Leon Trotsky discussed factory bulletins, and their place in the overall work of a revolutionary organisation, in a letter to his French comrades of January 1938.
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.
Let us recall the discussion with the Molinier group on “a mass paper.” The pamphlet by our poor N Braun makes a number of excellent points on this subject. 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...
I believe that the difficulties of the Belgian section can be explained to a great extent by the lack of a French-language theoretical journal. The importance of this question cannot be overestimated. 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. The worst mistake committed by the Borinage comrades was in wasting their time, energy, and prestige by creating “unions” for their own satisfaction. They took their inspiration not from the experience of decades, not from the lessons of the first four congresses of the [Third] International, but from the example of a bureaucrat without program or principles, that is, Sneevliet.
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...
Factory papers and a theoretical journal, January 27, 1938
Lutte was the French Trotskyists' paper, Lutte Ouvrière
Raymond Molinier had led a splinter group from the French Trotskyists in December 1935 around the project of creating an immediate “mass paper” (which failed)
N.Braun was Erwin Wolf, a Trotskyist kidnapped and murdered by the Stalinists in Spain in 1937, who had written a pamphlet against Molinier
The Borinage was a mining district in Belgium where the Trotskyists had some strength
Henk Sneevliet was a Dutch revolutionary socialist. One of Trotsky’s major disagreements with him is that he maintained a tiny separate left-wing union federation, the NAS, instead of merging it into the mass reformist-led union organisation.