To the Readers of Labor Standard
An Appeal in Behalf of the Baitalsky Memoirs
by Marilyn Vogt-Downey
Dear Readers of Labor Standard:
I write you in connection with Notebooks for the Grandchildren, the memoirs of Mikhail Baitalsky (1903–1978). I am asking for your help in convincing the publisher, Humanity Books, to print this book in an affordable paperback edition. Right now, the book is only available in hard cover for $84!
The Notebooks were serialized in monthly installments during the years 1985–1989 in the predecessor publication of Labor Standard, which was the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism (BIDOM). These memoirs were widely appreciated by BIDOM readers at the time.
Baitalsky was a Jewish youth in Ukraine who, with his friends, became ardent supporters of the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917. They fought in the Red Army during the Civil War in Ukraine, founded the Communist Youth organization in their area in the 1920s, and became local leaders, organizers, and journalists in the 1920s. However, when their revolutionary ideals led them to support the Left Opposition against Stalin’s clique, they were all arrested. Baitalsky himself was arrested three times and served two terms in prison camps in the Vorkuta region, in Russia’s Far North. He survived to write these memoirs. However, all of his friends perished or were executed in the Gulag (the network of prison camps which at the time of Stalin’s death held ten million or more prisoners, mainly on charges of political opposition).
Baitalsky’s account is unique because of his unusual background in a remote Ukrainian village and because he never stopped believing in the Revolution’s ideals. In addition, because Baitalsky retained intense pride in his Jewishness, he provides illuminating accounts of the deep anti-Semitism of the counterrevolutionaries during the Civil War in Ukraine, the liberating atmosphere of the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods when many Jews were able to play prominent roles, and the later revival of anti-Semitism by Stalin and his bureaucracy.
I hope that those who recall these Notebooks from the time of their publication in BIDOM, as well as those who did not read these memoirs at that time, will understand the importance of making this inspiring historical account more accessible to readers.
Unfortunately, it appears that the publishers have chosen to actively keep this book out of circulation by consistently charging an exorbitant price for it. Humanities Press began by charging $60 in 1995 when the book was first published; and, as I said, Humanity Books—which now carries the Humanities press titles—currently lists the price at a whopping $84!
I translated this manuscript and compiled all the notes on my own time because of my deep belief in the value of Baitalsky’s observations for future generations. I have consistently protested—until now in vain—that the high price would doom this valuable book to obscurity. So far, unfortunately, I have been right. Even though favorable reviews appeared in several prestigious publications, I have been informed that only 150 copies of the book have ever been printed! And it has consistently been listed as “out of stock.”
However, Humanity Books has agreed to consider printing an affordable paperback edition of this book if we can convince them that there are people out there who would buy it if the price were lower. (Have any of you out there EVER paid $84 for a book?? Do you know anyone who ever has??) They are also interested in hearing from people who would recommend it to their classes, help circulate it, find an audience for it, etc. That is why I write to you.
I urge you to let Humanity Books know that you think this book would interest you and people you know if it were available at an affordable price (less than $30) and urge them to print a paperback edition at an affordable price as soon as possible.
You can send an e-mail message to:
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, NY 11428
I realize this is highly unusual and I have protested to Humanity Books against having to engage in such a campaign myself. However, if this is what it takes to “free Baitalsky” from the dungeons of a bourgeois publisher, this is what we must do.
I sincerely appreciate any attention you can give to this matter and any comments or suggestions you may have.