Reviewed by Meade McCloughan
The most recent publication in the on-going Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) presents the texts known to us as ‘the German Ideology’. The contents and their ordering are for the most part familiar; that is, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe volumes (henceforth MEGA I/5) presents the texts in roughly the same way as the fifth volume of the English language Collected Works (henceforth MECW). However, there are important differences from earlier versions, especially in respect of the stripping out of the various editorial accretions and re-organizations which some of the component texts had previously been subjected to and the provision of an extensive scholarly apparatus indicating the various revisions and reworkings undertaken by the original authors. The resulting volumes are a remarkable resource for those interested in Marx and philosophy. The editors have also provided us with another version of ‘the German Ideology’ in the form of a chronological arrangement of a selection of the most important texts, which is also noteworthy. In what follows I shall lay out some of the main features of these volumes, with anglophone readers of Marx and Engels in mind.
The MEGA I/5 text volume (721 pages long ) contains eighteen separate texts, each referred to by its own siglum, one of which is further broken down into three component parts. See Appendix 1 for a table listing the texts and the corresponding MECW pagination. There are fifteen texts attributed to Marx and Engels (familiar to us from MECW), and three additional texts from other authors, these latter included in a separate section at the end.
The editors open the apparatus volume (1,182 pages long) with a seventy-five page introduction, dealing in particular with how and to what ends Marx and Engels (and others) composed the various texts included in the text volume and known as ‘The German Ideology’ over the period from October 1845 to early 1847. (This can be downloaded from the MEGA website here)
The project Marx and Engels started in 1845 developed in parallel along two registers, those of content and form.
The initial spur to writing was Marx and Engels’s keenness to continue their polemical debate with Bruno Bauer, following the appearance in October 1845 of the latter’s article ‘Characterization of Ludwig Feuerbach’, in which Bauer dismissed Marx and Engels as mere followers of Feuerbach. At this stage the idea was simply to write an article in riposte to Bauer’s. But the two of them – especially Marx – quickly became more interested in Stirner, whose The Ego and its Own (October 1844) was transforming the nature of debate amongst the young Hegelians. Marx’s enthusiasm to get to grips – at length – with Stirner coincided with the happy news that two sympathetic German businessmen were willing to bankroll a new quarterly journal, to be edited by Marx, Engels and Hess. On this basis, Marx and Engels then planned an extensive array of texts, both their own and those of like-minded contributors, to fill the initial issues of this prospective quarterly. In addition to the extensive engagement with Stirner and Bauer, Marx and Engels also now planned to take on the ‘true socialists’ and Feuerbach; contributions were elicited from Hess, Weerth, Weitling, Daniels and others. Work continued accordingly in the early part of 1846, and between April and May of that year a substantial series of manuscripts were transported to Germany with a view to being set up for printing. These included the extensive critique of Stirner, also the briefer piece on Bauer, the introductory paragraphs on ‘the Leipzig Council’ and the treatments of ‘true socialism’, along with some of the supplementary contributions by others. In short, 80% of what we know from MECW as ‘the German Ideology’ was sent off by its authors to be published in the spring of 1846. Moreover, Marx and Engels’s articles were not just a loose assemblage but a structured sequence of critical engagements with those they took to be respectively their philosophical and political rivals.
Marx’s associate Weydemeyer then wrote to him in June from Germany that ‘there is nothing to prevent the start of printing as soon as you send the beginning of the manuscript’, i.e. the as yet unwritten opening article on Feuerbach. But the financial backers pulled out whilst Marx and Engels were gearing up to engage with Feuerbach, following which the other manuscripts made their way back to Marx in Brussels. Marx and Engels then made some attempts to get going on their article on Feuerbach, at the same time endeavouring to get at least their own contributions published in either one- or two-volume book form. It seems only at this late stage that the title ‘the German Ideology’ was devised, presumably the title of the work for which Marx started drafting a Preface sometime in the second half of 1846. Marx subsequently referred in print at the beginning of April 1847 to his and Engels’s wish to have had published what he specifically calls ‘The German Ideology’. This work would almost certainly have been structured on the basis of the intended presentation of their contributions to the abandoned quarterly journal.
The book project though also came to nothing, in part for the same general reason, namely that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get radical ideas published in Germany. But a more significant reason was Marx and Engels’s inability to finish off the project in the way they intended. The one outstanding component was the treatment of Feuerbach, which was to precede the critiques of Bauer and Stirner, and for which Marx and Engels had already extracted relevant passages from their previous drafts. Some attempts were made from the summer through to the end of 1846 to work on this material, but they never lifted off. One explanation for this is Engels’s move from Brussels to Paris, which meant that he and Marx were no longer able to work in the closely collaborative and very productive fashion they had become accustomed to in the process of writing the other sections. The underlying reason, however, would seem to be their increasing indifference to the task itself, Feuerbach just not providing the same kind of stimulus as Stirner had done. Marx and Engels were becoming more interested in their own ideas, also, with Marx, those of Proudhon (his target in The Poverty of Philosophy, published in July 1847); Feuerbach by contrast seemed to be yesterday’s man.
This then is why the Feuerbach materials, which come to seven separate texts in MEGA I/5, the main one of which is itself a composite of extracts, are so scrappy; they in no way come close to the condition of constituting a ‘chapter’, as has been the misleading impression put across by most earlier editions of ‘The German Ideology’. That said, we should not allow the disorganized and fragmentary character of these manuscripts to mislead us about the condition of the whole, which is both much more organized and finished than is sometimes supposed.
One curious fact about the whole saga is that nothing at all is known about the title of the quarterly journal Marx and Engels originally expected to be editing and having their work published in. One might have thought that the title would be the very first thing they would have decided on! But then journal titles probably needed to be rather anodyne, so maybe this wasn’t particularly pressing. But if we knew what the prospective title had been, that at least would give us a less contentious way of referring to the collection of texts otherwise known as ‘the German Ideology’. As it is, we end up giving them a title which was devised after the initial publication attempts had failed and which refers to a somewhat different – and also unrealized – project which was also not ultimately brought to completion. That said, the conventional title does have legitimate – if somewhat retrospective – Marxian imprimatur and does accurately convey the thrust of the component texts.
To summarize, then: the project we know as ‘The German Ideology’ had its germ in Marx and Engels’s desire to continue their polemical tussle with Bauer; they then decided to take on Stirner as well, then further to clarify their position with regard to Feuerbach; at the same time as expanding the project to include Stirner and Feuerbach, Marx and Engels also decided to mount a parallel critique of ‘German or true socialism’. The project thus started with the idea for a single article, then expanded to involve a series of texts, initially intended to be published in a quarterly journal, with contributions from others as well, then for either a one or two volume collection of just Marx’s and Engels’ own work.
The editors present the texts in accordance with the structure Marx and Engels appear to have settled on in mid-1846, one built on and developing the order in which their contributions would have been published in the intended quarterly journal. Thus the first text is Marx’s draft, fragmentary ‘Preface’, which was the very last to be written (apart from a belated draft continuation by Engels of the critique of ‘true socialism’), after which we find the drafts and fragments relating to the unwritten article/chapter about Feuerbach, and so forth, i.e. much in the manner we are familiar with from MECW. The editors do endeavour to allocate each of the texts to one of seven rough phases of composition, as indicated in my Appendix 1. They give three reasons for not following chronology in their presentation of the texts: i) a chronological order would require breaking up various of the manuscripts, especially the long critique of Stirner; ii) in many cases, it is not possible to ascertain exactly in what order the texts were composed; iii) there are sufficient indications both in the texts themselves and in the supplementary documentation to justify the ‘structural’ order adopted. This seems reasonable. However, it would be possible to read the texts – or at least parts of them – in a more chronological, developmental order, and the MEGA I/5 team has provided us with one such approach in the form of an additional publication, the Manuskripte in chronologischer Anordnung volume, which I discuss later on.
The other main decision taken by the MEGA I/5 editors is to present the texts in accordance with the principle of ‘the last hand’, i.e. to record all the deletions, corrections, etc. in the supplementary volume containing the critical apparatus rather than trying to incorporate these into the main text. This approach certainly seems reasonable with those texts which were intended for and came close to publication (such as ‘Saint Max’). But with the manuscripts which record Marx’s and Engels’s rough workings, it is questionable. To take two key examples:
First, Marx’s draft, fragmentary preface (MECW 23-24). There are two sides to the manuscript, the first of which contains two relatively neat and polished paragraphs, the second of which stops and starts, with various deletions and insertions, then fizzles out, with the whole lot then crossed out (reproductions are provided in MEGA I/5, but – symptomatically – far apart from each other (2 and 805). In MEGA I/5, the first page is given on its own at the very beginning of the text volume (3), and the second page is shunted to the critical apparatus (804-8), where it is further decomposed by providing the passages Marx crossed out in the process of writing as variants to the paragraphs which he then crossed out in their entirety. As a result, the contents of the second sheet are distributed in this deconstructed fashion over three pages. This approach provides a careful and accurate account of Marx’s text, but one which makes it difficult to read what he wrote as he wrote it.
Second, the famous ‘in a communist society’ passage (MECW, 47), where, as is by now well-known, Marx inserted the references to the “critical critic”, “criticizing after dinner” and so on to the draft which had been written out by Engels. The MEGA I/5 version gives us a ‘last hand’ presentation, with Marx’s changes silently incorporated; we have to look – unprompted – to the critical apparatus in order to establish the various levels of revision. And what we find there is a complicated presentation of the changes on parallel lines, requiring simultaneous reference back to the first volume. Again, this provides an accurate description of the manuscript, but one that does not serve as a readable representation of it.
In both cases, then, there are three problems: i) the physical process of reading the text is cumbersome given the need to have two already bulky volumes open at the same time; ii) it is then quite difficult to visualize the text in such a way as to be able to read it; iii) the application of the principle of ‘the last hand’ seems inappropriate with these incomplete, unfinished and roughly composed manuscripts. So what would the alternative be? Well, an attempt to represent these texts in the form in which they have come down to us, as works-in-progress. This is the approach being employed with a number of comparable scholarly editions, for example the on-going Division IX of Nietzsche’s Werke, which presents his handwritten Nachlaß in ‘differentiated transcription’; similarly, the on-going Werke und Nachlass edition of Walter Benjamin’s writings. The MEGA I/5 editors would justifiably point to the difficulty of emulating such endeavours with the at times remarkably complicated manuscript remains which make up the Feuerbach “main manuscript” in particular, but it would surely not be impossible. Indeed, we already have an edition in English of the Feuerbach “main manuscript” which enables us to read the text with the various deletions and insertions included on the same page, with Engels’s and Marx’s handwritings differentiated by the use of bold for the latter. This is Terrell Carver and Daniel Blank’s Marx and Engels’s “German Ideology” Manuscripts: Presentation and Analysis of the “Feuerbach Chapter” (2014, reviewed here by Chris Arthur). And even if this was not thought to be suitable for MEGA I/5 itself, it could well have been adopted for any supplementary presentations, such as the one in fact produced by the MEGA team.
A year after the publication of the MEGA I/5, the editors issued an off-shoot volume, entitled Deutsche Ideologie. Zur Kritik der Philosophie: Manuskripte in chronologischer Anordnung. This contains about a fifth of the Marx and Engels material from the MEGA I/5 text volume, but presented in chronological order. This, they say in their Introduction (given in both German and English), ‘has repeatedly been called for by researchers in recent years’ (xx). Manuskripte in chronologischer Anordnung contains most of the texts associated with the ‘Feuerbach’ chapter, extracts from ‘Saint Max’ and ‘True Socialism’ and finally Marx’s ‘Preface’ (see Appendix 2 for a detailed breakdown and concordance with both MEGA I/5 and MECW). This selection and ordering provide the (German) reader with an attractive and manageable way of getting to grips with how Marx’s and Engels’s thinking developed from late 1845 through to the end of 1846. The extracts from ‘Saint Max’ are particularly interesting, given that this – very lengthy – part of ‘The German Ideology’ is not nearly as well-known as the ‘Feuerbach’ texts. That said, it is striking that the choice of passages is similar to that made by Chris Arthur in his 1970 edition of The German Ideology! Manuskripte in chronologischer Anordnung includes eleven extracts from ‘Saint Max’ and ‘True Socialism’; nine of these are given, if sometimes in slightly differently edited form, in Arthur’s edition. It also improves on MEGA I/5 by providing bigger and better fascimiles of a number of the manuscript pages, which then do give a tantalizing sense of what a visual transcription of the texts could look like. But the texts are presented here in same ‘last hand’ form as in MEGA I/5, with some of the key variants included at the end. The one concession to readability is the marking up in the main text of those passages for which variants have been included.
Reviewing these volumes has involved much attention to the editorial endeavours they represent, to the detriment, unfortunately, of any real engagement on my part with the philosophical – or anti-philosophical? – substance of Marx and Engels’s ideas. For now, though, one concluding thought: the more one reads about the lengths and involved process whereby these texts came to be written and put together, the more one is struck by how central and productive Marx and Engels’s engagement with Stirner turned out to be. This is borne out both by the disproportionate length of ‘Saint Max’ and the extent to which their work on it generated the important thematic discussions which were then hived-off for the Feuerbach dossier. Thus for example the whole focus on and re-characterization of ideology emerged in the context of the polemical critique of Stirner, on the basis of his account of ‘hierarchy’. It seems to have been only Stirner in 1845-6 who was capable of giving Marx and Engels something new to think about (and not Bauer or Feuerbach). This has long been known – for example, David McLellan and Chris Arthur both pointed it out fifty years ago – but these new publications should encourage and guide more of us in getting to grips with Saint Max/Sancho and Marx and Engels’s critique of him. That, at least, is in part what I plan to be doing over the next twelve months! I aim to report back when I have done so.…
1 June 2019