Thursday, October 19, 2006


Lost in translation?

Paul Lafargue's 1880 essay The Right to be Lazy, rejecting the notion, promoted in 1848 by Louis Blanc, of a "right to work", is a bit of a gem. Arguably, in fact, the notion could be due for a bit of a revival, at least if some advocates of an unconditional and universal basic income are to be believed, as I hope they are. They question whether, given certain economic, sociological and ecological realities, "full employment" is a plausible, let alone desirable, resolution of the social ills found in the advanced capitalist societies.

But I've noticed an interesting little discrepancy between the English and French versions found at the Marxist Internet Archive. In section two ("Blessings of Work") of the English version, Lafargue (son-in-law of Marx) scorns the tortured factory workers who won't:

...besiege the warehouse of [the manufacturer - DC] Bonnet...and cry out: “M. Bonnet, here are your working women, silk workers, spinners, weavers; they are shivering pitifully under their patched cotton dresses, yet it is they who have spun and woven the silk robes of the fashionable women of all Christendom.

And then describes the situation of the capitalist threatened with bankruptcy due to crises of industrial overproduction:

At his wits' end, he implores the banker; he throws himself at his feet, offering his blood, his honor. “A little gold will do my business better”, answers the Rothschild. “You have 20,000 pairs of [tights - DC] in your warehouse; they are worth 20c. I will take them at 4c.” The banker gets possession of the goods...

(See where this is going?)

In the French - original - version, however, these passages appear as folows:

...assiéger les magasins de M. Bonnet, de Jujurieux, l'inventeur des couvents industriels, et de clamer: "Monsieur Bonnet, voici vos ouvrières ovalistes, moulineuses, fileuses, tisseuses, elles grelottent sous leurs cotonnades rapetassées à chagriner l'oeil d'un juif et, cependant, ce sont elles qui ont filé et tissé les robes de soie des cocottes de toute la chrétienté.


Acculé, il va implorer le juif, il se jette à ses pieds, lui offre son sang, son honneur. "Un petit peu d'or ferait mieux mon affaire, répond le Rothschild, vous avez 20 000 paires de bas en magasin, ils valent vingt sous, je les prends à quatre sous." Les bas obtenus, le juif les vend six et huit sous...

You may have noticed the appearance of the word "juif" - Jew, translated in the second paragraph as "banker". Also, the English translation fails to register the fact that the sight of the workers "shivering pitifully under their patched cotton dresses" would apparently be enough "to sadden the heart of a Jew" (or, literally, "the eye of a Jew").

I wonder did someone at the MIA tidy this up, or what? In any case I would hope that the demonisation of Jews or other isolated groups is not to be one of the aspects of the essay to gain the renewed relevance I have referred to.

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