I can still remember the excitement we felt upon discovering Goldwater’s bookshop on an upper floor of a small office building on east 12th street in New York City.
It was some time in the mid-1970s and we were a small group of young socialists eager to learn more about some of the more obscure Marxist writers, such as Max Shachtman.
On Goldwater’s dusty shelves and in boxes scattered randomly around his shop, we were able to find – and buy – back issues of The New International, the theoretical journal of Shachtman’s Workers Party in the 1940s and 1950s, and many other lost and obscure left-wing journals.
Until we discovered Goldwater’s, private libraries belonging to older comrades and the rare good collection at a university were our only sources for this kind of material.
In the late 1970s, we reprinted some of the very best material – such as the historic debate between Shachtman and Earl Browder, the deposed leader of the US Communist Party – in a small journal called The New International Review which itself has become a dusty specimen now to be found only in libraries and shops like Goldwater’s.
With the Internet, all that is now changing. The possibility now exists of making vast amounts of material previously found only on dusty shelves in libraries and used bookshops readily available to all. Such material would not only be accessible, but fully searchable.
It makes it possible to easily scour the writings of Shachtman, Trotsky and others to easily locate half-remembered passages that might be useful for an article or speech. And it makes printing out copies of particular articles for study groups extremely easy.
As readers of this publication know, a good number of Shachtman’s articles on Russia are now once again available in the volume The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, Volume I (1998). The web is the best place to learn about the book, starting with its home page at: http://www.workersliberty.org/book/index.htm. The book can also be easily ordered online from the world’s largest bookshop, Amazon.com, and its UK affiliate, Amazon.co.uk.
In fact, Amazon lists three books by Shachtman in their online catalogue, and that’s not counting the collection Neither Capitalism nor Socialism (1996) which doesn’t include Shachtman as one of its named authors. Two of the titles are out of print, but Amazon will search for these, as will many other online bookshops.
Probably the best place to begin learning about Shachtman and his group is the Marxists Internet Archive, located at http://www.marxists.org/. They have produced a very helpful page on Shachtman located at http://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/ which provides links to the complete texts of no fewer than 14 articles and three books or pamphlets. (These include the classic 1946 programme of the Workers Party, The Fight for Socialism, a copy of which I located with great difficulty a quarter century ago on Goldwater’s shelves.) The archive is constantly expanding, with several of the items having been added this summer.
But this is only the beginning of what can be done.
The Tamiment Institute in New York City, which maintains an extensive Shachtman collection, could publish online at the very least their catalogue. They should be encouraged to eventually publish the entire archive on the net.
Workers Liberty could publish the entire text of the book, which includes nearly 40 articles by Shachtman, online. The website promises, in a link, the full contents of the book, but what is meant is the full table of contents. The only section of the book currently available online is the introduction. By doing this, the number of articles by Shachtman available to the online public would more than triple.
As part of its project to rediscover “lost texts of critical Marxism”, AWL might consider gradually publishing one after another as many of the works of Shachtman (and other selected WP/ISL writers) as possible. The investment of time and money in this as compared to reprinting the articles in book format is negligible. Much of the material can be scanned in and using optical character recognition software, converted to digital text. Finally, every effort should be make to secure audio recordings of Shachtman’s speeches – which were extraordinary events never to be forgotten by those who heard them – and make digital copies for display on the net.
The frustration we felt in the 1970s searching for “lost texts” was felt again by comrades two decades later. Even the publication of dozens of classic articles in book format or in our journals does not guarantee that they will not become lost again.
The only way to ensure that our revolutionary legacy is preserved for the next generation is to digitise it and store it on publicly accessible networked computers. This should be a priority for socialists of this generation.