The Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) Project
Work began on the MEGA, the historical-critical edition of the complete writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in Moscow and Berlin during the 1970s. The MEGA soon acquired a formidable reputation among experts and can now be found in all great libraries in the world. In the wake of the dramatic changes which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), scholars throughout the world pressed for the continued publication of the MEGA.
In 1990, Amsterdam's International Institute of Social History (IISH), whose archive holds most of the original manuscripts, took the initiative of setting up the International Marx Engels Foundation (IMES) which assumed academic responsibility for the project. The politically independent IMES is an international network that includes, along with the IISH and the 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). The aim of the IMES is to complete the MEGA.
The extent of the MEGA has been reduced from the originally planned 164 to 114 volumes; 52 of these have already been published. At present, teams of scholars from Germany, Russia, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, the USA, and Japan are working on the MEGA, thus making it one of the most significant international projects of its kind. The MEGA also receives financial support from the European Union.
With the change of publishers in 1998 from Dietz Verlag to Akademie Verlag, and the publication of the first volumes edited according to revised guidelines, the reorganization of the project has been completed. Ulrich Raulff of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", commenting on the years of effort invested in promoting the continuation of its publication, emphasized the project's three new commitments: “Depoliticization, internationalization, and achievement of high scholarly standards. The first was accomplished by leaving the Dietz Verlag, which freed philology from its notorious affiliation with party interests. Realization of the third is guaranteed by its being integrated into the Akademie Verlag. Now the blue volumes rank with the complete works of Aristotle, Leibniz, Wieland, Forster and Aby Warburg—classics among classics.” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, October 7, 1998)
At present, eight scholars of the BBAW are working on twelve volumes. They also coordinate cooperation with international researchers in the editing of final drafts and typographical preparation of all future volumes.
After the restructuring of the project, the ten new volumes published by the Akademie Verlag met with extraordinary national and international acclaim, which reached beyond the academic world. For example, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, the important Japanese daily “Asashi Shimbun”, the London “Times”, and the Washington “Journal of Commerce”, all devoted detailed comments to these publications. In this context, “Die Zeit” (February 25, 1999) identified the continued publication of MEGA as an act of historical justice long overdue: “The MEGA is literally a century-long enterprise. Its origin, its failure, and its reincarnation mirror paradigmatically the historical tragedies of the 20th century. If it will be finished according to schedule around the year 2025 , then almost one hundred years will have been necessary to make the works of Marx and Engels accessible to the reading public in their original form, i. e. uncensored.”
The History of the MEGA
The project of a historical-critical edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels dates back to David Rjazanov (1870–1938). The Russian scholar started with the plan of editing 42 volumes in the 1920s in Moscow. 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, which was the first to publish Marx’s “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts” from 1844 and “The German Ideology”. Eventually Rjazanov and other Russian and German editors were purged. Even though Rjazanov´s project was resumed in Moscow and Berlin in the period of the “thaw” after Stalin’s death; the concept for a new “second” MEGA, that would contain the complete literary estate of Marx and Engels in the original form, with detailed commentaries and the use of modern forms of text presentation, couldn´t be carried out before the 1960s, as high-ranking party courts were thoroughly critical of such an edition. By this time, since the non-partisan, historical-critical character of the Complete Works had been guaranteed, the International Institute of Social History (IISH) had already started supporting the project. The editorial guidelines of this “new”, second MEGA, were modelled on innovative concepts and first introduced in a sample volume in 1972. It soon found overall approval in the international academic community. Two-thirds of the indispensable original manuscripts have been in possession of the IISH since the 1930s; the other third had come to Moscow and is today stored in the Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History. Of the 36 volumes published before 1990, about one third of these each was edited at the following institutions: The Institute of Marxism-Leninism under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Moscow), the Institute of Marxism-Leninism under the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Berlin), and the Academy of Sciences in conjunction with various universities in the GDR (Berlin, Erfurt-Mühlhausen, Halle-Wittenberg, Jena and Leipzig).
After the autumn of 1989, the IISH and the Karl Marx-House of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Trier, together with the previous publishing institutions, took the initiative of creating the International Marx Engels Foundation, which was established in October 1990 in Amsterdam.
In February 1992, the Conference of the various Academies of Sciences in Germany entered into a contract of cooperation with IMES. Before the MEGA was admitted to the Academy Program of the German Confederation of States, it had to acquire the favorable assessment by the Scientific Advisory Council and the approval of the Confederation of States´ Commission for Educational Planning and the Promotion of Reasearch. Following the proposal by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences for its admittance, it was also necessary to get a positive evaluation by an international scientific commission headed by the Munich philosopher, Dieter Henrich. Since October 1993, for the first time in its history, the MEGA has found itself under the auspices of a German Academy of Sciences. The previously mentioned evaluation reported: “the editing has been carried out on a high scientific level and also meets with Western standards” (Henrich 1993, p. 20).
The same could have been said about the physical design of the MEGA volumes, laid out by the Leipzig book-designer Albert Kapr. The high quality typography and binding have been continued by the new publisher, Akademie Verlag.
The really new quality of the edition lies, however, in its depolitization, particularly in regard to the commentaries. The former, politically motivated, teleologically explanatory imperative of the edition has been replaced by the principle of a deliberate historization of the works. This means placing Marxian thought in the historical context of its times and of its historically relevant issues. It thus becomes clear that Marx has established a legitimate place in different scientific disciplines notwithstanding the historical thrust of his thought. The encyclopedic approach of the MEGA goes beyond the mere scope of the economic and social sciences. It reaches up to philosophy, sociology, and to the history of culture.