The Marx-Engels Institute

by "L.B."

(Translated from La Critique sociale, no.2, July 1931, pp.51-2.)

The Marx-Engels Institute was founded towards the end of the year 1920, but was only able to install itself in the building it has since occupied a year later (previously the town residence of the Dolgorukov princes [1]), situated in Moscow's Znamenka quarter, formerly the Malo-Znamenky sector, now Marx-Engels Street.

In a pamphlet published in 1929 the Institute's founder, D. Riazonov, informed us that the Central Committee of the Communist Party - following the entire preparatory work of Riazonov, about which the pamphlet was silent - had originally proposed that he organise a "Museum of Marxism". But Riazonov envisaged something greater, more important, and also more useful. He obtained its permission to create a scientific institute, a sort of "laboratory" where historian and activist alike could study "in the most favourable conditions the birth, development and spread of the theory and practice of scientific socialism", whose aim was to contribute the utmost "to the scientific propaganda of marxism".

It should be said straightaway that the Institute, while remaining strictly faithful to its aim, and without ever departing from the ideas that had caused it to be set up, soon extended the field of its researches and even, may it be said, its ambitions. Nothing, whether close or distant, that touches upon the project of liberating the people and the working class movement throughout the world and socialist thought, is alien to it.

In 1924 the Institute was included among the cultural establishments of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R., in other words recognised as a state institution, and functioning -in view of its exceptional importance - under the immediate control of the Central Executive Committee.

From 1924 onwards, after four years of existence - including years of famine and civil war - Riazonov was able to say, and not without pride, that the Marx-Engels Institute was among the foremost in the world. In fact, on the 1st January 1925 the Institute's library already possessed 15,628 selected volumes. Moreover, its archives contained numerous manuscripts of Marx and Engels, and myriads of others of the highest interest on the history and men of the First International, Saint-Simonism, Fourrierism[2], and the revolutionary and working class movement - among them the journal maintained by Lassalle in his youth[3], and some two hundred letters of the same sort to his acquaintances. Finally, it had acquired the rarest publications with which Marx and Engels had collaborated - including the Vorwärts published by Marx in Paris in 1844, and the Rheinische Zeitung of 1842-43.

To begin with the Institute drew its books from the nationalised libraries, among them that of Taniéev, containing an excellent collection of socialist authors, and a rare collection of prints from the time of the French revolution. However, this source was quickly exhausted, for even in the richest libraries of the dignitaries of the old regime and other aristocrats he was only able to find a few books that were of interest to the Institute: the previous political conditions would in no way allow those who were interested to procure foreign publications that dealt with the social questions and revolutionary movements of Europe; even some books by Renan and Michelet[4]were forbidden; socialist publications were never freely admitted into Russia.

Riazonov bought the library of Theodore Mautner (a socialist book-lover), that of Karl Grünberg (a historian of socialism), and that of M. Windelband, consisting of philosophical works. He obtained all that was necessary to complete the collections from abroad and undertook research in the archives and the great European libraries, having manuscripts and documents photographed, and even some printed matter that could not be found in libraries.

This is how the materials were photocopied relating to the work of Marx and Engels conserved in the archives of the German Social Democratic Party, the essential documents on the life and trial of Babeuf[5] in the national archives in Paris, on the revolution of 1848, the trial of Auguste Blanqui[6], the Paris Commune of 1793[7], the Commune of 1871[8], etc...

At present the Institute has collected thousands of photographs to make up the necessary documentation, as much for general resarch as for publishing. Among the publications of the Institute we should note the monumental edition of the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in twenty-seven volumes (of which seven have appeared), the Marx-Engels Archives and the Annals of Marxism, rich in studies and documents, the Materialist Library (including the works of Holbach, Hobbes, Diderot, Feuerbach, La Mettrie, etc.), the Complete Works of G. V. Plekhanov, Russia's foremost theoretician of marxism, those of K. Kautsky, of P. Lafargue, the Marxist Library, including the best edition of The Communist Manifesto, annotated by Riazonov, the Library of the Classics of Political Economy, etc.

The Institute now has more than 400,000 volumes, including a very fine collection on the French revolution, with the works and publications of Marat, Robespierre, Anacharsis Clootz[9], and Babeuf in first editions, the very rare brochures and pamphlets of the Enragés[10], the most precious periodicals, such as the Ami du Peuple, the Père Duchesne, the Tribun du Peuple, etc.; a complete collection, also in the original editions, of the works of Robert Owen[11], including many brochures, manifestos, etc., not mentioned in the remarkable Bibliography of Robert Owen (2nd enlarged edition, 1925); a remarkable collection of the British economists; an almost complete collection of the periodicals of 1848 (over 400 titles), and most of the publications relating to the events of 1848 in the various countries; and the main publications of the working class and on the working class movement, etc.

Among recent acquisitions we might mention a file of The Times from its foundation to the war; a very rare file of the New York Tribune, including the years when Marx and Engels collaborated with it; the unique collection of M. Helfert, wholly devoted to the revolutionary movement of 1848-49 in Austria, Hungary, Italy and the slav countries, amounting to 5,000 volumes, 10,000 posters, placards, proclamations, etc., 4,500 prints and portraits, and 1,000 autograph letters; a collection of manuscripts, most of them unpublished, of Gracchus Babeuf, including his letters to his son Emil, his wife, and his writings during his trial; and a remarkable collection of posters, placards, cartoons and other documents from the time of the Commune.

Whereas a partial documentation is generally to be found in most of the important European libraries, only relating to the social movement of such and such a country (and even within these limits, often incomplete), the various collections of the Institute make up a unique centre of documentation on the working class movement in Europe.

The Institute is organised in such a way as to assist work and make it productive; it is a centre of study and of publication at one and the same time; it is divided into different sections or cabinets forming two series; a historical series, and an ideological series.

The historical series includes these sections: German (the richest), 50,000 volumes; French (almost 40,000 volumes); English; and each has its own archives.

The ideological series includes these sections: Philosophy (25,000 volumes); Socialism, where the Mautner, Grünberg and Taniéev collections are deposited; Political Economy (20,000 volumes); Sociology, Law and Politics; and archives are also attached to each cabinet.

The Institute also has a museum, where prints, stamps, portraits, and medals are exhibited - set up for instruction, not for marvelling, with the sole aim of encouraging work. It organises exhibitions methodically. An exhibition on the French revolution in 1928 aroused the liveliest interest.

To our knowledge, it was the first undertaking of its kind to be made abroad. It was an excellent illustration of the Institute's methods, its educational outlook, its researches and its wealth. It allowed schoolchildren and workers to study the forerunners of modern ideas and the pioneers of socialism, to follow the events of the revolution in the order in which they happened, to get to know a little about the men and the atmosphere, and to form an opinion of the press of the time, and how it represented the actions of the popular masses and the struggle of the classes and parties.

In the same methodical manner, and with the same scientific preoccupations, the Institute organised an important exhibition on the Commune of 1871. Unique material was arranged in four spacious rooms (including 375 authentic documents of the time, 223 periodical publications, a quantity of prints and cartoons, and two flags) on the Second Empire, the war and the siege of Paris, the origins of the Commune, its 72 days of existence, and its bloody suppression.

We should also mention a remarkable Marx-Engels exhibition, pictorially very rich in rare editions, providing authentic new information on the life and work of the founders of scientific socialism, on the origin and development of marxism, and on its distribution throughout the world.

Such, in sum, is the unprecedented work of the Marx-Engels Institute, corresponding to the new needs of our time.

L. B.


[1] Paul (1866-1927) and Peter Dolgorukov (1866-1945) were twin princes, and leaders of the Cadets. They emigrated after the revolution, but Paul returned to Russia in secret, and was captured and shot (translator's note).

[2] Claude Henri de Rouvry, Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was an early utopian thinker; François Marie Charles Fourrier (1772-1837) was the founder of the French school of utopian socialists (translator's note).

[3] Ferdinand Lasalle (1825-1864) founded the General Association of German Workers, which united with the followers of Bebel to set up the SDP (translator's note).

[4] Joseph Ernest Renan (1823-92) was a French orientalist, whose researches called in question the truths of Christianity; the scandal created by his Life of Jesus cost him his chair at the Collège de France; Jules Michelet (1798-1874) was a historian of the French revolution, and a supporter of the Paris Commune (translator's note).

[5] François Emile 'Gracchus' Babeuf (1760-1797) was the leader of the Conspiracy of Equals in the French revolution (translator's note).

[6] Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) advocated the seizure of power on behalf of the working class by a conspiratorial élite. His trial was a notorious miscarriage of justice: he was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1849, but even afterwards the government would not release him (translator's note).

[7] The election of the Council of the Paris Commune on 10th August 1793 sparked off the opposition to the reaction against the French revolution. It demanded 'Bread for All' (translator's note).

[8] The Paris Commune of 1871 was a brief period when the Paris workers took control of the city after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (translator's note).

[9] Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), the 'People's friend' was a leading radical during the French revolution; Maximilien Robespierre (1750-1794) was the Jacobin leader during the terror; Jean-Baptiste, called 'Anacharsis' Clootz (1755-1794) was a German atheist who wanted to spread the French revolution abroad; he was guillotined after an attack on Robespierre (translator's note).

[10] The Enragés were the followers of Varlet and Rouge, who rallied the sansculottes against the reaction during the French revolution. The newspapers named were all put out by the left during the revolution (translator's note).

[11] Robert Owen (1771-1858) was a philanthropic cotton manufacturer and utopian thinker, who originated the theory that 'conditions determine consciousness' (translator's note).

Return to the D. B. Riazonov Internet Archive