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How the Communists Make Money

A Kind Reader alerted me to an odd scuffle in the publishing world. It seems some of the same people who would hate Limbaugh’s book aren’t too happy with radical publishers either.

Some people think libraries are all about socialism because they let people read books for free.

But sometimes, the places that let people read books for free really are all about socialism. The Marxists.org website has a big collection of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels online.

However, that collection is a bit smaller than it was, because the actual publisher of the print volumes asked them to take down the Collected Works edition. And boy, were they unhappy.

You can read all about it in the Socialist Worker, which apparently still exists.

The background seems to be that Lawrence & Wishart received a proposal about how to capitalise on their copyright. They want to make the MECW available to academic libraries in return for payment.

Because that’s how all communists in the West survive, by hanging out in academia. Otherwise, who’d hire them?

The Marxists aren’t happy about the whole thing, but they’re putting up with it.

In this particular case, it wouldn’t be in our interests to carry arguments about intellectual property rights into the bourgeois courts.

That’s probably a good time saver for them, because the “bourgeois courts” probably wouldn’t help them much.

I’m assuming this was the sequence of events.

1) Taking it down? No, they can’t!

2) I hate those Lawrence & Wishart jerks for invoking their copyright!

3) Please, L&W, please let us keep the MECW up, pretty please.

4) There’s really no point in living now that I can’t access the collected works of Karl Marx online.

5) “As we half expected all hell broke loose. While some users appealed to us to challenge bourgeois notions of intellectual property, most accepted that we’d have to accede to the demands.”

Ahh, finally, acceptance.

The statement from the publisher is naturally less dismissive of “the bourgeois courts,” probably because they’re the capitalists who have exploited the workers to make extravagant profits from university libraries.

We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries worldwide.

One odd thing about this is that apparently the Collected Works are already in academic libraries in a commercial edition. I looked at WorldCat, and the IntelLex Corporation published the collected works online in 2001 based upon the Lawrence & Wishart edition.

So either they’re not getting any money from that, or they want someone else to try to sell it again.

It doesn’t look like many libraries have purchased that collection, but that’s hardly surprising.

From a glance at the records of some of the thousands of books about Marx published since then, the vast majority aren’t scholarly books, and even few of the scholarly works would need a 50-volume collected edition. Who could handle reading all that?

Also, they claim that “Infringement of this copyright has the effect of depriving a small radical publisher of the funds it needs to remain in existence.”

Again, hardly surprising. Any library that was going to buy the 50-volume set of the print books bought them years ago, and a good many have probably duly weeded them and tossed them into a dumpster, where they are now awaiting discovery by hordes of angry academic Marxists who will complain to the library director.

So they’re probably not selling a lot of those print collected works.

The rationalization gets strange, though.

This will have the effect of maintaining a public presence of the Works, in the public sphere of the academic library, paid for by public funds. This is a model of commons that reimburses publishers, authors and translators for the work that has gone into creating a book or series of books.

Would selling this to academic libraries really maintain a public presence? Sure, students might be able to use it, but for everyone else it will be as sealed off as the collected print edition.

They’d have to go to the library to search it. If libraries are going to pay for it, they’re unlikely to make it open to everyone on the Internet.

And the way university funding seems to be going, even in the UK, this won’t necessarily be maintained by “public funds” so much as by student tuition, which is ever rising.

Thus, in order to make money for the radical publisher, students will have to be charged even more to go to college. Then they can read the 50 volumes of the collected works, become Marxists, and go on to create a revolution, or at least have a sit in or something.

Or else they can drop out because they can’t afford college anymore and become members of the lumpenproletariat, of no use to anyone.

I’d forgotten what the lumpenproletariat is, if I’d ever known, and just wanted to use it because it’s a funny word.

So I hopped over to Wikipedia, which quoted from the Marxist.org version of the “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” which is a funny title. Sure enough, it’s still there, but if you try to click on one of the notes, you find that they’re taken offline, thanks to that mean Lawrence & Wishart.

The actual work of Marx seems to be up, though, with only the notes missing. Then again, who wants to read the notes anyway?

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Comments

  1. The Librarian With No Name says:

    Q: You know how a communist wins a bar fight? A: By seizing the means of production.

  2. Dirk Velcro says:

    No, no, no. Every librarian should check sources. Had Joey done so, he would have found that it was Proudhon, an anarchist, not Marx, who proclaimed property to be theft. Marx criticised Proudhon mercilessly in the Poverty of Philiosophy, an attack on Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty.

  3. dan cawley says:

    What do you get when you cross a Marxist with a Socialist?

    Two people who generally feel that the value of a commodity is equal to its socially necessary labor time.

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