Defend the Fundacion Federico Engels



An appeal by Alan Woods

Dear Friends,

For years the Madrid Book Fair has been one of the highlights of the cultural life of Spain. Thousands of people, ordinary citizens with a desire to read, to learn, to expand their intellectual horizons and enrich their lives, have flocked to the Fair. In a multitude of stands, alongside those of the big publishing houses, they could find a multiplicity of small specialist publishers dedicated to a wide range of subjects, from religion to politics, from art to music, from philosophy to esoterics.

It was precisely this marvellous cultural diversity that gave the Fair its wide appeal. It catered for all manner of interests and opinions. It was a living example of democracy in action.

Now, however, this great democratic tradition has been placed in jeopardy. The Commission that organises the Fair has decided in the most arbitrary and undemocratic manner to exclude the Fundacion Federico Engels, the only stand in the Fair that specialises in the production and sale of the classics of Marxism and modern Marxist literature.

At a time when the ideas of socialism and Marxism were faced with an unprecedented avalanche of calumnies on an international scale, the Frederick Engels Foundation has stood firm and has continued to publish Marxist works, constantly expanding its catalogue and receiving international acclaim. The interest in the publications of the Foundation is rapidly expanding in Latin America – a fact that was again spectacularly demonstrated at the Havana Book Fair in January of this year. Among those who have admired its work is Hugo Chavez Frias, the President of Venezuela, who on several occasions has commented favourably on the books published by the Foundation on his weekly television programme, Alo Presidente.

For the past nine years, the Foundation’s stand has attracted a very large number of visitors: activists of the workers’ movement, veterans of the struggle against the Franco dictatorship, young people interested in learning about Marxism, or just people curious to read books that have been attacked so often and with such spiteful vitriol by the Establishment.

It is well known that the presence of the Foundation at the Fair has been a source of great irritation for the Establishment from the beginning, and that heavy pressure has been exerted by sectors close to the PP and the big publishing houses to exclude it from the Fair. Up till now, they were unsuccessful. But this year, without any warning or consultation, the Foundation was banned, even though the cheque for the payment of the stand had already been cashed!

Why was this action taken? Probably it was connected with the fact that the Frederick Engels Foundation broke the boycott of the Havana Book Fair organized by the big publishing houses and went to Cuba for the second year running. But the real reason is the desire of the right wing to suppress political ideas that are inimical to them. They cannot openly prohibit Marxist books, but they certainly can make it very difficult for people to get access to them.

Anybody who has tried to find the classics of Marxism in the last few years will know that it is already very difficult to obtain them. The big publishers will not publish them, or if they do occasionally issue an edition of a book by Marx (forget about Lenin, Trotsky or Rosa Luxemburg), they charge such outrageous prices that young people in particular cannot afford them.

The Frederick Engels Foundation is now the only Publishing House in Spain that publishes and distributes the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. Moreover, since it is not a commercial enterprise interested solely in profit, but has the aim of the widest possible distribution of Marxist literature, it sells these books at very reasonable prices.

The act of banning the Foundation from the Fair is therefore clearly of a political nature. The excuses given by the director of the Fair on behalf of the Commission are extremely lame and will convince nobody who is not already motivated by hatred of the Left in general and Marxism in particular.

What arguments do they put forward? They argue that the list of titles published by the Foundation is too small. They say it is less than fifty titles, when in fact it is nearly a hundred. They do not include pamphlets and brochures, but only books. However, works like the Communist Manifesto and State and Revolution are small books and brochures, and have always been published in this format by commercial publishers.

In any case, this is a transparent excuse. For the past nine years the Foundation has regularly been present in the Fair, and its catalogue has increased every year. The argument about the size of the catalogue did not prevent the Foundation from being given permission to participate in the past. Why should it be used as an excuse for banning it now, when it has more titles than ever?

For the big booksellers, the Madrid Book Fair is only a means of making money (“The Fair is for selling books”, as Senor Teodoro Sacristan, the Director of the Fair amiably explained to me in a telephone conversation). But for the people of Madrid it is above all a cultural activity. For many people it is also the only opportunity they have to obtain Marxist books from the ONLY source available: the Frederick Engels Foundation.

The argument that “other stands sell Marxist literature” is completely false. The big publishers have no interest in selling Marxist books. They neither produce nor stock them. Everybody knows this. So the prohibition of the Foundation from the Book Fair is in fact an attempt to deny the people access to the ideas of Marxism. It is a clearly political decision and an act of indirect censorship.

Some thirty years ago I participated in the struggle against the Franco dictatorship. In those days there was a prohibited list of books, and Marxists were forced to work clandestinely. Three decades later we are once again faced with censorship – not direct and open censorship, but an indirect, sly and hypocritical censorship exercised by big business that owns and controls all the major outlets of printed ideas, from books to daily newspapers.

Today all the means of mass communication are in the hands of people who support the capitalist system and oppose socialism. But it seems this is not enough for them. They wish to deny even the smallest space to those of us who continue to defend the ideas of socialism. They must not succeed. They will not succeed.

The scandalous decision to ban Marxism from the Madrid Book Fair is not an isolated case. It is part of a general offensive of the Spanish right wing against the Left. The PP and its ally the Roman Catholic Church, have launched an unprecedented assault on the socialist government. They cannot accept the fact that the PSOE won the last election and that the people of Spain voted massively to eject them from power. Ever since they have been agitating to overthrow the democratically elected government by any means.

This should not surprise us. The right wing in Spain has a complete contempt for democracy. This year is the anniversary of the Civil War, in which the very same forces overthrew the Republic and instituted a dictatorship that lasted almost half a century, crushing the working class, strangling democracy and paralysing all cultural life. The ruling class of Spain was very comfortable with this and looks back with nostalgia to those times. The language of the right wing and particularly of the Church in recent times contains a clear echo of the language of the Francoism in the past.

It is all too clear that the decision to ban Marxism from the Madrid Book Fair is politically motivated and has been taken under the pressure of these same right wing forces. It must be resisted energetically, not only by all the forces of the Left, but by all those who value democratic rights and free speech and by all those who wish to see a healthy, vibrant and diverse cultural life in Spain.

Even the smallest attack on democratic rights should be firmly rejected. If this is not done, the enemies of socialism and democracy will be encouraged to make further and more serious attacks. Our slogan must be: an attack against one is an attack against all!

From these columns, I appeal to all members of the labour movement, both in Spain and internationally, to raise their voice in protest against this arbitrary and undemocratic act of censorship. I appeal to trade unionists, socialists and communists, to progressive artists and intellectuals, and to all genuine democrats to protest against a scandalous attempt to gag the Left and to put back the clock.

Defend democratic rights!

Oppose disguised censorship!

Support the Frederick Engels Foundation!

London, 19th April 2005.

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