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C. Curtiss

A Paper Where Workers Will Feel at Home

(21 November 1939)


Workers Forum, Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 89, 21 November 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Editor:

When the Twice-a-Week Appeal first came out, full of good features, well written, popular, attempting to address itself to workers and become a mass paper, we used to take 200 an issue, and dispose of them. Our Sunday mobilizations, when the comrades used to assemble to go door to door in the working class sections of town with the paper, were full of enthusiasm and good-natured competition to see who would sell the most papers. Alas, all that is slowing up. To organize each mobilization requires more effort than the previous one. Who is to blame?
 

Comrades Not at Fault

Some would say the comrades, and without a doubt, this is true to a minor extent, as the work began to become a familiar routine. Still, this is not by far the most important factor. I think more responsibility falls upon the paper itself because the comrades find it more difficult to sell the paper now than when the Twice-a-Week first appeared. Our own comrades do not have the will to sell the paper when it is not well written and not directed to the workers.

Before the Twice-a-Week, our major outlet was the radical gatherings and radical contacts. With the appearance of the Twice-a-Week, we had been hoping for a change in the paper, which for a brief period was realized. In that period we attempted to address our paper not only to the old elements but get new readers among the workers. But that period seems to have come to an end.
 

An Alarming Symptom

I would like to take up another point, and that is the question of repeat sales. After selling a paper to a worker, when we come back to sell it to him again, we find greater sales resistance. In other words, even after reading the paper, which we hoped would break down his indifference or hostility towards us, we nearly invariably find that it is more difficult to sell the paper again. The answer to this dilemma is found in the difference between our sales talk and the paper. While attempting to sell the worker or working class housewife a paper, we play up what we think the worker would be interested in. In other words, we paint for him a picture of an imaginary paper which arouses his interest, but when the worker looks at the Appeal, it is quite different than the description of it given by the comrade.

Of course, we, here, do not agree with the comrade from Detroit, who said that the workers are not interested in India, Ireland, etc. It is the task of the paper to show the importance of the events to the workers’ immediate struggles, but it must be done in an interesting fashion, and the interest and concern of the workers in international problems will be built up.
 

What Is Needed

An average worker does not feel at home in our paper. It is only the radical worker who does. It is important to keep these informed of what goes on but, it is as important that the worker from the shop, or on relief, also be interested in the paper, and this is proven by the fact that he does not write for the paper. Where is the worker’s correspondence that the paper should have? Where is the correspondence from the unions ? Where is the question box that a worker’s paper should have ? Where are the interesting stories that a paper should have ? Where are the absorbing lessons on What is Socialism, written simply and understandable to all? This list could be continued.

I hope that this will not be confused with the phenomena that often appears in our movement of anti-anti-Stalinism. The struggle against Stalinism must not be given up, but neither must it be “raised” to the level which only a few workers can understand. The basis for, our opposition to Stalinism must be made clear to even the simplest worker. Much of our articles against Stalinism is aimed, if not at the summits of Stalinism, certainly not to the rank and file CP member or sympathizer who cannot understand it and for this reason, ignores it, or looks upon it as a struggle between two groups of “college professors.”

I would like to again repeat the central slogan: The Socialist Appeal must be a paper in which every worker will feel at home.

Los Angeles

C. Curtiss



The Road to a Real Workers’ Newspaper

Comrade Curtiss’ letter merits the attention, not only of the staff of the Socialist Appeal, but of all party branches and workers who read our press. The facts he adduces are attested to from all parts of the country. Where is the solution ?

A European comrade with the richest experience in the mass movement some time ago estimated the paper in these terms:

“The paper is very well done from a journalistic point of view; but it is a paper for the workers and not a workers’ paper.

“As it is the paper is divided among various writers, each of whom is very good, but collectively they do not permit the workers to penetrate to the pages of the Appeal. Each of them speaks for the workers (and speaks very well), but nobody will hear the workers. In spite of its literary brilliance, to a certain degree the paper becomes a victim of journalistic routine. You do not hear at all how the workers live, fight, clash with the police or drink whiskey. It is very dangerous for the paper as a revolutionary instrument of the party. The task is not to make a paper through the joint forces of a skilled editorial board, but to encourage the workers to speak for themselves.

“The whole party must participate in the paper not only financially but politically and journalistically. The paper must have correspondents, researchers and reporters everywhere. Three lines from a shop or a meeting can often give more than a well written article by the staff. Only such a paper can penetrate into the masses and receive great support from them.

“A radical and courageous change is necessary as a condition of success. The paper is too wise, too scholarly, too aristocratic for the American workers and tends to reflect the party more as it is than to prepare it for its future.”
 

Why We Halted

The course of the paper began to move in this proposed direction; that was the period of which Comrade Curtiss speaks as the time when the Los Angeles comrades were able to sell the paper easily. However, since the outbreak of the war there has been, to a considerable extent, a retrogression. One reason is that the comrades tend to separate the daily events of the class struggle from the war situation, and fail to write into the Appeal about the actual life in which they are engaged. This is the main explanation for the cessation of direct reports from the fields of struggle.

Another reason for the failure of the Appeal to continue its transformation into a real workers’ paper is the necessity, imposed by the war, of devoting a considerable part of the paper to analytical articles, in order to arm the advanced workers for the struggle against social-patriotism. But it is certainly possible to combine this work with material more directly attractive to the workers, to constitute a paper with a popular tone.
 

What’s To Be Done

The staff’s main shortcoming along this line has been its failure to remain in regular contact with the field, suggesting subjects for direct reports and workers’ correspondence, encouraging those who write in, etc.

The Staff, however, in and of itself, cannot solve the problem! A widespread understanding among party members, Yipsels, and our worker-readers, that their voices must be heard in the paper, is the beginning of the solution. Let the workers write our paper!

 

The Appeal Staff


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