Louis Sinclair (1909-1990)

Against the Current, No. 30, January/February 1991

Wang Fanxi

I FIRST MET Louis Sinclair in 1975, but we knew of each other several years earlier, when I was living in Macao and the Chinese edition of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution was reprinted in Hong Kong. I think it was 1970.

I had sent one copy of the History to Pierre Frank (a leader of the Trotskyist movement—ed.) in Paris. In his reply, Pierre informed me that he had forwarded the three volumes of the History to Glasgow where a friend of his, Louis Sinclair, was collecting Trotsky’s works in all languages.

Pierre also asked me whether I had any other books by Trotsky published in Chinese. If so, he asked me to send them directly to Louis. Thus began the correspondence between Louis and me.

I came to England in the Spring of 1975 and met Louis and Pierre Frank in London two months later. Learning that I had brought several of Trotsky’s booklets in Chinese, Louis was overjoyed.

Louis visited me in Leeds a few days later to ‘hunt the treasure’ He got four pamphlets from me and at the same time wanted me to teach him the Chinese character of numbers and the Kanas (a sort of Japanese alphabet). When I asked what was the use of learning these things, he said he wished to make sure of the dates of publication of those books in Chinese and to be able to pronounce the titles in Japanese.

From then on, I began to learn that Louis was not a common collector. He did not collect Trotsky’s writings as a hobby, but out of his high respect for the great revolutionary; because of his firm conviction of the correctness of the fundamental principles held by Trotsky and his awareness of keeping his writings safe and complete.

Bemuse of this, Louis did the work and even, some people would say, “ridiculously.” Some friends, especially young activists, failed to see the value and importance of his work. Some even slighted his efforts and failed to respond to his demands, unwilling to collaborate with Louis in his “hunting.” This made Louis very sad and even angry.

I always had a high opinion of Louis’ painstaking, unsensational but really useful work. That was one of the reasons that made us good and firm friends.

I said “useful” I myself can supply two minor examples.

1) Nearly thirty years ago I translated Trotsky’s The New Course from English into Chinese. The English translation was by Max Shachtman, whose knowledge of Russian was not very good. Several passages in the translation were incomprehensible.

As I could not at that time get the Russian text, I had no alternative but to translate these passages by “guessing” and inserted notes in these places explaining that the meaning of this or that passage was not clear and that there might be mistakes.

When I met Louis we talked about this. He immediately showed me the Russian original and made copies of all these relevant passages so that I could translate them into better and unambiguous Chinese.

2) I translated Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution in 1960, also from the English version, which did not include Antonio Gramsci’s letter to Trotsky on the Futurist movement in Italy. Again, when Louis learned this, he made a copy of the letter from the Russian original for me.

It is a well-known fact that the compilation of the fourteen volumes of Leon Trotsky’s writings, published by Pathfinder Press of the USA, owed a lot to Louis’ bibliography. This is true also of Pierre Broue’s Trotsky. Both George Breit-man, editor of the Writings, and Pierre Broue acknowledged the help they received from Louis.

Louis’ forty-year-long efforts are surely not in vain. I am sure Louis and his work will be remembered, apple-dated and of continuous benefit to all scholars as well as activists in the international movement for revolutionary socialism.

January-February 1991, ATC 30