Why Communists Sell Newspapers

Socialist newspapers

Meta, the social media giant that owns Facebook and Instagram, began blocking all news from its platforms in Canada in August. The news ban followed the federal government’s passage of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which required big tech to pay media outlets for content they use or repurpose on their platforms. Google also planned to begin blocking news in Canada by the end of the year, when C-18 comes into effect. For communists, the banning of news on platforms owned by billionaires underscores the need for an independent workers’ press through the production and distribution of a physical newspaper.

Fightback/La Riposte socialiste, the Canada and Quebec sections of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), have always organized our political activity around the publication of a regular newspaper. But the importance of being able to print our own newspaper became more apparent than ever after Meta’s news ban, when our French-language page on Facebook was completely erased for Canadian users. No posts or other content can be viewed on the page for La Riposte socialiste. Links to our international website In Defence of Marxism have also been disabled. While our English-language page remains visible on Facebook as this article was being written, it is only a matter of time before that page too is erased.

As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the ruling class—which is completely unable to solve society’s most pressing problems—has resorted increasingly to censorship against any dissenting voices, particularly those who challenge capitalism itself. The purge of content from social media that threatens the capitalists’ interests was always inevitable. Meta’s news ban was simply the accident through which this necessity revealed itself, to use Hegel’s expressions.

Fortunately, the Marxists of Fightback/La Riposte socialiste have a weapon in our arsenal that can withstand censorship from big tech: a physical newspaper. Funded entirely by our own supporters, sold and distributed by our comrades, the paper acts as a collective organizer and the most powerful tool for building a mass revolutionary party capable of leading the working class in the overthrow of the capitalist system.

Fighting capitalist censorship

The notion of a communist organization selling a newspaper has often come under attack from many sectarians on the left, even those who consider themselves “Marxists.” The basic line of attack is always the same: newspapers, it seems, are outdated, old-fashioned, an antiquated relic of the 20th century. Why produce a newspaper in the 21st century, these critics ask, when everyone gets all their news on the internet? Why not simply maintain a website or an active presence on social media?

Meta has provided a deafening response to these claims. If Facebook was a major source of news for many users—a 2020 Pew Research survey found 36% of adults in the United States said they regularly get news from Facebook—that is no longer an option in Canada. Anyone in Canada who got news from Meta platforms must now turn to other sources. But which sources? “Mainstream” media is owned by billionaires and represents the interests of the capitalist class. That also includes public broadcasters such as the CBC, since the state represents the interests of the ruling class. In addition, the rich directly fund far-right media outlets such as Rebel News.

What about moving to other social media sites? Those are also owned by wealthy capitalists, who will always determine which content is acceptable based on their own interests. It’s sufficient to point to Twitter/X, which under the ownership of self-described free speech champion Elon Musk has suspended left-leaning accounts and boosted neo-Nazis. Meanwhile, YouTube has censored, suppressed, and demonetized many left-wing accounts. Journalist Chris Hedges saw the entire six-year archive of shows he hosted disappear from YouTube. Even having a website is not a shield from capitalist censorship, since capitalists also own the dominant web content management systems, domain name registrars, and cloud infrastructure providers. These companies can cut off service at any time.

As Marxists are fond of saying, you cannot control what you do not own. The billionaires who control the media at a certain point will not allow any voices that pose a direct material threat to their interests to find an audience. In the same way back-to-work legislation has become routine in Canada as soon as a strike threatens to become effective, the hammer of censorship will be brought down on anyone, but particularly left-wing organizations, as soon as their ideas find enough of an echo to threaten the ruling class.

By producing a physical newspaper, revolutionaries can continue to organize and reach workers and youth with our ideas regardless of censorship. Of course, in a revolutionary or prerevolutionary situation, the capitalist state may resort to physically destroying the ability of workers’, socialist, and communist organizations to print a paper. This was the case in Russia in 1917, when the Provisional Government smashed the Bolsheviks’ printing press; and in Canada during the World War I after the October Revolution led to a wave of revolution around the world. The Canadian state in 1918 banned many socialist publications under threat of fine and imprisonment.

But as Victor Hugo said, no force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. As we saw in Russia in 1917, or Spain in the 1970s, even the most tyrannical regimes are unable to stop the distribution of revolutionary printed material when those ideas correspond to the needs of the masses, who find the existing order intolerable and are looking for a way out.

The paper as collective organizer

In his pamphlet Where to Begin?, published in 1901, Vladimir Lenin explained the central role of a newspaper in building the revolutionary organization:

A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer. In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organized labor. With the aid of the newspaper, and through it, a permanent organization will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence these events. The mere technical task of regularly supplying the newspaper with copy and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united party, who will maintain constant contact with one another, know the general state of affairs, get accustomed to performing regularly their detailed functions in the All-Russian work, and test their strength in the organization of various revolutionary actions.

All of these points are just as relevant and applicable for revolutionaries today. The act of producing a regular newspaper obliges comrades to carefully study current events, raise their knowledge and grasp of politics, apply Marxist theory to the practical needs of the movement, and put forward transitional demands connecting the immediate demands of workers and the oppressed with struggle for socialism.

Our critics may object: “Isn’t that possible with a purely online publication?” But as we have established, the capitalists control web and social media platforms and can block access for a revolutionary organization at any time. The only way to ensure the publication of our ideas is through a print newspaper, independently produced and distributed.

A newspaper not only builds the revolutionary organization: it builds revolutionaries, in a way no website or social media presence can equal. It requires comrades to sell the paper in person: by attending rallies and protests, by walking picket lines, and speaking directly to workers and youth. The newspaper offers a physical embodiment of the revolutionary organization and its program. It pushes revolutionaries out of their comfort zone and obliges them to defend communist perspectives—to “patiently explain,” as Lenin put it—and to win workers over to revolutionary ideas.

To effectively sell the newspaper requires Marxists to have a solid grasp of its content, awareness of current events, an understanding of theory, and the ability to explain them to others. It means actively intervening in the movement at every turn, putting forward the Marxist ideas that can lead workers and the oppressed to victory, and building a mass communist organization capable of overthrowing this rotten system.

Building the revolutionary party

The act of selling the newspaper, however, leads to a frequent question: “If you are communists, why are you selling papers rather than giving them away for free?”

The unfortunate fact is that we still live under capitalism. Printing a newspaper requires money and resources. As a revolutionary Marxist organization, we have no corporate sponsors or wealthy benefactors. We rely entirely on funding from our members and supporters. Newspaper sales are a core component of this funding, helping cover the cost of printing. They also allow the Marxist organization to reach beyond its existing supporters and help build the infrastructure of the revolutionary party.

Newspaper sales help pay for office space, hiring full-time organizers, printing Marxist literature, and travel to connect comrades in different areas. It also requires comrades selling the paper to convince workers that the content is worth their money. Workers and youth serious about political change will see the value in buying a newspaper to help support a revolutionary organization. Paying for a newspaper makes one more invested in reading it. On the other hand, handing someone a newspaper for free requires no effort, knowledge, or agitational skill. Convincing someone to pay for a newspaper requires convincing them of the value of revolutionary ideas.

By organizing our political activity around the publication and distribution of a revolutionary newspaper, the IMT follows a proud communist tradition, from the Bolsheviks to the Black Panther Party to the Militant Tendency in Britain. To paraphrase Lenin: without a revolutionary paper, there can be no revolutionary movement. Rather than leaving ourselves at the mercy of billionaire owners who control access to traditional and social media, we are building an independent workers’ press based on the ideas of Marxism. Physical newspapers provide the only way to ensure revolutionary journalism by the working class, for the working class. We invite you to support the building of a revolutionary party by joining us and taking out a solidarity subscription to Fightback and La Riposte socialiste.

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