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The Lawrence & Wishart Story

'No' to Marx-Engels

Sankar Ray

Oldies who were indoctrinated to Marxism—more precisely 'official Marxism'—in the early 1960s or before have a shocking news. Lawrence & Wishart, a well-known independent and radical publishing concern, based in London, sent a legal directive to the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) to delete all texts originating from the Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW) with effect from 30 April. Lawrence & Wishart (L & W), which claims to possess the copyright of MECW, was an associate of the Communist Party of Great Britain in its hey days with Harry Polit, Rajani Palm Dutt, Willy Galacher at the helm.

The MIA wrote back in protest to the L & W managing editor Sally Davison: "As an organization which has been affiliated with the Britain's Communist Party in the past and which is known for publishing progressive literature, that's low! We urgently demand you to take back this nasty, capitalistic decision and let the collected works remain a collective source of knowledge."

Small wonder, official Marxist parties like the CPI(M), CPI, all groups of CPI (ML) and RSP are silent. The initiative to launch a worldwide petition was taken by Pakistani film maker, Ammar Aziz. Over 4000 have co-signed. It reads, "It is immensely ironic that a private publishing company is claiming the copyright of the collected works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the philosophers who wrote against the monopoly of capitalism and its origin, private property, all their lives". The MIA, it rightly noted, "is an international public archive which gives free access to a wide range of academic and historical writings about Marxism in multiple languages. During the last several years, the Marx Engels Collected Works have been read by the millions of people on the MIA. However, now the private publishing company, Lawrence & Wishart—which loves to position itself as a 'radical company', claiming historical links with the Britain's Communist Party—has directed MIA to delete all texts originating from Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW)."

The petition ends with hidden indignation, "You cannot privatize their writings—they are the collective property of the people they wrote for. Privatization of Marx and Engels' writings is like getting a trademark for the words 'socialism' or 'communism'. Say NO to the copyright law for the founders of scientific socialism. Let's protest against Lawrence & Wishart for this ironic monopoly".

Resentment and reservations have also been expressed by the staff and editorial board at L&W. It is tantamount to committing 'institutional suicide' and described the act as a deviation from "the socialist and communist traditions and accommodation to a 'consumer culture' which expects cultural content to be delivered free to consumers, leaving cultural workers such as publishers, editors and writers unpaid, while the large publishing and other media conglomerates and aggregators continue to enrich themselves through advertising and data-mining revenues and through their far greater institutional weight compared to small independent publishers"...

Martin Empson, author of Land & Labour : Marxism, Ecology and Human History,reacted poignantly, "The MIA and the MECW are an essential resource for students and activists, particularly those who have limited funds to purchase the expensive editions produced by L&W. L&W are unlikely to make much money by removing these editions from the web, and indeed having them online could well encourage institutions and libraries to purchase the hard copies. By taking this action L&W are insulting countless activists and Marxists who rely on these online works and think that the works of Marks and Engels should not be about private profit but for those ordinary people they were written for".

Whether it's a part of a global endeavour to throttle the gigantic project, Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe—complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (MEGA)—is not known. MEGA is under implementation by the International Marx Engels Foundation (IMES). It will of immense help to the transparent research and critical inquiry on Marx's works. IMES is an arm of the International Institute of Social History, under the University of Amsterdam. To date, 59 volumes of original works out of proposed 114 volumes have been brought out. They incorporate original texts, including notes, and correspondences of Marx and Engels. The project began in 1990. Other associates are Karl Marx-House of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Trier, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Social Research Institute of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn and the Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History (RGASPI), and the last, but not at all the least, Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow and its counterpart in Berlin—both set up much before the collapse of USSR and demolition of the Berlin Wall are involved in it, together with the previous publishing institutions.

In this connection, one must gratefully note that the father of MEGA was David Borisovich Riazanov, arguably the greatest Marx scholar of the 20th Century and a central committee member of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik)—later CP of Soviet Union. Rizaznov was revered by Lenin and Martov for his erudition. As the first director of Marx and Engels Institute, he discovered texts like Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, German Ideology and Holy Family but was a victim of Stalin's bloody atrocities. MEGA was shelved, although within less than a decade 12 volumes of MECW were published by the great Marx scholar before he was executed. The high-handedness of L & W is directly in contrast to the new enthusiasm to purchase 3-volume Das Capital to understand the mega-crisis that has shaken up the highly-pampered neo-liberal capitalism, hitherto defended by the disciples of Milton Friedman.

Frontier
Vol. 46, No. 47, Jun 1 - 7, 2014