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."