Volunteers find more interest in books by revolutionaries

By Jim Altenberg
January 31, 2022

Volunteers working to get Pathfinder books into libraries and bookstores across North America are reporting increased interest in the wide range of revolutionary literature the publisher produces, including books by revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro, Thomas Sankara, leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes.

As the bosses and their government press to load the burden of today’s crisis of their capitalist system onto the backs of working people, sales of a wide range of Pathfinder titles, which point a way for workers and farmers to organize and combat the crisis, are also expanding.

The fall 2021 sales effort by Pathfinder volunteers was begun last September with an ambitious goal of winning 100 new orders from bookstores, libraries, and for use as textbooks in school courses. As of the end of December, 91 orders have been placed, with a month to go.

As workers took strike action against John Deere, Kellogg’s, Warrior Met Coal, and numerous other companies, volunteers launched a concerted effort to introduce Pathfinder’s extensive list of titles on the trade unions to bookstore buyers and librarians. A special two-page flyer was sent out listing many of these titles, including Farrell Dobbs’ four-volume series on the rise of the Teamsters union and labor movement in the 1930s in the Upper Midwest, which the SWP leader helped to advance. These books, as well as Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Barnes; In Defense of the US Working Class by SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters; and Tribunes of the People and the Trade Unions by Dobbs, Barnes, Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, and V.I. Lenin, have generated orders.

Pathfinder books are important contributions to the intense debate over other key political questions as well. In Atlanta, several Pathfinder titles on the fight for women’s emancipation, including Abortion Is a Woman’s Right! the Education for Socialists series Communist Continuity and the Fight for Women’s Liberation, and Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle by Sankara, the leader of the 1983-87 revolution in Burkina Faso, were ordered by three libraries.

A bookstore in Virginia picked up The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation. Both English and Spanish editions of this book were ordered by a librarian in Oakland, California. Two bookstores in Montreal ordered the French edition.

Black History Month in February provides sales volunteers with a big opportunity to introduce Pathfinder books as an essential part of the discussion around the roots of racist oppression and capitalist exploitation and the class-struggle road to combat it.

Many new bookstores have opened in North America since the pandemic began. As libraries closed, volunteers have been able to get more orders from bookstores than they’ve done in years. Twenty-nine of the orders received were from stores ordering Pathfinder titles for the first time. And Pathfinder is now working with one of the large U.S. bookstore chains, whose stores have begun to carry titles by Malcolm X, Sankara, and Marx and Engels.

The African Studies Association and Middle East Studies Association conferences, held online in November, were an important opportunity to meet professors and introduce them to Pathfinder.

Many expressed appreciation at our suggestions of Pathfinder books that related to the topics presented. “Thank you so much for the suggestions, very valuable. I will take the opportunity to explore the books that you mentioned,” a professor from Spain at the Middle East Studies conference wrote. Efforts to get back to all these people in the next couple of weeks are already paying off, with a number of orders and interest in further discussion.

In October, the trial of Blaise Compaore and 13 others accused in the 1987 assassination of Sankara began. This has led to heightened interest in Sankara’s revolutionary ideas. Pathfinder volunteers introduced bookstore buyers to three books of his speeches published by Pathfinder. “I’d like to personally thank you for everything you and Pathfinder are doing to expand the light and make accessible the words and ideas of Thomas Sankara. I will send a note to the library staff about ordering these books,” a professor in Boston who attended the African Studies Association told Pathfinder volunteer Claudia Kaiser-Lenoir.

A bookstore in Los Angeles ordered 30 copies of Thomas Sankara Speaks along with 30 each of two other titles, and similar orders came from libraries in Vancouver, British Columbia; New York; and a large chain bookstore in Atlanta. Pathfinder publishes the three books of Sankara’s speeches in English, French, Spanish and Farsi.

Volunteers are now making plans to introduce Pathfinder’s latest title — Labor, Nature, and the Evolution of Humanity, by Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, George Novack and Mary-Alice Waters — when it’s released this month.