Discussion Group: Work Practices and the Construction of Truth in the Translation of Marxist Texts

This paper investigated how work practices of agents in translation relate to the development of Marxist discourse in Greece. Work practices are part of the social structures within which translation is performed and, thus, underpin the construction of validated knowledge. Although existing scholarship in Translation Studies has examined translator practices in various contexts, positioning translators within a matrix of relations and socio-political concerns, it has not explored the relationship between work practices and the construction of truth. However, employing practices accepted as rigorous, appropriate or essential promote the legitimization of an interpretation and the valorisation of a translation as a truthful rendering of an original.

Drawing on archival material and historical research, Christina Delistathi's paper examined the work practices of agents involved in the Greek translations of theoretical Marxist texts published by the Communist Party of Greece between 1949 and 1954, e.g. the Selected Works of Marx and Engels. The extensive translation activity undertaken at that time supported the party’s objective to codify Marxism. Central to claims to accuracy of these translations was the use of work practices valued as meticulous and scrupulous.

Two fundamental changes in translating, as performed within the party, took place during the period of study: the centralisation of all translation work in a single location and the professionalisation of agents involved. Centralisation launched new procedures in text production, entailing various stages and types of rewriting, and new mechanisms of control of agents’ work. Professionalization, on the other hand, fashioned the party as the expert who had the right to translate Marxist texts, prescribe the correct way to do so and define the qualifications of those allowed to translate. Using Foucault, it will be argued that institutionalised, hierarchical and controlled work practices were key to the success of the party’s objective to codify Marxist theory into Greek and its claiming the correct interpretation of Marxist texts.

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Christina Delistathi is Principal Lecturer in Foundation Learning at the University of Westminster. Her research, based on a historical and sociological approach, focuses on the translation of political texts with a particular interest in Marxist literature and the Communist Manifesto and is currently expanding to include the work practices of their translators.