History Is A Weapon Does Not Play

Click here for The Collected Works of Marx and Engels

A Response to Lawrence and Wishart

For those just catching up, Marxists.org began hosting a statement that read "Lawrence & Wishart, who hold the copyright for the Marx Engels Collected Works, have directed Marxists Internet Archive to delete all texts originating from MECW. Accordingly, from 30th April 2014, no material from MECW is available from marxists.org. English translations of Marx and Engels from other sources will continue to be available." A number of people have responded and now Lawrence & Wishart has issued a statement. And we're responding to that.

In posting your "Lawrence & Wishart statement on the Collected Works of Marx and Engels," you stated that you were the subject of a "campaign of online abuse." Let's keep this civil: we strongly believe that every politically engaged person should do what they can to keep the Collected Works online and accessible, but we don't think you're jerks who deserve to be abused online.

The model of commons you promote is one in which people have access to the collected works if they are part of an academic community that subscribes to your licensing. We, and many people, respectively disagree with that model of the commons. And we're not just picking on you. There are many resources, such as the NACLA newsletter, that contain veritable treasure troves of research and analysis that are essentially off limits to 99% of the population. On behalf of another kind of 99%, it doesn't feel like the commons to any of us.

You point out that there are a lot of translations, such as the communist manifesto, available elsewhere online. This is true, but the trajectory should be about more access, not less. With the rest of the intellectual internet receding behind paywalls and surrendering to the free content of corporate machine, now is the time to create and build more resources for people to share radical resources and we should defend what is already out there.

This reaction isn't infantile consumerism, but intellectual solidarity. We view these works as part of the commons: both as people working to change the world, we entirely see them as part of an "ancient birthright of the radical left" and as radicals today, we argue for, defend, and push for the online commons that has only become possible in the last twenty years.

And we firmly believe that, in solidarity with Marxists Internet Archive, every leftist who has the opportunity should host a mirror of the archive until you agree to allow Marxists.org to retain their hosting. It shouldn't have to be a situation of bit torrent and zipped files sent around between the online vanguard; every teacher and student, activist and revolutionary should be able to access the full body of work as easy as typing it into google.

This isn't the part where we respond with heated recitals of Marx's concept of the capitalist mode of production. We can entirely see you existing on a shoe string budget and we don't want you to commit institutional suicide. There's an opportunity here, probably not as immediately lucrative as locking the entire work in an academic tower, but better overall.

Our proposal: You should, along with Marxists.org, craft a series of image sizes (skyscraper, banner, square) for images that you host. Along with hosting the image files themselves, you should be responsible for a static page that they all go to (something like "http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/fresh"). These would be placed on every page that you grant permission for, all of them. New book? New conference? New journal comes out? You have ten thousand marxists webpages that you have graciously left in the commons, each with a helpful link informing readers where they can find your most recent publication and supporting a long-standing honorable institution of the British left.

And to everyone else, we have made two proposal in this. If Lawrence and Wishart want to lock everything up and have the lawyer sort it out, you know what we think. Everyone hosts. If a bunch of online radicals can't organize to keep some books online, how the hell are we going to make a revolution?