BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
As the Militant went to press this week, supporters of the communist movement in the San Francisco Bay Area were completing formatting the electronic page layouts of the introduction, 11 chapters, and appendix of The Revolution Betrayed - What is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. Within a week, the last portion of the text - the index - will also be put into electronic format. The digital files will then be used by the staffs of Pathfinder and its print shop to reprint the book through advanced computer-to-plate technology.
One of the companies that have put in bids to sell this equipment to the print shop has agreed that its machinery will be used for a test run, to produce all the necessary printing plates for The Revolution Betrayed directly from the electronic files. This includes the book's six-color cover, which is also being digitized through copy dot scanning - one of the methods being considered for this conversion.
The Revolution Betrayed - due for delivery the first week of June - is the first Pathfinder book to be produced in this new digital manner.
Step-up in workers' resistance
The transformation of Pathfinder book production now under way is needed to respond to the new openings to win a hearing for revolutionary ideas among more workers, farmers, and youth as the class struggle broadens.
"On April 30, 650 workers struck Titan Tires," said Gaetan Whiston, in a May 6 letter to local fractions of socialist workers in the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). Whiston, a USWA member in Minneapolis, is the organizer of the national steering committee that leads the work of socialists in that union. "This is an important fight," Whiston continued. "It is not only part of a trend of combativity we have witnessed by workers throughout the tire industry, such as the recent Uniroyal strike, but it's also totally part of the increased resistance within the labor movement."
Whiston pointed to a report by socialist workers in a USWA-organized plant in Des Moines who had consistently sold the Militant and Pathfinder books at Titan plant gates leading up to the walkout. When the strike broke out they were already recognized as fellow fighters among unionists there and they helped organize solidarity. This is a good example to emulate, he said.
"At our last national fraction meeting we discussed the bottoming out of the retreat of our class," Whiston noted. "Today we can confidently say that the retreat has bottomed out. What is unfolding is the acceleration of working-class resistance to conditions that we face in the work place and to those the bosses are trying to impose. The recent Caterpillar fight, the fight at Case Corp., the strike in Macedonia, Ohio, by young McDonald's workers, the stepped-up guerrilla actions by airline workers from Northwest to TWA, and now the strike at Titan Tire are examples of the types of flash points that confirm this new resistance. This is part of what is stirring internationally within our class from the Australian Wharfies to the general strike in Denmark.
"These new openings to deepen our propaganda work, to bring communist politics to our co-workers, and to be part of and to initiate solidarity actions through the union are available to all our fractions."
Reports in this issue on working-class struggles and the response by fighting workers to the Militant and Pathfinder books confirm Whiston's point. Any revolutionary-minded fighter can literally walk to join struggles near their neighborhood or workplace in most cities in the United States and other imperialist centers.
Other social classes are also sensing this sea change in working-class politics. During sales visits to bookshops, libraries, and university stores in the Seattle area May 4-8, socialist workers sold 89 Pathfinder books. Among the top ten sellers was The Changing Face of U.S. Politics by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes. "In two of these stores, the buyer had circled the book in the catalog before we got there," said Pathfinder business manager Sara Lobman, who too part in the Seattle sales trip. "We are not the only ones who have noticed the increased resistance."
Revolutionizing book production
To meet the demand for Pathfinder books, the publisher and its print shop must revolutionize book production methods. The current photo offset technology used in Pathfinder's printshop is too labor intensive and costly to keep pace.
This challenge was presented by Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters, editor of the Marxist magazine New International, at a regional socialist conference in Seattle January 24-25.
Supporters of the communist movement in the San Francisco Bay Area - a number of whom attended that gathering -responded quickly to the challenge, agreeing to be the organizing center for a worldwide effort to not only scan and proofread Pathfinder books but format the digitized manuscripts into finished electronic pages. Since February, the project has been organized by a steering committee of four volunteers in the Bay Area, headed by Ruth Cheney.
"We now have about 96 volunteers signed up," said Cheney in a telephone interview from her home in Oakland, California, May 13. "Over the last month, we have been organizing them into three departments according to skill, regardless of where in the world people live." Communications are done mostly by e-mail.
About 15 volunteers are being trained to scan books and turn them into digital files. The training includes learning the scanning techniques mastered by Bay Area steering committee member Tom Tomasko that result in an average of only one error per five pages of scanned text. "This is the key skill that we are working on right now to advance rapidly," Cheney said. "We are not close yet to what is needed in this first phase of the process to get a production line going."
After the digitized manuscripts are stripped of most errors by "massaging," they are sent back to the organizing center in the Bay Area that farms them out to volunteers for proofreading. Over 50 volunteers will soon be correcting the scanned and massaged text, Cheney said. The majority will do the first read of the electronic manuscript. Only a handful have so far been identified as potential second readers, who will do the final read and corrections. "We insist on taking time to find and train those who can maintain the high quality standards Pathfinder is known for in each skill."
Only three volunteers are now being trained to format the proofed and corrected manuscripts into their final electronic form. Several more have offered to help with this task. The first formatter is Bay Area steering committee member Jerry Gardner, an electrician.
Wellsprings of talent and skills
"A good number of Pathfinder supporters had working experience for two years in scanning and an even larger number in proofreading books," Gardner said in a telephone interview. "But I've had to learn formatting from scratch." Gardner did all of the work in formatting The Revolution Betrayed. "The experience was a bit of a nightmare. But going through it, we learned quite a lot that will make training others smoother." Gardner said that in the process of trying to solve technical problems, the Bay Area organizers have begun to discover a number of volunteers with talent and skills who know this part of the production process through their jobs. Robbie Scherr, for example, an SWP supporter in Seattle, works in desktop publishing of books. She helped a lot in overcoming a number of the initial hurdles Gardner encountered in formatting The Revolution Betrayed.
The work of the volunteers is now completely tied to Pathfinder's reprint program. Only 18 copies of The Revolution Betrayed are currently left in Pathfinder's stock. At the average rate of sales over the last year, this stock will be depleted by the beginning of June. The digitized reprint will thus be used immediately to begin filling orders. Volunteers are now working on 32 books. (Those who want to volunteer can contact Cheney at email@example.com)
At the same time the staffs of Pathfinder and its print shop are preparing the ground for using computer-to-plate technology to produce printing plates for presses directly from the finished digital files. Doing so will enable print shop workers to bypass highly skilled and time consuming processes, such as stripping film and burning plates manually. This reorganization will allow Pathfinder to keep its entire arsenal of 350 titles in print with a smaller shop and at a lower cost for short runs.
Putting the books in electronic format also makes it
easier and quicker to produce them in larger and more
readable type, rather than constantly reproducing old and
sometimes broken print, said print shop director Chris
Hoeppner. The new reprint of Revolutionary Continuity: Birth
of the Communist Movement 1918-1922 by Farrell Dobbs is a
case in point. The book was digitized by print shop workers.
It grew from its earlier 240 pages with small and squeezed
print to 330 pages with type friendlier to the eye. "The
book is now more accessible to fighting workers who need
it," Hoeppner said.
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