A store that wants to change the world

As the name suggests, Revolution Books at 2804 Mayfield Road specializes in books on history and political theory, world politics and philosophy. Photo by James Henke.

From the outside, Revolution Books—located on Mayfield Road just a few doors down from Coventry—resembles a typical bookstore. The windows are full of books, along with a T-shirt and a poster or two; and inside, the shelves are full of books. But unlike most bookstores, Revolution Books has a mission that goes beyond selling books—way beyond.

The store’s mission is to change the world. “The world doesn’t have to be this way,” said Norm Karl, who works at the store. “People are being shot by the police. Every 15 seconds a woman is battered or raped in this country. Some 10 million children die every year in the Third World from diseases and other causes that could be avoided. Then there’s the whole state of the environment, which is in pretty bad shape.”

Revolution Books, opened by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in 1983, was originally located on the second floor, above its current location. According to Karl, the RCP chose Coventry because the neighborhood “has a history of counterculture and likes diverse viewpoints, and young people feel comfortable here.”

Formed in 1975, the RCP was founded on the belief that U.S. imperialism will never end peacefully and that the only way to liberate the world is through Communist revolution. Bob Avakian is the party’s leader, and Revolution Books carries many of his books, including From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist and Away with All Gods: Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. In early June, the store presented a symposium about Avakian and his work.

The store is an Ohio-based corporation, but it has no single specific owner and does not make a profit. In addition, all of the workers are volunteers. “We’re a group of people who work together,” Karl said. “We learn from each other and support each other. It’s a labor of love based on the fact that humanity needs revolution.”

Numerous other volunteers help the store spread its message at festivals and other events. For example, Revolution Books had a presence at the Hessler Street Fair in May, and on June 10 the store participated in National Hoodie Day, a protest against George Zimmerman, the man accused of killing Trayvon Martin last year in Florida. The protest included a rally and march on Public Square.

The store also presents film screenings and talks by authors and activists. In 2011, for example, the store hosted a talk by S. Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran and peace activist who was run over by a train in California while protesting the shipping of U.S. weapons to Central America. His autobiography, Blood on the Tracks, is available at the store.

The local Revolution Books is one of 11 such stores throughout the country. Other Revolution stores are in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Berkeley and Honolulu. “We have an informal association,” Karl said of the stores. “We are all associated with the RCP, but each one is separately managed.”

Despite its political leanings, Revolution Books has good relations with the other Coventry merchants and frequently works with Mac’s Backs, another Coventry bookstore. “If we need extra chairs or tables for an event, we borrow them from Mac’s,” Karl said. “And if we are having an event that is too big for our store, we may hold it at their store.”

At the end of the day, however, Revolution Books hopes to help change the world. “The world has to be changed in a fundamental way,” Karl said. “The needs of the people and the environment have to come first, and it’s going to take revolution and nothing else to accomplish that.”

Revolution Books


2804 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights

Mon.-Sat. 3–8 p.m.


James Henke

James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.

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Volume 6, Issue 7, Posted 11:39 AM, 07.02.2013