BY TONY HUNT
TEHRAN, Iran - "Which is the best book about Che Guevara?" asked a student, one of hundreds of visitors, the majority of them young, to the Pathfinder Distribution stand at the 11th Tehran International Book Fair May 19-29. After talking to members of the international sales team staffing the stand, and consulting with her friends, the young woman made a list of several titles published or distributed by Pathfinder, including Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War 1956-58 and Celebrating the Homecoming of Ernesto Che Guevara's Reinforcement Brigade to Cuba. She also looked carefully at Cosmetics, Fashions and the Exploitation of Women, and added this title to her list. The student then went away to decide which books she could afford to buy through the book fair's central purchasing system.
Earlier a different group of women students had worked their way around the selection of revolutionary literature on the Pathfinder stand starting with titles by V.I. Lenin. Two of them decided to buy copies of Cosmetics, Fashions and the Exploitation of Women.
The London-based distributor was exhibiting in the foreign publishers section of the book fair for the seventh consecutive year. According to the organizers, the 11-day event attracted 2 million visitors this year, confirming its place as a major international cultural event. The organizers also reported that three times as many publishers from Arab countries exhibited at the fair this year, and representatives of the Saudi Arabian government attended the closing ceremony. This underlines the weakening of imperialist efforts to isolate Iran from countries in the region.
The annual book fair is one of the gains of the popular revolution of 1979, which swept away the brutal regime of the U.S.-backed monarch, the Shah, and wrenched the country and its resources out of imperialist control. Access to education and literature were among the central demands of the millions of workers and peasants who were the driving force of that revolution. One older visitor looking over the range of books by revolutionary leaders on the Pathfinder stand said, "These books would never have been allowed in the Shah's time."
Each year the Iranian government subsidies the cost of foreign-language books that otherwise would be out of reach for working people and youth because of the unequal rate of exchange between oppressed countries such as Iran and imperialist countries. This year the subsidy was about 65 percent.
`What do you recommend this year?'
The Pathfinder sales team sold 408 books and pamphlets and one set of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels at the this year's book fair. Many of the book buyers were customers from previous years who were excited to see Pathfinder at the fair again. One asked, "I bought New International no. 7 last year. What do you recommend I read this year?" Also among the visitors to the Pathfinder stand were Islamic institutes, a military research department who bought several books on international politics, a governmental women's studies institute, and representatives of university libraries and departments. One student of German history took a catalogue and returned a few days later to say the library at his university was going to buy The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany by Leon Trotsky and other titles on fascism.
Interviews with two members of the Pathfinder sales team were shown on Iranian TV on consecutive nights during the book fair and apparently were later repeated. The official book fair newspaper, Radio Tehran, and an Iranian TV channel that broadcasts in Azerbaijani Turkish to Baku, capital of the former Soviet republic, also interviewed members of the Pathfinder team.
The bestselling title was The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Eighteen copies were sold in English and three in Spanish. This reflected a growing interest in the basic ideas of Marxism, including among researchers for Islamic institutes looking for books to assist them in their studies of non-Islamic philosophies.
Interest in Marxist classics
Capital by Karl Marx sold out. Several people who wanted to buy the three-volume work were disappointed at missing out. "We need these books in Iran today" said one. One visitor to the stand, looking at the display of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, questioned, "Why is Pathfinder selling these books when they threw them away in the Soviet Union and when communism is dead?" A young man standing next to him replied, "Only now are we beginning to find out what communist ideas really mean - these ideas are just beginning to grow."
Issues of New International, a magazine of Marxist politics and theory distributed by Pathfinder, also sold well in English, Spanish, and French. Issues no. 7 and no. 10, containing the lead articles "The Opening Guns of World War III" and "Imperialism's March to Fascism and War" were the third and fourth bestselling titles.
Book fair visitors, both men and women, bought 60 books from Pathfinder's range on the fight for women's rights. Seventeen copies of Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women by Joseph Hansen and Mary-Alice Waters were sold and was the second bestselling title. Feminism and the Marxist Movement by Mary-Alice Waters, which has recently been reprinted with an attractive new cover, and Woman's Evolution by Evelyn Reed both sold out. Woman's Evolution, which presents a materialist account of the origins of women's oppression, was on sale at the fair for the first time.
Eight copies of The Changing Face of U.S. Politics were sold in both English and Spanish editions. Many young people were interested in developments in the labor movement and social movements in other countries, especially in the United States, and checked out this title.
Books and pamphlets about the Cuban revolution were the other big sellers. Topping the list in this category were At the Side of Che Guevara, which contains two interviews with Cuban brigadier-general Harry Villegas, and Celebrating the Homecoming of Ernesto Che Guevara's Reinforcement Brigade to Cuba, a collection of articles first published in the Militant at the time of the 30th anniversary of Che Guevara's death in combat in Bolivia. One soldier visiting the stand said, "I'm looking for books on great men," and selected titles by Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Another visitor was full of questions about a fellow revolutionary country. "Why has Cuba been more successful than we have in becoming self-sufficient? What is the level of industrial development in Cuba? Who controls the factories?" A clergyman explained that he was buying books about the Cuban revolution because he wanted to understand why Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were getting such a hearing from young people.
The great interest in culture in Iran was reflected in sales of Art and Revolution, a collection of articles by Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky and What is Surrealism? by André Breton.
On the eve of the book fair, a Tehran based publisher released two Farsi-language editions of titles published or distributed by Pathfinder. These were placed in the stands of other Iranian publishers in the Farsi section of the book fair and sold well. The Farsi edition of Women's Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle by Thomas Sankara sold some 50 copies, while the lead article from New International no. 10, "Imperialism's March toward Fascism and War" by Jack Barnes sold around 20 copies. A Farsi edition of Malcolm X Talks to Young People and a new edition of Socialism and Man in Cuba by Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are planned for release later this year.
The annual Tehran International Book Fair is not the only
opportunity for sales of Pathfinder literature in Iran. In
the course of 1997 Pathfinder stands at six regional book
fairs around the country sold some 260 books worth around
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