Marx-Engels Jahrbuch, Vols. 1-2

Marx-Engels Jahrbuch, Vols. 1-2 (Amsterdam: Marx-Engels Foundation; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004, 2005).

What can the reader expect from a yearbook which is published in connection with the all-inclusive edition of the writings and manuscripts left by Marx and Engels, the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA)? Initially, information of various kinds by way of reviews, conference reports, new material that came to light only after publication of the relevant MEGA volumes, and finally articles of various types that expand our knowledge and understanding of the basis for Marx and Engels’s activities. The volumes of MEGA itself include text in a precise form (historisch-kritisch is the term applied), with appropriate annotations. In every volume, we find a brief introduction to the background for the texts, their internal relationship, and the historical context. In other words, the texts are presented in a scholarly form, but under no circumstances with an interpretation, because this is not (any longer) the objective of the MEGA.

While Vol. 2 of the yearbook fits the above description (as will probably most future volumes), Vol. 1 of the yearbook is completely different, as it contains a pre-print of part of a forthcoming MEGA volume (MEGA I/5) which will contain the manuscripts for The German Ideology. This resulted in Vol. 1’s remarkable achievement of making it to the list of non-fiction bestsellers in Germany in the summer of 2004. As any interested reader will know, the unfinished manuscripts have been exposed to the “gnawing criticism of the mice” (as Marx was later to put it) since the second half on the 1840s. Larger and smaller extracts of the manuscripts have been published by various editors at different times; it is now the intention to render the manuscripts back into their definitive form, i.e. the one in which the authors (Engels, Hess and Marx) left them, insofar as they are extant, that is, not to reconstruct a coherent text that did not exist at the time the project was abandoned. As early as 1996 the present editors submitted a well-argued proposal concerning the original content of the manuscripts (in MEGA-Studien [Amsterdam] 1997/2). The German Ideology did not exist in the form in which it was later published (e.g., in the Collected Works); it did not include the term ‘historical materialism,’ although it did counterpose ‘materialism’ against ‘idealism’ in the writing of history. The manuscripts reflect the two authors’ early endeavours to develop a fundamental perception on the basis of materialistic approaches to property, the state, legal systems, politics, religion, world history, etc. The inaccurate manuscripts published in 1932 formed the basis of lengthy and thorough discussions; this basis has now been radically altered.

Marx’s assessment was that the manuscripts had been useful in helping the two authors clarify their early theoretical position. Engels’s assessment in 1888 was that the manuscript demonstrated how limited their knowledge of economic history had really been forty years before. However, the opinion of its authors is not necessarily the be all and end all of the discussion. The manuscripts might well be of importance if for no other reason than that they show what the authors’ point of departure was, and what they later made of their theoretical work of the 1840s. (Apparently it is incredibly difficult to work with these manuscripts, and their MEGA publication was delayed for years.)

Vol. 1 of the yearbook is, in fact, an anomaly. As important as it is, the yearbook cannot be evaluated on the basis of this volume. Vol. 2 provides a clearer indication of what can be expected generally from these yearbooks. Essentially the purpose seems to be well served. The guiding editorial principle, like that of the MEGA itself, is academic and thus steers clear of ideological confrontation.

Malcolm Sylvers attempts to summarize the somewhat sporadic comments by Marx and Engels about the development of the United States over a period of forty years during which capitalism in this country rapidly transformed its character. To some extent they saw this as emblematic of the nature of the system, but at the same time they continually noted its special characteristics. Sylvers develops a research program to determine whether Marx and Engels viewed the US model of capitalist development as substantially different from that of other countries. He suggests that the recently published MEGA edition of the third volume of Capital may reveal, through examination of the relevant manuscripts, new information on this subject. In this research program the ‘American’ features in writings, manuscripts, and letters play a considerable role.

One of the most difficult tasks in connection with the publication of the MEGA is to clarify the extent of Marx and Engels’s involvement in the editing of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (NRhZ). Because many of their contributions to several papers – especially the New York Tribune – were made anonymously, it has taken a strenuous effort to identify the articles written by them. The problem is considerably more intricate with the NRhZ, a paper on which they both were the central editors. One of their jobs was to edit contributions made by others, and it is often impossible to clarify their interventions. Francois Melis, however, has now been able to identify Marx’s own copy of the NRhZ and has thus made it possible to evaluate Marx’s contributions on the basis of his comments and notes. For many years Melis has been working on different aspects of the history of the NRhZ, and he is now the chief editor of vols. 7, 8, and 9 in the First Section of the MEGA. Of course, he bases himself on previous findings, for example previously identified NRhZ articles by Marx and Engels. Such discoveries are of particular importance because many original documents, copies of which were collected for the first MEGA, disappeared after 1933 as a result of Nazi ravages. The finding of Marx’s copy of the newspaper is also important for other MEGA volumes.

Rolf Dlubek’s article is based on his work with a volume of letters covering the years 1860-61 (III/11), scheduled for publication in December 2005. Here the entire extant correspondence will be collected for the first time, and thus a basis provided for an analysis of Marx’s visit to Berlin in March/April 1861—the first time since 1849 that he was able to return to Germany. In this connection a plan was developed for publishing a large democratic opposition paper along the lines of the NRhZ, a paper of which Marx might become the editor together with Ferdinand Lassalle. There is no doubt that this plan appealed to Marx, but one precondition, that he could re-acquire his Prussian citizenship, could not be met. However, it also became clear that his and Lassalle’s views about who should be editor-in-chief did not coincide, and that there were obstacles of personality and theory preventing the two from cooperating. Marx never again went back to Germany. He did not consider the political conditions to be sufficiently promising. During his visit he made a number of other important contacts, including with the Viennese daily Die Presse. This is an important episode in Marx’s life which is here analysed in depth for the first time.

Markus Bürgi surveys Engels’s various visits to Switzerland, of which the one he made in 1893 was the most important. Here Engels made an important speech to the International Socialist Congress referring to the principles of inner-party democracy and to the need for open discussion on the basis of revolutionary principles. He also paid a visit to his cousin Anna Beust, married to Friedrich Beust, an active participant in the 1848/49 revolution and later a co-founder of the Zurich section of the 1st International. Bürgi located five hitherto unknown letters by Engels, among them one of the very last he wrote before his death. These letters will probably be published in the 2005 yearbook. Their main relevance is the light they throw on private aspects of Engels’s life.

In addition to reports from relevant conferences and three reviews, the volume contains a letter written by Karl Schapper to Engels in 1846. This letter ought to have been included in MEGA vol. III/2, the correspondence from 1846-48. It reflects the discussions that took place in the precursor organization of the League of Communists, in this case in relation to issues of nationhood.

Some of the articles—such as an otherwise interesting piece by Thomas Welskopp discussing the German labour movement’s understanding of economic theory between the 1848 and 1878, a 1932 lecture by anti-Semite and Nazi Party-member Carl Schmitt, and the purely ideological article by Mario Iorio (who discusses Marx in a present-day setting)—seem more or less misplaced in the context of the yearbook. None of these contributions has any real bearing on the MEGA project.

The yearbook includes summaries in English of the articles, but this is not sufficient to reach an international public. The editing committee should at least publish some articles in English if they want the yearbook to have a future as an international publication.

Reviewed by Gerd Callesen

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