Louis Blanc

BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS What This Great Nation of Ours needs is another Federal Writers Project! I received some rather rude but honest criticism from an Internet reader. His words have haunted me for two years now. He called me a "slut" for giving my best work away on the Internet. "There is no discipline in being a slut," he said. "It makes you sloppy. You're consistently good, but you're wasting your talent here. Nobody is going to pay for your work after you give it away on the Internet."
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"Hell, I'm no whore!" I thought to myself. "Money is power, and once you start charging, you have to sell your conscience to get it. And then there's the politics of getting fame and fortune. I'd rather be free and become the greatest author the world will ever or never know - it's up to them - let them take it or leave it." Now that I am nearly flat broke, almost homeless, and looking an early death in the face, my attitude has become a little bit more flexible! Not that I would write neoconservative propaganda. Today I just heard about a New York journalist, some fellow named Fraser or Frazer, who got homeless people involved in a workshop "to bring out the writer" in them. Some of them were saved from drugs and the like, and now a book is out or coming out - Food for the Soul. Well, I sacrificed the good life to become a writer; I do not drink or use drugs; I might be needing a soup line any day now! Maybe I should write a book about that, called, 'Food For Fools.' When love's for sale at my age, who will buy? Maybe it's too late for me already. I may be a late bloomer, but I'm no Colonel Chicken, at least not yet - eating chicken is against my religion. "What we need in this country is another WPA Writers Project to save sluts lest we become whores or go down the tubes!" I told myself yesterday. "The Internet freed us from the greedy political gatekeepers, but it does not make even the best of us who need food and shelter a living! It's the same old story - you have to have money to make money. You have to have money or a publisher with money to make a splash. Otherwise, you have to be very, very lucky and somehow get a break." Writing is not the oldest profession in the world. Charging for it and hitting it big is a relatively recent phenomenon. Long ago, when books used to costs as much as a house to produce, an author was lucky to get a pittance for his work let alone naked credit. Fame had to suffice to satisfy a writer's vanity even some time after the printing press was invented. The printers might pay something for an original manuscript by a famous author; but the author had to keep producing new editions since other printers would start running copies of the first edition. Men of letters like Desiderius Erasmus had to literally beg patrons for their subsistence. There were no copyright laws, hence every writer considered it his duty to grab the best ideas and claim them as his own. In fact, a large number of French words were stolen by Chaucer and now appear as good English.
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A few readers of socialist bent may have heard of a French journalist named Louis Blanc. He's one of the fellows the communists called "utopian socialists." Actually, he was a practical man. His book, Organisation du Travail',created quite a stir: it was THE revolutionary book of the 1848 Revolution. Blanc was an excellent thinker and writer. His socialist ideas were of course a product of his times; some of them are obsolete today and seem ridiculously wrong, while others are standard operating procedure today and are hardly associated with "socialism." Blanc played an important official role for organized labor during the revolution; but he had to get out of town quick as the right-wing generalissimo massacred demonstrators. Blanc was not a communist or a proponent of state-capitalism. His métier was cooperative workshops. He wanted to do something about the severe unemployment and horrendous conditions workers suffered in those days. He figured everybody had a right to the dignity of a job, a right to work corresponding to the duty to work. Not that the state should hire chronically unemployed people for make-work jobs. No, the state would instead make capital available for investment in industrial workshops. If they liked, private investors could invest money in the social-workshop. Blanc expected the social-workshops to be so productive that they would eventually run private businesses out of business. The social-workshop workers would get paid a third, another third would go to social security, the other third would go back into the business. Some workshops, of textile weavers and the like, were capitalized, did well and survived for years. Blanc was keenly aware of the predicament of writers and he thought his workshop concept could serve their needs very well. We may take issue with what he said on the subject, but much of it makes good sense. At least those 'Information Age Revolutionaries' who believe good ideas should be free to the public to examine and to disseminate will find some of his notions quite palatable. Yet others will find them not only self-contradictory but morally reprehensible, and will come up with answers opposite to the ones he expected at the time. In any case, I believe we might find food for thought in his considerations; perhaps a morsel or two that might be nourished and cultivated for our present benefit. Hence I conclude with the pertinent excerpt from Organization du Travail, as translated by J.A.R. Marriot:
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"Has the 'copyright' prevented the perversion of public taste? Has it preserved intellectual liberty, or maintained a high standard of literature? Has it secured the interests of authors, prevented the starvation of some writers or the ill-deserved success of others? The only sane remedy is to abolish literary property. Literature should never be to an author the means of a livelihood, it should be to his readers the means of life. Before 1789 the 'profession' of literature did not, strictly speaking, exist. Since the Revolution, individualism has run riot, in Letters as in trade. In both spheres it has resulted in the prostitution of the talent of the producer, and in degradation and confusion for the consumer. There are those who advocate further protection of literary property. It would but intensify the acknowledged evils of the existing situation. "What are the objects to be aimed at? To diminish the disastrous results of an internecine competition between publishers; to afford to every meritorious author, poor and unknown though he be, the chances of publication; to adjust remuneration to merit and to emancipate authors from servile dependence upon a public which demands vicious amusement to make the best books the cheapest, and to redeem authors from the bondage of commercial speculation. "All these things can be done only by the application of the social-workshop principle to literature, by the establishment of a self-governing social library sustained but not dominated by the state. The writers whose works are selected for publication would require in exchange for their surrendered copyright, the exclusive right to compete for the national rewards, which would be awarded by Parliament on the report of a state censor. The social library would have no monopoly; excluded authors and those who preferred to do so would have, as now, the right to publish their own works through private forms." (Blanc said the rewards might be funded by national subscription). 2004 Kansas City, Missouri

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