International Publishers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Original logo of International Publishers, used from the time of the firm's establishment in 1924 throughout the decade of the 1930s.

International Publishers is a book publishing company based in New York City specializing in Marxist works of economics, political science, and history. The company was established in 1924 by A.A. Heller and Alexander Trachtenberg, using funds earned through a lucrative trade concession granted during the New Economic Policy by the government of Soviet Russia. The publisher has continued to maintain an extremely close working relationship with the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) throughout its more than eight decades of existence. It continues in operation in New York City today as the publishing arm of the CPUSA

Company history[edit]

Establishment[edit]

Alexander Trachtenberg in a picture taken in Moscow in the Fall of 1922.

International Publishers Company, Inc., was founded in 1924 with funds given the project by A.A. Heller. Heller was the radical son of a wealthy jeweler doing business in Paris.[1] He expanded his fortune as head of the International Oxygen Company, a welding supply company that operated a trade concession in Soviet Russia during the time of the New Economic Policy in the early 1920s.[2] A lifelong socialist, Heller had previously been a heavy financial donor to the New York Call, the Socialist Party's New York daily newspaper. He had been instrumental in funding the purchase of the headquarters building for the Rand School of Social Science.[3]

The company began with a capital stock of $50,000, paid in by Heller, with the stock subsequently split with Trachtenberg as compensation.[4] Alexander Trachtenberg, a left wing member of the Socialist Party of America associated with the Rand School of Social Science and its publishing house, who joined the Communist movement at the end of 1921, served as manager of International Publishers from its inception through the 1940s.[4]

According to testimony before U.S. Congress by Trachtenberg, in addition to his initial $50,000 investment, Heller continually made up losses incurred by International Publishers during its first 15 years. Over that period, his investment climbed to a total of some $115,000.[1]

The idea of forming International Publishers seems to have come from Heller and Trachtenberg. Initial assistance came from the Communist Party (then the Workers Party of America), limited to supplying advice and addresses of radical bookstores around America.[5] In a letter dated June 1924 from the party's head Literature Department, Nicholas Dozenberg, cautioned Trachtenberg that Charles H. Kerr & Co. of Chicago had already published many standard titles by Karl Marx, thus limiting the prospects of successful new editions of the same works.[5] Instead, Dozenberg encouraged Trachtenberg to concentrate on "books not yet published in English written by popular Russian writers like Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and others."[5]

Initially, International Publishers had official independence from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). However, it counted the CPUSA's official publishing arm and its New York state literature department, the "Wholesale Book Corporation," among its biggest clients.[4] By 1939, 15 years after its establishment, the publisher was dealing with some 700 bookstores around the country.[6] Among these were some 40–50 bookstores, owned and operated by various district organizations of the Communist Party.[7]

Despite its semi-independent status legally, International Publishers functioned practically as the official US publisher of Communist Party literature. Meanwhile, in 1927 the Party renamed its "Daily Worker Publishing Company" to parallel International Publishers as the "Workers Library Publishers." The Party also limited activity of the Workers Library Publishers largely to the issuance of propaganda pamphlets and the publication of official Party magazines. International Publishers focused on publishing hardcover and paperback books, with only some pamphlet literature (and at a much slower pace).[8] As the decade of the 1930s came to a close, some 90% of International's catalog were titles published in bound book form, only 10% were pamphlets.[6]

Development[edit]

Cover of the 1935 International Publishers annual book catalog.

In the fall of 1935, International Publishers launched a new program called the "Book Union." This was a radical book-buying circle, modeled on the Book of the Month Club.[9] The Book Union first offered an anthology entitled Proletarian Literature in the United States, nearly 400 pages long and edited by current or future editors of The New Masses: Michael Gold, Granville Hicks, Joseph North,[10] and others.[9] The Book Union collected a $1 annual fee from its members, who then received a discounted volume in the mail each month. The Book Union obliged members to buy 2 of 12 selections during the year.[9] Purchase of four books in a year entitled members to a bonus premium.[9] Despite its aggressively low pricing, the Book Union proved less successful than the "Left Book Club" operated by Victor Gollancz Ltd in England and seems to have been terminated after just a few years.

1939 Dies Committee[edit]

On September 13, 1939, International Publishers Secretary and Treasurer Alexander Trachtenberg was called before the so-called Dies Committee of the US House of Representatives, the Special Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities. Committee members grilled Tractenberg on his own history, the sources of funding behind International Publishers, and the company's relationship to the Communist Party. Trachtenberg characterized the relationship of International Publishers to the Communist Party as merely one of "buyer and seller."[11]

However, International Publishers (still run by Trachtenberg) seemed to contradict his testimony regarding the firm's position as de facto official CPUSA book earlier that same year by releasing the first American edition of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (bolsheviks): Short Course (100,000 copies).[6] This book, first published in the USSR, commissioned by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (which included Joseph Stalin himself), was regarded as a fundamental training text of the world communist movement, touted in the Party press, and studied meticulously by Party members.[12]

Trachtenberg indicated that International Publishers did not own presses but used the services of a company called Van Rees Press on a contract basis.[13] The firm also exchanged printed sheets for publication with its British sister organization, Lawrence & Wishart, and bought sheets for binding from the forerunner of the official Foreign Languages Publishing House in Moscow.[14] He estimated that some 10% of International Publishers' books had made use of such sources but that a lowering of dutyrates on bound books had largely eliminated the economy of importing unbound sheets.[15]

Trachtenberg estimated annual sales by International Publishers at $75,000 to $80,000. He noted that the company had a staff of four.[16]

Recent years[edit]

During the 1960s and 1970s, International expanded its publication of inexpensive trade paperback books under the title "New World Paperbacks." A number of titles bore this as an alternative company logo.

As of 2010, International Publishers remained in active operation, albeit with a slow rate of new releases. A document submitted for the discussion preceding the 29th National Convention of the CPUSA (held in New York City in May 2010) called for a "revitalized" International Publishers. The document, authored by Dennis Laumann, called for a new edition of The Communist Manifesto aimed at the academic market, upgrades to the International Publishers website, and reissue of several titles from the out-of-print IP back-catalog as part of a new, uniform series of "Marxist Classics."[17] As models of successful, left-wing publishers in the Internet age, Laumann cited the publishing house of the International Socialist Organization-affiliated Chicago publisher Haymarket Books, and the Cuban-oriented Ocean Press of Australia.[17]

The final resolution of the 29th Convention on building the party, communist youth movement, and party press did not mention International Publishers by name, however. Instead, it emphasized the emergence of "new mass communications" via internet and social networking websites. It called for "every member and club to join in the effort to change our culture and master the new forms of mass communication."[18]

Important Publications[edit]

While producing more than its fair share of tendentious and ephemeral political propaganda, International Publishers has been party to the publication of a number of titles of lasting scholarly importance.

During the 1920s, International Publishers produced the first English-language editions of important works on Marxist theory by Karl Kautsky (Foundations of Christianity, 1925; Are the Jews a Race? 1926; Thomas More and His Utopia, 1927), Leon Trotsky (Literature and Revolution, 1925; Wither England? 1925; Wither Russia? 1926), Nikolai Bukharin (Historical Materialism, 1925, The Economic Theory of the Leisure Class, 1927; Imperialism and World Economy, 1929); and Joseph Stalin (Leninism, 1928).

International Publishers worked in conjunction with the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow on three separate publishing initiatives involving the works of V.I. Lenin: an aborted Collected Works project begun in 1927;[19] a 12-volume Selected Works project issued 1934-1938 in green bindings;[20] and a revised, 12-volume Selected Works edition published in blue bindings in 1943.[21] International also joined with the Communist Party of Great Britain's publishing house, Lawrence and Wishart and Progress Publishers (Moscow) to publish the massive, 50-volume Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, a project launched in 1975 and completed only in 2004.[22]

International Publishers was an early reissuer of John Reed's legendary chronicle of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World. Originally published by Boni & Liveright in 1919, an International Publishers edition came out in 1926 and — except for a time during the reign of Joseph Stalin, when the book fell out of official favor — it has been a mainstay of the publishing house's catalog ever since.

International Publishers has also published a considerable number of memoir accounts by leading Communist Party participants, including those of William "Big Bill" Haywood (1929), Nadezhda Krupskaya (1930), William Z. Foster (two volumes, 1937 and 1930), Ella Reeve Bloor (1940), Joseph North (1958), W.E.B. Du Bois (1968), Benjamin J. Davis (1969), John Williamson (1969), William L. Patterson (1971), Hosea Hudson (1972), Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (reissue, 1973), Art Shields (two volumes, 1983 and 1986), Gil Green (1984) and Angela Davis (paperback reissue, 1988).

International Publishers was also a frequent publisher of prolific American Communist historian Philip S. Foner and published his landmark, 10-volume History of the Labor Movement in the United States (1947–1994) as well as his massive 5 volume collection The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (1950–1975). The company also published the work of Herbert Aptheker, a historian specializing in African-American history.

Partial roster of authors[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4882.
  2. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4882-4883.
  3. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4883-4884.
  4. ^ a b c Special Committee on Un-American Activities, US House of Representatives, Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States: Appendix — Part IX, Second Section. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1944; pg. 847.
  5. ^ a b c Nicholas Dozenberg, "Establishing International Publishers," letter to Alexander Trachtenberg, June 19, 1924. Corvallis, OR: 1000 Flowers Publishers, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c Alexander Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities, September 13, 1939. Published in Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States: Volume 7. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1940; pg. 4869.
  7. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4917.
  8. ^ The best registry of the English-language book and pamphlet literature of the CPUSA appears in Joel Seidman with Olive Golden and Yaffa Draznin (eds.), Communism in the United States: A Bibliography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.
  9. ^ a b c d Special Committee on Un-American Activities, Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activity in the United States: Appendix — Part IX, First Section. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1944; pp. 588-591.
  10. ^ "Communists: We Grip Your Hand". New York: Time (magazine). May 10, 1948. Retrieved August 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4875.
  12. ^ Historian and Stalin biographer Robert H. McNeal noted that from 1946 the so-called "Short Course" was directly attributed to the pen of Stalin himself before being credited once again to the work of a larger team of specialists by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1956. See: Robert H. McNeal, Stalin's Works: An Annotated Bibliography. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, 1967; pg. 151.
  13. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4870.
  14. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pp. 4871-4872.
  15. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pp. 4872-4873.
  16. ^ Trachtenberg, Testimony to the House Special Committee, September 13, 1939, pg. 4908.
  17. ^ a b Dennis Laumann, "For a Revitalized International Publishers!" May 19, 2010. CPUSA.org/
  18. ^ "Communist Party Resolves: Build the Party, Press and YCL. 29th National Convention, New York, May 27, 2010.
  19. ^ About a dozen volumes were produced as part of this series, including V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism. New York: International Publishers, 1927.
  20. ^ V.I. Lenin, Selected Works. In 12 volumes. New York: International Publishers, 1934-1938.
  21. ^ V.I. Lenin, Selected Works. In 12 volumes. New York: International Publishers, 1943.
  22. ^ Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works. In 50 volumes. New York: International Publishers, 1975-2004.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]