Saturday, June 23, 2007

Chinese Wall Against Marx, Welcome Mat for Murdoch

"MAYBE the Party has to stop this sort of stuff getting into the wrong hands, you never know what might happen"

FOR those who have not tried it, the Marxist Internet Archive is a great resource to dip into. Whether you want to study classical texts by Marx and Engels, find out what Lenin or Gramsci really said, read articles by James Connolly (including his scathing critiicism of Hyndman), or enjoy the long out-of-print but still highly readable reminiscences of rank and file revolutionary worker Cecilia Bobrovskaya, this is the place.

This is no narrow-minded sectarian selection, nor history written by the "winners" of debates. You can delve back to the Tao of Lao Tzu (dialectics in 500 BC), move through the psychology of Vygotsky and Erich Fromm, and on to the ideas of situationist Guy Debord; or satisfy your curiosity about names you may have heard like Munis and Pablo. Just dip in for a casual browse and you can find such gems as Arthur Ransome ('Swallows and Amazons') reporting on Russia in 1919, or Louise Bryant's last memories of John Reed.

Mao Tse Tung is there of course, even if up a side aisle. But it seems his heirs in power in China today are not happy about the Marxist Internet Archive. Trouble is, you see, MIA makes material available in as many languages as it can, including Chinese. The internet is international. Imagine what Lenin, who attached such value to an all-Russian newspaper and later the cinema, and spoke about the electrification of the whole land, would have made of it! The Bolsheviks would have published those secret treaties even faster and more widely. Perhaps that's why bureaucrats, like press barons, are determined to bring the new media under control.

This morning I received a message via an old comrade who devotes much of his time these days to digging out old texts and making them available to new generations, by adding them to the Marxist archive. This e-mail said:

"The server MIA is under attack from China again. The newly-established Technical Troubleshooting Team is currently working on the problem and have some good leads, but it will take a little time. The server may come and go in the meantime".

Again? I tried to find out more, and found a report from the International Herald Tribune back in February:
Online Marxist archive blames China for electronic attacks
By Noam Cohen
Monday, February 5, 2007

If ever there was a believer in the power of the written word, it was a
best- selling author and former librarian, Mao Zedong. As Mao explained to an early chronicler of his life, Edgar Snow, "Three books especially deeply carved my mind, and built up in me a faith in Marxism, from which, once I had accepted it as the correct interpretation of history, I did not afterward waver."

Those books, he said, were a book about the history of socialism, a book about the history of class struggle and "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

According to the Marxist Internet Archive at, an
online community that produces and organizes an ever-growing Marxist library, the wheel has turned full circle.

People at the site say they suspect the Chinese government is behind
computer attacks that are jeopardizing the site's ability to provide Marxist texts, and might force the library to stop providing material written in Chinese.
"We are not 100 percent sure this is the Chinese government; there
are a lot of possibilities," said Brian Basgen, who has worked on the archive since 1990. But he noted that the archive had been temporarily banned by the Chinese government before, about two years ago.

"There is a motive," he said. "They have done it to us in the past.
What they are doing is targeting just the Chinese files." Since January there have been hundreds of "denial of service attacks," Basgen said, 99 percent of which emanate from China. The attacks involve a computer trying to download the same document over and over again, until it prevents others from accessing the archive.

He said the site has managed to stay ahead of the attackers by creating "mirror sites" around the world, but the attacks have prevented the archive from updating its collection.

Since the Chinese government has banned the archive before, this raises the question of why it would use computer attacks. Also, security experts say that computers in China can be exploited by people outside the country, making the attacks appear to come from China, because those computers often lack sophisticated protections.

Basgen said the purpose of the attacks seemed to be to motivate the archive to sacrifice its Chinese-language material to keep the rest of the archive available. It is a move the archive may have to consider, he said.

While some might find it odd that the government created by Mao's
Communist Revolution would be behind an effort to deny access to the texts so important to its founding, Basgen said he did not.
"It is ironic for people who don't know what is going on in China," he said. "The Chinese so-called Communist government has nothing to do with communism. It has been going toward capitalism for a long time."

While noting that proviso about the possibility of others using China as a false-flag to stage a provocation, it seems odd they should only pick on Chinese language files if they wanted to hit the whole operation. And when I heard about the alleged Chinese moves I was reminded of a discussion with a Chinese academic who happened to be in England around the time of the Tienanmen Square events, in 1989. I forget what I'd said, but myself and a friend must have referred to something said by Marx or Lenin (not even Trotsky) because she replied:

"It's good that you people have studied these things, because we in China don't have the opportunity. We don't even get the chance to read Mao properly - we just get that Little Red Book!"

That surprised me because I had grown used to relying on Peking's Foreign Languages Publishing House for cheap paperback editions of classic Marxist writings which Moscow previously provided. (I'd visited a bookshop in Chinatown though they seemed surprised at me going for the political stuff).
But Marxism for export only may have made a certain amount of sense. And we might recall that an older repressive bureaucracy here in the West used to take a dim view of lay persons trying to read and interpret the supposed founding texts, back in the days when printing was the new media. The bishops had them burnt at the stake in fact.

Besides, China today has gone for capitalism, and welcomed Rupert Murdoch, who hates Marxists, to its shores. Combining freedom for capital with Stalinist repression of workers and intellectuals, it is a source of cheap labour for exploitation under the kind of conditions Marx wrote about, or worse, whether at home or internationally. Remember the poor workers who went to their cruel deaths in Morecambe Bay, and whose families are still in debt? In Israel when Chinese building workers dared go on strike, an official from the embassy in Tel Aviv came down to threaten that their families back home would suffer if they did not get back to work.

It was recently reported that more than 1,000 children may have been kidnapped and sold into slave labour in China. Children, some as young as 8, toiled in a brickworks for 16 hours a day, with little food. They were guarded by thugs with fierce dogs, and whipped as punishment if they did not work hard enough. The child slave racket involved negligent or corrupt officials in collusion with the bosses. The scandal has been exposed in the official press, and caused public outrage. But this glimpse of backwardness and brutality behind the images of absurd private wealth we get from booming China may suggest one reason why the authorities could fear too many people reading about Marxism.

Whoever is behind the interference it is good to know that someone thinks Marx's "old-fashioned" ideas, and those of his followers are dangerous. It also suggests we should read more, not just of the newly available, but of stuff we read and thought we understood before. We might need it to think again about China, for one thing, especially now that Chinese companies are buying into British industry and services. Now there's a dialectic!

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