“Abolish all private property!” This admonishment came in the middle of the 19th century from the founder of communism, Karl Marx (1818–1883).
Unfortunately, some of the current followers of Marxist doctrines are not heeding this call, creating a decidedly un-solidary division in the ranks, while sparking tensions between two leftist factions.
In the “oppressed” corner is Marxists.org, a non-profit Internet archive of works by hundreds of authors “representing a complete spectrum of political, philosophical, and scientific thought.” Among the texts featured until recently online was the English-language edition of “Marx-Engels Collected Works.”
However, an “independent radical” publisher, Lawrence & Wishart—which once served as the publishing house of the Communist Party of Great Britain—claims to have copyright ownership of the 50-volume work and asked the archive to remove the material from its website. Marxists.org complied, but not without an uprising of sorts: it launched a petition—signed so far by over 4,000 supporters—against the ban. “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 petition points out.
In response, the publisher noted that the company operates modestly on a tight budget and the only profits it makes are used to pay meager wages to its workers. Funds generated from “Collected Works” are used to finance radical publishing projects, which is why Lawrence & Wishart is so protective of its copyrights.
We can only guess at how Marx would settle this dispute, though it is, obviously, a matter of conjecture. We know that he was a supporter of equal rights, but he didn’t offer his opinion on copyrights. However, he believed in the concept of common—rather than private—property and public ownership of assets, so he would certainly empathize with the folks who run the archive. On the other hand, Marx was sympathetic toward the plight of the working class, so the publisher’s underpaid employees would undoubtedly elicit compassion in him as well.
At the end of the day, Marx would probably offer the same advice to both parties. And that message would be: “Workers of the world, unite!”