[OPE-L] Interview about Marxist Internet Archive (MIA)

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Mon Jan 31 2005 - 21:18:55 EST

An interesting interview with members of the MIA Steering Committee by the
International Socialist Journal (UK):

> Tell us how the Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) came about. How does a
> diverse group of people from different left wing traditions work
> together?
> David Walters: Readers of this journal should look at
> http://marxists.org/ admin/intro/history/index.htm to see the official
> history of the MIA. Since around 1993 an early internet pioneer whose
> internet name was ‘Zodiac’ had launched some Marxist texts on pre-web
> servers such as the old ‘Gopher’ sites and other text-based internet
> servers. By 1995, when I came on board, Zodiac had launched the
> fully-fledged ‘Marx Engels Internet Archive’ (MEIA). But then Zodiac
> decided to shut down the MEIA and move on to other activities.
> Juan Fajardo: He was under a lot of pressure both politically and
> personally. Around that time leading American politicians were trying
> to push left wing political sites off the net.
> David Walters: Many of us who volunteered on the MEIA had previously
> decided to launch the Encyclopedia of Trotskyists On-line (now part of
> the MIA). Since this core group existed around the ETOL, about five of
> us decided to launch what became the MIA in order to save the work done
> previously on the MEIA. Since then it’s grown to over 30 languages and
> dozens of volunteers. Additionally, it’s no longer a one-person
> operation, but decides questions related to the MIA democratically.
> The MIA has a fantastic variety of material. Can you give our readers
> some idea of the scope and quantity of the work you have collected?
> Andy Blunden: The MIA has 38 language sections from Arabic to Urdu to
> Vietnamese, but 1,500 MB of the total of 2,500 Mb of data is in English
> and some language sections are very small. There are works by 430
> writers. More significantly, there are 103 writers represented in the
> English language Marxist Writers Archive. The largest archives are the
> English language Lenin archive (3,900 HTML documents), Marx-Engels
> archive (3,260 HTML documents) and the Trotsky archive (1,264 HTML
> documents). In addition to writers’ archives there are historical
> documents from communist and labour history, and a glossary of
> biographies and Marxist terms in the MIA Encyclopedia of Marxism. Much
> of our material is scanned from old Progress Publishers books, but we
> also have new translations and transcriptions from original books and
> leaflets, some more than a century old. Currently we’re getting about
> 450,000 hits (individual documents consulted) per day.
> Brian Basgen: Our subjects range from art to women. In the subject
> archive there is a section for beginners and students, introducing a
> range of material in easy to swallow doses. We have reading guides in
> the Marx/Engels library to challenge readers on their critical
> thinking/reading skills. Lastly, since Marxist texts are often heavily
> dependent on complex terms, we try to link such words to our
> encyclopedia.
> Ted Crawford: My work has meant that we will shortly have an
> unparalleled selection of Rosa Luxemburg in English, since I have
> negotiated with a number of publishers to put her material online. I
> have also concentrated with Einde O’Callaghan on getting up pre-1917
> Marxists — so I am trying to build up a complete bibliography of
> Belfort Bax who has been written out of the movement for his attitude
> to women and his capitulation to imperialism in the First World War.
> And yet earlier he did splendid stuff on imperialism, religion, etc,
> and is often very worthwhile and, more to the point, he was very
> influential on many of the best British Marxists of the time.
> I have selected material from the early Trotskyist movement — CLR
> James’s early writings, Felix Morrow and a great many others — and I
> hope to get up indexes of important journals like New International.
> We are after all a sort of library, available to everyone in the world.
> English is now, whether we like it or not, the world language. As a
> result we get thank you letters from minor towns in Bolivia or South
> India, where people would never have had the opportunity of getting
> hold of this sort of stuff before.
> Einde O’Callaghan: The non-English archives are of growing importance.
> I look after the German section and in cooperation with other
> German-language archives I’m trying to ensure that a similar range of
> materials is available in German. I think it’s important that materials
> by half-forgotten revolutionaries (Nikolai Bukharin, Karl Radek, Paul
> Levi), as well as forerunners, collaborators and contemporaries of Marx
> (Thomas Müntzer, Wilhelm Weitling, Wilhelm Wolff, Ferdinand Lassalle)
> should be made available to a new generation of socialists.
> I also see the growing number of archives in various Asian languages as
> very important. I’m particularly pleased we’re able to make the
> writings of non-Stalinist Marxists such as Trotsky or Chen Duxiu
> available in Chinese. But our expansion into various languages from the
> Indian subcontinent, Arabic and Farsi is also very important.
> Andy Blunden: The Urdu section is now growing rapidly, including a
> first translation of Das Kapital in progress, using a public domain
> word processor format. We have made contact with Hindi and Tamil
> speakers, and we are dealing with the technical problems with these
> scripts. We have the Communist Manifesto in Bengali so far.
> Recently, we had a big breakthrough in South Africa, with a whole
> archive of African Marxism contributed by a member of the SACP and the
> prospect of COSATU hosting an MIA mirror.
> Mitch Abidor: I work primarily on translation of French texts. We now
> have archives of documents relating to the Haitian struggle for
> independence, Algeria’s war of liberation, and the history of
> revolution in Quebec. I’m also putting together translations from the
> Italian on the period after the overthrow of fascism and from the
> Portuguese on the 1974 revolution — great events whose stories should
> be told in their original form by their original players.
> The vast bulk of your material is from authors who clearly stand in the
> Marxist tradition, Lenin, Trotsky or more recently Tony Cliff and
> Duncan Hallas; yet you also include works by writers as diverse as
> Chomsky, Darwin and Fukuyama, as well as people like Mao and Stalin.
> Can you explain this?
> Andy Blunden: The function of the Reference Archive is to provide
> archival materials which are relevant to an understanding of Marxism
> and are not claimed as ‘Marxist.’ The MIA has to take care to keep the
> focus on its core role as a Marxist archive, but there are several
> categories of texts that are not only important for an understanding of
> Marxism, but are uniquely provided by the MIA.
> Firstly, there are the writings of Stalinists, anarchists, reformists
> and so on. We have the most comprehensive archives of Stalin and Mao,
> as well as Bakunin and many others. So much Marxist literature is
> engaged in polemics with political opponents that we believe it is
> impossible to fully understand Marxism without access to their writings
> — especially those who also claimed the mantle of Marxism. How can we
> understand the development of the First International without Bakunin,
> the Fourth International without Stalin?
> Secondly, there are the writings of pre-Marx revolutionaries. The
> heroic efforts of those who went before, on whose shoulders Marx stood,
> are not only essential to an understanding of Marxism, but are of
> intrinsic interest to anyone who desires the revolutionary overthrow of
> capitalism — August Blanqui, Robert Owen, Gerard Winstanley and so
> forth.
> Thirdly, the MIA hosts the Hegel-by-HyperText archive, containing a
> more comprehensive collection of Hegel’s writings in English
> translation than any publisher, electronic or hard copy. Hegel is the
> philosophical predecessor of Marx, and we have Lenin’s word for it that
> Marx cannot be understood without first understanding Hegel.
> Fourthly, we have the Value of Knowledge archive, which contains mostly
> short excerpts from famous works of philosophy from Galileo to Slavoj
> Zizek. The purpose of this archive is to allow Marxists who do not wish
> to abandon politics and struggle for a lifetime in academia to follow
> the whole development of bourgeois ideology for the purpose of
> critique. For similar reasons we have an archive of political economy,
> which includes for example, the works which Marx subjected to critique
> in his time. This allows readers of Marx to refer to what Marx is
> talking about. Likewise, Ludwig Feuerbach and Proudhon, who were
> famously the subject of critique by Marx, are well represented.
> Finally, we have a small selection of classics from ancient
> dialecticians and some significant natural scientists.
> Brian Basgen: Sun tzu and Lao tzu exemplify non-scientific approaches
> to dialectics, which are a useful tool in developing a complete
> understanding of dialectics.
> Mike Bessler: The Mao and Stalin Reference Archives are among some of
> our most frequently visited archives. We have enjoyed amicable working
> relationships with Maoist and Stalinist groups and individuals.
> Juan Fajardo: The Spanish section is a prime example of what a
> respectful attitude and approach to all the material we archive can do
> towards creating a space that is valued and aided by people and groups
> of diverse stripes, from the International Center of Orthodox
> Trotskyism to the Shining Path.
> Given the nature of the material in the archive, often it is taken from
> small circulation publications, or internal documents. How does the
> archive ensure accuracy?
> Ted Crawford: This is difficult — I know that the material I have put
> in digital form has many errors and typos. Too much proof reading and
> one is slowed down; there is a balance to be struck. We rely on our
> readers for the corrections. On the more important point of political
> prejudice and censorship, we have to rely on the honesty and scholarly
> honour of the contributors. We have a rule that if we have accepted an
> individual as an author, eg Bax, we cannot refuse to put up articles or
> books that he/she wrote that we disagree with. However, someone has to
> do the work and I am blowed if I am going to toil through ‘The Fraud of
> Feminism’ by Bax for the MIA. So there is certainly selection which
> arises from the political preferences of the volunteers. If you think
> there is some vitally important out of copyright thinker that we have
> ignored, ‘Come over into Macedonia, and help us’ (Acts 26.9, for
> accuracy’s sake). You do not need to be a techie; you only need to be
> on the web sending us the texts in digital form.
> Einde O’Callaghan: To ensure that we remain true to the original texts
> we try to give publication details and sources for all the documents in
> the archive. This allows others to compare the texts with the originals
> in the same way that giving sources in academic articles allows readers
> to go back to the sources.
> In the case of translations we usually use the standard translations of
> the books and articles we publish. Where possible we also give the
> source in the original language. As we build the non-English sections
> of the archive we try to include more and more of the documents
> included in the English section in the original languages or in
> translation into other languages. This should enable people to check
> the accuracy of translations. We rely on our readers to point out any
> discrepancies they may notice between texts we use and the original
> versions. We also rely on our readers to point out what they feel to be
> inaccurate translations. We are aware that certain traditional English
> translations of a number of classical works, particularly those
> published by non-Stalinist groups in the 1930s, are inadequate (eg
> translations of some of the works of Rosa Luxemburg) but these
> translations have a status of their own in the history of the socialist
> movement, although at some stage we would like to publish improved
> translations.
> We feel that if we were deliberately to publish inaccurate documents
> this would ruin our reputation as an accurate source of materials. This
> alone is reason for us to be scrupulously accurate insofar as this is
> possible. Our volunteers and administrators have one main qualification
> — they are all activists in the socialist movement and have an interest
> in conveying the socialist message accurately.
> Do you have any further projects?
> Mike Bessler: Each year the MIA compiles a CD version of the archive
> for global distribution. Although we do encourage financial donations
> in exchange for copies of the CD archive, the majority of these CD sets
> are distributed for free to individuals and organisations in parts of
> the world in which internet access is restricted due to censorship or
> user fees. For countries in which postal service is disrupted due to
> government interference or domestic upheaval, the MIA encourages
> individuals and groups to act as ‘domestic distributors’ with
> permission to copy and distribute the CDs within their respective
> countries. This method of distribution has improved access to Marxist
> resources in several South Asian countries. In the future we hope to
> compile a DVD version of the archive.
> How can our readers help the project? I know for instance that the MIA
> is always in need of help with translations — and of course financial
> support, but what else can our readers do? If someone has some material
> they think you would find useful, what should they do?
> Andy Blunden: The best way to contribute to the MIA is to build an
> archive: pick a writer who you have an interest in, scan in their works
> and send us the texts. Always check with us first though, because we
> may already have it, or there may be a good reason — such as copyright
> — why we don’t! Translations are always useful provided you are a
> competent translator, especially for the smaller language sections.
> Readers can also help by reporting errors or systematically proofing
> documents for us. Otherwise, just email us at mia-admins@marxists.org
> and we’ll assign you a task.
> Einde O’Callaghan: We always welcome new volunteers. We help people to
> learn the skills of HTML mark-up. Once you’ve got started you have
> wide-ranging autonomy — the only restrictions are concerned with
> placement of writers. When a new writer is added for the first time we
> have to reach a consensus about whether we regard the writer as a
> Marxist or not. In this respect we tend to be fairly inclusive, but the
> discussions about some of the people associated with the Communist
> Parties in the 1930s can sometimes become quite heated.
> How do you think the internet has changed things for socialists and
> activists?
> David Walters: This question, while simple, requires a very broad
> answer. The internet has allowed socialists to reach, and be reached
> by, millions of people hitherto denied access to socialist literature
> or organisations due to either geography or money. Studying Marxism,
> and access to all of Marxist literature, formerly reserved to those who
> had access to libraries or the local socialist bookstore, is no longer
> restricted. This is especially true for students of Marxism and
> socialist activists in developing countries where such literature may
> not exist at all. Now, with the proliferation of internet cafes, and
> the internet in even the most undeveloped countries, even some of the
> poorest and most oppressed people in the world have a better chance to
> organise and learn about socialism.
> Andy Blunden: The internet is a part of the changes that have taken
> place in recent decades, changes which have destroyed mass movements,
> shattered people’s lives and distanced people from one another, at the
> same time as bringing people closer together and providing people with
> information. In a way, the MIA Collective is an archetype of the kind
> of relationships that thrive in this environment: we all hold very
> different views, but we are collaborating on a specific common project;
> this project guides us on how to get on with one another; no one pushes
> their own barrow; we just do the work in our own way within a common
> framework.
> David Walters: There is also a bad trend with the internet: the
> reliance on, and substitution of, the internet and ‘internet
> organising’ for actual organising at the point of production. There are
> now socialists and Marxists whose entire existence is a virtual one.
> But it’s our ability to mobilise the working class in the streets, not
> online, that will determine the future of socialism. Being online is a
> tool, but only a tool, to this end.
> Brian Basgen: At any given moment today, we have around 40 active
> volunteers throughout the world, contributing material for over 300
> authors in more than 30 different languages. Every one of these
> volunteers has an equal voice and vote. We believe that neither the
> prohibition incurred by any cost nor any right of intellectual
> ownership should restrict Marxist education. We believe in transparency
> and democracy, that we need to be the future we want to see. We hope
> you enjoy and benefit from our efforts, and for those who enjoy
> education and publication, we hope you will consider joining us.

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