A scurrilous attack on Pathfinder and the SWP.
Jose G. Perez
jg_perez at SPAMbellsouth.net
Wed Oct 18 21:08:22 MDT 2000
It was inevitable that Pathfinder Press's poor handling of the publication
of Trotsky materials on the Internet would bring all sorts of ersatz
Trotskyoid grouplets out of the woodwork.
And thus tonite I received an email from one "James Paris" pointing me
towards a web page put up by an outfit called "New Pioneer News Service" of
the "International Workers Committee" and the "Marxist Workers Group."
I'd never heard of this "international" before, although judging from its
"principles," the first one of which emphasizes "the centrality of the
Marxist method, that is, dialectical materialism," I guess it is probably
some apostasy from the Healyite Church. The other "principle" that seems to
distinguish them, is their proclaimed working class "separatism": they have
a rule that only REAL workers can join in the advanced capitalist countries.
In the semicolonial world they just don't know yet. (I suspect because the
question of someone joining from places like Asia, Africa, Latin America or
the Middle East has not arisen).
So here is an outfit that is so p-p-p-proletarian that if Marx, Engels,
Lenin, Trotsky, Fidel and Che came knocking, they'd slam the door in their
faces. Now there's a dialectical appreciation of the relationship between
the ideological superstructure and the economic base for you!
Anyways, the IWC uses the Pathfinder/MIA incident to launch an unprincipled
and --frankly-- completely unintelligent attack on the U.S. Socialist
Workers Party. This is part of what they have to say:
* * *
For Marxists and workers in North America, Pathfinder is virtually the only
source of the writings of Leon Trotsky, James Cannon, George Novack, etc.
Unlike most other left-wing publishing houses (which keep their prices low
and affordable for working people), Pathfinder charges above-market value
for its books. The average cost of a 200-page paperback is about US$17. A
book of similar size from International Publishers -- the publishing house
of the Communist Party, USA -- is US$10.
The reason Pathfinder does this is because the SWP consciously chose to make
their publishing house a capitalist-style business. The SWP forces their
members to work long hours (without pay and non-union!) printing
"commercial" publications, as well as the SWP's press. In other words, SWP
members who receive this most unfortunate "party assignment" are
superexploited by the organization that claims to be "the revolutionary
party" that will "end exploitation"!
* * *
The charge that Pathfinder's prices are out of line is, quite simply,
false, as anyone who doesn't limit their diet to the output of outfits like
Time-Warner knows. Pathfinder's prices are entirely unexceptional for a
publisher of specialized "quality paperback" books, and if anything, on the
low end of how academic publishing houses, which have comparably-sized
editions, price their books. A decision to set prices at this level, at
prevailing market rates for comparable goods, is entirely rational and
proper. It is clearly quite within the reach of all but the most pauperized
layers of the working class in U.S. society to buy books priced at this
level at least occassionally. Skip a couple of movies, and you can buy a
book. Cut the cable and you can buy two.
The comparison to the CPUSA is stupid, scurrilous, and intentionally so.
For decades the CPUSA's publishing arm acted as the branch office of a very
substantial international firm. The cost of most of the books distributed by
International Publishers was borne, not by the CPUSA, but by this
It was entirely proper and I would say an elementary duty of workers
states like the old USSR, GDR, etc., to make this kind of material massively
available at extremely modest prices. But it is an entirely different
question for a group of a few hundred or even a few thousand activists with
scarce resources to try to do that.
The false claim that Pathfinder's prices are out of line, and the
comparison to an organization that everyone in the radical movement knows
benefited extraordinarily from its international connections, shows that
this IWC outfit is motivated completely and exclusively by factional spite.
The idea that the SWP "consciously chose to make their publishing house
a capitalist-style business" is not just false but slanderous. The point of
a capitalist-style business is that it makes profits. The SWP is not a
"business," profitable or otherwise, it is a small left-wing political
Finally, we come to the part that is worthy of some red-baiting screed
from the McCarthy era: the charge that the SWP "forces" its members to work
and "superexploits" them.
First, the charge that the SWP "forces" its members to do anything is
too ridiculous for words. It is a strictly VOLUNTARY organization, which you
can join --if they'll have you-- and leave quite freely. Indeed, the
criticism one most often hears of the SWP in this regard is not that they
won't let you leave, but that they are rather free with their disciplinary
measures and expulsions.
Second, the SWP no more economically "exploits" its members in the
printshop run by members of that party than it "exploits" members who work
upstairs in the editorial offices or members who spend many hours, totally
unpaid, selling the Militant, the latest tome from Jack Barnes or whatever
else the SWP has decided to do. As Joe Hansen used to say, "it's all labor
power," and the only reason to single out the "poor exploited print-shop
workers" is cheap demagoguery.
Those members who are on full time for the SWP or associated
institutions, such as Pathfinder, the Militant and the print shop, have
historically ALWAYS received the same, VERY modest subsistence allowance
from the movement, whether they were the newest press operator or the
National Secretary. And recent emigrés from the land where imperialism lost
the cold war confirm this is still their policy.
The IWC, in an example of the most narrow-minded craft union mentality,
complains that the print shop associated with the party even handles outside
work without "paying" union-scale wages. What are we going to see next on
this "Bolshevik-Leninist" web site? Streaming video of union-scale actors
singing the "look for the union label" jingoistic jingle as they pick
through literature tables full of Trotsky books?
And if this sauce is good for the SWP, why not the IWC? I didn't notice
any kind of union bug on their web site! And it runs email lists through
(non-union), hucksterism-supported egroups, and their "workers radio" with
the very latest news (Elian's gone back to Cuba!) courtesy of ZDNET.
Obviously, the International Workers Committee is too BUSY, with things
like slandering other groups on the Left, to reflect on how foolish they
LOOK by BOASTING on their web site of their Internet radio show and then
failing to update it for MONTHS!
Why would what is essentially a party printshop accept outside work?
Because industrial establishments of all types require a certain size and
level of staffing to function efficiently. The cost of maintaining such a
substantial print shop would be prohibitive if it had to rely only on
"in-house" accounts, as there would be a tremendous amount of installed,
underutilized capacity. This would force the prices of the books the SWP
keeps in print to astronomical levels, and quickly lead to a drastic
reduction in the number that can be produced.
As to why have a party print shop at all, the SWP's experience in the
1950s when it didn't have its own shop is that it could barely afford to
publish the Militant at commercial rates. I might disagree with the SWP on
all sorts of political issues, but I think the professionalism of their
apparatus is something to be emulated rather than denigrated.
But those same sorts of "exploitation" charges could be leveled at any
part of the left. Does Louis pay "union wages" to those of us who post here
... or even himself? Were the organizers of the Seattle protests members of
the International Union of Outside Agitators complete with medical and
dental insurance and a 401K plan? The truth is that the SWP is being singled
out for unfair attacks by those who have been quite happy to let "the
Barnesites" shoulder the burden of keeping Trotsky in print for decades (as
well as Fidel, Che and Malcolm, although the Trotskyoids could care less
The FACT is that we live in a bourgeois society, including under a
bourgeois intellectual property regime. And, yes, having kept all these
books in print for decades DOES give the SWP a certain MORAL right to
CONTINUE doing so, as well as the right to make decisions like how much of a
subsidy they can afford for the publishing effort, which is what's going to
determine price levels in the end.
My "beef" with the SWP is not at all that they're selling too much of
Trotsky or anyone else, but that they could be selling MORE if they were to
make intelligent use of the Internet, and in addition could make at least
part of Trotsky's works accessible to those in third-world countries where
the price of Pathfinder books, however reasonable they may be, places them
outside the reach of the average worker.
In addition, by the stance it has taken the SWP is getting in the way of
the fight that's broken out around issues of bourgeois intellectual property
and the Internet, which is at bottom, I feel, an example of how the actual
means of production increasingly clash with the bourgeois social relations
in which they are currently encased.
But I do not at all expect or demand that the SWP have Pathfinder
renounce copyright over the Trotsky works right now. What this would lead to
is pirate editions of the few that might sell decently, thereby subtracting
from part of the resources being used to keep the rest in print.
Despite the fact that even Bill Gates finally "got it" about the
Internet a half-decade ago, Left groups in general have been extremely
unimaginative and even hesitant in taking advantage of the new media.
For example, the Internet makes it possible for any left group with
enough resources to keep a few people on staff the possibility of having a
continuously updated online newspaper, through which to answer CNN and the
New York Times in close-to-real-time. Yet virtually all Left groups use
their newspaper's web site to do a weekly "dump" of their printed edition,
and it even takes them longer to publish the stuff on the Internet than it
does to get it in print!
By throwing around such irresponsible charges, the International Workers
Committee does a great disservice to the working class movement in general
in thinking through how to take advantage of the new opportunities for
propaganda and promotion of revolutionary literature through the Internet,
which is a badly needed and overdue discussion. In this, many left groups
are proving to be JUST AS BLIND as bourgeois media monopolies of all types,
who have their heads stuck up their corporate asses so far they haven't YET
figured out that we really ARE in a new century, DESPITE all their bombast
and pro-capitalist propaganda around the Internet revolution.
The IWC also shows that despite its ultra-rrrrevolutionary verbiage,
they are a pack of narrow economist windbags who are, if anything, are even
MORE clueless than the SWP.
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