The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.62/No.35           October 5, 1998 
Pathfinder Mural: A Celebration Of Revolutionary Workers' Struggles  

International features a reproduction of the Pathfinder Mural, which for seven years covered the six-story wall of the building where Pathfinder books, New International, and the Militant are edited and printed. The following article by New International managing editor Steve Clark appears at the beginning of issue no. 11, under the heading, "About the cover." It is copyright (c) 1998 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp., and reprinted by permission.

"Ironic, is it not? In East Europe, the victims of communism tear down images of Marx and Engels; in the arts capital of America, their portraits go up [and] Fidel Castro rises over the Westside Highway," wrote right-wing demagogue Patrick Buchanan in his nationally syndicated column in late November 1989. Buchanan's vitriolic comment was in reference to the Pathfinder Mural, pictured on the front and back cover, which had been unveiled in New York City several days earlier, on November 19, 1989.

In fact, there is nothing "ironic" about it, as readers of "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War," the 1990 Socialist Workers Party resolution featured in this issue of New International, will be well equipped to understand.

Buchanan was seconding a provocative call to assault the mural, launched the very day of the dedication itself. The November 19 issue of the New York Post had carried an editorial headlined, "Off the wall - that's where it belongs." Tarring the mural as a "bizarre celebration of totalitarianism," the editorial concluded with the real point, an incitement to act: "The mural should be removed."

An ultrarightist squad responded to these calls a few weeks later, defacing the mural with five paint bombs during the night of December 20. Artists rallied to repair the damage. And from that day forward, the mural, and the Pathfinder Building whose wall it covered, was defended - successfully - around the clock by a roster of volunteers who gave up a night's sleep once every few weeks to be part of teams doing guard duty.

The fact of the completed mural, and its impact, caught the right wing by surprise, and they were never able to effectively respond.

Many revolutionary and communist leaders discussed in this issue, whose writings and speeches are published and distributed by Pathfinder, are portrayed on the mural, which was painted on the six-story south wall of the Pathfinder Building in lower Manhattan. The mural was a joint endeavor of communist workers and youth and of artists from around the world who volunteered their talent and their time, and who in addition helped raise the funds to purchase paint, erect scaffolding, and cover other costs. The November 19 dedication drew some four hundred participants: artists, supporters of the Cuban revolution and of the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa, students, and workers - including unionists on strike against Eastern Airlines and United Mine Workers members supporting the hard-fought strike against Pittston coal company. Two and half years in the making, this work of art was truly an expression, to paraphrase the Communist Manifesto, of "an existing class struggle, of a historical movement going on under our very eyes."

The centerpiece of the mural is a large printing press, with the words of Cuban president Fidel Castro - "The truth must not only be the truth, it must also be told" -imprinted on a paper roll. The press is churning out books on which the featured portraits appear. Starting at the top left of the mural, and tracing an inverted "S" across and down the mural (see below), readers will find the following portraits:

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founding leaders of the modern communist workers movement (artists: Aldo Soler - Cuba; Marjan Hormozi - Iran);

Five central leaders of the Communist International (from left to right), Gregory Zinoviev, Nikolai Bukharin, Leon Trotsky, V.I. Lenin, and Karl Radek (artist: Malcolm McAllister - New Zealand);

U.S. socialist and labor leader Eugene V. Debs (artist: David Fichter);

United Mine Workers union organizer Mother Jones (artist: Eva Cockcroft);

Rosa Luxemburg, internationalist leader of the workers movement in Germany and Poland (sketch by May Stevens, painted by Mike Alewitz);

Black rights leader and author W.E.B. Du Bois (artist: Seitu Ken Jones);

Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Augusto Sandino (artist: Arnoldo Guillén - Nicaragua);

U.S. working-class and communist leaders Farrell Dobbs and James P. Cannon (artist: Bob Allen);

Carlos Fonseca, founding leader of Nicaragua's Sandinista National Liberation Front (artist: Arnoldo Guillén - Ni caragua);

Black rights fighter and revolutionary leader Malcolm X (artist: Carole Byard);

Ernesto Che Guevara, the Argentine-born communist and leader of the Cuban revolution (artist: Ricardo Carpani - Ar gentina);

Maurice Bishop, the central leader of the Grenada revolution (Maxine Townsend-Broderick);

Thomas Sankara, leader of the revolutionary government in the West African country Burkina Faso (Lynne Pelletier - Que bec; Luis Perero);

African National Congress leader and later president of South Africa Nelson Mandela (artist: Dumile Feni - South Africa); and

Fidel Castro, the central leader of Cuba's socialist revolution (artist: Aldo Soler - Cuba).

From the "Breaker Boys" gathered around a mine portal at the foot of the mural (child laborers exploited by Pennsylvania mining bosses in the early twentieth century, some of whom later joined in the bloody struggles to unionize coal); to the battle flag carried into combat against the British colonizers of New Zealand by Maori warrior Te Kooti, flying across the mural's peak; to the fighting workers and peasants scaling the classics of Marxism - the mural depicts the struggles of working people over the past 150 years. Among the multitudes are portraits of other working-class leaders and fighters for national liberation and social justice the world over. Some can be seen more clearly in the detail from the mural on the facing page.

Eighty artists - volunteers all - from twenty countries participated in creating the mural. Many painted scenes of working-class and national liberation struggles from their countries, or portraits of leaders of those struggles.

The mural's first project director was Mike Alewitz, and the work was carried through to completion by Sam Manuel, who cut the ribbons to unveil the mural at its 1989 dedication. Manuel continued as director following that ceremony, overseeing work to restore sections of the mural damaged by right-wingers, fighting a disciplined if inevitably losing battle against the effects of weather, and keeping in contact with the artists and others whose collective efforts brought the mural into being.

The mural remained on the wall of the Pathfinder Building for seven years, attracting visitors, tour groups, and press coverage from across North America and around the world. From the start it won a supportive reception, and often the admiration, of workers and residents in the Manhattan neighborhood it overlooked. It was viewed by literally millions driving north on the heavily traveled Westside Highway, or enjoying riverboat cruises along the New York City shoreline. A number of figures portrayed in the mural who could not visit it had this work of art described to them in detail by others who had been able to view it directly.

A full-color poster of the Pathfinder Mural can be ordered (see ad at left).

By 1996 the mural had faded and the underlying surface had crumbled beyond repair from the effects of sun and weathering. The wall it covered had suffered similarly and was badly in need of structural repair.

Following a June 1996 celebration outside the Pathfinder Building - participated in by artists and others involved in its creation, as well as workers, young people, and neighbors - the mural, in the process of structural restoration of the south wall, was covered over with a light yellow protective paneling. That surface stands invitingly for a new generation of socialist workers, at a future junction in the class struggle, to organize the next artistic representation of Pathfinder, the publishing house that was born with the October revolution.


The rendering of the mural wrapped around this issue of New International was made possible by the collective work of Eva Braiman, the cover designer, and Toni Gorton, who provided invaluable consultation. They collaborated with the editors while working opposite shifts in factories in different cities. The workers in Pathfinder's printshop took the design and, with painstaking care for quality, transformed it into the magazine you now hold in your hands.

The editors express appreciation for all these efforts, which will help get this issue of New International into the hands of workers, farmers, and youth around the world. We hope it is a fitting tribute to those who created and defended the mural, and to those who today continue to guard the space that will serve as the site of the next one.

Steve Clark
September 1998

Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home