. The current issue of World News should be on sale at public meetings. A canvass of known buyers of our literature in the Labour movement is also useful.

One branch has got results from enclosing in a large envelope one copy each of World News, Woman Today, Challenge and Labour Monthly, leaving it with a Labour Party member for a week, and then picking it up again and sometimes booking a regular order for one or more of these periodicals.

Woman Today already has a fair circulation outside the Party, and should get far more sales if its political value in bringing women closer to our standpoint is appreciated.


THE BRANCH PLANS dealt with on earlier pages refer to pamphlets “for mass sale” in connection with some Party campaign. In addition there are the more specialised pamphlets. These are of two kinds:

(1) Those that deal with subjects chiefly affecting special groups of people: for example, pamphlets on education; on old-age pensions, etc. Their political value is their special appeal to the groups concerned, giving our policy and a lead for action on issues in which they are interested. They can best fulfil their political purpose if they are taken to these groups. Therefore what is needed is a special sales plan, in addition to any general sales at meetings, etc.

Our Party members in the special group concerned should be consulted as to how such special sales can be carried out—teachers, parents with children at school, old-age pensioners, and so on.

(2) Pamphlets which deal not with current political issues but with our general aims and theory—for example, The British Road to Socialism; J. R. Campbell’s Socialism for Trade Unionists; Ted Ainley’s When the Whistle Blows: Economics for Trade Unionists, John Gollan’s Thirty Years of Struggle, a brief history of our Party from 1920 to 1950.

The political purpose of such pamphlets is to win people for our Communist outlook and to help in recruiting new members. They are never out of date, and there should always be a small quantity available for sale to people with whom contact has been established through sales of the Daily Worker or current pamphlets. This is of particular importance for factory branches, which should always be using such pamphlets to bring contacts one stage further.


IF PAMPHLETS ON our general aims and theory can help in the political development of contacts, a still higher stage can be reached through the sale of the Marxist classics, or the books by our leading comrades such as Harry Pollitt’s Serving My Time or Selected Articles and Speeches; and W. Gallacher’s Revolt on the Clyde.

Few branches could afford to keep these in stock, but it costs nothing to keep a list, and think from time to time of our own members and contacts who could be approached for orders.

Then there are other books on various subjects published by Lawrence & Wishart, including novels.

Lists of books are available in printed leaflet form and can be obtained from Party bookshops and depots; these can be used for example by dues collectors visiting comrades, by comrades delivering on a Daily Worker round, by all comrades for showing to contacts.

Of course the price of most books limits their sale; but there are various ways of arranging payment by instalments, as for example, the book stamps described on page 11.

Quite a number of factories have lending libraries organised by the Party branch. Central Propaganda Department can give help and advice in the formation of such libraries both by factory and local branches. They are a very good means of ensuring the reading of the more expensive books and they usually result in bigger book sales among the borrowers.

In one factory, a box containing twelve books is passed round one department at a time. This has resulted in good sales and might be tried elsewhere.


THE WIDE RANGE of points dealt with in this pamphlet may at first sight seem overwhelming to comrades who have just taken on the job of branch literature secretary, or comrades in relatively weak branches.

But there is no need for that. Our Party’s sales of literature are the envy of other organisations. The job is, in every branch, to build up on what is already being done, so that the total sale of literature grows steadily, and our Party’s policy influences more and more people.

The suggestions made are intended to help branch committees and literature secretaries to spread through the Party the political approach to literature selling, and to plan and carry through sales campaigns on a steadily extending scale. In order to do this, they will select from these suggestions those ideas which carry them one stage further, not attempt to put everything into practice at one go.

There are immense opportunities for the Party to extend its influence and increase its membership. The planned and extending sale of our publications can play a vital part in achieving these results. All who are concerned with their distribution and sale should not only see the political importance of their work, but also get growing confidence from turning outwards and being able to record the positive results that Communist initiative always brings.