Change of heart?
Ever since the outrageous decision of the East London-based publishers, Lawrence and Wishart, to call the lawyers on the website of the Marxists Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) and force it to remove from the site the first 10 of the 50 volumes of Marx’s and Engels’ Collected works available there for free, many from within and beyond the broadly defined ‘Marxist community’ have been quick to express their outrage.
Around 5,500 activists, academics and researchers have petitioned L&W, calling on the publishers to urgently rethink the decision. Moreover, with - among others - the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website running pieces on the issue (the latter deeming it “madness” to privatise the writings of those whose aim it was to abolish property), it is clear that L&W is starting to feel the heat.
Small signs of this were already evident in L&W’s rather defensive exchange with the MIA. L&W’s second response to the MIA concluded, for example, by stating that: “We would ask people to remember that we are just fellow human beings doing our best to make a contribution in difficult circumstances.” There can be no doubt that L&W - like so many leftwing publishers - is in real trouble financially. Everybody appreciates this. Yet, as I made clear in my piece last week (‘Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for the masses’, May 1), its belief that the ‘copyright’ (what a horrible word) it holds on the MECW is somehow going to rescue it from oblivion is utter nonsense: seeking to profit from the works of the fathers of scientific socialism will only alienate it from many of the readers and writers on which it depends for books, essays, journals, reviews and so forth. Surely it would be a much more sensible idea to keep the material online with a link to the L&W website for those willing (and able, at 50 quid a pop) to buy the individual MECW volumes?
Indeed, L&W’s recent actions bear all the hallmarks of a publisher desperately clutching at straws and lacking any real sense of strategy or even an awareness of its potential target audience. Not only has L&W within a few weeks established a reputation for threatening with the courts those seeking to make freely available the works of Marx and Engels: it even achieved the feat of doing so in such a way that the deadline for removal was … May Day 2014 (hardly a stunning victory for L&W’s public relations people!).
Yet in the face of strong public opinion we are perhaps seeing signs of a possible change of heart. Struggle decides, as more or less every one of the 50 volumes of MECW makes clear. Encouragingly, on May 2 L&W issued a very short message on its website which adopted a much more conciliatory and reflective tone: “We have been surprised at the recent online response to our efforts to consolidate distribution for the Collected works of Marx and Engels - though, of course, we are very pleased that so many people are so interested in the work. Because of the strength of feeling, we are considering what we can do to meet the desire for greater access, and will make a further statement when we have decided a course of action.”
Potentially this is quite a good sign. Yet before we get too excited we should take a closer look at the above statement. After all, while the solid online response to attempts to remove the MECW from the internet has certainly been encouraging, is it really so ‘surprising’ that people would take umbrage at a publisher seeking to skim copyright revenue from Marx and Engels? Perhaps it says something about the mindset of those in and around L&W that they did not expect to be met with anything but anger and hostility for such a decision, at a time when interest in the ideas of Marx and Engels is experiencing something of an upturn. It should also be noted that L&W’s talk of “efforts to consolidate distribution” of the MECW is, as the MIA has pointed out throughout this whole affair, completely at odds with reality. It is obvious that the only effect of securing a “digital edition for libraries”, as L&W wishes to do, will be to restrict access to such writings, not “consolidate” them.
L&W will need to face up to this painfully obvious fact if it is to really “meet the greater desire for access” to the writings of two men whose stunning output surely belongs on websites like the MIA in its entirety - free to be accessed by everybody, wherever they are in the world. If we on the left strive to be the ‘memory of the class’, then we must do our utmost to ensure that this memory is preserved and made immediately available to future generations. That is why this issue matters so much and why we must step up the pressure on L&W in particular and make the working class, democratic case against the entire sham of ‘intellectual property rights’ in general.
This could be the first of many such instances in the future, and it is imperative that we get off to a good start. To sign the petition go to: http://www.change.org/petitions/lawrence-wishart-no-copyright-for-marx-engels-collected-works.
On March 3, a ‘Statement of left and anarchist organisations about the Borotba organisation’ in Ukraine was circulated among the left in Britain and internationally by many leftists, including some leaders of the Labour Representation Committee and others, condemning Borotba in the following terms:
“We, the collectives and members of Ukrainian leftist and anarchist organisations, announce that the ‘Borotba’ union is not a part of our movement. During the whole time of this political project’s existence, its members tended to be committed to the most discredited, conservative and authoritarian ‘leftist’ regimes and ideologies, which do not represent the interests of working classes in any way.
“Borotba has proved itself an organisation with a non-transparent funding mechanism and unscrupulous principles of cooperation. It uses hired workers, who are not even the members of the organisation. The local cells of Borotba took part in the protest actions together with PSPU (Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, which is an anti-Semitic, racist and clerical party, and has no relation to the world socialist movement) and with the Kharkiv pro-government, anti-Semitic and homophobic group, Oplot; and are known for their linkage with an infamous journalist, O Chalenko, who openly stands for Russian chauvinism.”
The signatories included the Autonomous Workers Union, independent student union Direct Action, the editorial board of Tovaryshka, Anarchist Black Cross - Ukraine, anarcho-feminist collective Good Night Macho Pride, Anti-Fascist Action Ukraine and the Left Opposition. They proudly announced that they “stand on anti-fascist positions” and that they did not “support some of the Maidan’s ideas” but:
“The representatives of Borotba take an extremely biased stance concerning the composition of the protest movement, which is represented both on their own web resources and in the media commentaries. According to them, the Maidan protests are supported exclusively by nationalists and the radical right, and were aimed only at a coup d’etat (‘fascist putsch’).”
Never has a statement been proved so wrong so quickly; the signatories of this document have been condemned by history: they are the pro-imperialist reactionaries and the Borotba are the justified heroes of the revolution. On May 3, Borotba revealed the full extent of the progress of “some of the Maidan’s ideas” that these pusillanimous idiots apparently demurred little from:
“On May 2, under the pretext of the so-called march, ‘For unity of Ukraine’ (that was dated to coincide with the Chernomorets v Metallist football match), the paramilitary squads of Ukrainian nationalists were brought together to Odessa from all over the country. They arrived by buses and by trains. From the very beginning - when they just started to gather on Sobornaya Square - among ordinary ultra-right fans too many well-equipped paramilitaries could be seen. They had shields, helmets, bats, traumatic and service weapons. Mostly, men about 30-40 years old who were evidently not football fans. Some of them had shields where it was written: ‘14th hundred of Maidan self-guard’. And these nationalist paramilitaries became the main striking force of the bloody massacre of Odessa residents on Kulikovo Pole square.
“The Neo-Nazis began to pelt the tent camp with Molotovs and set it ablaze. Activists from the protest camp were forced to retreat to the nearby House of Trade Unions building. When trying to kill Odessa residents, the ultra-rights set ablaze the ground floor of the House of Trade Unions. And the fire spread rather quickly over the building.
“People began to jump out of the windows of the upper floors, trying to escape the fire. But on the ground they were finished off by nationalist paramilitaries. Thus, our comrade Andrew Brazhevsky, a member of Borotba union, was killed. Regional council deputy Vyacheslav Markin (a fellow of the leader of Borotba in Odessa, Alexey Albu) was also brutally killed the same way when he jumped out of the window. Over 40 activists were burnt alive, poisoned by smoke or murdered by the Nazis while trying to escape from a burning building. Fortunately, most of our comrades managed to escape alive. Some - including Alexei Albu, who is a city council deputy - were severely beaten with bats and kicked. They have numerous bruises, broken bones and head injuries.
“The massacre in Odessa was organised by the Kiev junta to intimidate the population that is discontented with the new regime and to eliminate the active fighters against the new regime. The evidence for this is the fact that far-right militants were brought together and well equipped. Moreover, the police inaction, as well as the fact that the attack of the ultra-rightists in Odessa was synchronised with the ‘anti-terrorist operation’ in Slavyansk, are also the evidence of it. The massacre in Odessa reveals that the Kiev regime of nationalists and oligarchs is rapidly growing into the outright terrorist dictatorship of the fascist style.”
The left in Britain and internationally is split by these events. Leaders of Socialist Resistance Duncan Chapel and Liam Mac Uaid (‘Russians are the aggressors!’) and their bogus ‘Fourth International’ have blood on their hands for their defence of this illegal coup regime (only “some of the Maidan’s ideas”, of course), as have all those who defended the Maidan as some kind of ‘contradictory’ movement and tried to tell us the working class of the eastern Ukraine was just as bad. When you cannot take a clear and unequivocal stance against fascists who are, in Trotsky’s famous words, “the stormtroopers of finance capital”, you have crossed red class lines.
Now the task of the genuine revolutionary left is to organise an international solidarity campaign with the revolution in the eastern Ukraine and defend it against these fascistic assaults by the regime installed by the CIA. It will need to gather food, medicine, money and every other kind of assistance. And it will need to demand support from Labour and trade union leaders, beginning with the leftist candidates for RMT general secretary - Steve Hedley, Alex Gordon, John Leach, etc. And Ken Loach will surely put his shoulder to the wheel in this, the most testing issue for the global working class since the Spanish Revolution.
The Weekly Worker’s influence in building a force on the left dedicated to principled Marxist unity - a Communist Party worthy of the name - isn’t restricted to the United Kingdom alone. Here in the United States a small group of people have come together as the Red Party (no relation to the CPGB split from a few years back) to call for the same thing on our side of the pond.
Now, after (American Committee for a Workers’ International affiliate) Socialist Alternative’s municipal election success in Seattle, that talk of left unity is starting to gain traction, the question is posed: do we need a halfway house party or a Marxist one? For those of us who say the latter option is the only durable one, the CPGB is quite the role model.
The Weekly Worker has the delightful practice of allowing opponents to express their views directly in the letters page. Why does it mar this policy by the soft-censorship technique of supplying misleading or irrelevant titles, sometimes with evident political bias?
My letter (April 24) was titled ‘Levellers’, so you could falsely imply that I would oppose one of the founts of British left radicalism. The race to the bottom imposed by capital through neoliberal mass immigration has nothing to do with the Levellers’ demand for a decent life for all. Maybe you think they’re connected, but that doesn’t give you the democratic prerogative to misleadingly title letters as a covert means of editorialising (in a previous letter, when I suggested a title, you didn’t use it). I have found readers were indeed confused by your misleading title of my letter.
Surely you’re aware that titles are important in accurate communication. I suggest that you allow letter writers to pick a short title (perhaps two words at most, to be consistent with your editorial conventions). If you claim to allow opponents free expression, you can’t at the same time muddy the message by supplying a misleading title.
Truth to power
I read Esen Uslu’s article, ‘Ottoman genocide remembered’ (May 1), not only with interest, but with much profit.
It is a pleasure to find out that Esen Uslu speaks truth to power - the essence of my friend Moshé Machover’s own valiant intellectual and political stance (thanks to Moshé, who sent me Uslu’s article).
Allow me to point out that the essence of the collaboration of the Armenian nationalists with the Young Turk government was essentially the result of their Freemason ‘brotherhood’ alliance. Esen Uslu’s article somehow misses that point - perhaps he thought it to be marginal.
My recent paper, ‘The magnum state terror - genocide’, just published on a Canadian website, is available at http://www.keghart.com/K-Pilikian-State-Terror. And my paper, ‘Turkey versus democracy’, given at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, can be read in full on the Russell Foundation website at http://www.russfound.org/TurkeyVersusDemocracy.pdf.
Khatchatur I Pilikian