history

Below is the introduction to Introducing Marx, the first ever Introducing title (or …for Beginners, as the series was then called) published in the UK, written by the series’ editor Richard Appignanesi. Some of the references are out of date now, but it is an interesting insight into the origins of the Introducing series:

This first English translation of Rius’ Marx para Principiantes was originally published in 1976. It was an instant hit! I was his British editor at the time and I knew we were on to a winner when a local Tory party HQ in Kensington ordered a half-dozen copies. The popularity of Marx for Beginners clearly signalled the existence of a readership hungry for information on “big topics” which could be supplied by the revolutionary means of non-fiction comic books. This persuaded me to originate other Beginners on Einstein, Freud, Darwin and so on. This whole series has now been renamed Introducing…

In the early 1970s I was already aware of Rius as a legendary Mexican cartoonist, singlehandedly producing a weekly comic, Los Agachados (The Underdogs), for the delight and instruction of the underprivileged. Humorously, but with deadly accuracy, Rius enlightened his public on every sort of social and political issue. His wit got him into trouble with the authorities. Rius then had the genial idea of introducing Karl Marx to his readers. And so, the people of the barrios came to know this German heavyweight, “Carlito”. The world was soon to follow and Rius’ brilliant primer was to sell over a million copies in 12 languages. The huge international success of Marx tells us something interesting. It obviously meant that a basic primer on Marx was badly needed, not only among the poor of Mexico but in the supposedly more advanced and sophisticated countries too.

We are perhaps inclined to think of the 1970s as the fashionable “age of Marx”. Karl might have appeared as a pop totem on T-shirts, though very few actually read him. Too difficult. But by 1976 the radical culture was not as optimistic as it might seem to us now. The heroic moment of the Vietnam protest, student movements and socialist hope generally were over. Che Guevara had perished in his Bolivian misadventure in 1967, the social democratic experiment in Chile had been suppressed with almost genocidal fury by Pinochet in 1973, and the Portuguese revolution of April 1974 had withered away. Reaction had triumphed and the Cold War was coming to a conclusion, with definitive winners and losers. By the end of the next decade the Berlin Wall had disintegrated, and the Soviet command economy had vanished overnight without trace.

No one laments the passing of the Berlin Wall, except the apparatchiks and Cold War profiteers on both sides of it. What saddened me was the unthinking naive joy at the prospect of a neo-capitalist future, expressed by even those who ought to have known better. It was depressing to encounter lifelong “Marxists” in the streets who breathlessly exclaimed, “Isn’t it wonderful what’s happening in Eastern Europe?” What’s so wonderful? To witness the unholy rush of Communist parties to change their names? The spectacle of self-professed Marxists suddenly transformed into born-again liberal capitalists? Was it really so hard to foresee, especially by those with practiced habits of Marxist analysis, that we were entering into a period of acute economic instability and nationalistic crisis in Eastern Europe which made civil war virtually inevitable? Are we shocked that the primitive accumulative phase of capitalism in the former Soviet Empire has taken the shape of Mafia-style criminality? What did we expect, that somehow Eastern Europeans would come to mature capitalism without going the same pirate route that we had earlier followed to arrive at transnational supermarket capitalism?
In the light of what has happened since 1989, it is high time for a reconsideration of what Marx was really about, warts and all, without dogmatism and sanctification. What was done in his name in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere, has for too long been passed off as “Marxism”. The first thing to remember is that Marx was an economic critic and philosopher, not a prophet. He gave no blueprint whatsoever of “socialism” or “communism”. What he has principally and essentially left us is a critical analysis of capitalism. “Marxism” is, and should be, nothing else but the means of criticism.

The closest to a programme proposed by Marx is found in the famous 10 Points of the Communist Manifesto which Rius reproduces in this book. Look closely at these aims, considered revolutionary when Marx stated them in 1848, and you will notice something curious. Although they have never been fully implemented, it is nevertheless startling to recognize how many of his aims have in part at least been adopted in many industrially advanced countries, not by revolutionary means but by parliamentary reform.

The truth is, much of Marx’s economic programme – nationalization, state education and so on – became the agenda of Keynesian state management in the 40s and 50s. Thatcherism and Reaganomics in the last decade have almost entirely succeeded in rolling back these basic social democratic reforms. We are being told, constantly, that we have no alternative to the capitalism shaped by the monetarist deregulated “free market”. That is not the view Rius takes. He neither apologizes for nor disguises his confidence in Marx’s ideas, and that’s unusual these days. Rius has done his job by making Marx a little more familiar. The rest is up to us.

Richard Appignanesi
Icon Books