May Day! May Day! Without Profits, Communism Is Doomed

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Lawrence & Wishart, a profit-seeking leftist publisher of the collected works of Marx and Engels, is threatening legal action against Marxists.org, a website run by a remnant of the last remaining English-speaking Marxists.

Marxists.org posts English-language translations of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and other bourgeois members of the Inevitable Wave of the Future. These are free. That’s the problem. Lawrence & Wishart find it hard to compete against “free.”

Half a century ago, when I was writing Marx’s Religion of Revolution, I used at least one of the books published by Lawrence & Wishart. Most of the time, I used Progress Publishers editions. Progress Publishers, International Publishers, and Lawrence & Wishart got their translations from the Soviet Union, which subsidized the publication of books by Marx and Engels. This was a Marxist slave society’s efforts to keep the tiny world of Communist publishing alive in capitalist nations. I mean, how else were a tiny band of English-speaking Communists expected to make a decent living without relying on the Gulag archipelago to help them keep the flame burning in the West?

As a scholar, I had mixed feelings about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was nice to see Lenin’s legacy goes the way of all flesh. But without the secret police to keep the faith alive in the USSR, the translation subsidies would cease. That was why the Marx-Engels Collected Works isn’t complete. The Communist revolution went belly-up too early. The Communists should at least have had the courtesy to wait to shut down the whole experiment until after the Collected Works were complete. Sure, a hundred million people died — maybe 130 million, depending on the accuracy of Mao’s records — in the experiment, but there weren’t that many volumes left to translate, were there? (Yes, as it turned out: at least 70.) They should have hung on a little longer. They owed it to the academic world.

So, Marxists.org posted some of Lawrence & Wishart’s USSR-funded translations online for free. Free! I mean, what kind of anti-capitalism is that? Anti-capitalism requires profits to persevere. Anyone who thinks that the proletarian revolution will come, despite some minor setbacks since 1991, is in a retirement home. His walker and his catheter are in good working order, but his eyes aren’t what they used to be. So, with the prospects of Communist growing dim, the publishers of Soviet-subsidized translations figured that they would have to make the copyright system work for them.

Lawrence & Wishart has found a way. It is going to license its material to an outfit that will digitize it and sell it to tax-funded university libraries. Why do libraries need to buy this, when it’s already digitized and online? Because it will soon be taken down. Why? Because libraries are supposedly willing to pay for it.

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