Bob Gould, 2006

Book prices and socialist publishing

Source: Marxmail, May 23, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left Weekly discussion list, May 24, 2006

The pomposity and capacity for tossed-off insults of the esteemed moderator of Marxmail seems to have few limits.

The question of access to many of the books that are important to Marxists and socialists is very important, and we can all point to outrageous prices, often charged by academic publishers, for titles such as Pierre Broue’s book on Germany, which should be available to a socialist public, properly edited with indexes, at reasonable prices.

That’s one of the bees in my bonnet, as it is, obviously, in Louis’s.

There are some reasonable attempts at socialist publishing. Haymarket Books is one, and the Australian DSP’s publishing efforts are creditable. Politically, I’m often in conflict with the DSP but its publishing efforts are worthwhile and the prices are low.

Over the past few years historians have produced a massive amount of important material that was previously inaccessible. Many previously unpublished articles are now available on the web.

The Canadian website run by Ian Angus has done pretty well on Canada history, and here in Australia Ozleft has filled some gaps, in both Australian labour history and international socialist history.

Occasionally, academic publishers produce important books at cheaper prices, a good example of which is Philip Pomper’s book about Trotsky and Lenin.

The daddy of them all, obviously, is the incalculably useful ongoing project of the Marxists Internet Archive.

In passing, it’s worth noting that Louis naively asks about books and pamphlets on the 1920s. In the bibliography to my articles on Leninism, I list about 10 books that he has never referred to that he might find useful.

The bottom line is that there should be some mechanism for a certain amount of cross-factional international consultation about many of the important books that are currently inaccessible, with an eye to some common projects to get them into print, either in hard copy or on the web.

One striking example is Pierre Broue’s biography of Trotsky, which has never appeared in English, and there are many more.

What sticks in my throat is the philistine and abusive way Louis reduces this general problem to an insulting attack on working Marxist writers, mainly of the state capitalist tendency, which he obviously loathes because of his political stance, and loads on to those writers the problems of producing socialist books in an environment dominated by the capitalist market.

Why is it necessary for Louis to abuse Marxist writers who he disagrees with, in this case for doing something entirely reasonable: getting some payment from capitalist publishers for the work they’ve done?

Louis uses ad hominem arguments in many spheres, but and it’s particularly pernicious to do so about the question of publication of socialist books.