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Sunday, June 28, 2009

A response to Looking Back...

In response to my post Looking Back..., Melinda wrote:

I hope this call for an independent progressive, better socialist organization will be followed by an analysis as to WHAT political elements of North America are capable of such an organization. I do not see any. But I am a foreigner and hope to be dead wrong about this.

Would anyone like to take a crack at this challenging question?


The Demise of an Old Friend

Friends tell me of the recent decision of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA to discontinue the print addition of the Party’s newspaper, The People’s Weekly World. The paper, the successor to The Daily World and People’s World, The Worker, and The Daily Worker, has been the public voice of the Communist Party since 1924. I remember well old timers – victimized by the extreme anti-Communist repression of the nineteen fifties – recalling how the paper was the only means for the CPUSA to reach outside of its own ranks during that raging tempest.

The legacy of The Daily Worker includes the treasured “Woody Sez” columns penned by Woody Guthrie and the sports reportage of the legendary Lester Rodney who did more to integrate professional sports than any of the self-congratulatory sports moguls celebrated by the media. The labor reporting was always unabashedly partisan and grounded in rank and file activism. On the cultural front, the paper’s writers often offered a contrarian view, welcome in times of conformity and timidity in the mainstream. Similarly, international reporting provided a refreshing departure from the big media’s subservient spin on the official US government line.

From the nineteen thirties, The Daily Worker and its off-spring were the public face of labor radicalism and socialist advocacy. Through the twists and turns of the US political landscape, the paper remained a place to find ideas that would be expressed no where else. Writers – from Theodore Dreiser to Herbert Aptheker – used the pages of the paper to express views denied in the capitalist media. For most of this period, the CP press was the leading “alternative” mouthpiece for socialism.

Through most of its life, Party leaders understood that the paper played a larger role than determined by paid subscriptions or financial health. It was conceived as an organizational instrument - a spark for activism – to be distributed at mill gates, shop floors, picket lines and mass meetings. Even during its hey-day in the thirties and forties, the Party paper exerted an influence far beyond its mail circulation. Stalwarts like the incomparable Jim Dolson delivered the paper through neighborhoods for decades, serving as a passionate missionary for the Party’s ideas.

In recent years, The People’s Weekly World has sadly followed a script issued by the Party’s leadership towards accommodation with both the Democratic Party leadership and the top rungs of the AFL-CIO hierarchy. For the most part, Marxist and class conscious commentary have given way to shallow, liberal writing and an obstinate, rigid defense of the most timid oppositional forces. More and more, one reads reprints from the liberal press in place of serious, challenging Marxist analysis. Stubbornly, the Party’s top leadership refuses to connect the decline of the paper’s following to the sapping of its traditional militancy.

I am told that the Party leadership has assured the members that the print edition will be replaced by a glitzy, state-of-the-art website that will be more in tune with twenty-first century fashion. But will it reach the millions of unemployed, the striking workers, the massed protesters? Will it demonstrate the passionate commitment of dedicated revolutionaries to the cause of those forgotten by the Democratic Party and left out of decisions taken by the far-removed leadership of organized labor? Will the internet or twitter speak to them or for them? Will it build a cadre of activists interacting with, conversing with, and leading working people?

What was once a powerful tool of agitation and education will become a small, soft-spoken voice in the vast universe of the internet. Where activists brought the Party’s views to the masses through distribution of the print addition, a Google search may now bring those views to the attention of the curious surfer wondering if the Communist Party is still around.

One can only hope that Party members will bring the leaders to their senses.

Zoltan Zigedy