Economic Texts and Letters – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Go Online

[Editorial note: The idea for this article emerged in the course of the April 2018 symposium Marx at 200, which the GHI hosted in collaboration with the Friedrich- Ebert Stiftung and the Goethe Institute Washington, DC. Dr. Jürgen Herres, a research fellow at the BBAW, was one of the panelists, and introduced us to MEGAdigital and to Dr. Roth. Professor Jürgen Kocka’s Keynote address on Marx and the History of Capitalism will be published in the GHI Bulletin in the fall of 2018.]

By Regina Roth*

The Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA, for short) is a project whose goal is to publish the complete legacy of Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) through producing a complete critical edition of their publications, manuscripts and correspondence.

The Editor is the Internationale Marx-Engels-Stiftung (IMES), an international, politically independent network, with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) in charge, together with the International Institute of Social History (IISG, Amsterdam), the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI, Moscow), and the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (Bonn) as members. The Marx-Engels papers are preserved in the archives of the IISG in Amsterdam (roughly two thirds) and at the RGASPI in Moscow (about one third). IMES was founded in 1990 to continue work on MEGA which had begun in the 1970s in Moscow and Berlin, GDR.

MEGA consists of four sections denoted by roman numerals: the first and second sections offer works, articles and drafts, with the second section focusing on Marx’s magnum opus Capital. The third section comprises the correspondence between Marx, Engels and their many correspondents all over Europe and North America; the fourth section presents Marx’s and Engels’ excerpts and notes. MEGA started as a series of printed volumes, with each MEGA-volume consisting of two books: the first presenting the texts from Marx and/or Engels and the second offering extensive commentaries on these texts. Every volume has an introduction (“Einführung”) which gives a survey of the structure and contents of the volume,[1] and an essay on “Entstehung und Überlieferung” for each of the authors’ texts which provides basic information on the circumstances accompanying its creation, including proof of authorship and date authentication to elucidate the context of its origin.[2] Although Marx and Engels wrote and read in several languages, mainly German, French and English (but also including Spanish, Italian, and Russian), the language of the editorial parts of MEGA is German. Therefore, some knowledge of German is necessary for using this edition.

Recently, MEGA went online.

The digital project started in 2008 as a cooperation of MEGA with TELOTA, the digital department of the BBAW, and researchers from Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. Since then we have been continuously expanding our digital presence; the current online presentation is a beta version of our work in progress. At the moment, visitors to megadigital.bbaw.de will find the correspondence between Marx and Engels and third parties from the year 1866, and essential economic texts of Marx – in particular most of the previously unpublished manuscript materials for Marx’s Capital, written between 1863 and 1881. Correspondence from the years after 1866 will be published online, as will many of Marx’s and Engels’ notebooks and notes (components of section IV). For Marx’s and Engels’ other texts and commentaries, as well as for the editorial commentaries on the economic texts, readers should consult the print version of MEGA.

At present, the following texts are available on our MEGAdigital platform:

  • The letters from Marx, Engels, and their many correspondents, for the year 1866.
  • Grundrisse from 1857/58 (Marx’s first manuscript dedicated to his Critique of political economy);
    MEGA II/1
  • Capital 1, first edition, published in 1867 and fourth edition (by Engels) from 1890;
    MEGA II/5, II/10; in addition one manuscript from 1864 (MEGA II/4.1[3])
  • Capital 2, manuscripts from 1864 to 1885, together with the printed version, edited by Engels in 1885;
    MEGA II/4.1, II/11, II/12, II/13
  • Capital 3, edition by Engels from 1894;
    MEGA II/15
  • Moreover, additional material from the context of Marx’s and Engels’ work is presented, for example the Neue Rheinische Zeitung from 1848–1849

Our digital platform, first, offers the correspondence between Marx, Engels, and their many correspondents from the third section of MEGA. Thirteen volumes covering the correspondence from 1837 up to 1865 have already been published in printed form (MEGA III/1–III/13). From 1866 forward, the correspondence will be presented only online. We have started with the letters from January 1 to December 31, 1866, comprising on the one hand the letters Marx and Engels wrote and received, and on the other hand the commentary to these letters, developed using all the instruments of historical-critical editing. There are notes explaining the necessary context for understanding the contents of the letters and notes or references indicating connections to other letters, writings, excerpts, and so on, as well as information regarding the “Textzeugen” of the letters (defined as “witnesses,” the physical medium transferring a letter: an original, a handwritten copy, a photocopy, or a print), the correspondents, dates, previous versions, etc. If you are interested, you can also view the variety of revisions which Engels, and more often, Marx, used by consulting the so-called “historical-critical text” (KritischerText) of the letter. Otherwise, a “reading text” (Lesetext) is presented.

Letter from J.G. Eccarius to Karl Marx, London, February 6, 1866, including description of the
physical “witness.”

The main advantages of the digital edition of the correspondence are free access via Internet all over the world and different gateways to the letters, which means they may be ordered chronologically, or sorted by individual correspondents, or grouped according to the main topics discussed in the letters. A full-text retrieval for passages in both the texts and the commentary is also at your disposal, as well as indexes that allow users to search for persons, firms, works and writings. We will soon offer indexes for place names as well as periodicals mentioned in the correspondence. Every following year of correspondence will be published this way, and the letters from 1867 are currently in preparation.

One notable additional resource presented by MEGAdigital is the Neue Rheinische Zeitung from 1848–1849, a periodical which provides essential context on the Revolution of 1848–1849 in Germany and Europe. The journal was founded in June 1848 by Marx and Engels in Cologne as a nationwide “organ of democracy” and edited by them from then until May 1849. The digitized journal was processed for a web application by Deutsches Textarchiv, a project for digital German texts from 1600 to 1900 hosted by the BBAW. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung offers a good introduction to the politics of Marx and Engels during this eventful time. Although, due to the copyright of our publisher, the articles written by Marx and Engels are not yet displayed, the 301 issues of this journal offer many insights into the formative political movements and discussions of the European society in 1848/49 from a democratic-republican perspective. At present, the articles in this newspaper written by authors other than Marx and Engels may be read and searched, with a full-text retrieval. [4]

Secondly, you can find central economic texts from the second section of MEGA (megadigital.bbaw.de, “Das Kapital und Vorarbeiten”), which will be most useful for advanced researchers. This section presents not only the three well-known volumes of Capital (on the production process, the circulation process, and the whole of the capitalistic production process), but unlike any previous edition of Capital, it includes all versions and drafts for these three volumes written by Marx (from 1863 to 1881), many of them hitherto unpublished. Marx only published the first volume in two editions as well as in a French edition (between 1867 and 1875). Volumes 2 and 3 of Capital were published by Engels (in 1885 and 1894).

The editorial commentaries provided in MEGA’s second section offer detailed documentation of the relations and connections between these various versions; it is an essential instrument for understanding the development of Marx’s ideas and thoughts in the last two decades of his life, presented for the first time in MEGA. Marx turns out to be someone who often revised what he wrote because he was looking for new sources and solutions to deal with the problems of his analysis.

English-language versions of the three volumes of Capital are offered in various editions, including in Marx-Engels Collected Works (MECW); Volume 1 is often based on the English edition, overseen by Engels in 1887, and on the last German edition managed by Engels in 1890.[5] Volume 2 and 3 were translated later without any assistance from Engels. Recently, Marx’s manuscript for Volume 3 (MEGA II/4.2) has been translated into English;[6] in 2004 an English translation of the general commentary on this manuscript has appeared in International Journal of Political Economy.[7] In the 1980s, Marx’s voluminous manuscript on economics from 1861-63 has been translated in full length in MECW, vols. 30-34; other editions only present the part on Theories of Surplus Value.[8] All other manuscripts for Capital are only to be found in MEGA and MEGAdigital in their original language.

The purpose of MEGAdigital is to create a visual platform so that relations and connections between different versions can be followed by the reader, and it offers instruments in addition to the commentaries in the printed MEGA-volumes to do this. Thus, all available versions of texts, manuscript or published, can be easily compared with each other: the reader can open a separate window for every text and move it on the screen just as he or she needs it – using the screen as a virtual desktop. Moreover, the intertextual linkage between individual manuscripts and print versions is made available for research either through full-text retrieval or through a comprehensive subject index. This index comprises terms for all texts regarding Volume 2 of Capital (in MEGA volumes II/4.1, II/11, II/12 and II/13). It offers corresponding links first, to passages from Marx’s manuscripts written in 1865 (in II/4.1) or between 1868 and 1881 (in II/11), then, if used by Engels, to passages in his editorial manuscript from 1884/85 (II/12), and, finally, to passages in the print version edited by Engels in 1885 (in II/13). Thus, the genesis of terms and passages from the manuscripts to the printed version may be tracked.

Overview over economic texts. The online edition makes it possible to compare Marx’ manuscript with Friedrich Engels’ Capital, volume 2. Includes the table of contents and search options.

Line and page enumeration of the edited texts are presented identically with the printed MEGA volumes, which facilitates citation. Moreover, with the correspondence being presented online, when Marx talks to his correspondent about writing Capital, links to this work – if they may be identified – are displayed. For instance, in his letter to Engels from February 10, 1866, Marx mentions the chapter on the Working Day; in a note a hyperlink is provided to this chapter in Volume 1 of Capital from 1867 (MEGA II/5).

Letter from Marx to Engels (Feb. 10, 1866) about his work on the section on the work day in Capital, which can also be accessed in the digital edition (MEGA II/5, 1867, p. 177).

What are MEGAdigital’s future prospects?

During the next phase of the project, we will include excerpts and notes into our digital presentation which make up the fourth section of MEGA.[9] Many of the approximately 250 notebooks still have to be edited. Marx or Engels filled many of these notebooks chronologically, often in a short period of time, with different excerpts for special subjects, for instance, the notebooks dedicated to “Physiology”, or the so-called “Beihefte” A to H, written as a supplement to the last parts of the voluminous 1861-63 Manuscript on economics. In other cases, Marx and Engels used their notebooks over various periods of time to jot down information on a range of subjects. The digital edition offers an opportunity unavailable in the printed edition: the reader can decide if he or she wants to see the excerpts in a variety of modes:

  • the order in which they appear in the notebook,
  • chronological order,
  • subject order,
  • the alphabetical order of sources from which the excerpts were drawn.

As soon as we have integrated these different sections into our MEGAdigital, we will start to digitize MEGA volumes presenting works, drafts and articles from the first section of MEGA. These texts shall be offered digitally and as printed MEGA-volumes. (A first result of digital work on the first section is, as mentioned before, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, from 1848 to 1849.)

Additions are also intended for the economic texts from the second section on Capital. First, the one existing comprehensive draft for Volume 3, written by Marx in 1864/65, will be added so that Marx’s fundamental manuscripts for Capital will be available online as an alternative to the print versions prepared by Engels. Second, the essays on “Entstehung und Überlieferung” as well as the commentary notes to single passages of the texts already available will be added. Third, in our printed volumes there are lists of provenance which document in detail which passages from Marx’s manuscripts (in II/11, II/4.2, II/4.3, and II/14) Engels used, and where he positioned them in his printed versions (II/13 and II/15). It is on our agenda to use these lists to establish links between corresponding passages in the texts in MEGAdigital.

* Regina Roth (Ph.D.) is a historian and economist. She is a researcher and editor for the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and responsible for the coordination of the digital edition of MEGA. She worked in the editorial team to publish the manuscripts and print versions for Book 2 and 3 of Capital (MEGA II/11 to II/15). She is currently preparing Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) for MEGA-volume I/4 (Works, Articles, Drafts, August 1844 to March 1846).

 


[1]              The introductions of the MEGA volumes which have appeared since 1998 are available at http://mega.bbaw.de/. The slide on “Struktur“ leads to the four sections of MEGA; in each section the corresponding volumes are listed with their bibliographical data and a link to their introductions.

[2]              Only recently, in the fourth section, both texts and commentary are combined in one volume (MEGA IV/5, IV/14). Yet, the arrangement – first all texts, followed by the introduction and then the commentaries – is retained.

[3]              The material intended to be included in MEGA-volume II/4 was large-scale, therefore it was decided to present it in three different parts. These parts include material belonging to all three volumes of Capital. They were published over a wide span of years (II/4.1 in 1988, II/4.2 in 1992 and II/4.3 in 2012).

[4]              The articles of Marx and Engels from February to October 1848 have already appeared in MEGA I/7 in 2016 (see Einführung. In: MEGA I/7). For more information on the Neue Rheinische Zeitung digital project see here.

[5]              Selected parts of Marx’s first edition in 1867 have been translated and annotated at the University of Utah by Hans G. Ehrbar.

[6]              Marx, Karl. 2016. Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1864–1865. Ed. by Fred Moseley. Translated by Ben Fowkes. Historical Materialism Book Series 100. Leiden: Brill.

[7]              Roth, Regina, and Fred Moseley, Eds. 2004. Marx, Engels, and the Text of Book 3 of „Capital“. No. 1, Spring 2002. International Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 32. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.

[8]              This portion of the manuscript from 1861-63 was first published in German by Karl Kautsky in 1905 to 1910 (it includes 13 out of 24 notebooks).

[9]              Fourteen volumes, mostly from the early years up to the beginning of the 1850s, have already been published. In addition, one volume covers Marx’s chemical studies, another his geological studies. (MEGA IV/31 and IV/26). The library of Marx and Engels is documented in MEGA IV/32. For more information on these volumes (including bibliographical data) see here.