MEGA, the recovery of Marx and Marxian path: Sankar Ray
Guest post by SANKAR RAY
In sharp contrast to the scenario of the unprecedented debt-driven crisis of neo-liberal world economic order, a new era of radiant expectations seems to open up for Marx-followers and Marxists around the international project, Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (MEGA) and it’s hitherto ‘unexplored Marx’. MEGA , a collation of original texts is ‘the historical-critical edition of works of Marx and Engels’, an imperative ignored during the 20th century by official Marxists. Fifty-nine out of 114 volumes , have already been published. The MEGA editorial board, following prolonged debate decided to put together the whole of 164 volumes of original manuscripts in 114 volumes.
A critical approach to history is essential for scholarly inquiry. Yet scholarship alone isn’t enough where an enterprise such as this is for it also requires unbiased collation and editing. The development of Marxist studies had been throttled due to widespread vulgarisation which had dominated Marx studies from the 1890s to the end of the 20th Century. Early Marxists like Franz Mehring and Vera Zasulich – and Rosa Luxemburg – adopted a more critical approach which is a essential for the ‘Marxist temper’. Marx’s prescription, de omnibus dubitandum (doubt everything), wasn’t meant to be just a quotation. Unfortunately, Lenin and his followers often deified Marx. Lenin’s words – “Marxism is omnipotent, because it is true” – is one such instance as if Marxism represents the end of philosophy.MEGA reflects a firm commitment against deification of Marx and aberrations arising thereof. Executive editor Jürgen Rojahn in a paper , Publishing Marx and Engels after 1989: The fate of the MEGA , in Social History (1998) wrote “From the Renaissance on, historians increasingly subscribed to the idea that true historical knowledge can only be derived from a thorough analysis of the sources. Accordingly, the historian was expected, on the one hand, to be critical with regard to the sources, and on the other hand, with regard to myths, legends and ideological misrepresentations of the past. The high regard for sources manifested itself in a growing number of publications of documents. Such publications fulfill a double function. They, too, are meant to make the texts available to a broad public. But at the same time they are meant, as it were, to open these texts up. The first aim, at least today, could be attained by photocopies, microfilm or similar means.”
The venture proceeded apace with confidence and optimism although, very little has been written in the organs of official communist parties about the stupendous international effort. After the death of Engels, an incalculable damage to the cause and mission of Marxian economics and philosophy took place during the whole of the 20th Century. Truncated prefaces, footnotes and even textual revisions were aplenty. And this happened during Lenin’s time too. MEGA reveals several examples of major revisions of Marx’s original texts by Lenin. However, this discourse severely restricts us from discussing slippages of Lenin, arguably the most outstanding revolutionary of the last century. Take, for instance, according to Lenin socialism and communism are two successive societies or socialism is a transitional phase towards communism. This idea that became prevalent following the Bolshevik triumph in 1917, was a distortion of Marx’s theory of socialism or communism For Marx and Engels there is no difference between socialism and communism. Rather, the two terms are interchangeable,. Marx used alternative terms Republic of Labour, society of free and associated producers or simply Association, Cooperative Society, (re)union of free individuals – all synonyms of communism or socialism.
In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx wrote of “first phase” and “higher phase” of “communist society”. He described the vision of development after the classless society, based on social ownership and democratic workers’ control of the means of production. In other words, Marx had in mind two phases of ‘communist society’ and not that socialism is to precede communism. The Bolshevik party or RSDLP (Bolshevik) did nothing to end wage labour system or wage slavery and thus kept capitalism essentially alive.
Much before MEGA was conceived the project for publishing Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW) began, under the auspices Marx–Engels Institute [later, rechristened as the Institute of Marxism-Leninism (IML) ] between 1927-41. The first volume of MEGA saw the light of the day in 1927. The credit for this goes singularly to the greatest Marx scholar of the 20th Century, David Borisovich Ryazanov (real name David Borisovich Gol’dendakh ) . But Stalin and his cronies went after his blood and Ryazanov was among the first victims during the high-voltage era of Stalinism and the cruelties thereof, something achieved at the cost of the libertarian principles of Marx. Like Trotsky, he stood outside the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions and was a member of the Inter-District Organization (Mezhraionka) before joining the Bolshevik Party in the summer of 1917 . He attempted to find common grounds between the Bolsheviks and a section of Mensheviks in the aftermath of the Bolshevik seizure of power purely for theoretical enrichment through Marxist temper, (detailed in Alexander Rabinowitch’s The Bolsheviks in Power , Indiana, 2007). Ryazanov combined in him a revolutionary commitment, profound knowledge of Marxist theory and the history of the socialist movement, and broad cultural interests.
The Communist International rated Ryazanov as , “the most renowned and the most important of the Marxist scholars of our time” (Inprecorr, no.26, 19th March 1930). Izvestia described him around the same time as “the most eminent marxologist of our time” (10th March, 1930). For power-hungry Stalin, Ryazanov was a political threat to Stalin and a hindrance to the implementation of the strategy of consolidating his personal hegemony. So Ryazanov was arrested in February 1931 on charge of involvement in the “Menshevik Centre” which in Stalin’s views was “wrecking activities on the historical front.” Ryazanov was expelled from the party on cooked-up allegations and exiled to Saratov. He was arrested again in 1937. The basis of scheming the physical elimination of the outstanding genius was a ‘false testimony extorted from another great Marxist scholar Isaac Illich Rubin. The so-called Military Collegium sentenced Ryazanov to death on 21 January, 1938 (Lenin’s 14th death anniversary) and he was shot the same day.
Ironically, Rubin too met the same fate. Ryzanov’s name will be written in golden letters. He left manuscripts, ready for publication of 11 volumes of MEGA, most of them published before 1937. Among them were Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 , The German Ideology, Holy Family, Mathematical Manuscripts and Grundrisse He prepared manuscripts and readied them for printing. For this onerous task, he went around concerned European centres in search of original Marx-Engels texts, secured permission from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to make photocopies and “started with the plan of editing 42 volumes in the 1920s in Moscow”, wrote the MEGA exec-editor. “Of these, only 12 were published in Frankfurt (Main) and Berlin. Hitler’s rise to power and the escalation of terror under Stalin in the 1930s put an end to this edition”, he added . The Communist International (Comintern) and its ultra-leftist tactics in 1928 pushed Ryzanov’s dreams to a quagmire of uncertainty. This ultra-leftist tactics –reflected in the Communists’ attacks on SPD, led to the termination of the agreement by the latter. That nipped the possibilities of the first MEGA in the bud. Publication of 12 volumes despite those thorny obstacles proved the unflinching devotion of Ryazanov to his revolutionary commitment.
The on-going MEGA is its second regeneration. It was shelved by Stalin but was reborn in the 1970s under the joint effort of IML of Germany and IML of Moscow, but with the big stick of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) of the erstwhile German Democratic Republic(GDR) and the now-defunct Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) dangling from the above. The essential condition of historical-critical methodology was lacking. As a result, incorporation of the ‘complete literary estate of Marx and Engels in the original form, with detailed commentaries and the use of modern forms of text presentation had been partial due to the suspicious mindset of party biggies who never had a critical (or Marxist) approach.
The premature demise of resuscitated MEGA was inevitable after the collapse of Soviet Union and GDR. But MEGA was destined to be reborn along the Ryazanovian principles with the founding of the International Marx Engels Foundation (IMES) in Amsterdam in 1990 . The choice ofAmsterdam was natural as the biggest archive of original manuscripts is at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) under the custody of the University of Amsterdam. IISH apart, the Karl Marx-House of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Trier, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW), the Social Research Institute of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn and the Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History (RGASPI), together with the previous publishing institutions, had a prominent role in creating the International Marx-Engels Foundation – IMES.
The IMES supports a non-partisan, historical-critical character of MEGA. The IISH sided with the venture “The editorial guidelines of this ‘new’, second MEGA, were modelled on innovative concepts, despite the limitations, stated above. A sample volume was brought out in 1972 and was hailed by the international academic community. Two-thirds of the indispensable original manuscripts were under the possession of the IISH since the 1930s; the other third was in Moscow, now preserved at the Russian State Archives for Socio-Political History. Of the 36 volumes published before 1990, about one third was edited at the following institutions: The IML under the central committee of the CPSU (Moscow), the IML under the CC of the SED (Berlin), and the Academy of Sciences in conjunction with various universities in the GDR (Berlin, Erfurt-Mühlhausen, Halle-Wittenberg, Jena and Leipzig),” writes Rojahn.
The history of preservation of original manuscripts is thrilling. The SPD is to be thanked profusely for saving one of greatest treasures of humanity from the Nazi ‘bibliocide. The IISH, wrote Rojhans, got “the first May-Day calls from Berlin’s IML in late December 1989”. The next call came from Moscow’s IML” , wrote Rojahn. “After the events in the GDR in the fall of 1989, the days of the ruling party of the GDR, the SED, were numbered. At that time nobody expected the unification of the two German states to take place as soon as it did. However, at the end of 1989 it could be foreseen that things in the GDR would change fundamentally. Particularly, it was more than doubtful, whether the SED’s institute, IML, in Berlin, would continue to exist for much longer. Those interested in the MEGA could not ignore the fact that, with regard to this project, the disbanding of the Berlin institute could have had fatal consequences. The IML inBerlin had published the MEGA (reborn-SR) in cooperation with the IML in Moscow”.
Before his death in 1883, Marx left his papers to Engels who kept them until he breathed his last in 1895 . Then they were with Marx’s daughters as per his will. First they were preserved by Eleanor Marx Aveling in London. After Eleanor ‘s demise in 1898, Marx’s other daughter, Laura Lafargue, then in Draveil near Paris, took care of them. Subsequently, they went to the safe custody of SPD and incredible as may seem to ‘ideologues’ of traditional communists, they were taken care of by the SPD trustees August Bebel and Eduard Bernstein, (the latter condemned by ‘Leninists’ as the father of revisionism). Marx too had accused Bernstein of revisionism but purely from theoretical grounds sans abuses and vengeance.
The IMES has a board, comprising directors – or another top official – of the affiliated institutions and a small secretariat for day-to-day functioning, dealing with the current affairs. Plus it has an international editorial committee, co-ordinating the work on the MEGA and controlling the uniformity and quality of the editorial work.
The editorial board comprises Rojahn, Jürgen Herres, Hermann Klenner, Jürgen Kocka, Walter Schmidt and Manfred Neuhaus (Berlin), Kirill M. Anderson , Georgii A. Bagaturiia, Liudmila L. Vasina, Teodor I. Oizerman, Nikolai I. Lapin Galina G. Golovina, Michail P. Mchedlov and Elena M. Arzhanova (RTsKhIDNI, Moscow), Jaap Kloosterman (IISH, Amsterdam), Carl-Erich Vollgraf and Herfried Münkler (BBAW, Berlin), Hans Pelger (KMH, Trier), Terrell Carver (Bristol), Götz Langkau and Eric J. Fischer (Amsterdam), Teinosuke Otani and Tsutomu Ouchi (Tokyo) Wei Jianhua and Zhou Liangxun (Beijing), Shlomo Avineri (Jerusalem), Gerd Callesen (Copenhagen), Robert E. Cazden (Lexington, KY), Iring Fetscher (Frankfurt/M.), Patrick Fridenson (Paris), Francesca Gori (Milan), Andrzej F. Grabski (1ódï), Carlos B. Gutiérrez (Bogotá), Hans-Peter Harstick (Braunschweig), Eric J. Hobsbawm (London), (Berlin), Michael Knieriem (Wuppertal), Hermann Lübbe (Zurich), , Bertell Ollman (New York), Pedro Ribas (Madrid), Wolfgang Schieder (Cologne), Gareth Stedman Jones (Cambridge), Jean Stengers (Brussel), Toshiro Sugimoto (Kanagawa), Ferenc TÅkei (Budapest) and Immanuel Wallerstein (Paris/Binghamton, NY).
The collapse of Berlin Wall and the fall of Soviet Union could not erase the relevance of Marx or Marxism. Prof Randhir Singh, a doyen among scholars in political theory in an essay Recovering the Marxism of Karl Marx (1998) succinctly stated, “The collapse of Soviet Union is a defeat but not of Marxism”. And truth is proved once again as stranger than fiction. Numerous apologists of neo-liberalism comprising economists, political scientists and politicians, flabbergasted by the thrust of the crisis of their model, queued up to buy Marx’s Capital, conceding perhaps the superiority of Marxian economics. Texts like Lord Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money , Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and least of all, Milton Friedman’s A Program for Monetary Stability or A Monetary History failed to illuminate to them the causes of the ongoing hydra-headed crisis and its possible direction. A year before the onset of financial tsunami with the epicentre at the Wall Street, Prof Paresh Chattopadhyay, world renowned Marx scholar, presently on the teaching staff of department of political economy, University of Quebec in a polemical piece in Frontier Autumn No (2005) emphatically stated that “far from being limited to the 19th Century”, Marx has to be reckoned as “the economist of the twenty-first century”. Chattopadhyay wrote the crucial chapter – Communism of Marx and Engels in the forthcoming six-volume Oxford Handbook on the History of Communism , edited by Stephen A. Smith, professor of history at the European University Institute in Florence. He too is associated with MEGA, assigned to read, re-read all the versions of texts, manuscripts of Marx-Engels and add side- and footnotes before sent for printing. He knows German, Russian, French, Italian and Spanish, apart from English. This helps him go through texts in original.
MEGA carries an unmistakable message – validity of the conclusions of Marx and Engels in a broad perspective. Leaders of official communist parties in the Indian subcontinent – even theoreticians – err in keeping their rank and file uninformed about MEGA. The alternative is a correctional path, particularly when they face a crisis of identity. Differences remain between IMES scholars and the official CPs on Marx and Marxism but those are not antagonistic. The MEGA scholars endorse Marx’s emphatic rejection of ‘ideological fetishism’, a deviation from Marxian principles. Marx-adherents would endorse Marx’s categorical statement in German Ideology (1845) “In all ideology, the human beings and their relations appear to stand on their head.” Nonetheless, the differences are non-antagonistic. Rather, by apprising the party members and fellow travelers, the CPs may counter the critics who consider Marxian path as an historical failure and regenerate genuine aspirations for carrying the message to teeming millions with the libertarian goals of Marx, neglected during the 20th Century.
MEGA and its editors are statutorily committed to function as “an association, free of any partisan politics”. For all, prepared to look at MEGA with the Marxist temper, not even sparing Marx himself, IMES is a new island of hope.