From the new edition of his works emerges a misunderstood author of great topicality for the critique of the present.
Contrary to the forecasts that predicted his definitive fall into oblivion, in the last few years Marx has returned to the attention of international scholars. His continuing ability to explain today’s world confirms the validity of his theory and more and more often his texts are revisited in Europe, the United States and Japan. The most significant illustration of this rediscovery is the resumption of the publication of his works. In fact, despite the enormous diffusion of Marx’s thought in the twentieth century, there is still no unabridged and scientific edition of his works to date. Of the greatest thinkers of humanity this fate fell exclusively to him.
To understand how this was possible, one needs to consider the varied vicissitudes of the working class movement that too often obstructed rather than facilitated the publication of his texts. After Marx and Engels died, conflicts within the German Social Democratic Party led to great negligence of the authors’ literary heritage. The first attempt to publish their complete works, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), was made in the Soviet Union only in the 1920s but in the early 1930s the Stalinist purges, that also hit the main scholars engaged in the project, and the advent of Nazism in Germany abruptly interrupted the works on this edition. In 1975 the next attempt to reproduce the whole of the thinkers’ writings, the so-called MEGA², began but was suspended too, this time as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1990, the International Marx-Engels Foundation (Imes) was created with the aim of completing this edition, bringing together scholars from three different continents. The project is extremely important, especially because a large amount of Marxian manuscripts still remains unpublished, and such cyclopean undertaking will be used as the basis for all new translations of Marx’s and Engels’s works in all languages. The MEGA² is composed of the following four sections: all of their works; their correspondence; Capital and its several drafts; and over two hundred notebooks on the most varied topics in eight languages, the building site of Marx’s development. To date 53 of the planned 114 volumes have been published, 13 of which came out after the project was resumed in 1998. Each volume comprises two large tomes: one for the text, the other for apparatus criticus (for more information, visit www.bbaw.de/vs/mega).
What sort of Marx arises out of this new historical and critical edition? Definitely a different one from that depicted by his enemies and followers for a long time. However paradoxical it may seem, Karl Marx is a misunderstood author. The epigones’ systematic treatment of his critical theory, the theoretical impoverishment that accompanied its dissemination, the manipulation and censorship of his writings and their utilisation for reasons instrumental to the dictates of politics, have contributed to making him the victim of a deep and repeated misjudgement. The rediscovery of his work demonstrates the difference between Marx and ‘Marxism’, between the wealth of a problematic and polymorphous framework still to be explored, and a doctrine that altered its original conception to the extent of becoming its manifest negation. Those statues with stony profiles, that stood in the public squares of many illiberal regimes of Eastern Europe and depicted Marx as a prophet with dogmatic certainties about the future, can now be substituted by the image of an author who, until his death, left a large part of his writings uncompleted so as to dedicate himself to further research to verify the strength of his theses.
There are two examples of this: one is the fragmentary character that was restored to The German Ideology in its latest edition, evidence of the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ interpretative falsification that had turned these manuscripts into an exhaustive exposition of ‘historical materialism’ (an expression Marx never used). Far from being confinable to epitaphs, Marx’s concept of history needs to be retraced in the totality of his oeuvre. The other example is the publication of the second and third book of Capital, which brought to light over five thousand editorial interventions by Engels and demonstrated that, far from espousing a conclusive economic theory, these were by and large provisional notes under development. The imminent completion of the publication of all of the original works left to us by Marx is finally going to permit a reliable assessment.
What has already been ascertained is the value of Marx’s relentless intellectual efforts. However uncompleted, they are still the genial efforts and present us with a wealth of piercing analyses of the contemporary world. Faced with the current contradictions and crisis of capitalist society, in these volumes we go back to interrogating the same Marx whom we too hastily put aside after 1989. Having cleared the terrain of the self-professed custodians of his thought, it is hoped that this time we will hear it from the man himself.