Fifty Years of VSA: Publishers: A Reason to Celebrate and to Look Back

Walter Baier pays tribute to one of transform! europe’s initiators and a linchpin of European and international cooperation on the left.

Founded in 1972, VSA: publishers sees its publishing activities as a contribution to the democratic culture of discussion of the trade union and political left — to analysis, enlightenment, and action. 60 books produced per year, the publication of the journal Sozialismus (Socialism) and the corresponding  website bear witness to this. Anyone who know the spatial conditions in the Hamburg (Germany) publishing centre and the small number of staff can appreciate their dedication and discipline.

The list of authors, many of whom have been made accessible to the German-speaking public through translations by VSA:, reads like a Who is Who of enlightened and undogmatic Marxism of the past decades: Louis Althusser, Giovanni Arrighi, Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Brenner, Michael Brie, Luciana Castellina, Elisabeth Gauthier, David Harvey, Sabine Kebir, Marcello Musto, Leo Panitch, Nicos Poulantzas, Saskia Sassen, Erik O. Wright, … and many others could be mentioned.

VSA: has accompanied me throughout my political life. Politicised and socialised in the 1970s in the, to put it mildly, then very traditional Austrian Communist Party, VSA was for me the window into another Marxist universe.

Books such as Jean Ellenstein’s Histoire du phénomène stalinien, translated at VSA (History of ‘Stalinism’) (1976), Gramsci. Philosophy of Practice and the Hegemony of the Proletariat (Gramsci. Philosophie der Praxis und die Hegemonie des Proletariats) by CPI leadership member Luciano Gruppi (1977), and Eurocommunism and the State (Eurokommunismus und Staat) by the general secretary of the then still illegal Communist Party of Spain, Santiago Carrillo, opened the floodgates for a new discourse.

Direct, intensive cooperation only developed much later. VSA:/Socialism belonged to that small circle which, on the fringes of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, took the initiative to found transform! europe. Joint appearances at the European Social Forums followed. The most important result of the cooperation of this period are the studies by Elisabeth Gauthier, Joachim Bischof, and Bernhard Müller on modern right-wing populism, which were conducted in German-French cooperation and underpinned the moral condemnation of right-wing radical parties by materialist social science.

See: Joachim Bischoff / Elisabeth Gauthier / Bernhard Müller (2015): Europe’s Rights. The concept of the ‘modernised’ right-wing populism. A pamphlet [Europas Rechte. Das Konzept des “modernisierten” Rechtspopulismus. Eine Flugschrift]

VSA was and is a hub of European and international cooperation. Since 1997 it has delivered the Socialist Register in Europe, edited by Leo Panitch (deceased in 2020) and Greg Albo.

From 2015 to 2019, the German edition of the transform! yearbook was published by VSA: under the direction of Bernhard Müller.

Among VSA:’s cooperation partners are ATTAC, the Institute Solidary Modernity (Institut Solidarische Moderne), and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation, as well as German trade unions.

As transform! europe’s political coordinator, I have visited the comrades and colleagues frequently. As we know, Austrians and Germans are separated by their common language. The differences in mentality between the Protestant north and the Catholic southeast have always required a mutual effort to build bridges. 

If I were to briefly characterise the colleagues from the VSA:, in a nutshell, three words come to mind: courageous, incorruptible, and independent – qualities that are accompanied by publishing skill and commercial prudence.

It has always been an honor to work with them.

Walter Baier