The Newspaper Sellers

[Editors Note: The following short passage is taken from ‘Slouching towards Bethlehem’ a portrait of modern America by Joan Didion. This is an extract from a story about the young leader (26 years) of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) in the USA.

Didion sets up the story that leads to this conversation between newspaper sellers. Perhaps this is not the sole problem faced by sellers of the Green Left Weekly,
Guardian or Direct Action on the streets of Brisbane today but it does describe one of them.

Another problem is the advent of the internet that challenges the relevance of

newspapers of all ideological colours. The conversation occurs at the
headquarters of the CP (M-L) in Los Angeles but could occur anywhere, even here at the HQ of the Socialist Alliance or any left-wing group struggling for
relevance in this day and age.I reprint the story here in the interest of finding another, more dynamic way to engage with people, to find out what they think and know about the world and how to change it. It is dedicated to Jim McIlroy who can be seen selling the GLW around any demo in Brisbane over the past 25 years.]

The Marxist-Leninists had been out selling the People’s Voice, and now Michael Laski and three other members of the cadre were going over the proceeds, a ceremony as formal as a gathering of the Morgan partners.

“Mr.—Comrade—Simmons – what was the total income? Michael Laski asked.

“Nine dollars and ninety-one cents. “

“Over what period of time?”

“Four hours.”

“What was the total number of papers sold?”


“And the average per hour?”


“The average contribution?”

“Thirteen and a half cents.”

“The largest contribution?”

“Sixty cents.”

“The smallest?”

“Four cents.”

“It was not a very good day, Comrade Simmons. Can you explain?”

“It’s always bad the day before welfare and unemployment checks arrive.”

“Very good, Comrade Simmons.”

You see what the world of Michael Laski is:

a minor but perilous triumph of being over nothingness.


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