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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Feb 02 2005 - 00:00:01 EST