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.

16 thoughts on “MEGA, the recovery of Marx and Marxian path: Sankar Ray”

  1. Marxism of yesterday was understood by many outstanding revolutionary leaders in relevance to their own conditions and therefore Lenin,Mao, Ho, Castro had achieved revolution;but that does not mean we move on dotted line.Marxism is not a mantra or a wazifa it is a mental exercise in relation to social conditions.Situation changes and it demands a fresh thinking.But so long the majority of the people remained deprived Marxism remains a relevant ideology.


  2. With dur regards to the enchantingly brilliant piece and the review article, in itself a thesis, I beg to submit that, the human nature the world over would really appear to have voted against Marxism and all that is identified by the sobriquet”Left/Progressive”, and the like. Does it take any serious research to feel and see that all people want all the good things in the world as the rich are enjoying? Is it not a fact that the most accomplished and revered and famous Marxists/Communists never lived and do not live like the people of the classes for which they purportedly raise their voices and write learned (and costly) treatises, themselves living in grand style and making frequent foreign trips? The real suffering class have no friends–there merely are alms givers who give lip service to their cause, safe in the knowledge that they will lose nothing in the media-covered ostensible fight for the BPL and the like poor class? I am afraid, Marxism, Communism, etc., are just cliche and have become academic issues all over the parasitic world od academics.


  3. Wasn’t Marx a good neo-liberal? He preferred Capitalism over Feudalism, industry over Farming [Farming accepted if conducted as industry].

    Marx is a complex entity. To understand him, one needs to qualify for few fundamentals- Fab India aficionado, Organic Food Patriot, and un-kept hair stylist.

    Alas, the unequal fails the test.



  4. Chandrabhan, I do not even understand how to respond to you! I suppose you have to start spelling out your argument more clearly. Elliptical statements, sarcastic barbs and high rhetoric are important in making a political point and I admire the way you have used these to do the same in the past. But pardon my saying so, this is no substitute for an argument. If I remember you correctly, when you were campaigning against Hindi and Indian languages and in support of English (the Goddess:)), you had also been saying so often (including to me personally) that Hindiwallahs are the most casteist and that it is only from among the English speaking elite that you can hope to get your allies. Many of those (including your friends in television) are indeed the ones you now make fun of above. In your simplistic world, Feudalism = Hindi/ Indian languages and Capitalism = English speaking. And now suddenly, when it suits you, you want to turn the Capitalist/ English speaking into the butt of ridicule. That is entirely your business – whom you prefer and whom you do not, but pardon me if we are not willing to follow you into the the rhetorical cesspool that you want to drag us into.

    And by the way,your understanding of Marx and his uncomplicated, untroubled preference for industry and for elimination of farming is hopelessly out of date. Many of Marx works once suppressed have since come to light that show a more troubled engagement with the issue.

    TD Sharma, just in case you had thought that matters had been settled once and for all, please wait and see. If a certain marxism took about 60-70 years to show its bankruptcy, neo-liberalism has taken barely two decades, in which time it has plundered the earth. You are right in believing that neo-liberalism’s failure does not prove marxism right. But perhaps that is not what the contemporary movements that are reclaiming Marx’s legacy are about. I do not personally care about theologians like Paresh Chattopadhyay and their endless exegeses of Marx and “what he really meant”. But you would be wrong to think that that is the only way in which Marx is coming alive today. In fact, the best part of the story is precisely that such theologians are today simply reduced to talking amongst themselves. It is new popular movements that are making the most creative and innovative use of Marx.


  5. When friends develop capabilities to tease each other some times, they prove that they are friends. Laughableness is a weapon only a friend can deploy on a friend. Enemies are incapable in doing that.

    You and N are parts of my Pythagorean triple- It was a triumph in my thought journey that you visited my house in Azamgarh district where I was born and you relished pork, and N the Telegraph. .

    Coming back to the all important Philosophical issue, you can’t be a Marxist unless you ate fish every day. Marx was a Marxist because he was fond of fish.

    Without a daily intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acid, how can any one be a Marxist or an Ambedkarite?

    Am not drunk as yet, but the Das Kapital most probably, was. I have been to the place where in the city of Bonn where Marx spent his evenings.



  6. Ha ha ha!!! That sense of humour and your capacity of not allowing disagreements to become personal is probably what keeps me hooked to your provocations, Chandrabhan. Aap ki isee adaa par to fida hain, as they say (in an Indian language though!!).
    Here’s to more fish and spirits….


  7. Dear A [Ph D],

    Differences are more about longevity than any thing else.

    Don’t we know that differences are assets of the living? To the dead, consensus, more often, is the staple food. Generally, consensus is a stationary goods train, differences, Local- livelier and hope engines.

    In Adam’s ongoing Tea Party in India Today, Manu’s Ship is battling turbulences unforeseen.

    Ambedkar wanted to ignite Adam’s tools to chase Manu away from this planet for ever.

    Excerpts from the Manifesto Dr Ambedkar for 1952 Parliamentary Elections 60 Years Ago-

    [1]Looking at the intense poverty of the people of this country no other consideration except that of greater production and still greater production can be the primary paramount consideration. The remedy against poverty is more production and not the patterm of production.

    [2] ….Rapid industrialization of the country is very essential …..

    [3] Agriculture must be mechanized…

    [4] ….Cultivation on small holdings must be replaced by large farms

    [5] …it is a problem of controlling excessive growth of population… It will advocate the opening of birth control clinics in different parts of the country…

    [6] “…this championing of the cause of Communist China by India has been responsible for the prevailing antagonism between India and America with the result that it has become impossible for India to obtain financial and technical aid from America ”

    [7] “Prohibition [Liquor] is sheer madness…”.

    Like Marx, Ambedkar too was a Fish Lover. Let’s start with the spirit we all wait the Sun stop shinning. !



  8. Very surprising ignorance of Marx and Engels in the exchange initiated and maintained. The author of the essay has a point, a serious point; one commentator too who speaks of changed times and modified ‘theories’ of understanding and practice. Rest of it is ignorance of MEGA and the earlier MEW, both in German but translated. Riazanov disappeared edited MEGA, what was suppressed is coming to light step by step as far as I have followed the scene in Russia, Germany and elsewhere.
    I wish there will be more serious debates on this issue and less ‘humour.’


  9. The article contains an error – rather misinformation – on the relationship between Prof Paresh Chattopadhyay and MEGA editorial apex. Prof Chattopadhyay in an email to me send the correction, for which I am grateful. Here is an extract from the mail. ” I am sorry to
    say that the sentence referring to me : “He is assigned to read and re-read…sent for printing” is not true. My relation to MEGA strictly speaking is that I am a guest research fellow of the ‘Berlin- Brandenburg Academy of Sciences’ the hub of MEGA’s research and
    editorial work. I have not been assigned with any specific task by the MEGA editorial bard. I have close relations with the Academy’s research scholars. But I do my own work while I periodically visit the Academy. From time to time I am asked by the Academy to review in English newly published economic works by Marx. At present I have the
    recently published 1000 page manuscript of CAPITAL volume two to review. Your information is apt to create wrong impression”.


  10. Thanks a lot dear SR for this article!

    I also thank CBP for his comments,which lightened up my mood.

    Coming back to the business, I would like to make a point on the issues of interpretation and of texts of Marxism and its application.

    As to Interpretation –

    Philosophy of Language and later Social Linguistics proved that the meaning of the word lies in its “Usage” and “Context”. Hence, the context of the words of the Marxian texts should be carefully analysed before they put into use, which I don’t think is happening much. Adequate consciousness of the history and sociology of the Marxian text alone can prompt its proper application.

    As to Application –

    Once after the relevance of particular ideas of Marxism to a country or region is verified- the processes of verification cannot be defined – only the useful ideas must be borrowed from Marxism because any effort for verbatim application of the ideology would only lead to a chaos as it is nothing but clubbing different times of history and different societies that are alien to each other. It also amounts to religiosity.

    Once again thanks for the article SR :)

    Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy .K


  11. Dear Readers of this post,
    Greetings to Sankar Ray for drawing the readers’ attention to the MEGA:

    I draw your attention to some related information contained in a book review available at;

    I can also send this and some other texts as PDFs to interested persons if they contact me.
    Ishwar Singh Dost has some of these.

    Here is a link to a 1994 edition of Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts:
    His Chemistry notes have been published earlier.
    Some of his Geology notes have been published recently.
    Pradip Baksi.
    28 August 2012


  12. I have just written a preamble to MEGA. Official CPs ignore MEGA, either out of anger or risk of pepercussions that they may not be able to handle. I strongly believe that the future generations will gravitate – at a slow rate initially – towards the great endeavour. But as I said and believe Marx must be studied historically-critically.


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