Blog post

‘Publishing Has a Role to Play in the Rebuilding of a Marxist Culture in France’

Interview with Marina Simonin, who in 2018 with Clara Laspalas and Alexis Cukier, took over the management of French Marxist publisher Éditions Sociales. In it she discusses the history of the publisher and the role of publishing within the French left.

14 April 2022

‘Publishing Has a Role to Play in the Rebuilding of a Marxist Culture in France’

In 2018, Marina Simonin, together with Clara Laspalas and Alexis Cukier, took over the management of Éditions Sociales from Richard Lagache. This generational renewal marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this almost century-old publishing house. The current situation, characterised by a weakening of anti-Marxism and the growing demand for theoretical reference points on the part of young people who are politicised but orphaned from their political past, opens up fruitful perspectives for Éditions Sociales. To transmit, educate and promote debate: these are the missions that Marina Simonin set out for her work at Éditions Sociales. This optimism, both intellectual and organisational, is illustrated by the relaunch of an ambitious project to translate the complete texts of Marx and Engels into French and the development of selections of these for a general readership. In contrast to the dynamics of the previous century, when party Marxism conditioned the reception of scientific Marxism, the coming years could well trace the opposite path. Marx and Marxisms have everything to gain: rather than obsolete and demobilising fetishes, they are now critical and transformative weapons that need to be reclaimed.

Laëtitia Riss: Éditions Sociales has a long history behind it: initially linked to the Communist Party during the 20th century, from the 1950s onwards involved in the publication of new translations of Marx and Engels by militant academics, and finally independent since 1997 with the slogan ‘Make Marxisms great again’... could you run over this trajectory for us?

Marina Simonin: The history of Éditions Sociales is indeed quite singular. The company, which is almost a hundred years old, was founded in 1927 by the French Communist Party, originally under the name of Éditions Sociales Internationales. As the official editorial organ of the PCF, the house produced mainly Marxist ‘classics’ or militant pamphlets, closely controlled by the Communist International. During the Second World War, Éditions Sociales Internationales was banned but maintained part of its activity clandestinely. At the end of the war, it was renamed Éditions Sociales and enjoyed a fairly prosperous period – an increase in the number of titles and print runs – in a context of the general politicisation of publishing.

In the 1970s Lucien Sève, a communist philosopher, took over the editorial management and sought to transform Éditions Sociales into a ‘real’ publishing house. You should remember that before this important turning point, Éditions Sociales was still fully dependent on the PCF: the party leadership had a right of review over what was published, which sometimes led to conflicts. I refer those interested in this period to the two reference books on the subject.[1] In 1982, the opening up of the field came to a halt with the departure of Lucien Sève, leading to the departure of Richard Lagache and Nicole Chiaverini, who had joined him in this battle.

During the 1980s, the Messidor Group, to which Éditions Sociales belonged, went through a series of crises, before finally going bankrupt in 1993. A few years later, a small team of former Éditions Sociales collaborators (authors, employees, etc.), led by Chantal Gazzola, Alain Debernard, Richard Lagache and Lucien Sève, created La Dispute, and revived Éditions Sociales by deciding to buy the Éditions Sociales catalogue and brand from the liquidator. All this happened amid a political storm in the leadership of the PCF, which had to be resisted in order to get Éditions Sociales out of its grip, and, above all, in a particularly difficult ideological situation for Marxian and Marxist publishing – it was still the nightmare of the 1980s, with triumphalist speeches on the ‘death of Marx’. But Richard Lagache, Lucien Sève and the others held their ground: the Éditions Sociales catalogue, which at that time represented almost a hundred titles, could continue to live. Nothing was won yet, and Éditions Sociales did not publish any new titles for almost ten years, but the battle to save the house was won.

In 2006, the new Éditions Sociales published its first new work: La Critique du programme de Gotha, translated by Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun and edited by Jean-Numa Ducange. The project of a major edition of the texts of Marx and Engels in French was also launched: the Grande Édition Marx-Engels (GEME), directed by Isabelle Garo, philosopher and Marx specialist. Until 2014, Éditions Sociales maintained a moderate editorial pace (one or two titles per year). It was not until the following years that this accelerated. Since 2019, I believe we have found our rhythm, at around a dozen titles per year. This editorial renewal is supported by the renewal of the team: for a few years now, Richard Lagache has made way for two new editors, Clara Laspalas and myself, who manage all our editorial and commercial activities on a daily basis, in conjunction with Alexis Cukier, with whom we also run the publishing house La Dispute.

We also work with an editorial board, made up of about fifteen members who participate in developing our editorial programme and our various collections. This collective framework has played a very valuable role in the animation and renewal of the house. We are fortunate to be able to bring together different disciplines and political backgrounds, which is rare enough to be worth emphasising. This desire to work without theoretical or political exclusivity was Richard Lagache’s concern from the start when he relaunched the imprint. Today, this concept continues to infuse our editorial practice. We are very attached to it and believe it is a sine qua non for successfully rebuilding, on our level – that is to say, in terms of publishing – a space for debate around Marx, the ‘thousand’ Marxisms and the different traditions of the workers’ movement. And if, for the moment, not all Marxist authors are represented in the Éditions Sociales catalogue, it is our wish to include them. This is the meaning of our slightly provocative formula, ‘Make Marxisms great again’ (the ‘s’ is important!).

One last word on the relationship that the new Éditions Sociales has with its past. I believe there is no contradiction in claiming our current economic independence and editorial autonomy while at the same time accepting our history without complexes. Éditions Sociales was one of the political publishers that marked the 20th century – alongside Maspero, of course, but also other projects such as Anthropos. This is first and foremost an asset and a source of pride. Moreover, I’m sure that any reader who has ever heard of Marx or Marxism (of any stripe!) can go to their library and see that Éditions Sociales books are on their shelves.

And, if not all the titles in the old catalogue have the same interest today, many authors have nevertheless left their mark on Marxist debates or the human sciences – Michèle Bertrand, Solange Mercier-Josa, Henri Lefebvre, Lucien Sève, Albert Soboul, André Tosel, and many others. Several of these deserve to be republished, in one way or another. This is a discussion we have begun, and this year we will, for example, be bringing out in an expanded edition Maurice Godelier’s text, Sur les sociétés précapitalistes, first published in the 1970s with CERM (Centre d’études et de recherches marxistes). I hope we will be able rapidly to speed up this re-publication work.

Editorial independence also means that no sponsor has a hand in our publishing. The capital is entirely divided between the people who created the house, but our financing capacity is still limited by our results. This is an issue that we intend to address in the coming years, while maintaining the same rigorous conception of economic independence. Autonomy is essentially editorial, and does not consist solely of rejecting the rule of an outside power, but above all of constructing our own editorial line, sharing it and bringing it to life with all the people who contribute to our house.

The editorial project of Éditions Sociales is currently expressed in a number of collections: ‘Les Essentielles’, ‘Les Propédeutiques’, ‘Les Éclairées’, ‘Les Irrégulières’, etc. These seem to be aimed at a readership that is not necessarily familiar with the ideological corpus championed by Éditions Sociales. Is this a way of perpetuating the objectives of popular education that the Communist Party set itself and responding to the current revival of curiosity about Marxism?

Since 2008, we’ve seen a certain ‘return of Marx’, which has been empirically visible in an increase in sales of Marx’s works (and not only of Capital). But it is also perceptible, I think, in the fact that Marxist ideas are once again arousing interest among a part of the younger generation, albeit still a minority, in both the academic and activist milieus. Obviously, this is an opportunity for Éditions Sociales and we have everything to gain by being sensitive to this greater ideological responsiveness. In terms of editorial line, I would summarise our orientation as follows: to transmit, to educate, and to encourage debate. These three aspects are expressed in our collections as well as in the different types of books that make up our catalogue.

As far as transmission goes, I think that even before transmitting ideas, what we transmit, as a publisher, are texts. The texts we want to disseminate are, first of all, those of Marx, and also those of Engels. Their works appear with us in two collections: the GEME, for new translations, and ‘Les Essentielles’, a collection run by Alexandre Féron and Victor Béguin, which republishes classics or important texts (Grundrisse, The Holy Family, The German Ideology, and the correspondence). But, as I said earlier, there are besides Marx and Engels many texts that have marked the history of Marxist debate throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and that it would be useful to make available again. Our ‘Les Essentielles’ collection also serves this purpose. I believe that this enterprise of transmission is fundamental to reopening certain more contemporary but also more directly political debates. I am thinking for example of our recent book Sur la Commune de Paris. Textes et controverses. This collection offers a wide selection of texts by Marx and Engels on the Paris revolution, giving us the opportunity to read their main elaborations on the question, and accompanied by a previously unpublished text by Stathis Kouvélakis, ‘Évènement et stratégie révolutionnaire’,[2] in which he reopens the debate on strategic questions as burning as those of the relationship to the state and to government.

This editorial form shows that it would be wrong to oppose the close and rigorous reading of Marx and Engels’s texts to the revival of certain political controversies. On the contrary, the combination can give rise to a fruitful work from both a conceptual and an activist point of view. It seemed to us particularly relevant, so much so that we are preparing to renew the exercise with a selection of texts by Marx on the question of the revolutionary party, edited by Jean Quétier who recently completed a doctoral thesis on the subject. Finally, we are working to renew an important tradition of Éditions Sociales: the publication of works of history resulting from very detailed research. We have many texts in our catalogue, particularly on the French Revolution. We are not yet at the end of our discussions, but I have no doubt that this ‘Histoire’ collection, presented by Alexia Blin and Antony Burlaud, will be the site of future important publications.

Turning to education, in 2020 we relaunched our ‘Découvrir’ series which, along with ‘Pour lire’, is part of our collection ‘Les Propédeutiques’, a pedagogical collection run by Antony Burlaud, Guillaume Fondu and Quentin Fondu. What makes this collection unique and distinguishes our titles from other ‘introductions’ is, first of all, the priority given to the text, with the books organised around commented extracts that are placed in their context, as well as our effort to find a balance between the academic and the political. We are now approaching ten titles in this series (Marx, Engels, Gramsci, Luxemburg, the Paris Commune, but also Bourdieu, Beauvoir, Weber), and the idea is to reach fifty in a few years, by broadening the scope to authors or events outside the classical Marxian corpus. At the moment, we are working on Découvrir Hugo, Découvrir le programme du CNR,[3] Découvrir Fanon, Découvrir Durkheim, Découvrir Trotsky, to name but a few – but we already have many plans for the future! Behind these small books there is a simple but strong editorial choice. We can already see that the formula is convincing for both readers and booksellers. I don’t know if what we are doing is similar to popular education, personally that’s not a term I use spontaneously. But the general intention remains more or less the same: to make available to young people or students, and more generally to the general public, works of discovery, a history, and theoretical tools which we can see every day have been forgotten or underestimated or reserved for academics – all the more so as the organisations which in the past provided this educational work are no longer in a position to do so today.

Finally, encouraging debate. This is consistent with the fact that we do not make a priori decisions on any of the various interpretations of Marx and Marxisms, but above all, encourage people to confront contemporary theoretical and political problems. Two collections underpin this work at Éditions Sociales: ‘Les Éclairées’ and ‘Les Irrégulières’. The first, edited by Yohann Douet, Vincent Heimendinger and Marion Leclair, has already published several major contributions to contemporary Marxian research. The project I have in mind here is the monumental biography of Marx undertaken by Michael Heinrich, the first volume of which, devoted to Marx’s early years up to his doctoral thesis in 1841 (which few people know), was published in 2020; or the systematic commentary on Volume 1 of Capital by Ludovic Hetzel, a first-rate instrument for any reader of Marx but also for teachers of final year and university students.

Other projects are underway which will allow us to work on more directly political themes. For example, we are preparing a compendium on eco-Marxism edited by a young researcher, Timothée Haug, as well as a study on Marx’s relationship to the feminist question by Saliha Boussedra and a contribution on the question of planning by Guillaume Fondu. This collection also has its sights on important works that have never been translated into French, such as Lise Vogel’s Marxism and the Oppression of Women, which will finally be available at the beginning of 2023, Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature, and a collection of texts by Herbert Marcuse, mostly unpublished in French, under the title Marxisme et révolution.

Finally, ‘Les Irrégulières’, whose ambition is undoubtedly more modest but also more specific, publishes small books, the principle of which is simple: it is a question of transcribing lectures in which the authors have developed their reading of and/or relationship to Marx, giving at the same time an idea of the current Marxian and Marxist landscape. We work in a privileged way with the ‘Lectures de Marx’ seminar of the École Normale Supérieure – but we are willing to explore and engage with other seminars – and have already published several books: Alain Badiou’s Ce que j’entends par Marxisme, Toni Negri’s Travail vivant contre Capital, Judith Butler’s Deux lectures du Jeune Marx...

You mentioned the Grande Édition Marx-Engels, which is a very ambitious undertaking, insofar as the work of Marx and Engels comprises a dizzying sum of texts. Beyond the voluminous dimension, there are also problems of translation, which have often been the subject of political quarrels. How does Éditions Sociales intend to meet these two challenges?

The Grande Édition Marx-Engels is indeed a monumental editorial project. The aim is to achieve a complete and scientific edition in French of the entire works of Marx and Engels, working from the complete edition of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) still in progress. As I said, it was around this ambition that we relaunched in 2006; you could say that in a certain sense the MEGA constitutes our backbone. To understand the immensity of such a project, it is necessary to remember that there is not and never has been a complete edition of the works of Marx and Engels in French, and that the pitfalls on this path are enormous. On the one hand, because their work is vast and very heterogeneous: they published books, they wrote in numerous journals, they exchanged a vast correspondence, which is very rich for understanding the path of their thought, not to mention the mass of drafts, manuscripts that were never published or that remained unfinished and whose importance has been recognised since the publication of The German Ideology in the original MEGA in 1932. On the other hand, because we are dependent on the progress of the edition of the texts in their original language of writing in MEGA2.

The translation and editing of Marx’s texts has also remained for a very long time overdetermined by political issues, whether in the establishment of editorial priorities, the choice of translations or, above all, the elaboration of the apparatus of notes or introductions to accompany the actual texts. From this point of view, the problems are not always where one might imagine them: for example, the texts of Marx prepared by Maximilien Rubel for the prestigious ‘La Pléiade’ collection are almost unusable, since the choices he made were based on a particular agenda. Maximilien Rubel aspired to produce a ‘non-Marxist’ edition of Marx and this led him to rearrange Marx’s texts in ways that were not made explicit. In contrast, Éditions Sociales has always made an effort to offer reliable editions of Marx’s texts: from the 1950s, with the translations of Emile Bottigelli, still usable today, then, from the 1970s, with important new translations such as those directed by Gilbert Badia (Volume 3 of Capital, The German Ideology, 12 volumes of correspondence, with Jean Mortier) or Jean-Pierre Lefebvre (the Grundrisse, and the translation of the fourth and last German edition of Volume 1 of Capital, which can be said to pave the way for a modern translation of this essential text).

GEME is therefore a global project, and fortunately we do not work alone. In this respect, MEGA plays a structuring role on an international scale. It too has a long history: the project was first launched by David Riazanov in the 1920s, before being aborted when he was dismissed by Stalin’s Communist Party and then murdered. It was not until the late 1960s that MEGA2 was launched. All the translations or retranslations that we publish in GEME are therefore based on the original texts newly established by MEGA. The translators of our books work collectively on the texts and consider, in conjunction with the publisher, how to provide the necessary tools to facilitate reading. In other words, GEME also involves the creation of a comprehensive critical apparatus, a bibliography, a lexicon, an index that we will have to commence in the next few years, and an ongoing concern for information on the life of the texts of Marx and Engels.

To carry out the GEME, we are also linked to the association of the same name, whose activities are supervised by Alix Bouffard, Alexia Blin, Jean-Numa Ducange, Quentin Fondu, Isabelle Garo and Jean Quétier, who all do a remarkable job. The association is supported by the Fondation Gabriel Péri, making it possible to group together more widely, to organise the editorial work in connection with the house, to organise seminars on the translation work in progress and to make these publications known to the public. To date, GEME has published nine volumes, including several important texts such as the Critique of the Gotha Programme, the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, and the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Some are available for the first time in French: this is the case with the Deutsche-französische Jahrbücher, which has just been published in 2020. This was a project initiated by Marx and Arnold Ruge when they arrived in Paris in 1843, which occupies a decisive place in the Marxian trajectory and included, in addition to contributions by Marx (On the Jewish Question, the ‘1844 introduction’) and Engels (Outline of a Critique of Political Economy), contributions by Heinrich Heine and Moses Hess.

Among other projects underway is publication of the articles written by Marx and Engels for the New York Daily Tribune – no less than 500 between 1851 and 1862, the first part of which will appear at the end of 2022 thanks to the work of Alexia Blin, Yohann Douet, Juliette Farjat, Alexandre Feron and Marion Leclair. Some of these articles are well known, such as ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany’, but many have largely remained known only to specialists, and have never been published in French. This was in the aftermath of the failure of the 1848 revolutions and amid Marx’s preparatory studies for Capital, which shows how exciting the moment was. We are also preparing a new edition of Volume 2 of Capital, translated by Alix Bouffard, Alexandre Féron and Guillaume Fondu, which should be published at the beginning of 2023, followed by Volume 3.

I hope this overview will allow those who read this interview to appreciate the stakes involved in such a project. We can never repeat enough that it is essential to see where previous translations of these texts were coming from, but also to support those who take on this work and the consequent investments it requires.

Among your recent publications have been two books dedicated to Gramsci (Découvrir Gramsci in 2020, ‘Une nouvelle conception du monde’ – Gramsci et le marxisme in 2021). Gramscian vocabulary is nowadays on everyone’s lips: hegemony, cultural struggle, war of position, historical bloc... What insights did you want to contribute with these two texts?

As is often the case, when a Marxist author becomes fashionable this has good and bad sides. It gives a certain attractiveness to thinkers who have been forgotten. It is not insignificant that Gramsci is back in the limelight in a context of crisis. However, this reduces their sharpness or even turns their thought into something that can be cheaply recuperated to serve any purpose. The case of Gramsci is in this sense paradoxical: he is appealed to by the far right as well as the far left, which is quite a feat when one knows Gramsci’s history, imprisoned in fascist jails. In this context, Découvrir Gramsci by Florian Gulli and Jean Quétier has the advantage of offering a reliable and pedagogical conceptual framework for those interested in Gramsci. It was urgent to have this kind of introduction, which did not exist until now; all the more so as Gramsci is an author whose work is formidable and it is not easy to know where to start.

The other book you mention, ‘Une nouvelle conception du monde’ – Gramsci et le marxisme, addresses different issues. It’s a collective work, with contributions from some of the leading contemporary Gramsci scholars internationally, and takes stock of the progress of the research. It revisits a series of key notions in Gramsci: hegemony, organic crisis, historic bloc, etc. These are re-examined in their context and restored to their full complexity, against the simplifications we are used to today. It is also a book that puts forward a hypothesis: in his introduction, Yohann Douet, a young specialist in Gramscian thought, proposes to anchor Gramsci within the Marxist tradition, against interpretations that seek to present him as aspiring to a surpassing of Marxism, as for example the readings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. He returns, in particular, to the relationship that the Italian revolutionary had with the Marxism of the Second and Third Internationals as well to the singular contributions of his ‘philosophy of praxis’.

This resignification of Gramsci’s thought as part of Marxism allows for a more rigorous understanding of some of his notions. Even on the left, for example, the notion of hegemony is often reduced to its exclusively cultural dimension. People notoriously say: ‘I’m in the battle of ideas, as Gramsci said.’ Yohann Douet shows, on the contrary, that this is a superficial and biased reading, which is not without political consequences. The idea is of course not to forbid the use of Gramsci’s concepts or being inspired by them. But a concept is not a flower to be picked from a garden and placed in a vase. A concept lives only in a movement and in relations with other concepts.

In our first interview with Nicolas Vieillescazes, editorial director of Éditions Amsterdam, we talked about the junction between intellectual Marxism and political Marxism and the possible contemporary reconstruction of a ‘Marxist culture’. What role could Éditions Sociales play in this situation?

I would like to make clear that I am speaking for myself, since other colleagues at Éditions Sociales might see things differently. I would say that there are three elements to consider in order to understand where we are and what can be done today. First of all, we are just beginning to emerge from a very strong period of anti-Marxism. Internationally, this had already been the case for several years, but in France, anti-Marxism was all the more virulent because the influence of Marxism in the 20th century was conditioned by political organisations. When the latter fell into crisis, Marxism suffered from its weak presence in the academy and found itself all the more cornered as the organisations that had supported it for decades were largely discredited. It is this ‘organisational’ anti-Marxism that has begun to crack in France, and we have an opportunity here.

Secondly, the centre of gravity of Marxism internationally has shifted to the English-speaking world – countries which long remained hostile to Marxism. From the 1960s onwards, this situation began to change, and for the last twenty years it has become impossible to ignore the vitality of Anglophone Marxism – British and American – which is now largely hegemonic. The structuring role played by initiatives such as Historical Materialism, which organises a genuine space for debate and dissemination on an international level, through its journals, colloquia and book series, is particularly commendable. This university or para-university anchoring favours a certain dynamism and gives an academic legitimacy, which contrasts greatly with the French academic field. This implies that we, as French publishers, should not confine ourselves to a Francocentric work, but should try to keep abreast of what is being done and introduce new themes or authors. Many texts have been published on such stimulating issues as feminism or ecology, as well as on exciting historical debates – late 19th and early 20th-century social democracy and its legacy within the labour movement, to give just one example.

A third observation: this new configuration of international Marxism is contradictory. We are faced with a Marxism that is, in the words of Stathis Kouvelakis, ‘theoretically productive but politically impotent’. In a way, this deepens Perry Anderson’s observation in the 1970s about Western Marxism and the rupture between theory and practice. In concrete terms, we sometimes have the impression of two worlds that don’t speak to each other: on the one hand, sophisticated theoretical references that are disconnected from any political practice, and on the other, a practice dictated by a political agenda that struggles to find a connection with sustained theoretical work. Yet this relationship between theory and practice is constitutive of the Marxian approach and of Marxism. In France, the situation is even more critical because we cannot yet speak of a real theoretical dynamic and the generational renewal of Marxist authors is not yet assured. Nevertheless, we mentioned earlier the greater ideological openness and the search for theoretical tools, not only to interpret the world but also to change it, which could open up other perspectives. The real question is to achieve once again a junction between theoretical issues and activist concerns. I must say that I am fairly optimistic, even if obstacles exist.

To answer your initial question more explicitly: I think that we have a role to play in (re)building a space for Marxist debate in France. However, rekindling a ‘Marxist theoretical and political culture’ in the 21st century is not a job we can do alone. It can only be done by a number of people, each following their own score. Our particular task is to publish Marxian or Marxist authors without theoretical or political exclusivity, as I said, and to confront Marxism with contemporary issues and questions: the feminist question, social reproduction, anti-imperialism, the structuring role played by racism in capitalist development, the ecological question, labour, etc.

Moreover, it is not enough to publish books, we must also know how to defend them. We have a lot of work ahead of us to make Marxism attractive again – I could even say sexy – and rid it of its dusty image. This is one of the reasons why we have almost completely reworked the cover designs of our various collections, thanks in particular to the work of Clara Laspalas, but, more generally, it is what motivates us to explore different modes of communication around our books. For example, we are currently relaunching our podcast channel, ‘Les Émissions Sociales’, as a way of bringing our titles to life and discussing them.

Beyond these questions of form – which are important – I believe that our job as a Marxist publisher is not to publish Marx in order to make a legacy available, as one would preserve precious antiquities in a museum. Our role, as I see it, is to bring to life in the present what makes the vitality of Marx’s interpretations so decisive for all the currents of the workers’ movement. We must be able to demonstrate the relevance of Marxism for the 21st century. And it is not only because of the topicality of the themes it addresses that people continuously come up against Marx’s theory, but, more fundamentally, because Marx has become an ‘interpretive key’, according to an expression of Michael Heinrich in his biography of Marx, for understanding the development of modern society and its political and intellectual evolutions. Moreover, the various kinds of ‘new critical thought’ still maintain a relationship with Marxism (conflictual or otherwise), demonstrating once again its centrality, as Razmig Keucheyan has very well pointed out.

It may be relevant here to mention other participants in this struggle to make Marxism a relevant and shared reference. I’m thinking not just of other publishers (Agone, Amsterdam, La Dispute, La Fabrique, Syllepse), including younger and more modest publishing initiatives such as Communard.e.s, which I am involved in, but also of booksellers, who do a precious and necessary job to defend our books, even though it’s not always easy given the constraints they face. The para-academic initiatives that structure frameworks for exchange and discussion around Marx, Marxisms or the history of the workers’ movement also have their part to play; as do the media and reviews that contribute to theoretical and political production – Actuel Marx; Cause Commune; Contretemps; La Pensée; Mouvement Ouvrier, Luttes de Classes et Révolution and Révolution Permanente, to name but a few. Last on the list is Hors-série, which will soon launch a programme on Marx, and Spectre, which hosts several podcasts on these same themes. If I take the time to name everyone, it’s because it seems essential to me to identify something like the beginning of a field under (re)construction. All these actors exist and are linked with activist networks and organisations, which work on a distinct and different level, but are absolutely decisive and, in my opinion, complementary.

So there are interlocutors! I believe we would gain by going further in our collective work, for example elaborating a common agenda that could take the form of an annual Marxian and Marxist day, bringing together different actors, networks and perspectives. It would certainly not be the first time that such an initiative would saw the light, but I have the feeling that today the forces are more numerous and better structured.

On the subject of the current state of Marxism abroad, you recently published Erik Olin Wright and Michael Burawoy’s For a Sociological Marxism. This is an approach that is less well known in Europe and owes more to Max Weber and Émile Durkheim than to Friedrich Hegel and Auguste Comte. In what way could it be fruitful for ‘reconstructing’ Marxism, as these two authors write?

The specificity of Erik Olin Wright and Michael Burawoy’s proposal is that it is both a research programme for emancipatory social sciences and a strong political initiative. They defend a relationship with Marxism that is more than simply eclectic: it is not a question of taking a little Marxism along with a little of something else. On the contrary, according to them, it is necessary to accept Marxism in its entirety but in an analytical, non-dogmatic version that seeks to elaborate ‘real utopias’.

This is an approach that has not yet been widely followed in France, even if some of Erik Olin Wright’s texts have recently been translated. In the book we are publishing, which was prepared in connection with the seminar ‘Lectures de Marx’ at the École Normale Supérieure, the lecture given by Michael Burawoy is interesting from the point of view of the history of ideas, because it enables us to identify ‘three waves of Marxism’ and to open up Marxism to its current future. The third wave, which for Michael Burawoy began in 1973, is still flowing and is characterised by the growing contradiction within capitalism between the production imperative and the environmental imperative. How to confront the latter is the object of sociological Marxism, which seeks in the ‘already here’ alternatives that can prevent us from heading towards catastrophe.

As to whether this proposal could lead to a ‘reconstruction’ of Marxism, I would answer by saying that being a publisher does not mean publishing authors with whom one must necessarily agree, but rather feeding a debate that cannot do without the contribution of each of our books.

Le Vent se Lève, 9 December 2021:

Translated by David Fernbach


[1] Le Parti communiste français et le livre. Écrire et diffuser le politique en France au XXe siècle, edited by Jean-Numa Ducange, Julien Hage and Jean-Yves Mollier, and Lire en communiste by Marie Cécile Bouju.

[2] See:

[3] The programme of the Conseil National de Résistance, adopted in 1944, proposed for France a social democracy and planned economy. – Trans.