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Marx in the MEGA

Originally published: Mainstream on July 30, 2021 by Pradip Baksi (more by Mainstream) (Posted Aug 03, 2021)

“The history of mankind is like palaeontology. Owing to a certain judicial blindness, even the best minds fail to see, on principle, what lies in front of their noses. Later, when the time has come, we are surprised that there are traces everywhere of what we failed to see”.Мarx to Engels, 25 March1868 (MECW 42: 557).

“… and here, as everywhere, it is important to tear off the veil of mystery from science”. “Taylor’s theorem, MacLaurin’s theorem and Lagrangian theory of analytical functions”.Мarx (1968):192.

This is a preliminary report on the process of transformation of Karl Marx’s papers [1]into published texts after his death. This process started in the second half of the 1880s with Friedrich Engels’ editorial interventions on Marx’s manuscripts related to the theme of Capital within his incomplete research programme for a Critique of Political Economy. It continued through the various volumes of the aborted Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels, Historisch-Kritische Gesamtausgabe,1927-1935 (now called the first MEGA or MEGA-I) [2]; and, still continues in the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe,1975- (called the second MEGA or MEGA-II) [3].

An inspection of the contents of Marx’s manuscripts [A1-115] and excerpts [B1-168] held as parts of his papers indicated in [4] shows that his writings were of various kinds: journalistic articles, political pamphlets, some documents of the International Workingmen’s Association, and the notes, excerpts, drafts and incomplete manuscripts generated in the course of his scientific investigations in and on many disciplines, including his attempted critique of political economy. He was interested in law, social and political history, philosophy, political economy, agriculture, industrial technology, geology, chemistry, physics, physiology, ethnology, religion, literature, mathematics and, in several languages. He actively followed the developments in Germany, France, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, the Balkans, Italy, Spain, the United States, the Latin Americas, Algeria, China and India of his time. His close friend Roland Daniels [5] had raised the issue of a new encyclopedia of the sciences in some of his letters to Marx in 1851 [6]. Since then, the already large range of his investigations began to expand further, and by 1883 it reached truly encyclopedic dimensions [7]. In what follows we shall try to examine the trajectory of transformation of the results of his investigations into publications.

After the publication of The Holy Family [8] of Engels and Marx in 1945 one of its publishers [9] Zacharias Löwenthal was subjected to severe political persecution. Towards the end of 1846 Marx wrote the following about some of the difficulties obstructing the publication of his writings, from Brussels to the Russian literary critic and memorialist Pavel Vasilyevich Annenkov in Paris: “With this letter I should have liked to send you my book on political economy [10], but up till now I have been unable to have printed either this work, or the critique of German philosophers and socialists [11] which I mentioned to you in Brussels. You would never believe what difficulties a publication of this kind runs into in Germany, on the one hand from the police [12], on the other from the booksellers, who are themselves the interested representatives of all those tendencies I attack [13]. And as for our own party, not only is it poor, but there is a large faction in the German communist party [14] which bears me a grudge because I am opposed to its utopias and its déclamations” [15]. These difficulties continued to grow.About four years after Marx wrote the above indicated sentences, Hermann Heinrich Becker [16] published the First Booklet of a projected series of Collected essays of Karl Marx [17]. Eight years later Franz Duncker [18] published Marx’s: On the Critique of Political Economy: First Booklet [19]. In the very first sentence of the Foreword to this Booklet Marx stated that he planned “to examine the system of bourgeois economy in the following order: Capital, Landed Property, Wage-Labour; the State, Foreign Trade, World Market”. He repeated these intentions four times during the years 1858-1859 [Marx to Lassalle on 22 February and 11 March 1858 (MEGA III/9: 72-73, 99; MECW 40: 270 287); Marx to Engels on 02 April 1858 (MEGA III/9: 122; MECW 40: 298); and in the Foreword to Marx 1959: iii ( MEGA II/2: 99; MECW 29: 261).]. Of these six themes he could only partly tackle the first, namely, that of Capital, in his lifetime. Preparatory materials related to the other five themes exist within the vast number of manuscripts, notes and excerpts left by him. Otto Carl Meißner [20] published the first volume of Marx’s “Capital” in 1867. Marx also read, edited, and approved the first French translation of this volume, published from Paris, in several parts, from 1872 to 1875 [21].

Then the General German Workers’ Association (founded by Ferdinand Lassalle in 1863) merged with the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany (founded by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1869) to form the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany at a congress held at Gotha, in May 1875. The draft platform of the Gotha Congress was sharply criticized by Marx [22]. This criticism had no effect on the delegates to that congress. A few years later Engels’ Anti-Dühring was serialized in the Vorwärts, from 03 January 1877 to 07 July 1878. This text played an important role in the emergence and development of various kinds of Marxisms and their derivatives, as ideologies. Marx died in 1883. The Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany was renamed the Social Democratic Party of Germany [SDPG] in 1890. Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme was edited and published by Engels in 1890-91. From around the 1890s to the 1950s the social democrats of Germany officially espoused and used many kinds of Marxisms in their quest for political power within, and management of, the industrialized bourgeois economy and polity of their land. The social democrats of other lands followed suit.

After 1883 and before the MEGA-I

After Marx’s death Engels became the executor of his papers. He edited the second and the third volumes of the “Capital” published, respectively, in 1885 and 1894 [23], and thereby inaugurated a long historical process of Marxist editing of the incomplete drafts and manuscripts of Marx’s open-ended scientific research programme into finished products, driven by the requirements of their practical use in social democratic party-political and organizational-ideological literature, oriented on propaganda and agitation.

The Marxists of various shades were not interested in critically examining and further extending Marx’s incomplete scientific research programme in different existing and emerging fields and directions, in the interests of emancipation of various human societies and their sciences. They went for various utopian/dystopian philosophical-ideological speculations, formulaic recipes and practices based on selective use of some of the writings of Marx, and developed their many Marxisms for the reasons of state. This gave rise to a widespread culture of conflating the texts of Marx with those of the Marxists, in the academic and journalistic media of the 20th century, and even beyond.

Engels had discussed several plans for publishing his and Marx’s texts in or out of Germany, with August Bebel, Franz Mehring and Richard Fischer before his death [24]. None of these plans could be realized. He wrote to Richard Fisher on 15 April 1895: “…I have a scheme for again presenting Marx’s and my lesser writings to the public in a complete editionnot, that is to say, by instalments but all at one go, in whole volumes. I have already been in correspondence with August on the subject and we are still discussing it. So, you might have a word with him when he gets back. I am by no means certain that an enterprise like this is really your cup of tea, nor do I know whether you, i.e., the publishing side of the Vorwärts, are the best people for the jobquite aside from the harassment of the press which has already inclined me to believe that we may be forced to have recourse to a publisher outside the German Empire” [25]. This is perhaps the first ever articulation of a scheme for publishing the works of Marx and Engels lumped together in a single edition of whole volumes. This scheme was faithfully executed by all the subsequent editors of the MEGA-I and the MEGA-II.

Sometime after Engels’ death in 1895, the combined papers of Marx and Engels became a part of the archives of the SDPG. Some parts of these papers were subsequently edited by some individual Marxists before 1917.

A collection of some texts and letters of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Ferdinand Lassalle were edited by Franz Mehring and published in an edition of 4 volumes in 1902 [26]. The first three volumes of this collection contain some of the writings of Marx and Engels dating back to the period 1841-1850; and the fourth volume contains some letters written by Lassalle to Marx and Engels during the years 1849-1862. Karl Marx’s drafts of the Theories of Surplus Value, were edited by Karl Kautsky and published in 3 volumes during the years 1905-1910 [27]. At a meeting held in Vienna on 30 December 1910, some Marxist editors and leaders like David Borisovich Riazanov [nee Goldendach], Karl Renner, Max Adler, Adolf Braun, Otto Bauer, Rudolf Hilferding and, Gustav Eckstein discussed a plan to publish an edition of Marx’s writings, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death in 1913 [28]. This plan too remained unrealized. A decade later Riazanov attempted to realize an extension of this plan through the inclusion of Engels’ texts, as the MEGA-I. A collection of the letters of Marx and Engels written during the years 1844-1883, edited by Ferdinand August Bebel and Eduard Bernstein, were published in 1913 in 4 volumes [29]. Some English writings of Marx and Engels dating back to the years 1852-1856, were translated by Luise Kautsky, edited by David Riazanov (under the pseudonym of N. Riazanov), and published in a 2 volume German edition in 1917 [30]. The selection, editing and publication of some of Marx’s writings separately or together with those of other authors from 1883 to 1917 were driven by the Marxist political priorities of the social democrats of Germany and Russia.


After the Bolsheviks captured power in the Russian empire, the industrial-managerial Marxisms of the German social democrats mutated into Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism etc. Russian ideologies of originary accumulation of capital, aspiring for the future industrialization of that empire. There, Riazanov was able to secure the financial and administrative favor of the empire’s new rulers such as Lenin, for publishing the works of Marx and Engels. He also obtained the consent of the leaders of the SDPG in control of the papers of Marx and Engels for copying them, and the collaboration of some Marxists of Frankfurt am Main for the task of cataloging and photo-copying the same. The editing and publishing of those papers culminated in the MEGA-I. Riazanov was perhaps the most competent and resourceful person for that project at that time. He planned to publish the selected and edited materials in the following four divisions: I. all writings of Marx and Engels, save the “Capital” and its drafts (17 volumes); II. the texts on the “Capital” and its drafts (13 volumes); III. letters (10 volumes); and, IV. a general index for all the texts published in the divisions I-III (2 volumes).

The collected writings of Marx and Engels could have been published in three divisions: Max’s writings, Engels’ writings, and the texts jointly written by Marx and Engels; within each division there could have been several subdivisions: published texts, Dubiosa, unpublished manuscripts, drafts, notes, excerpts and correspondenceall arranged in chronological order. However, Riazanov remained faithful to Engels’ legacy of Marxist editing and the scheme of April 1895. He followed the tradition of lumping Marx’s and Engels’ texts together in single volumes already established by senior Marxist editors like Mehring, Babel and Bernstein. Save the texts and manuscripts related to the “Capital”, which already carried the marks of Engels’ hand, Riazanov decided to lump all the other writings of Marx and Engels together in chronologically ordered single volumes. This decision was useful for constructing the myth of some hyphenated “Marx-Engels” as co-founders of the ideology of Marxism. At the same time, it erected a great obstacle on the path of critically investigating Marx’s incomplete scientific research programme. It helped promote the contra-historical, and hence brazenly idealist, notion of Marx being the first Marxist. It also came in the way of separate critical engagement with Engels’ texts.

Riazanov prioritized the publication of Engels’ drafts titled the “Dialectics of Nature” [Engels 1925.], which turned out to be useful for later Marxist ideological speculations, but withheld for about 5 years, and did not publish, the clear copies of Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts [31], not compatible with the mythological images of Marx crafted by the Marxists. Further, in Riazanov’s plan there was no room for Marx’s numerous notes and excerpts on many disciplines. He considered Marx’s detailed study of geology in 1881, to be an act of “unpardonable pedantry” [32] at the age of 63.

Thus, from the very first stages of planning Riazanov and his team worked against the expectations raised by a project of historical-critical edition. The editors of such projects are expected to have both historical and critical perspectives: (a) about the published and unpublished works of the concerned authors that are required to be treated as source materials for historiography; and, (b) about the ideological misrepresentations of those works and of their authors through the existing fantastic tales, legends, myths, and hagiographies surrounding them.

Riazanov did not last long as the director of the project. He was able to edit only 5 volumes out of the planned 42. He was removed from the task of editing the MEGA-Iin 1931, and was shot dead on 21 January 1938, following a fake trial conducted by the military collegium of the supreme court of the USSR. After his removal a Leninist turned Stalinist courtier-ideologue Vladimir Viktorovich Adoratsky, was appointed as the next editor of the project. A few years later the bureaucrats, managing the ideology of the ruling party of the USSR decided that they would not allow the work on the MEGA to continue before publishing a fixed and party-approved Russian version of the texts of Marx and Engels, free of all variant readings [33]. The publication of the MEGA-I was closed down in 1935.

When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1934, the archive of the SDPG had to be evacuated from Berlin. Initially it was stored in a safe place in Copenhagen. Subsequently, the cash strapped SDPG leadership decided to sell it. There were two principal bidders for it: the Institute of Marx, Engels and Lenin (IMEL) of Moscow and the International Institute of Social History (IISH) of Amsterdam. After the negotiators from the IMEL withdrew their bid at Stalin’s command, the IISH acquired the archive on 19 May 1938 [34]. At that time the SDPG archive contained the papers of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, August Bebel, Eduard Bernstein, and Wilhelm Liebknecht, among others.

After the end of the Second World War the demand for resuming and continuing the publication of the MEGA began to be voiced by some quarters in Western Europe and Russia. The rulers of the USSR and the GDR gave the necessary consent for a new MEGA (now called the MEGA-II) sometime in 1964. It was a joint project of the Institutes of Marxism-Leninism of Moscow and Berlin.


The management of the second MEGA dropped the word collocation Historical-Critical from the title of the series. As the new title of the series suggests the new editors continued with the old practice of perpetuating the hyphenated Marx-Engelsmyth. They had an additional load: that of rationalizing the new ruling ideology of Marxism-Leninism in the editorial apparatus. The first three divisions of the first MEGA were retained with revised dimensions; the fourth division was projected to cover excerpts, notes and marginalia [35]. After the collapse of the GDR and the USSR together with their Institutes of Marxism-Leninism, a new management took over the MEGA-II [36]; some new editorial principles were formulated [37]; but the already published volumes were not revised. Many of the old Marxist-Leninist editors were retained. Subsequently, some new editors with greater competence in edition science were brought in. They did not have the ideological baggage of Marxisms in their heads, however, they were mostly quite Marx-innocent people, raised and educated during the last cold war in Western Europe, carrying the ideological biases and values implanted by that upbringing. Further, both the Marxist and the non-Marxist or the anti-Marxist editors of Marx’s texts shared the limitations of their received educational cultures of the past industrial revolutions.

When, someday, the publication of all the volumes of the MEGA-II will be over, and a new generation of investigators raised within the ongoing industrial revolutions and interested in critically extending Marx’s scientific research programme will arrive on the scene to edit his texts anew, then and only then will these texts be liberated from the ideological bondages imposed by the editors of the two MEGA.

Pradip Baksi is a freelance translator and editor.


  • Annual Report of the IISH 1938: Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Jaarverslag 1938: archief.socialhistory.org
  • Editionsrichtlinien der Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) Herausgegeben von der Internationalen Marx-Engels-Stiftung; Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1993.
  • Engels, Friedrich (1885), “Zur Geschichte des Bundes der Kommunisten”, Der Sozialdemokrat (12-26 November 1885); MEGA —II I/30: 89-108; MECW 26: 312-330.
  • Engels, Friedrich und Karl Marx (1845), Die heilige Familie, oder Kritik der kritischen Kritik. Gegen Bruno Bauer & Consorten, Frankfurt a. Main: Literarische Anstalt (J. Rütten); MECW 4:5-211.
  • Engels, F. und K. Marx (1913), Die Briefwechsel zwischen Friedrich Engels und Karl Marx 1844-1883.Hrsg. von A. Babel und Ed. Bernstein. 4 Bde. Stuttgart: Dietz.
  • Engels: Энгельс Ф. (1925), “Диалектика природы,” Архив К.Маркса и Ф. Энгельса, II (1925): 117-395, МоскваЛенинград: Государственное издательство; MEGA2 I/26; MECW 25.
  • Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels Papers:
  •  International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam: search.iisg.amsterdam/Record/ARCH00860 [it holds two-thirds of the total papers, all digitized and available for online inspection]; and, at the: Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RSAS-PH), Moscow: rgaspi.info/fonds/1-1/ [it holds one-third of the total papers, still not digitized, none available for online inspection].
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  • __ (1859), Zur Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie: Erstes Heft, Berlin: Verlag von Franz Duncker; MEGA-II II.2 (1980):95-245; MECW, 29 (Reprint, 2010): 257-532.
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[1Sections A-E, Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels Papers, IISH.



[4Sections A-E, Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels Papers, IISH.

[5Roland Daniels (1819-1855):


[6Daniels’ letters to Marx dated 12 and 24 April 1851: MEGA2 III/4 (1984), Text, Anhang: 357, 363.

[7See: A Partial and Partially Cyberdiscursive Bibliography Reflecting Karl Marx’s Encyclopedic Approach to the Study of History (2013):


[8Engels und Marx 1845.

[9Zacharias Löwenthal/Karl Friedrich Loening (1810-1884):


and, Jacob Beer Rindskopf/Joseph Rütten (1805-1878):


[10Marx 1859.

[11Marx/Engels 1932; Marx/Engels/Weydemeyer 2010; and, MEGA-II I/5 2017.

[12On police persecution of the press in Germany in the 1840s see Zacharias Löwenthal in [4] and, Hardt 2000.

[13On some of the radical/communist/libera/conservative political-ideological tendencies represented by Marx’s publishers before his death, see [4] above and [14], [16], and

[18], [19] below.

[14On the German communists of the 1840s see Engels 1885.

[15Marx’s letter to Annenkov 28 December 1846: MEGA-II III/2: 79-80; MECW 38:105.

[17Marx 1851.

[18Franz Duncker (1822-1888):


[19Marx 1859.

[20Otto Carl Meißner (1819-1902):


[21MEGA II/7 (1989): Le Capital, Paris 1872-1875.

[22Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, Gotha Program (May 1875):


[23Marx’s manuscripts related to these two volumes of the “Capital”, and the corresponding transformed volumes edited by Engels are now available as MEGA II/11-15.

[24MECW 50: 437-39, 443-45, 459, 490-91, 496-98, 501-02,503-06, 515-16, 521.

[25MECW 50: 497.

[26Marx/Engels/Lassalle 1902.

[27Marx 1905-1910.

[28Langkau 1983.

[29Engels und Marx 1913.

[30Marx und Engels 1917.

[31Marx 1968; Vogt 1995.

[32Riazanov 1923: 368.

[33Mosolov: 2010: 250-252.

[34Annual Report of the IISH at Amsterdam 1938: 37-42.

[35Rojahn 1992.

[36Rojahn 1991.


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