The American Communist Party established the Daily Worker newspaper in 1924. It generally reflected the prevailing views of the party. However, attempts were made to make it a paper that reflected the wide-spectrum of left-wing opinion.
Journalists and cartoonists who provided material for the newspaper included Richard Wright, Howard Fast, John Gates, Louis Budenz, Michael Gold, Jacob Burck, Whittaker Chambers, Sandor Voros, William Patterson, Maurice Becker, Benjamin Davis, Edwin Rolfe, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Robert Minor, Fred Ellis, William Gropper, Lester Rodney, David Karr, John L. Spivak and Woody Guthrie. At its peak, the newspaper achieved a circulation of 35,000.
The newspaper generally supported the policies of Joseph Stalin. In the summer of 1932 Stalin became aware that opposition to his policies were growing. Some party members were publicly criticizing Stalin and calling for the readmission of Leon Trotsky to the party. When the issue was discussed at the Politburo, Stalin demanded that the critics should be arrested and executed. Sergey Kirov, who up to this time had been a staunch Stalinist, argued against this policy. When the vote was taken, the majority of the Politburo supported Kirov against Stalin.
On 1st December, 1934, Kirov was assassinated by a young party member, Leonid Nikolayev. Stalin claimed that Nikolayev was part of a larger conspiracy led by Leon Trotsky against the Soviet government. This resulted in the arrest and trial in August, 1936, of Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Ivan Smirnov and thirteen other party members who had been critical of Stalin. All were found guilty and executed.
In January, 1937, Karl Radek and sixteen other leading members of the Communist Party were put on trial. They were accused of working with Leon Trotsky in an attempt to overthrow the Soviet government with the objective of restoring capitalism. Thirteen of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Radek and two others were sentenced to ten years.
The Daily Worker supported Stalin's Great Purge. It also remained loyal to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. It was argued that this was the best way to defeat fascism. However, this view took a terrible blow when on 28th August, 1939, Joseph Stalin signed a military alliance with Adolf Hitler. Browder and other leaders of the party decided to support the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The editor of the Daily Worker, Clarence Hathaway had doubts about this decision and he was replaced by the ultra-loyal, Louis Budenz.
John Gates pointed out that this created serious problems for the party and the Daily Worker. "We turned on everyone who refused to go along with our new policy and who still considered Hitler the main foe. People whom we had revered only the day before, like Mrs. Roosevelt, we now reviled. This was one of the characteristics of Communists which people always found most difficult to swallow - that we could call them heroes one day and villains the next. Yet in all of this lay our one consistency; we supported Soviet policies whatever they might be; and this in turn explained so many of our inconsistencies. Immediately following the upheaval over the Soviet-German non-aggression pact came the Finnish war, which compounded all our difficulties since, here also, our position was uncritically in support of the Soviet action."
Paul Buhle has argued that Louis Budenz was "journalistically incompetent... who sought for a time to ride hard politically upon a staff grown more self-consciously professional". He added: "Pressed to glorify the Red Army and, soon, U.S. military triumphs, the Daily Worker retreated to a kind of shrillness even when - relative to other American papers - its interpretation of unfolding world events gave a more correct balance of Russia's importance in defeating Nazism."
Under the influence of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Daily Worker gave a great more prominance to women's issues. It also supported the internment of Japanese Americans. In an effort to get more working-class readers it increased its coverage of sport.
In 1945 Louis Budenz came under the influence of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. After joining the Roman Catholic Church, he renounced communism and was replaced as editor by Morris Childs. He contacted J. Edgar Hoover and offered to provide the FBI with information on former members of the Communist Party. All told, Budenz was interviewed for 3,000 hours by Hoover's agents.
In 1946 John Gates became editor-in-chief of The Daily Worker. Gates remained a secret supporter of Earl Browder, but he accepted that he had lost the power-struggle with William Z. Foster for leadership of the American Communist Party.
In 1951 The Daily Worker suggested that Howard Fast might like to write a regular column for the newspaper. As he explained in his autobiography, Being Red (1990), John Howard Lawson was totally opposed to the idea: "I said I would agree only if the column bore the title I Write As I Please. At first my request was turned down flat, but the editors wanted the column and finally agreed. But when Lawson, out in Los Angeles, saw my first column, he reacted like a bull to the red cape. He felt that the title was a violation of party discipline, and he argued his point hotly - that no person could belong to the party and write what he pleased to write. Suppose he attacked the party itself?"
During the 20th Soviet Communist Party Congress in February, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev launched an attack on the rule of Joseph Stalin. He condemned the Great Purge and accused Joseph Stalin of abusing his power. He announced a change in policy and gave orders for the Soviet Union's political prisoners to be released. John Gates became a supporter of Khrushchev and at his direction the newspaper printed the full text of Khrushchev's speech. This brought him into conflict with some of the leaders of the American Communist Party.
Howard Fast explained how he reacted in The Daily Worker to the speech: "We accused the Soviets. We demanded explanations. For the first time in the life of the Communist Party of the United States, we challenged the Russians for the truth, we challenged the disgraceful executions that had taken place in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. We demanded explanations and openness. John Gates pulled no punches, printed the hundreds of letters that poured in from our readers, the bitterness of those who had given the best and most fruitful years of their lives to an organization that still clung to the tail of the Soviet Union."
John Gates also encouraged debate on this issue by devoting one page of the newspaper to their readers' views: "The readers thought plenty. The paper received an unprecedented flood of mail, and even more unprecedented, we decided to print all the letters, regardless of viewpoint - a step which the Daily Worker had never taken before. The full page of letters, in our modest eight pages, soon became its liveliest and most popular feature... Readers spoke out as never before, pouring out the anguish of many difficult years."
In April 1956 Eugene Dennis, published a report on the American Communist Party. As John Gates pointed out that it "was a devastating critique of the party's policies over a whole decade. Like all reports, it was not only his own, but had been discussed and approved by the National Committee members in advance. Dennis characterized the party's policies as super-leftist and sectarian, narrow-minded and inflexible, dogmatic and unrealistic." William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis and Robert G. Thompson, constituted a minority of the leadership that led the attack on Dennis.
Khrushchev's de-Stalinzation policy encouraged people living in Eastern Europe to believe that he was willing to give them more independence from the Soviet Union. In Hungary the prime minister Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. During the Hungarian Uprisingan estimated 20,000 people were killed. Nagy was arrested and replaced by the Soviet loyalist, Janos Kadar.
John Gates, the editor of the Daily Worker, was highly critical of the actions of Nikita Khrushchev and stated that "for the first time in all my years in the Party I felt ashamed of the name Communist". He then went on to add that "there was more liberty under Franco's fascism than there is in any communist country." As a result he was accused of being "right-winger, Social-Democrat, reformist, Browderite, peoples' capitalist, Trotskyist, Titoite, Stracheyite, revisionist, anti-Leninist, anti-party element, liquidationist, white chauvinist, national Communist, American exceptionalist, Lovestoneite, Bernsteinist".
William Z. Foster was a loyal supporter of the leadership of the Soviet Union and refused to condemn the regime's record on human rights. Foster failed to criticize the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution. Large numbers left the party. At the end of the Second World War it had 75,000 members. By 1957 membership had dropped to 5,000.
On 22nd December, 1957, the American Communist Party Executive Committee decided to close down the Daily Worker. John Gates argued: "Throughout the 34 years of its existence, the Daily Worker has withstood the attacks of Big Business, the McCarthyites and other reactionaries. It has taken a drive from within the party - conceived in blind factionalism and dogmatism - to do what our foes have never been able to accomplish. The party leadership must once and for all repudiate the Foster thesis, defend the paper and its political line, and seek to unite the entire party behind the paper."
Howard Fast, who was a staff journalist on the Daily Worker added: "The Daily Worker published its last issue on January 13, 1958, precisely thirty-four years after its first issue had appeared. I doubt whether there was a day during those decades when the paper was not in debt. It was always understaffed, and its staff was always underpaid. It never compromised with the truth as it saw the truth; and while it was at times rigid and believing of whatever the Soviet Union put forth, it was so only because of its blind faith in the socialist cause. It is a part of the history of this country, and like the party that supported it, it preached love for its native land. It had once boasted a daily circulation of close to 100,000. Its final run was five thousand copies."
A few weeks after the publication of Spartacus (1951), John Howard Lawson, the party's cultural chief on the West Coast, attacked it bitterly. Lawson's small battle with Fast began when The Daily Worker asked me to do a regular column. I said I would agree only if the column bore the title "I Write As I Please." At first my request was turned down flat, but the editors wanted the column and finally agreed. But when Lawson, out in Los Angeles, saw my first column, he reacted like a bull to the red cape. He felt that the title was a violation of party discipline, and he argued his point hotly - that no person could belong to the party and write what he pleased to write. Suppose he attacked the party itself? Would The Daily Worker, a Communist paper, print what he wrote? Would any newspaper in America give a hired hand the privilege of writing as he pleased? My position was precisely that - that no other newspaper would print what I wrote, and if there was any validity to The Daily Worker and its Communist position, it was that this paper must give a writer the freedom denied him elsewhere.
The Daily Worker, New York Communist newspaper, terms the use of Soviet troops in Hungary "deplorable" today and calls for the end of the fighting in that country... The editorial says, "the delay of the Hungarian Communists in developing their own path played into the hands of the counter-revolutionaries" After asserting the Soviet troops in Hungary had been used at the request of the Hungarian Government, the editorial added its only note of protest - "which does not, however, in our view, make the use of Soviet troops in Hungary any the less deplorable."
The editorial offices of the Daily Worker were much neater, cleaner, and better equipped than when I had last seen them nearly two years before. The comrades also were better dressed, their shirts were clean, their collars were not frayed, they all wore ties and most of them were shaved. The party and the paper had evidently prospered. They gave me a good reception. I was still a hero, albeit a smaller one - having had a hand in the making of many a proletarian hero those comrades had a better perspective.
The Daily Worker wanted to put me to work right away - they were trying to build up the circulation of the Sunday Worker and claimed I was just the right man for it. I was to take over the editorship of the Sunday Worker Supplement and turn it into a popular literary magazine written in a non-party style that every worker and housewife could understand. Such a magazine circulated by the party throughout the country in hundreds of thousands, even millions of copies, would have a tremandous impact and influence on the people. It was an alluring project yet I refused, as I did the alternative offers to join the New York staff of the Daily Worker, or to revive the Daily Worker Ohio Bureau again. I told them I had a year of absence coming and intended to take it.
The Communist Party leaders who had been imprisoned in 1950 now came out of jail, and John Gates, the best of them, the most innovative and independent, resumed his job as executive editor of The Daily Worker. It was under him that I joined the staff; a new life began for The Worker, and at the same time, a split in the leadership of the party between Gates and William Z. Foster, now seventy-five.
Since this is not a history of the Communist Party, I will not go into great detail concerning this split in the leadership; the origins of it were long in making and long in coming. William Z. Foster, Ben Davis, and Gene Dennis stood by the rigid doctrines of the Leninist pattern of organization, a party governed by theory that was neither pragmatic nor relevant to the American situation, a party of unbreakable discipline taking its cues from the Soviet party and rejecting every criticism of the Soviet Union. The opposition to this, led by John Gates, held that the Russians made grave errors, for which they must be criticized, that the rigid Leninist form was neither right for America nor helpful in the struggle of the American left, that it isolated the party, and was now bringing the party to its final moment of self-destruction. This, of course, is the briefest definition of what was happening.
Chaim Sutler returned from the Soviet Union and sought me out in private to tell me a horrendous story of the persecution, not only of Jews, but of others - executions without trial, whipping, torture - all of this under the benign rule of Josef Stalin. Writing in The Worker, I began to deal with these matters, but Sutler, for one, would not be quoted. The Worker staff defended me; the hatred of the leadership around Dennis and Foster for Howard Fast increased. They would have happily expelled me had I been alone, but the staff of The Worker was moving along the same road.
A particular role in this crisis was played by two of the Daily Worker's editors, Joseph Clark (who was our correspondent in Moscow from 1950 to 1953) and Joseph Starobin, who had been stationed in Paris from early 1951, and had then gone to Peking, where he was the first American correspondent to spend a year in the New China, and from which he also scored a "scoop" in visiting the battlefronts of the Indo-China war on the Ho Chi Minh side. He was the first Western correspondent to have done so since 1946. Both of these men were party veterans, and had held posts of confidence beyond the purely journalistic; Clark had been a YCL organizer in Detroit, and Starobin had directed the party's peace activities in 1949-51. Each of them had quite independently of the other reached radical conclusions while abroad. They felt that the party had lost touch with American realities. They insisted in their letters that the international situation was being misjudged, and they had begun to have doubts about many Russian policies. In their view, a drastic re-orientation away from imitations of the world Communist movement was essential, and they tried to suggest this upon their return in the summer of 1953, three years before the Khrushchev report.
Few were more shaken by the Khrushchev revelations than the Daily Worker staff, which had the daily responsibility of commenting on events. Alan Max spoke his mind boldly, on March 13, 1956, admitting that the Soviet Congress had jolted him: "We went overboard in defending the idea of Stalin's infallibility, in opposing any suggestion that civil liberties were not being fully respected in the Soviet Union."
"Where were the present Soviet leaders during the period when they say collective leadership was lacking?" he asked. Then he broached the key question: "What about our own mistakes?"
"What do our readers think about the matter?" Max went on. The readers thought plenty. The paper received an unprecedented flood of mail, and even more unprecedented, we decided to print all the letters, regardless of viewpoint - a step which the Daily Worker had never taken before. The full page of letters, in our modest eight pages, soon became its liveliest and most popular feature, a permanent department entitled "Speak Your Piece." Readers spoke out as never before, pouring out the anguish of many difficult years.
At a meeting of the staff at The Daily Worker, Joe Clark, the Worker Moscow correspondent during the early fifties, told John Gates that if he, Gates, had been found in Moscow with a copy of The New York Times in his possession, he would have been subject to ten years' imprisonment. East balanced West, but Gates, in the free and democratic United States, had served a sentence of five years for committing no crime whatsoever. I asked them, "Is there anyone here who can believe that he would not be sentenced to death if the Foster group had the power to do it?"
I had a note from Sean O'Casey: "Don't be taken in by the bastards!" - meaning those who attacked Russia. To be a revolutionary in Ireland is more simple.
No, no way. The taking of a human life is the ultimate, inexcusable human evil. I learned that from World War Two. I learned that when I was in the Washington, D.C., jail, listening to the condemned men weeping in the night and pleading for life. I think I became a pacifist there. I am a pacifist still. Sean O'Casey might pursue his dreams of brotherhood through hell; I could not. Years before, I had brought charges of anti-Semitism against the representative of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the charges had been brushed away. Now we learned, at The Worker, that in 1948 all the Yiddish-language institutions and publications had been done away with, Yiddish-language poets put to death - a senseless crusade against the Jews, not in Germany but in the Soviet Union.
At The Daily Worker, we fought back. We accused the Soviets. We demanded explanations. For the first time in the life of the Communist Party of the United States, we challenged the Russians for the truth, we challenged the disgraceful executions that had taken place in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. We demanded explanations and openness. John Gates pulled no punches, printed the hundreds of letters that poured in from our readers, the bitterness of those who had given the best and most fruitful years of their lives to an organization that still clung to the tail of the Soviet Union.
Then, at that moment when we were fighting to make the paper a vehicle of truth and independence, the federal government stepped in and seized all the assets of The Worker - the editorial offices, all the premises - charging that we had not paid back taxes. Nobody knew better than the staff of the paper how ridiculous these charges were. Our annual deficit had never been below $200,000 a year, and again and again the paper was in a desperate crisis for funds. How many flying expeditions we had made to every corner of the metropolitan area to scrape together enough money to keep the paper alive for another few issues! In all my years with the paper, I had never taken a dollar for pay or expenses, but I was the only one on the staff who could afford to do that. The others were professional newspapermen who depended on their weekly wages to keep their families going; and again and again, they had missed paychecks because there was no money.
And now, after destroying thousands of people who believed in socialism, and jailing hundreds of others, and making life a living hell for people of good will all over the country, the idiots in the Treasury Department had thought up this new gimmick - closing the paper down for nonpayment of taxes.
They didn't quite succeed in closing us down, and the stupid move backfired. Every major newspaper in America cried out that this was a direct assault on freedom of the press and the First Amendment. Treasury agents seized our typewriters and files and office furniture, all of it worth about twenty cents. They slapped a lien on us that stated that The Daily Worker owed $46,049 in taxes and penalties for three years, from 1951 through 1953 - When major newspapers charged Washington with this idiocy, the Internal Revenue offices in Washington backed down and claimed that the raid had been undertaken without their knowledge, at the behest of Donald R. Moysey, a Treasury official. Moysey, no great intellect, had thought that the raids would increase his importance politically. The opposite was true.
I do not consider the death of the Daily Worker inevitable... Substantial funds which would help to meet the paper's emergency are being deliberately withheld by a minority of comrades who are in effect waging a political strike against the program of the last Convention, against the majority of the national leadership and against the paper whose policy is in accord with that of the leadership. The national leadership must come to grips with this attempt to choke the Daily Worker. It must smash the boycott. The national leadership must face the fact squarely that the Daily Worker is not dying a natural death. It is being murdered.
The paper is being destroyed by a small group of willful and reckless comrades in the leadership who never believed in the 16th convention program in the first place and have done everything possible to reverse it. This group has been led by Comrades Foster and Davis and in recent weeks have been joined by Comrade Dennis . . . Throughout the 34 years of its existence, the Daily Worker has withstood the attacks of Big Business, the McCarthyites and other reactionaries. It has taken a drive from within the party - conceived in blind factionalism and dogmatism - to do what our foes have never been able to accomplish. The party leadership must once and for all repudiate the Foster thesis, defend the paper and its political line, and seek to unite the entire party behind the paper. It must reiterate the policy of the 16th Convention with its placing of dogmatism and sectarianism as the main danger and with its call for a new course in the party's theoretical and organizational work.
The Daily Worker published its last issue on January 13, 1958, precisely thirty-four years after its first issue had appeared. I doubt whether there was a day during those decades when the paper was not in debt. It was always understaffed, and its staff was always underpaid. It never compromised with the truth as it saw the truth; and while it was at times rigid and believing of whatever the Soviet Union put forth, it was so only because of its blind faith in the socialist cause. It is a part of the history of this country, and like the party that supported it, it preached love for its native land. It had once boasted a daily circulation of close to 100,000. Its final run was five thousand copies.