“Workers cannot write newspapers? Really? Just tell us some news about your factory”

Submitted by Anon on 25 March, 2006 - 12:32

Pieces from communists involved in producing factory newspapers. Taken from the Funke, the paper of the party workers of the Berlin-Brandenburg district of the German Communist Party. 6 August 1925

It was about three weeks before the Reichstag election. In our district we discussed how we could mobilise factory nuclei for the struggle and also how we could utilise the election campaign for the activation of our nucleus work. In this connection we naturally came to speak of nucleus newspapers.

A big nucleus had just then started a newspaper for all the enterprises in our district, but we realised that this was a more than doubtful expedient.

A common factory newspaper for a number of different enterprises is nothing but a far from improved new edition of the German Communist Party’s central paper, the Rote Fahne (Red Flag). The factory newspaper should not be for a whole district, but for the smallest possible part of the district.

We had therefore to establish factory newspapers in every enterprise, big enterprises of course taking precedence. But how? Newspapers do not come of themselves.

As a rule comrades welcomed the idea as a new opportunity to spread our ideas. They were only at a loss to know how to go about it, for to publish a newspaper is by no means easy!

Firstly to write it, is something that an ordinary proletarian has not learned to do! Secondly, where is the money for the printing to come from? Thirdly, how is the newspaper to be made up illegally, for legal methods are impossible, if the whole nucleus is not to be thrown on the streets in a very short time. And finally the circulation!

It is not at all so difficult to solve these questions, but it is extremely difficult to convince our comrades that they can be solved.

Well, our nucleus met, and objections were coming thick and fast. How were they to be met? A printer had been found and the money too. It did not come from Moscow but from the workers of some comparatively better placed enterprises who had made sacrifices.

So I said: Dear comrades, you will have to write and to circulate a newspaper, and we will help you in both cases. Let all the rest be our concern for the time being. Subsequently you will have to use your ingenuity and collect as much as you can. But proletarians cannot write newspapers? Really? Just tell us any news about your factory.

Then came a perfect avalanche of accounts of incidents. I made notes of anything that was striking in these accounts and wrote down the name of the person who was telling the story.

Is that all? There was silence.

All right, Karl, you have to write down by the day after tomorrow what you have just told us about the last wage negotiations, and you, Erich have to write down the beautiful story about your foreman…

Uproar! But there is no help for it. I finish reading the list of names and tell them where the manuscripts have to be the day after tomorrow. I also tell them that they should write quite naturally and any grammatical mistakes will be put right by us (in fact I had hardly very much to add or correct.)

A poet was discovered in our midst who sent a satirical contribution.

Then the question arose if this was a good paper for our election campaign. Everyone admitted that it was not political enough. Stories about factory life are a good thing, for otherwise our fellow workers would not read the paper, but the Communist element must be added, otherwise we miss our aim.

Above all we give after every report quite briefly the conclusions which the workers have to draw from the report, then we give some extracts from the papers of our opponents… hardly had I said this when proposals came thick and fast. A few strong telling slogans and the thing is done.

Then I said: do you know, the paper is complete! General surprise. But what should its make up be like, what should be at the head… What is comparatively unimportant and can be left out if there is not enough space?

The most difficult part of the work was done. The comrade who made himself responsible for the editorial work had to spend a few hours after all the contributions have come in to do the necessary corrections. The larger newspapers with bigger editions are printed, while the smaller ones with only 100 or 200 copies are stencilled by a woman comrade office worker behind the back of her boss, and subsequently duplicated.

Then the great day comes. One evening the nucleus meets, and the next morning every worker finds the Spartacist bacillus on his breakfast table. If that cannot be done, unemployed workers living in the neighbourhood come to the factory gates to distribute the paper. As soon as they notice the approach of the police, they make themselves scarce.

In the factory there is a regular fight for the paper, as the edition was too small. And the authorities cannot cope with this. Search raids are made on all Factory Councillors, everything is turned upside down, but the result is nil.

We have produced 12 newspapers in the manner described above: not a single comrade has been caught by the detectives.

And the result? The whole factory discusses for several days the contents of the newspaper. Socialist Party workers cannot help agreeing with the criticism of the factory conditions, but they naturally will have nothing to do with that part of the paper which deals with general politics.

Nevertheless they have become thoughtful, for something is sure to make an impression. And all those who were hitherto indifferent or merely timid, begin to see that the Communist Party, which was supposed to be dead and buried is very much alive.

When the agents of the Criminal Investigation Department make their appearance and rummage in the drawers of the suspected workers, the whole factory rejoices at their failure to find anything. The feeling becomes general that after all these Communist fellows are not so bad!

And without any effort on our part, money comes in for the next number of the newspaper.

The second number is much easier. Some comrade has taken courage and has made himself responsible for the work. All he wants from now, is advice occasionally. The first number was far from perfect. Such a large number of the promised contributions had failed to arrive that one could see that part of the paper was not made up in the factory. But that has never discouraged us: for the first imperfect newspaper made all fellow workers come up to the scratch, and so many contributions came in for the second number that it was a hard job to sift the material in order not to leave out something important for the lack of space.

The nucleus which formerly existed more on paper than in reality is now a live institution. Its work which is common work has welded all the members together.

Of course everything is not always as it should be. The first newspaper came out a week later than it should have done, but the comrades put up with it.

But one cannot blame the workers for their impatience, for we have much to learn in the matter of organisation. We must create an apparatus which can function as though legal authorities and their lackeys do not exist, and as if, as in capitalist enterprises, an overseer stood behind every compositor seeing to it that he does his task.

We can nevertheless say that we have now instead of one paper, ten factory newspapers, and that 20,000 workers in 20 big industrial enterprises are waiting to see what the Communist Party has to tell them after the elections.

What are to be the form and the contents of the factory newspaper? When dealing with this question, one should take into consideration the mental development of the factory workers and their attitude to the factory newspaper. An illustrated paper is more effective. Articles should not be too long. Articles, poems etc should be written in a manner to enable our fellow workers to take in their contents and to impart them to others. It is on this practical experience that we have built up our factory newspaper which we intend to continue publishing in the same spirit.

Nucleus Bureau of the H Works.

The foundation of the paper was made by six comrades who wrote articles, extracts from which were used in the papers. The illustrations in the paper are the work of a young locksmith, who does heavy physical work. 300 copies were produced by a comrade of the district leading organ without any changes in the original material. Thus the paper, such as it is, was entirely the work of the nucleus.

The effect was excellent; some of the more wide-awake comrades distributed the paper in the factory. We had a meeting attended by six comrades. Everyone of them was allotted his share of work. The comrades were selected a couple of days before, and were instructed as to their attitude. Their attention was drawn to the usual attitude and behaviour of foremen, or the police, the officials and to the sneaks among our fellow workers. We pointed out to these comrades the various places where papers could be deposited without being notice. I gave minute instructions about everything. When I was satisfied that everyone had carried out the instructions given him, the papers were given to the selected comrades at a party meeting. Everyone of them knew what would be his fate if he were caught.

In the morning, as soon as the signal was given, everything was in readiness at the factory gates. The papers were not sold or distributed openly, but deposited in various places at the time when the others were changing their clothes in the dressing room.

If it was impossible to distribute the paper in this way, it had to be during working hours, leaving copies in the lavatory or in an unobtrusive manner in the workshops, on carpenters’ benches etc. By eight o’clock no one was to have more than one paper on hand.

A comrade who distributed literature was hauled before the management as one of the renegade lot had betrayed him. The management asked this comrade who the distributors were, and wanted them to tell them at least the name of the editor. His answer was of course, “I do not know anything about the matter.”

How we circulate our nucleus newspaper: there can be no hard and fast rule in this matter. The nucleus should endeavour to use different methods every time a new number is published. We have up to the present published four numbers. This is how we proceeded with the first number…

A nucleus meeting was convened, at which every member was given 20 copies. Those who could not attend received their copies in their homes.

Since our nucleus is as yet not strong enough to undertake the sale of all of the 1,000 copies, we get the unemployed to help us. Our mode of procedure was as follows:

The factory has four main entrances. We post one seller and one collector in all the streets leading to these entrances, and behind the sellers and collectors we post another comrade, who must be on the lookout for policeman, detectives, etc. Our experience is that everything went off all right, if these rules were adhered to, but in two places this arrangement did not work: 180 copies were taken away from a young comrade, but he tore them again out of the hands of the police and threw them to the workers who had just arrived by train, they picked up the copies in spite of the policeman, and our success was all the greater, as this was a splendid advertisement for the paper. The name of the author of the paper must be kept secret even from the nucleus as a whole.

This was how we managed for the first number. Another of our methods consisted in convening all the nucleus members and instructing them to sell the paper throughout the locality, or to board tramcars leading to the works, to sell the paper and to vanish. These comrades are told not to waste time over giving change.

As I said before we must continually change or mode of procedure, for you see that by so doing we are always able to keep going.