The Proletariat's Bible



Presentation of the newly released book by Horacio Tarcus

Introducing the circulation and diffusion of Karl Marx's most important work in the Spanish language was the challenge faced by Horacio Tarcus. His expertise in the subject, his experience in libraries and archives, his solid knowledge of the history of books and his erudition would already be enough to guarantee the success of the investigation.

The structure of the book seems simple. It presents the main edition of the text, the German editions, the first translations, the Spanish versions, the popular summaries and the current presence of The capital in the Spanish-American world. More than 50% of the work is devoted to the third chapter, which narrates the journey of translators and editors who produced the Spanish versions.

The author presents with care and respect the translators of The capital from Correa y Zafrilla, the Argentine pioneer Juan Justo, Wenceslao Roces, Vicente Romano, Manuel Sacristan, Cristian Fazio to the most daring and successful translation made by the Uruguayan Pedro Scaron.

The author describes print runs, covers, book formats, editions, the trajectory of publishers and pays even greater attention to disputes between translators. Tarcus brings curiosities like the Colombian sociologist Erick Pernett Garcia who had the patience to write a book of more than three hundred pages in which he listed 504 typographical or translation errors by Wenceslao Roces.

Tarcus masterfully uses editorial paratexts. To clarify some editing, he resorts to handling the works and his experience as a bibliophile.

An example is related to the cultural offensive of the Argentine Communist Party in the 1950s. Cartago, a publishing house linked to the communists, launched an edition of The capital in 1956. Closed by the Frondizi Government, the work was reprinted in 1960 without any information indicating that it was a new edition. Tarcus informs us that the second is smaller and “brown cardboard covers”. In addition, an index of topics accompanied the new edition.

Although it seems something simple, only a researcher who goes beyond reading the bibliography and catalogs and joins the investigation with the frequency of many years to bookstores, bookshops and libraries can have the sensitivity that Tarcus has for the details of an exemplar or a edition. The most striking feature of Tarcus is his ability to combine the critical fortune, the translators, the editorial movement and the political conjuncture of each period of the diffusion of The capital.

For Latin America (and Argentina in particular) Marxist culture flourished more strongly in the 1960s and this determined successive editorial initiatives that reflected the positions of publishing houses, political parties and the outbreak of various Marxisms in Europe. From the Russian Revolution to 1967 The capital ran for 167 editions in 18 languages. the publisher Dietz, from East Berlin, had printed more than 300 copies.[I]

Only at that moment could translators and editors take into account that The capital it was a project for an unfinished work and subject to decisions that could break the three-volume editorial pattern established by Friedrich Engels. The publication by Gallimard of the Works of Karl Marx by Maximilien Rubel (Library for the Pleiad) and, in Argentina, the translation of The capital by the Uruguayan Pedro Scaron.[ii] Among the innovations discussed by Tarcus stands out the change of the consecrated term capital gain by plusvalue (added Value).

In Brazil, this controversy only appeared about 40 years later, when Boitempo released the third Brazilian translation of The capital[iii]. The publisher has done an important job of publishing the works of Marx and Engels directly from German, although the new translation is far from being superior to the previous ones. The new translator chose the term surplus value in Portuguese.[iv]

Another coincidence with Argentina in the early 1970s is that the new Brazilian edition included the warning that Althusser wrote to the Garnier-Flamarion of 1969. The heyday of structuralist Marxism in Brazil also occurred from the 1960s to the mid-1970s. some Brazilian intellectuals at the beginning of the 40st century.

Each group that organizes a translation such as The capital it may have its political leanings, as Tarcus's research often reveals—a 2009 German issue of Anaconda carried a 1933 prologue by Karl Korsch, for example.

At the height of Althusserianism “the 'authorization' no longer came from Moscow, but from Paris, it was not guaranteed by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, but by the small circle of the rue d'ulm”, writes Tarcus wryly. Raúl Sciarretta (1922-1999), the Argentinian translator who translated that French edition, was a “Socratic professor of small extra-university groups. Difficult to write, prone to orality, he was a secret philosopher for two Argentine generations of epistemologists and psychoanalysts”.

Pedro Scaron himself reacted ironically to that edition and wrote that he had not made reference to Sciarretta's translation because it only comprised chapters I to IV of Marx's work, “preceded by a theoretical introduction by Louis Althusser in which he recommends 'deliberately leaving aside , in a first reading', chapters I to III. We followed your advice.”

Tarcus does not hide his admiration for the team that published The capital from Twenty first century: Jose Aricó, Miguel Murmis and Pedro Scaron. According to him, three left-wing traditions converged there: communism, socialism and anarchism, respectively. Scaron anticipated problems that only after the new MEGA (Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe) were faced by the translators. For example, the new Brazilian edition of Volume II of The capital included some (and not all) of the variants in Marx's manuscripts left out by Friedrich Engels, but according to the arbitrary choice[v] of what the translator considered most important to reproduce.

At the end of reading Tarcus's book, we realize that underneath the simple organization of the chapters there is a complex movement. The editions that followed in time bore the mark of a literate working-class culture. The capital it was a secular “bible” that allowed for many readings, just as the Christian Bible allowed for the appearance of numerous religious sects. It was a text that was used to authorize this or that policy. Even the militant men and women who never read it heard its words: merchandise, working hours, exploitation, added value…

That working-class culture of early XNUMXth-century books, newspapers, and popular pamphlets is gone. It is true that the printed book remains and youth rediscovers its importance in organizing new leftist groups. But a world upset by the information technology revolution, by globalization, financialization, by the automation and fragmentation of the productive process and, especially, by the working class itself, does not require a new way of reading The capital?

It is not by chance that Tarcus' research ends with the presentation of abstracts from The capital. Which demonstrates the vitality of a book that circulates in videos, classes, readings aloud, excerpts, comics and, in Japan, even manga. On the other hand, the German text itself, as the author writes, is transformed and revealed as a palimpsest with the multiple drafts rewritten by Marx.

Horacio Tarcus's book is also a beautiful tribute to the editors and translators who, over 150 years, have made an effort to disseminate Marx's seminal work: The Bible of the Proletariat.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Caio Prado Júnior: the sense of revolution (Boitempo).



Horace Tarcus, The Bible of the Proletariat: Translators and Editors of Capital in the Spanish-Speaking World. Translation: Lucas Maldonado. Cotia, Ateliê Editorial, 2021, 120 pages.



[I] “Alcuni dati sulla fortune del Capitale”, Marxist Criticism, anno 5, n. 6, novembre-dicembre 1967.

[ii]The first four volumes were published from July 1975 by Siglo XXI in Argentina.

[iii]In addition to a translation made in Portugal that circulated little outside that country, there were three different translations of the three volumes of The capital in Portuguese carried out in Brazil. The first of them by Reginaldo Sant'anna for Civilização Brasileira in the 1960s; the second in the 1980s by Flávio Kothe, under the supervision of Paul Singer, for Editora Abril Cultural (this one is certainly much better than the new edition); the third was translated by Rubens Enderle and volume I published by Boitempo Editorial in 2011 (among the introductory texts there is one by Louis Althusser).

[iv]Marx kept in the French edition the term capital gain. See this discussion in: Rodrigo Maiolini Rebello Pinho, “Notes on the First French Edition of O Capital – I”, the earth is round, 30-11-2020.

[v]“Mega, in addition to the Engels version, edits the manuscripts in their entirety, which reveals enormous differences in relation to the montage made by Engels. In my translation of Capital books 2 and 3, the most important variants (selected by me) of the manuscripts will be included”. Rubens Enderle, “Translator of 'O Capital' explains the challenges faced in the version of Karl Marx's text”; in:,141787/as-ideias-e-as-palavras.shtml. Accessed on September 15, 2019. If it is a matter, for the new Brazilian translator, of choosing Engels or Enderle as the compiler of Marx's manuscripts, let us follow his advice: Engels continues (infinitely) better.

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