I received your large packet of factory newspapers and leaflets, etc. Indeed, this is the only suitable way for a weak organisation with a small paper to approach the least educated masses while not only maintaining but continually deepening its theoretical understanding. A certain type of “democratic centralism’’ is necessary in the organisation of written propaganda and agitation as well. You approach the workers with the simplest demands and slogans, which flow directly from life in the factory. You are not obliged to draw all the conclusions on every occasion, that is to say, in every article. Every day has its task.
But in order to do this loose, uncoordinated mass work, the party’s thinking must be sufficiently centralised and it must find its daily inspiration in a laboratory where all questions, even the most complex, are analysed and sharply focused. The Bank of France is obliged at certain times to renew its gold reserves so that the money in circulation is not debased by inflation.
I don’t know what the current circulation of Lutte is, but there are tens of thousands of workers in France who are not only capable of understanding an article that takes a broader view, but who are demanding from the workers’ press in-depth answers to the complex questions posed by the world situation. By transforming the central organ of the party into a kind of factory paper, you will never reach the masses, but you will lose your distinguishing political character, and with it your own members.
These are stormy times; the masses are restless; the most intelligent workers are seeking above all to understand what is going on. They will not be satisfied with the mere repetition of the current slogans. They must be given a complete answer. A dozen or a hundred workers of this calibre won to our general ideas can lead tens of thousands of rank-and-file workers to our movement.
None of this is in any way directed against mass work. Our work in the unions is absolutely decisive. Work in the reformist unions, I repeat, should come first. But in order for this work to be carried out in a truly revolutionary fashion, the party must have a good central paper and a theoretical journal.
The Lutte Ouvrière, in trying to become a so-called “mass newspaper,” has become too superficial — indeed, even boring. The stupid ideology held on this subject was such that certain party members even objected to publishing Trotsky’s articles sometimes on the grounds that they were too long and incomprehensible for the masses, sometimes that they were too violent against the Stalinists. The editorship, especially at the beginning, was thereby paralysed by the fear of falling under the blows of such criticisms. The result has been that there has been an alienation from La Lutte of those vanguard readers who used to find in our organ serious revolutionary news from the national and international point of view as well as an instrument for Marxist education which took daily events as a starting point. Working class readers found no substantial answer to their troubles in its hastily edited articles. Our organ thus abandoned its mission as an educator of the cadres and builder of the Fourth International.
Furthermore it is apparent that the articles in La Lutte were often written without much attention either to form or content. The language is not the result of a conscious effort to adapt the articles to the workers’ concerns; and is on that very account abstract and devoid of straightforwardness.
It is necessary to fight against the stupid and primitive ideology which has crept in under the borrowed label of “mass newspaper.” A real mass newspaper is one which tries to take as its starting point daily happenings, to bring explanations of them and slogans about them to the workers, and first of all to the advanced workers, to the vanguard. The basis of the news should be objective events in the factories, on the farms, etc., up-to-date national and international political news clearly expressed and analysed. But this aim is above all interrelated with the aim of the party itself: to forge cadres, provide the explanation of the situation, and not to stop at merely agitational slogans which, lacking explanation and political generalisation, are powerless to make the best workers understand the Fourth International’s reason for existence...
The first extract is from a note written by Trotsky for the French Trotskyists in January 1938 (Writings 1937-8, p.155). The second (unsigned, and not by Trotsky) is from a resolution of the founding conference of the Fourth International in September 1938 (Documents of the Fourth International 1933-40, p.256-7). La Lutte Ouvrière was the French Trotskyists’ newspaper.