Volunteers expand Pathfinder bookstore placements

By Gale Shangold
March 8, 2021

Supporters of the Socialist Workers Party who volunteer to get Pathfinder books into bookstores, libraries and classrooms across North America surpassed their goals during the fall 2020 sales effort. Now they’re looking forward to an even more successful spring sales campaign building on that achievement.

Pathfinder publishes titles by SWP leaders, as well as books about the Cuban Revolution and labor battles, and by Malcolm X, Thomas Sankara and other revolutionaries.

Even though many libraries were shut down and bookstores were not running at full capacity, volunteers won 104 orders, with 29 of them coming from new buyers and librarians — more orders than in any past sales effort.

“In the face of widespread shutdowns, we had to be persistent, but the persistence paid off,” Nick Castle, a volunteer from Los Angeles, told the Militant. Volunteers found growing interest in understanding the roots of today’s capitalist crisis and what working people can do to find a way out of it.

Many book buyers “wanted Malcolm X and other related titles, responding to last year’s protests against police brutality,” Castle said.

Volunteers found an interest in a broad range of Pathfinder’s 450-plus titles. A longtime book distributor in Maryland whose focus has been titles on Africa and the struggle for Black rights ordered over 200 books, including The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon; Red Zone: Cuba and the Battle Against Ebola in West Africa by Enrique Ubieta; and The Turn to Industry: Forging a Proletarian Party by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes.

Volunteers call their efforts “shoe leather work,” since visiting buyers face to face is the most effective way to introduce Pathfinder’s titles.

“We got the third order from this rural bookstore in the last 10 months,” reports Rosemary Ray, a volunteer from Hamilton, Ontario. “Last July and August were the busiest months he’s ever had as people got away from cities and visited small towns.” When Ray visited the buyer, “He bought seven titles, including The History of the Russian Revolution by Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky.”

Several prison librarians told Ray they have no budget to buy books. But at one Ontario prison, “a cart of donated books goes around to prisoners twice a week. Two librarians responded positively when we asked if they would put Pathfinder brochures on the cart so prisoners could see what was available and order online.” Pathfinder offers a 50% discount to prisoners.

Most public and campus libraries remain closed, but volunteers were able to get the new edition of The Jewish Question into a number of them.

Scott Breen from Seattle got a significant order from a campus librarian there, including that title and The Turn to Industry. Seattle volunteers also got titles adopted by a number of professors for their classes.

A spring sales campaign from Jan. 11 to July 4 has been launched with goals in the same range — 100 orders, with 20 of them from new bookstores, libraries or classrooms.

That effort has gotten off to a good start in Washington, D.C., Arrin Hawkins reports.

“After months of lockdown, layoffs and the presence of 20,000 National Guardsmen on the streets since the inauguration, we knew many working people would be searching for books that answer some of the questions they are asking today,” she said. Volunteers there are visiting stores they haven’t been to for several years.

Black History Month and Women’s History Month offer opportunities to win orders.

The Kansas City Star ran an interview during Black History Month with local bookseller Willa Robinson,  who said she was keen to present books by Malcolm X so people could learn about what he stood for. Robinson prominently displays titles by Malcolm as well as Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes in her store.

The 2020 effort took persistence and imagination. Its success is a source of pride for the volunteers. Books by revolutionaries are wanted and needed more than ever by working people and the sales effort will make them more widely available.