MEGA2 at the Halfway Point

MEGA2 or to give it its full name, the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe – the complete collected works, writings, and letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – made it to its half-way point last summer when its 57th volume was published. Since then, volume 58 has appeared, and another two volumes are planned for publication in 2011. What makes MEGA2 so significant for Marx-Engels scholarship is that 1) it includes all of their writings, articles, manuscripts, drafts and different kinds of notes; 2) they are all published in the languages originally used by the two authors; 3) the progression of the texts is analyzed from the very first thoughts about any given thesis to its final published form – i.e. any change made in the course of the process is documented; and 4) a special section – textual history – describes the circumstances surrounding the production of each text and its contemporary echo in translations and reprints.

Engels’ and Marx’s texts are rendered in their original languages – 60 percent in German, 30 percent in English, 5 percent in French, and the remaining 5 percent in various other languages – but the introductions to individual volumes and the scholarly apparatus, including textual history, that is to say the texts prepared by the editors, are all in German.

The present edition has a long history behind it, as the earliest attempts to publish a complete edition of Marx’s works date back to the 1850s. The first MEGA was published in accordance with decisions taken by the Communist International in the 1920s and ‘30s. However, only 13 of the 40 volumes then planned were actually published. Publication of the new MEGA – MEGA2 – began in 1975. The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the German Democratic republic (GDR) entailed a real risk of discontinuation; however, a solution was found which made it possible to pursue the work: ‘de-politicising’ it and stressing its academic and scholarly aspects. Like the original MEGA, MEGA2 is divided into sections: I – works, articles, and drafts (32 vols., of which 19 have been published); II – Capital and its hitherto unpublished preparatory drafts (15 vols., to be completed in 2011); III – correspondence between Marx and Engels, and between these two and other correspondents, in all 14,000 letters, approximately half of which have been published before (35 vols., of which 12 have been published); and IV – excerpts,  lists, annotations, etc. (32 vols., 12 of which have been published).1

The publication began 35 years ago, and if things go according to plan, will be completed in another 30 years. This long genesis entails certain limitations insofar as some of the earlier volumes may turn out to be incomplete because of the discovery of previously unknown texts. In particular, several letters have come to light, some of which are highly informative. These new findings will also be part of the more popular “works editions.” Thus, at the moment efforts are being made to renew the German Marx-Engels-Werke and to complete the Italian Marx-Engels-Opere. A Chinese works edition in progress already includes over 20 volumes. In Russia, Korea, Japan, and Brazil, editions are prepared or have already been published using the results of the MEGA2.

There will be 114 volumes in MEGA2; however, three of the volumes in Section II are subdivided, so that its actual number of volumes will be 23 and not 15. Over the years, this has caused some confusion, and the same is true of other indications of the scope of the publication. Originally the plan was for 100 volumes to be completed by 2000. However, even before the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the GDR, it had become clear that this would not be possible, and that the total number of volumes would be greater than originally envisaged.

The original publishers, the Institutes of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow and Berlin, tried to involve scholars also from western countries. Many of the unknown manuscripts are lodged in Amsterdam, but many others are held in Moscow. The German Social Democratic Party, with whom they were lodged until the 1930s, gave permission for them to be photographed. This was fortunate as some of the original manuscripts disappeared in 1933 en route from Berlin to Copenhagen. Among other unknown manuscripts were those for Capital and virtually all the material in Section IV.

Whereas the correspondence between Marx and Engels had been known more or less in its entirety since 1912 and, subsequently, also their letters to third parties, most of the letters addressed to them were largely unknown. The hitherto unknown texts belonging in section I are primarily journalistic, and include articles reaching from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to New York Tribune. Already a number of previously unknown Tribune articles by both Marx and Engels have been published.

It was touch and go for the survival of the MEGA2 project after 1990. Of course, the two Institutes of Marxism-Leninism, which spent huge resources on the project, had attributed a political function to it. This was made abundantly clear in the introductions of the individual volumes and partly in the notes to particular texts. It goes without saying that this political approach could not be maintained, but even so, a pronounced reluctance to sustain the project made itself felt. However, a German scholarly commission stated that apart from the introductions and some of the notes, the edition was of high scholarly quality and deserved to be continued. It was understood that the edition was to be a purely scholarly work, so that fundamentalist (and one-sided) political interpretations of the texts would no longer be permissible. This course of action proved to be an advantage, although a complete de-politicising of Marx and Engels is, of course, impossible, and was not intended.

1990 saw the establishment of a new editorial committee, the International Marx Engels Stiftung (IMES) with headquarters in Amsterdam. The IMES consists of member organizations in Russia, the Netherlands, and Germany. Especially during the early years, the IISG (International Institute for Social History) in Amsterdam was successful in acquiring considerable funds from various sources, among them a fund under the European Union. In the USA, a volume in Section IV received substantial funding from a scholarly foundation. In 1992 the IMES concluded an agreement with the German Akademie der Wissenschaften on the publication of MEGA2. Around the turn of the millennium the IMES secretariat moved from Amsterdam to Berlin, but already before then the MEGA working-group under the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW) had played an important role as a coordinator. The early 1990s saw the publication of some volumes prepared by editors in the Soviet Union and the GDR, but observing the new guidelines adopted in 1993. Since 1999 every year has seen the publication of one or two volumes.

In the 1990s, the IMES has sought to internationalize the basis of MEGA2. This meant establishing working groups for particular volumes in various countries. A number of such groups were successfully set up, and especially Japanese scholars have been actively working on volumes in Section II. Some Japanese universities have long traditions of Marx scholarship. Also in the USA, Denmark, and Germany volumes are in preparation. These groups are either self-financing or (as at the University of Bremen) financed by a university. They are financially independent of the IMES. These self-financing groups have considerable influence on the scholarly treatment of the texts. The fact that the researchers are widely dispersed means that different academic research traditions come into play in preparing notes and introductions, which in turn means that no single pattern of interpretation will be brought to bear; no single scholarly-theoretical tradition prevailing in a given state will dominate the publication.

It is hardly possible to produce such an extensive edition without reacting to the technological breakthrough entailed by the digitalization of printed matter. This has been done despite the limited resources available to the IMES.2

Section II (Capital and preparatory studies), which is all but complete, was selected for digitalization. Unlike any previous edition of Capital, this section includes all other versions and drafts for the three volumes of Capital written by Marx and his editor Engels. In their editorial apparatus the volumes of Section II provide detailed documentation of the relations and connections between these various versions. The objective of the MEGA Digitalization Project is to present the body of economic texts found in Section II across the different volumes. In this way the intertextual linkage between individual manuscript and print versions is thrown open to research either through accumulated registers or full-text searching. Line and page enumeration of the edited texts are presented identically with the printed MEGA2 volumes, which facilitates citation.

Digital MEGA is presented in an imaginary desktop in which any number of windows can be opened so that different texts, registers, and search results/hits can be shown at the same time and in parallel. The ‘desktop’ is considerably bigger than the computer screen, which means that the layout remains clear even when several windows are open. Information concerning content and functionalities can be found in the project description and guidance under the heading, ‘Über das Projekt’ ( An English-language version of this text is planned for the near future.

Currently the digital edition of MEGA2 covers the edited texts of five MEGA volumes, including ‘Grundrisse’ (II/1) and a number of versions of Capital vol. 2, Marx manuscripts (II/4.1, II/11), editorial texts related to them (II/12), and the printed versions published by Engels (II/13). Soon the edited text of the first (1867) edition of Capital vol. 1 (II/5) will be available online. In addition, a full-text search for all the volumes as well as an accumulated subject index for all the different versions and preparatory texts for Capital vol. 2 are available. In the medium term the plan is to make the manuscripts and printed versions of Capital vol. 3 (II/4.2, II/15) available as well.3

It was never the intention for MEGA to replace works editions like the Marx Engels Collected Works. The idea was for MEGA to form the basis on which works editions in different languages could be prepared, and in general to provide the basis for translations and publications of individual texts. Additionally, the MEGA would be the basis for intensive scholarly treatment of the various texts. This is the reason why MEGA2 publishes every scrap of material that Engels and Marx have left us, why everything is rendered in the languages used in the original manuscripts (and with all known variations), and why all texts are rendered together with a detailed textual history, including short descriptions of persons and full bibliographical data for any newspaper articles or other publications that are mentioned. This often involves finding information on persons who were not well known and who therefore left no trace in the available literature. Similarly, many newspapers are no longer extant. However, to the extent possible this information is provided as an integral part of the volumes.

This makes MEGA2 an excellent basis for other publications. The importance of works editions – such as those underway in France, Italy, and China – is growing. In Germany, the Marx-Engels-Werke (MEW) published by Dietz Verlag is constantly being expanded with new texts and revisions based on the MEGA2 volumes as well as on other research findings. So far this applies to MEW vols. 1, 8, and 41 (with a revision of vol. 13 forthcoming). Rolf Hecker, one of the editors of Beiträge zur Marx-Engels-Forschung,4 is the driving force behind this effort. The MEW now numbers 43 volumes, with additional volumes planned covering primarily material from Section II of MEGA2, which contains hitherto unknown manuscripts more extensive than the Grundrisse. Marx Engels Collected Works includes many manuscripts translated into English, and is currently the most complete works edition, although some material recently published in MEGA2 is not included in it.

There is still a long way to go before everything written by Marx and Engels (together with the necessary analyses) will have been published. The fact that the full publication time will be 60 or 70 years means that in principle the guidelines for the preparation of the texts must be maintained independently of new technological developments. Preparing a single volume can easily take over ten years. It is noticeable that introductions sometimes swell up and reach proportions far beyond the necessary description of the principles applied to the preparation of the volume. Lengthy discussions in the introductory chapter run the risk of becoming obsolete in the light of new research findings, new volumes in the edition, and new ways of approaching problems.

Continued funding of the endeavour seems problematic. Publication of MEGA2 is assured until 2015. At that time, a new evaluation will determine whether it will be continued or not. It is to be hoped that at least the volumes that are far advanced will be given the green light. It is also to be hoped that funding will be increased in light of the broad recognition which the edition enjoys in the German and international press as well as in scholarly journals. It should be stressed that the edition is being used in ever wider circles, so that some of the volumes have already had to be reprinted, and citations of MEGA volumes occur ever more frequently.

It seems that the recruitment of new collaborators is not an acute problem, but the senior people from the time before 1990 who until now have been in charge of most of the volumes will necessarily soon cease to be active, this being especially true of the Moscow collaborators. This matters, not just because of their work on individual volumes but mainly because of their profound knowledge of the collections held in Moscow and the work they carry out to the benefit of the entire project. Despite challenges of various kinds, it remains admirable that the MEGA continues to issue two volumes every year. Compared to other large-scale historical critical editions, this is no mean feat.

1. See Amy Wendling, “Comparing Two Editions of Marx-Engels Collected Works,” Socialism and Democracy, vol. 19, no. 1 (March 2005).
2. For further detailed information, see the report by Regina Roth, a member of the working group on this project, in Sozial.Geschichte online 5. I am grateful to her for having condensed her contribution for the purposes of the present article.
3. Making the texts available online is the outcome of cooperation between the Academy project MEGA and the working group Telota, both at the BBAW, and a group of Japanese scholars at Tohoku University (Sendai) and Hosei University (Tokyo).
4. This yearbook includes several indispensable articles and special volumes (Sonderband) on the history of the first MEGA. A further Sonderband (vol. 5, 2006) discusses the publication of Marx-Engels works-editions after 1945 in the Soviet Union and the GDR. The periodical MEGA-Studien published by the IMES 1994 to 2001 is important for various articles on the preparation of the MEGA2.

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