History repeats itself, wrote Karl Marx in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” “first as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Fresh evidence of this sad truth arrived this week with the news that the Marxists Internet Archive is deleting all texts on its site originating from the 50-volume “Marx Engels Collected Works” published by UK’s Lawrence & Wishart.
Lawrence & Wishart are claiming copyright infringement. To add insult to injury, the Marxists Internet Archive has announced that it will remove the material by May 1, otherwise known as “International Workers Day.”
It shouldn’t take more than a moment’s thought to realize that Karl Marx’s embrace of the principle that property should be shared for the benefit of all applies to intellectual property as well. But the ironies don’t stop there. Lawrence & Wishart was originally formed as merger between the publishing arm of the Communist Party of Great Britain and another radically-oriented publishing house. According to Scott McLemee, Lawrence & Wishart received financial support form the Soviet Union over the years — and, indeed, the ambitious first English-language collection of Marx and Engels entire output was put together in close coordination with the Soviets.
So what doesn’t Lawrence & Wishart understand about seizing the mans of production for the benefit of the proletariat? Maybe current management should go back and reread the proud introduction that appears on the first page of the first volume. (Emphasis mine)
As convinced materialists and Communists, [Marx and Engels] decided to collaborate in working out the fundamentals of a new revolutionary outlook. From that time their joint efforts were devoted to the aim of equipping the working-class movement with the scientific ideology and political organization necessary for the realization of what they saw as its historical mission, the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the creation of communism.
Their revolutionary standpoint was summed up in Marx’s famous aphorism: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” This became the point of all their practical activity and theoretical labors.
I wonder — just how angry would Karl Marx get if he learned that the publisher of his collected works, in the name of maximizing profits, was using copyright law to hinder the cause of “equipping the working-class movement with the scientific ideology… for the realization… of communism”?
It’s hard to think of a better piece of evidence proving that capitalism, despite Marx’s best efforts, has thoroughly kicked communism’s ass. But all is not lost. The original works of Marx and Engels are in the public domain — the copyright at issue here pertains only to the “Collected Works” in the form published by Lawrence & Wishart. Motivated revolutionaries can still find their way to “Das Kapital” should they so wish. There’s also a petition at Change.org if you’d like to add your voice to the masses demanding the liberation of the Collected Works from the private clutches of the grasping bourgeoisie. You have nothing to lose, except maybe your sense of irony.