“He stole our translation”: Translation reviews and the construction of Marxist discourse

Christina Delistathi

Despite the centrality of translations in introducing Marxist ideas, we know little about the agendas that shaped them. This paper investigates how reviews of translated Marxist theoretical texts, issued between 1927 and 1934 by the Communist Party of Greece, were utilised in a struggle to appropriate Marxist discourse from its rivals. Drawing on Foucault’s procedures of discourse control, and calling attention to power struggles among forces with counterhegemonic ideas, the paper analyses the party’s rules and conditions under which it was legitimate for a translator to carry out a translation and for the translation to enter political discourse. It will be argued that political tensions triggered changes in reviewing practices and efforts to renew translation quality criteria. These tensions shaped contemporary debates on the correct interpretation of Marxism and helped advance the party’s position (a) by calling on readers to disregard earlier translations issued by political rivals; (b) by constructing its own translations as truth-objects; and by fashioning itself as the gatekeeper of Marxism. Studying translation reviews allows us to extend our understanding of the complexities of discourse formation, to trace the history of discourses, to document how knowledge can be a resource in power struggles, and to understand how power struggles can recast discursive practices.

Table of contents

This paper investigates how reviews of Marxist theoretical texts translated into Greek were utilised in a struggle to appropriate Marxist discourse and control its interpretation. Marxism has been enormously influential in social movements and intellectual production around the world. Yet, despite the centrality of translations in introducing Marxist ideas and developing Marxist thought in many countries, we know little about the agendas that shaped these translations and, by extension, Marxist discourse. On the other hand, although there is substantial research on issues of power in Translation Studies, its focus has remained predominantly on the binary dominant/dominated. This is both understandable and justified since capitalist societies are unequal and power is asymmetrically distributed among social classes and groups. Such studies are valuable in showing how the demands of dominant forces shape the actions of the agents involved in translation practices who may resist, challenge or conform to such demands (see Baker 2006; Rundle and Sturge 2010; Rundle 2011; Baumgarten 2016). However, some of these approaches tend to treat the ‘dominated’ as a homogeneous group, constructing a somewhat simplistic view of power relations and, thus, hindering a broader understanding of the more intricate ways in which they impact on the development of discourses. This study aims to extend our understanding of the relationship between discourse control and translation by drawing attention to power struggles for political supremacy among ‘dominated’ Marxist-oriented political forces in Greece, and proposes a way of relating these power struggles to reviewing practices. It argues that translation reviews, which evaluate translation practices and products, assisted the reorganisation of Marxist discourse in Greece in an endeavour to strengthen political positions. Moreover, it shows how changes in the political context triggered both changes in reviewing practices and efforts to renew translation quality criteria. The findings of this study are pertinent to Translation Studies but also to intellectual history and the study of social movements. The reviews were issued between 1927 and 1934 by a political party with counterhegemonic ideas, the Communist Party of Greece (henceforth KKE). The KKE developed into the largest and most successful Marxist-oriented organisation in that period and is still a significant force in Greek politics, so its statements on the translations of Marxist texts are key to understanding the development of Marxism in Greece. Eleven translation reviews are examined. They evaluate earlier and contemporary translations published by the KKE and its political rivals on the Left and critique translation practices and products; six of them appraise earlier translations of the Communist Manifesto. Their study helps us to appreciate the significance of translation evaluation in the formation and composition of discourses and uncovers practices through which power can be exercised with the effect of reconstructing knowledge.

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