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254: Pathfinder Pamphlets

January 8, 2018

Back in the late 1980s, early 1990s it was difficult to be a young radical in the U.S. and not come across “The Pathfinder Tendancy,” a international group of Trotskyists embodied here as the Socialist Workers Party. I sharply remember running many a gauntlet of red-faced paper sellers trying to get into political events. Usually pushing their paper The Militant, SWP cadre seemed most notable for what seemed to be a complex hazing ritual, in which older members would push younger ones to declaim their most extreme positions, usually in your face, in hopes of provoking arguments. I assume the plan was that this would build the young members capacity to spout the party line in increasingly adverse contexts. This was a similar strategy and affect to other communist cadre organizations such as the Spartacist League (a split from the SWP), and Workers World.
 
But I could never figure out how they recruited the young people to scream with the papers? There was absolutely nothing attractive about the process to me, and the paper itself was boring at best. A red masthead followed by a wall of 10pt type exhorting anyone and everyone to support Castro’s right to nuclear weapons or some such rubbish. While I rarely, if ever see any copies of the paper anymore, I’m now continually stumbling on pamphlets published by Pathfinder Press. Most are either from the 1970s and 80s, or are reprints of material originally published then. Somehow I ended up with a dozen or so in my collection, even though I barely—if at all—remember how I acquired them. Interference Archive has over fifty different pamphlets, many in multiples, and if one is to believe the publication lists on the back covers, this is barely a drop in the bucket of hundreds of unique political pamphlets they published from the 1960s through the 1980s. Almost any collection of 60s/70s material that is donated to Interference contains at least one or two Pathfinder pamphlets, yet I don’t think any of the donors were ever SWP members.
 

 
I find this publishing trail fascinating, especially because outside of actual work of Trotsky, and a handful of pamphlets by or about Malcolm X (SWP leader George Breitman had some sort of connection and relationship to Malcolm, editing his writings as well as publishing a number of volumes about him and his transition to revolutionary socialism—these Malcolm X titles alone have likely kept Pathfinder in business, in all probability outselling everything else they’ve published combined) almost their entire output consists of unreadable diatribes from the likes of Castro or wonky internal left analysis of various political ideas and positions. I’ve never actually read any of these pamphlets, and I don’t know many who have, although every lefty I know is certainly familiar with the idea of them. Like much Trotskyist lit, they tend to read less as interventions into active issues, but instead as strident claims to being historically correct, as if the battle today is already lost, so what is really at stake is how people will understand the politics for prosterity’s sake.
 

 
[Prior to 1970, the SWP’s press arm was known as Merit Publishers. Most of the pamphlets here at the top of this post were put out under the Merit banner in 1966–1969.]
 
I’ve been wondering what it means to have such an amazingly intense and verbose output, but to have so very little of it read, especially by people outside the party? Is this what we could call a “hermetic literature of the Left”? Another interesting aspect is that there is a clear design development you can see here, from the very rudimentary type-set covers on these early works to a very developed aesthetic by the mid-1970s, with the use of bold titling in a small set of fonts, usually in red, green, orange, or blue on a solid black background, sometimes with a small inset photograph. They are so clean and staid that they feel like the corporate design of Left publishing. No designer is ever named or listed, and they almost feel like they follow a basic-template, as if the role of the designer itself has been replaced by some sort of historically-determined aesthetic.
 

 
For more background, in many ways the party’s politics are relatively benign, generally an increasingly soft Trotskyism (outside of a rock hard anti-Stalinism) mixed with seemingly blanket support for the Castro, the Cuban Communist Party, and the remnants of Nicargua’s Sandinistas. They generally have strong pro-immigrant positions and run an anemic presidential campaigns every four years, usually garnering between 5,000–10,000 total votes each election since the mid-90s. At this point they barely exist beyond their Pathfinder publishing wing.
 

 
Rather than simply a split from the Communist Party USA, like much of the far left in the U.S., the SWP can claim to actually be a split from both the CP and the US Socialist Party, leaving the former in 1928 and the latter in 1937. I’ll avoid most of the lefty alphabet soup, but feel confident in the general knowledge that the next fifty years was a long trajectory of one split after another, generally settling in to the contemporary version of the SWP in the mid-1980s. A number of luminaries have been members of the SWP, both figures that moved to the left (CLR James) and those that moved to the right (Lyndon Larouche). The main intellectual architects, outside of Trotsky, have been Jack Barnes, George Breitman, and George Novack.
 

 
In general the Merit output is relatively dull design-wise, but there are a couple of publications that have some life in them, and show a direction that Pathfinder could have gone. Black Nationalism and Socialism (far above) is quite nice, the green and black shapes giving tension to the clean sans serif type. Trotsky on Black Nationalism (below) is also cool, a green drop-down square containing a sharp DIN-style font, offset with the full bleed black and white photo. And finally Malcolm X Talks to Young People (also below), clean and efficient, white type and black bars. I would have chosen a different background than brown, but all-in-all its a strong design.
 

 
Although they have the rights to some of Malcolm’s writing, it appears as if the same isn’t true for his image, as the majority of pamphlets bear the same basic photo, re-purposed with little flair.
 

 

 

 
A sizable chunk of the early 1970/71 Pathfinder titles seem to be in a design transition, in between the overly simple layout of the Merit days and the more advanced font and image usage from the mid-70s. All of the five below stick to thin sans serif titling and pretty basic images, other than Sisterhood is Powerful, which interestingly is the only title in the whole bunch that has an artist attributed: “Bobbie Bagel.” The art deco design really stands out from everything else here.
 

 

 
Starting below you’ll find a wide selection of what is the dominant design, mentioned above—colored text in one of a small handful of fonts, black and white photo, black background. I wonder what led to the decision to lean so heavily on black, its interesting because they almost inadvertently stand out from most political pamphlets of the time, which tend to be covered with white, light, or bright colors. The black really holds them together as a set, even if it it doesn’t quite make them attractive enough to want to read. All of the pamphlets are printed on the same medium weight newsprint, most likely on a web (or newspaper) press. This means that they were printed in huge volume, minimum of 10,000 copies per print run, and many of these are listed as the 3rd or 4th printing, sometimes on a 2nd or 3rd edition! So we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of copies of these pamphlets being produced. Which maybe speaks to why they are so ubiquitous. But given that volume, I would expect to see even more of them around than I do…
 

 

 

 
I’m a big fan of Kabal font, and it’s used to good and varied effect on the four pamphlets below:
 

 

 
I love the three designs below. First, the Sam Adams piece is so strange and dorky, it looks like a middle-school civics text. The Viewpoint speakers list is just an overall nice design, and given the SWP’s hard-on for Fidel, the pile of mics is a nice nod (likely unintentional) to the great scene in Chris Marker’s Grin Without A Cat where he just moves the dozens of mics in front of him back and forth, back and forth. And finally, there’s something about the use of the Western-flavored cowboy font on Castro’s treatise on Women and the Cuban Revolution that just cracks me up.

 

 
OK, enough yammering. I really don’t have much more to say about these, other than I find it interesting to look at which groups adopt what aesthetics. Back in week 214 I looked at the pamphlets of the UK SWP, so I suppose this is a companion piece. The British designs are much edgier than these, which leads to the idea that the US SWP was much more interested in trying to mainstream their politics. I suspect some of this is a product of the 70s back-to-the-factories faze, when all the commie groups sent cadre to organize in the last gasps of US industrial factory work. All the reds got their hair cut short and made their literature look as mainstream as possible to appeal to working class, meanwhile all the working class youth were smoking dope and listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Oh well.
 

 

 
Bibliography:

  • Maurice Bishop, Speaks to U.S. Workers: Why the U.S. Invaded Grenada (New York: Pathfinder, 1983). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Breitman, How a Minority Can Change Society [2nd ed./5th printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Breitman, ed., Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism and Self-Determination (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Brietman, Malcolm X: The Man and His Ideas [10th printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Breitman and George Novack, Black Nationalism and Socialism [2nd printing] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Breitman and Herman Porter, The Assassination of Malcolm X [3rd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Tomás Borge, Women and the Nicaraguan Revolution [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1983). Cover design unattributed.
  • Peter Buch, Burning Issues of the Mideast Crisis [2nd ed.] (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Antonio Camejo, ed., Documents of the Chicano Struggle (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Peter Camejo, Who Killed Jim Crow?: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement and Its Lessons for Today (New York: Pathfinder, 1975). Cover design unattributed.
  • Fidel Castro, “The Revolution Must be a School of Unfettered Thought” [3rd printing] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Fidel Castro, The Second Declaration of Havana with the First Declaration of Havana [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Fidel Castro, Speaks to Trade Unionists: The U.S. War Drive and the World Economic Crisis [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1984). Cover design unattributed.
  • Fidel Castro, Those Who Are Not Revolutionary Fighters Cannot Be Called Communists (New York: Merit Publishers, 1968). Cover design unattributed.
  • Fidel Castro and Linda Jenness, Women and the Cuban Revolution (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Joyce Cowley, Pioneers of Women’s Liberation (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Isaac Deutscher, On Socialist Man [2nd printing] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Theodore Edwards and Rev. Blase Bonpane, Marxism and Christianity: Are They Compatible?—A Debate Between Theodore Edwards and Rev. Blase Bonpane (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Lee Evans, ed., The Invasion of Czechoslovakia [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design by Melissa Singler.
  • Fatah, PDFLP, and PFLP, Documents of the Palestinian Resistance Movement (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover photographs c/o Jeffrey Blankfort and the Arab Information Center.
  • Dianne Feeley, Why Women Need the Equal Rights Amendment (New York: Pathfinder, 1973). Cover design unattributed.
  • Gerry Foley, Ireland in Rebellion [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1972). Cover design unattributed.
  • Pierre Frank, George Novack, and Ernest Mandel, Key Problems of the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Harry Frankel, Sam Adams and the American Revolution (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Che Guevara, Socialism and Man (A Young Socialist Pamphlet) [4th printing] (New York: Pathfinder/Young Socialist Alliance, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Beatrice Hanson, A Political Biography of Walter Reuther: The Record of an Opportunist [5th ed.] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ernest Harsch, The Ethiopian Revolution (New York: Pathfinder, 1978). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ginny Hildebrand, Cindy Jaquith, Cathy Sedwick, and Reba Williams, How to Win the ERA (New York: Pathfinder, 1977). Cover design unattributed.
  • Linda Jeness, Herbert Hill, Willie Mae Reid, Frank Lovell, and Sue Em Davenport, Last Hired, First Fired: Affirmative Action vs. Seniority (New York: Pathfinder, 1975). Cover design unattributed.
  • Caroline Lund and Dick Roberts, Detente: Why It Won’t Bring Peace (New York: Pathfinder, 1975). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ernest Mandel, An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory (A Young Socialist Pamphlet) [3rd printing] (New York: Merit/Young Socialist Alliance, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ernest Mandel, Peaceful Coexistence and World Revolution (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ernest Mandel, Revolutionary Strategy in the Imperialist Countries [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ernest Mandel and George Novack, On the Revolutionary Potential of the Working Class [3rd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, On the Irish Freedom Struggle (New York: Pathfinder, 1983). Cover design unattributed.
  • Malik Miah, Busing and the Black Struggle (New York: Pathfinder, 1976). Cover design unattributed.
  • Malik Miah, The U.S. Role in Southern Africa (New York: Pathfinder, 1973). Cover design unattributed.
  • Ruthann Miller, Mary-Alice Waters, and Evelyn Reed, In Defense of the Women’s Movement [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Novack, Genocide Against the Indians: Its Role in the Rise of U.S. Capitalism [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Novack, How Can the Jews Survive? A Socialist Answer to Zionism [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Novack, The Long View of History [2nd ed.] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • George Novack, Uneven and Combined Development in History [3rd ed.] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1966). Cover design unattributed.
  • Peng Shu-tse, Pieere Frank, Joseph Hansen, and George Novack, Behind China’s “Great Cultural Revolution.” [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Evelyn Reed, Problems of Women’s Liberation: A Marxist Approach [2nd printing] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Harry Ring, How Cuba Uprooted Race Discrimination [2nd ed.] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Socialist Workers Party, Viewpoint: Speakers for Radical Change (New York: Viewpoint, n.d.). Cover design unattributed.
  • Socialist Workers Party, Women’s Liberation and the Socialist Revolution (New York: Pathfinder, 1979). Cover design unattributed.
  • Betsey Stone, Sisterhood in Powerful (New York: Pathfinder, 1977). Cover design by Bobbie Bagel.
  • Tony Thomas, In Defense of Black Nationalism: An Answer to the Communist Party and Young Workers Liberation League (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Tony Thomas, Marxism Versus Maoism: A Reply to the ‘Guardian’ (New York: Pathfinder, 1974). Cover design unattributed.
  • Leon Trotsky, Against Individual Terrorism [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1980). Cover design unattributed.
  • Leon Trotsky, On Black Nationalism and Self-Determination [2nd printing] (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Leon Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Task of the Fourth International: The Transitional Program [5th printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Leon Trotsky, Marxism In Our Time [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1972). Cover design unattributed.
  • Leon Trotsky, On the Labor Party in the United States (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Leon Trotsky, Women and the Family [2nd printing] (New York: Pathfinder, 1972). Cover design unattributed.
  • Nathan Weinstock and Jon Rothschild, The Truth About Israel and Zionism (New York: Pathfinder, 1970). Cover design unattributed.
  • Maxine Williams and Pamela Newman, Black Women’s Liberation (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
  • Malcolm X, Talks to Young People (A Young Socialist Pamphlet) [5th printing] (New York: Merit/Young Socialist Alliance, 1969). Cover design unattributed.
  • Arthur Young, Quebec Nationalism: Its Roots and Meaning (New York: Pathfinder, 1971). Cover design unattributed.
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