Thirty-Five Years of Comintern Publishing: A Balancesheet

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1588 ... April 14, 2018
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Thirty-Five Years of Comintern Publishing: A Balancesheet

John Riddell

In June 1983, after returning home from my shift in a machine shop in Brampton, Ontario, I received a visit from two leaders of the New York-based socialist publisher Pathfinder Press, Mary-Alice Waters and Barry Sheppard. They asked me to head up a full-time project to translate, edit, and publish the record of world revolutionary movement in Lenin’s time -- principally, the record of major Communist International (Comintern) gatherings from 1919 to 1923. Pathfinder would commit substantial resources for this work, they said, over a period of a decade or more.

I objected that I had no background in academic research and publishing. Waters and Sheppard countered that given my grasp of history in that... period, my knowledge of the three main translation languages, and my experience as a socialist activist attempting to implement the Comintern’s ideas, I was the obvious choice.

I accepted the challenge and took charge of the project. It has taken a good deal more than a decade. Along the way, Pathfinder has been replaced as publisher by Historical Materialism Book Series and Haymarket Books. Nine documentary books have now gone to press, totaling 6,500 pages, and another is in preparation. More than 100 collaborators have helped in various ways to produce them.

The effort was inspired from the start by the belief that despite a vast transformation of the social and political environment, the ideas of the Communist International spoke to our times. The International’s early years marked a high point of revolutionary Marxism as a global force. Close to a million members were organized in dozens of political parties spread across every continent, coordinated by a leadership and publishing apparatus in Moscow in the newly established Soviet republic. Their influence was extended by allied organizations focused on youth, women, trade unions, anti-imperialist solidarity, defense of victims of oppression, and other fields of work.

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