The Communist Party and the press: A glimpse at nine decades

Second in a series celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party USA.

Over the past 90 years the Communist Party USA has published a number of newspapers and magazines – from daily and weekly newspapers to monthly theoretical and cultural journals to internal organizational bulletins.

Additionally, if we include publications printed by party-affiliated unions, civil rights and youth organizations led by the party, and journals that relied heavily on party members as editorial board members or regular contributors, we find that the party and its leaders were responsible for literally hundreds of publications over the past 90 years.

In fact, from the Labor Defender (the publication of the International Labor Defense) to the New Masses and Masses and Mainstream (popular cultural magazines), to Political Affairs (the official theoretical journal of the CPUSA); from Labor Unity (the publication of the Trade Union Unity League) to the Marine Workers’ Voice (the publication of the Marine Workers’ Industrial Union); from the Mobilizer (the publication of the Harlem Prolets) to the Whitney-Cush-Bloor Organization Bulletin (one of many internal party bulletins); from the Organizer (the publication of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression) to Freedomways Magazine (a journal of black liberation); from Labor Today (the publication of Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy) to the Daily Worker (the daily newspaper of the CPUSA), the Daily World and the People’s Weekly World, we find a red thread woven throughout the tapestry of the people’s movement and the people’s literature.

While telling the story of the party’s leadership and participation in all of the publications listed above (as well as hundreds of others) is a key part of our history, we can only whet your appetite. Suffice it to say, this is a very short list of publications that relied heavily on the Communist Party and its writers.

Now we must move on to a much less ambitious goal: looking at what the Communist Party’s newspapers wrote on January 21, 1935, 1955 and 1985. Again, unfortunately, we can only whet your appetite.

Daily Worker, January 21, 1935

On the front page of the January 21, 1935, issue of the Daily Worker we find a criticism of the Roosevelt administration’s support for the Wagner-Lewis “Unemployment Reserves” bill. According to the editorial, the bill was “a fraud that grants not one penny to the present vast army of the unemployed.” At this time the party supported the Workers’ Unemployment, Old Age and Social Insurance Act, HR 2827, a more radical piece of legislation supported by the broad people’s movement, the unemployment councils and most of the labor movement.

Also on the front page are articles dealing with the International Labor Defense gains in the Scottsboro Boys case; a textile workers’ strike in Rossville, Ga.; and a 10,000 person Lenin memorial gathering in Philadelphia.

Inside the January 21, 1935, issue we find an article dealing with the Georgia Federal Emergency Relief Administration’s cutting of relief jobs pay to 15 cents an hour; an article about William Randolph Hearst’s “lies about the Communist Party”; and a “Little Lefty” cartoon, among other items.

Daily Worker, January 21, 1955

The front cover of the January 21, 1955, edition of the Daily Worker features an article on the Claude Lightfoot Smith Act trial. Claude Lightfoot was a prominent Chicago leader of the party; the Smith Act was used during the McCarthy era to outlaw the Communist Party and imprison its leaders. Lightfoot’s defense attorney, John J. Abt, asked the presiding judge to dismiss the case since the government had produced “not a shred, not a word of direct evidence” concerning the defendant. Also on the front page is an article on the special convention of the International Fur and Leather Workers’ Union, a party-led union.

Inside, we find an article on what the AFL-CIO merger means for labor. The editorial urges “ACTIVE interest of the rank and file in the CIO and AFL … to prevent the talks from breaking up in disagreement.” There is also an article on Anna Bary, another Smith Act victim, who was freed on bail; an advertisement for the Daily Worker’s Anniversary Ball; Lester Rodney’s regular sports column “On the Scoreboard”; and a Civil Rights Congress flier advertising a rally to free African American Communist Party leaders Benjamin Davis and William L. Patterson.

Daily World , January 22, 1985
(Note: the Daily World did not publish on Sunday or Monday during this period. January 21, 1985, was a Monday.)

The lead story for January 22, 1985, was, “Inauguration Day Protests: Give Us Jobs, Not Bombs.” On page 2 is an article dealing with the arrest of four Chicago steelworkers union leaders during a jobs protest at the U.S. Steel South Works plant.

Also in this issue we find an article dealing with a plant shutdown in Gary, Ind. The article says in part, “The economic crisis that swept through the basic industrial sector left personal devastation in its wake.” We also find an article from Connecticut dealing with Yale University’s union vote on their first contract; an article urging “massive protests” against apartheid; an article commemorating the defeat of fascism in Poland; and an article critiquing network television, saying that “we deserve better.”

As we can see, throughout its 90 years the Communist Party USA has not only been in the forefront of the struggles for workers’ rights, peace, jobs, equality and socialism, it has also broken ground in its use of media to report on those struggles.

Marx wrote, “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is the change it.” Through party publications and broad-based newspapers, magazines and journals published by party-led institutions, the Communist Party has left an undeniable mark on the American working class. Undoubtedly, we’ve changed the world.




Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.