Jonathan Silberman, London Pathfinder Books representative and a leader of the Communist League in the United Kingdom (UK), chaired the meeting. He noted the special contribution made to building the communist movement by Connie and Alan Harris, who, for more than four decades, have worked on the circulation of Pathfinder books in this country and beyond.
The meeting was the high point of a Red Weekend of volunteer labor, organized by the Communist League and Young Socialists in the UK, to upgrade Pathfinder Books. The same facility also houses the Leagues national headquarters and its London branch. At the center of the weekends work was reorganizing the bookstore in preparation for expanded hours and so that it can service commercial bookstores and libraries throughout the UK as well as the rest of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia with Pathfinder books.
Silberman described how the London shop was established in 1988 shortly after the founding of the Communist League. The shop is unique in this country, providing both Marxist classics and books on the class struggle and dynamics of world revolution today, Silberman said. Since its opening thousands have visited the bookshop in search of such literature.
Visitors dont just come from the UK. Despite the weakening of British imperialism, its tentacles still have an international reach, especially in the empires former colonies, and beyond. The resulting capital flows, trade, and travel extend Pathfinders international reach too.
Just last week two people visiting from Bolivia came to buy books, Silberman pointed out. They knew where to come because the address of the shop has been listed in every Pathfinder book published since 1972, when Connie and Alan Harris first secured the premises, he said. For many years they mailed books from this address to stores all over the country. They also serviced Pathfinder accounts in many other countries. In recent years Pathfinder contracted this service to a commercial distributor but now, consistent with our tradition, the servicing of the accounts will again be carried out from the bookstore.
Similar process in New York, Toronto
Books sold from this shop introduce workers and revolutionary-minded youth to the communist program, said Norton Sandler, a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, and one of the speakers at the celebration. It is through reading and studying the communist program that you can become a citizen of time, begin to understand the contradictions and logic of the class struggle, learn the significance of the Russian Revolution and the Cuban Revolution, and internalize the necessity of building a revolutionary party.
Sandler pointed to the importance not just of the long established location of Pathfinder Books at 47 The Cut, but also the accessibility of its central London position. The store is located within five minutes of Waterloo, a major rail station, which also houses the terminus for trains to Europe and several underground (subway) stations. Its store front is on a busy street that bustles with foot traffic throughout the day.
Sandler invited participants to join a similar Red Weekend in New York December 13-14 to begin construction on a new and expanded Pathfinder bookstore there in the same location as the national SWP headquarters and the offices of the Militant newspaper and its sister publication in Spanish, Perspectiva Mundial. Our goal is to put together the first central bookstore in New York in three decades, and over time to have it become as well known as the London bookstore, he said.
Sandler described similar steps being taken now in Toronto, Canada. These steps, he said, are part of the effort to put the distribution of Pathfinder books at the heart of the activity of the communist movement. This activity is essential today, just as it will be when the class battles accelerate on a world scale.
The SWP leader said that there has been a decline in the culture of Marxism in the working class compared to 30 years ago. You can see this by the fewer and fewer people today who argue about politics with Marxism as their reference point. This helps underscore the importance of the activity you are involved in now to expand the sales of Pathfinder titles.
Silberman then introduced Oscar de los Reyes, Political Counsellor at the Cuban Embassy in London, noting that the bookshop was founded the same year that Cuban army volunteers in Angola helped to deal a crushing blow at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale to the invading forces of South Africas apartheid regime. This victory was described by African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela as a key turning point in the battle to overturn apartheid.
De los Reyes said he was one of the early internationalist volunteers from Cuba who went to Angola in 1976 to help defend the sovereignty of that country. This volunteer effort is continuing today with more than 1,500 Cuban doctors in Venezuela, he said. It is with this understanding of the place of volunteer labor, he stated, that the volunteers working on the bookshop here over the weekend fill me with pride. De los Reyes pointed out that he had often spoken at events in the bookshop, which he described as very dear to us. As long as people give up time to work for change, then theres a chance for a better world, he said.
Anti-Americanism, national chauvinism
Another speaker was Joel Britton, who had been the SWP candidate for governor of California earlier this fall. Introducing Britton, Silberman remarked that the election success of Arnold Schwarzenegger had been a victory of the bipartisan war party in the United States. Therell be big protests when George Bush comes to London next week, Silberman said, but we should remember that London was and remains central to this war. Today UK forces are occupying southern Iraq not because Anthony Blair is a puppet of Bush but because hes a representative of the British ruling class.
Britton said he would be proud to join members of the Communist League and Young Socialists in the coming days taking Pathfinder books and the Militant to the thousands in the streetsjoining the protests. But he wouldnt be joining other protesters from the U.S., who, according to the London daily The Independent, will march under a banner reading, Proud of my country, shamed by my president. This plays into the hands of the British-nationalist, anti-Bush theme of the rally, Britton said.
Most joining these actions, the SWP leader noted, are outraged about the war in Iraq and the imperialist occupation of that country. A conscious layer among the organizers is trying to keep the fire on Washington, while ignoring the Blair governments role in this imperialist assault. They advance anti-Americanism and national chauvinism by pushing the Stop Bush slogan of the protests, he stated.
A good rule of thumb, said Britton, is to start with directing your fire against your own rulers, and this is Londons war as well as Washingtons.
Communists at these protests will do what their counterparts in other countries do by advancing a program and course of action that can lead working people to take power out of the hands of the ruling class.
Britton noted that queen Elizabeth Windsor, the UK head of state, and Australias prime minister John Howard led a moment of silence November 11, known here as Remembrance Day, when the interimperialist slaughter came to an end on this day in 1918. They took the occasion to commemorate the deaths of 102,000 Australians who fought in the royal armed forces in World War I and subsequent wars. This and other Remembrance Day activities here, said Britton, were used to legitimize the United Kingdoms participation in the occupation of Iraq, Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and other countries.
Britton noted that the liberal media in the United States and the UK point to the problems Washington is having in Iraq and predict a change in U.S. policy there. Never underestimate the imperialist enemy of humanity, the SWP leader said. Pay more attention to the pronouncements of U.S. war secretary Donald Rumsfeld than the liberal media. The papers today quote Rumsfeld as saying that even with a new government in place in Baghdad U.S. forces might remain in Iraq for two years or more.
The work of the Communist League and its supporters through this bookshop and book service will help many in the United Kingdom and elsewhere get into the fight on an organized and conscious basis, Britton concluded. Help any way you can!
Britton, along with SWP and Young Socialists member Bill Schmitt, had just returned from meeting with members of the Communist Leagues organizing committee in Central Scotland. They were discussing building support among retired miners and other trade unionists there for the strike by coal miners at the Co-Op mine near Huntington, Utah. Schmitt described the stakes in this battle, drawing on his experience from a recent visit there. He appealed to participants to make solidarity with this struggle a top priority.
Another youth joining the platform was Aurora Shannon, a student who met the communist movement at a literature table in the period leading up to the Iraq war. I began to read the Militant and attend Militant Labor Forums held weekly in the Pathfinder bookshop, Shannon said. Then I read the article The Opening Guns of World War III, by Jack Barnes in New International no. 7 and it clicked that its imperialism, not individuals, that create such wars. Through further reading I also learned that it wasnt Britain that ended World War I, but the power of working people like those who made the 1917 Russian Revolution. Shannon described how this had helped her see it was a worthwhile to change the direction of my life.
During the weekend some 40 volunteers joined the efforts to upgrade and reorganize the bookshop. Participants came from several cities in the United Kingdom, and Belgium, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, and the United States.
Andreas Bergerhelm, a meat packer from Gothenburg, Sweden, was part of a team, including Alan Harris, that built shelving to store the books. It was complicated but fun, he said.
Erik Wils from Belgium described how he checked a book consignment sent from Pathfinder in the United States and then packed orders for Pathfinder supporters in Scotland, France, Belgium, and Greece. The previous day, he said, I went to five towns in the Lille area of northern France and one city in Belgium, gaining four orders from commercial shops for Pathfinder books.
Natasha Terlexis from Greece described a team she was on that prepared and painted the walls. Since July 1, she said, 400 euros worth of Pathfinder publications have been sold in Greece from sales tables.
Silberman reported that the London shop had sold £5,500 ($9,300) worth of Pathfinder books the last four months. Currently the shop is open only weekday evenings and Saturdays, he said. In the future, we will keep it open all day, as part of aiding the international effort to increase Pathfinder sales.
Silberman said these efforts have gotten a boost by Pathfinder obtaining the rights again to sell My Life by Leon Trotsky and What is Surrealism? by André Breton in the United Kingdom. Other publishers had distributed these books there for over two decades. Pathfinder sold the rights to publish and distribute these titles in the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth countries to these publishers in the 1970s, but they had let them go out of print for many years.
Speaking from the platform, Debbie Delange from Manchester described how an effort to promote Pathfinder books to commercial outlets in Ireland resulted in sales of more than 300 books.
At the conclusion of the Saturday program, Silberman reported that participants donated £3,000 ($5,069). The funds will go towards expanding the bookstore stock to facilitate servicing commercial stores and libraries, he said. Silberman thanked those who prepared the delicious meal served before the event. The following day another £800 ($1,350) was raised through a special book sale.
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