Vitaly Vygodsky

What Was It Actually That Engels Published
in the Years 1885 and 1894?

On the Article by Carl-Erich Vollgraf and Jürgen Jungnickel
Entitled “‘Marx in Marx’s Words’?”[1] - Excerpts

Written: 1995
First Published: 1995
Source: Scientific Commons 
Translated: Stephen Naron
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Copyright: See source

Section II of MEGA will eventually reflect the history of thebirth, genesis, and publication of the economic works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, down to the latter’s death. What is essential here is that from the standpoint of the MEGA editing guidelines ,2 Marx and Engels have “equal rights.” The editing guidelines state that the MEGA is the “complete historico-critical edition of the publications, handwritten writings, and correspondence of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,” and that it contains the edited “texts from Marx and/or Engels that have come down to us in handwritten or printed form".

The work on section II of the MEGA is now in its last phase. As of the present, ten of the fifteen planned volumes (or seventeen of twenty-five partial volumes) have been published. It would be quite possible to finish this section before the end of this millennium, that is, by the year 2000, in which case a complete, reliable, historico-critical edition of the economic writings of Marx and Engels from the years 1857 to 1894—from the rough drafts of the four books of Capital to the published volumes 1–3—would be available. 

The publication of the MEGA-volume II/4.2 in 1992 within the framework of this ambitious program was an especially important event. The volume contains Marx’s rough draft of book 3 of Capital - the 1864–65 manuscript. The article by Vollgraf and Jungnickel undertakes a critical comparison of Engels’s edition of book 3 of Capital (1894) with this manuscript. 

Let me state at the outset that I find this article’s approach to Engels’s 1894 edition and the way it is compared with Marx’s 1864–65 manuscript to be unhistorical. 

In particular, I am astonished at the character of the critique of the 1894 edition. With no basis whatsoever, the latter is from the outset referred to as “material that in 1894 came to be known as the third volume of Capital” (p. 38 in this journal). It is my opinion that the authors have no understanding of the fundamental difference between a historical fact and its interpretation. The Engels’s edition of 1894 is a historical fact; for some reason or other, Vollgraf and Jungnickel presume the right to interpret it in a quite arbitrary manner. 

Comparing Marx’s text of 1864–65 with Engels’s 1894 text, the authors state: “Engels left only a few sentences as Marx had written them” (p. 39 in this journal). To what extent, one may ask, is such a comparison at all legitimate? As the editor, Engels faced a task quite different from what the authors seem to believe; namely, to produce, on the basis of Marx’s rough drafts, in which the process of theoretical research is reflected, a text that offered an adequate exposition of the theory, the “real movement” of the economic material. In the event, it must also be borne in mind that Marx had not concluded his research, as evidenced inter alia by the rough form of his manuscript. 

The authors come to a further conclusion in their comparison: they ask “whether Marx’s text from 1864–65 or Engels’s edition can be called the third volume of Capital at all” (p. 39 in this journal). Such a conclusion seems to me questionable insofar as it simply ignores the history of the third volume of Capital. The fact is that in 1894 Engels published the result of his attempt to produce an integral, coherent text of the third volume of Capital under the title “Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, by Karl Marx. Third Volume, . . . Book III. The Process of Capital Production as a Whole. . . published by Friedrich Engels.” The editorial prior title page proposed by the authors, “Karl Marx. Economic Manuscripts of 1864–76, edited and published by Friedrich Engels as volume 3 of Capital (1894)” (p. 66 in this journal) is tantamount to a negation of the subsequent title which Engels himself chose. The cart here comes before the horse. 

The authors write: The manuscript [1864–65] is the only complete draft for the third volume. Begun originally as a fair copy, it bears the manifold traces of the efforts of an author who thinks in terms of entireties to achieve an understanding of his material. While the essential themes, identified in the chapter headings, are present, the structural questions are still far from being definitively answered. The presentation is sketchy, and the treatment of central problems is unsystematic. Elaborated chapter beginnings are usually followed by digressions. Some points are briefly alluded to, although how they fit in is not directly clear; others are expanded upon although they do not belong in the third book at all. In short, the rough form of the manuscript is immediately obvious. (p. 43) 

Here, as so often with the authors, right and wrong are mixed up. To be sure, the rough form of the 1864–65 manuscript is appropriately characterized. But how does it follow from this that some of the statements “do not belong in the third book”?! How do the authors know this? They casually take the place of Engels, who transformed Marx’s rough draft from 1864–65 into a complete, independent text and the research process into one of exposition, and who in this sense did indeed bring Marx’s work to completion. The analysis of this, Engels’s completion of Marx’s work, will be contained in the history of the texts of volume II/14, which (in accordance with the design of the MEGA) will be not only a critical, but also a historical-critical edition of a work by Marx and Engels. 

Whatever the authors may think of Engels’s 1894 edition of the third volume of Capital, this alters not in the least the fact that it is this edition that Engels presented and titled and not another, and that it belongs to the MEGA as it was presented and titled by Engels. On the other side of the coin, the attempt made by the authors, whether consciously or not, to assume Engels’s place as coauthor does not stand up to criticism. In their evaluation of Engels’s 1894 edition of volume 3 the authors proceed from the incorrect premise that the decisive criterion is whether or not it coincides with Marx’s rough draft of 1864–65 (see, for example, p. 39, passim). But to tell the truth, the criticism made of Engels in this regard is without foundation, and it is presumed, totally wrongly, that Engels’s method of exposition must coincide with Marx’s method of research. While the authors attack the dogma “of the unity of Marx-Engels” they on the other hand agree with its call to investigate “whether Engels’ claim to be presenting a by and large authentic Marx text would actually hold water” (p. 39); second, the “published Marx manuscript opens up the possibility for establishing precisely where Engels followed Marx’s intentions and where he did not” (p. 40). 

In their comparison of the 1864–65 text with the 1894 text the authors discover differences in the titles and the paragraphing of the text (pp. 47, 48), expansions and cuts (pp. 56 and 59), insertions and omissions of parentheses (p. 52), and still other “serious mistakes” by Engels—including some already long known (p. 51). Even the unjustified “expectations” (p. 51) these interpolations might arouse in the reader are chalked up to Engels. 

A systematic text comparison of this sort would only be justified as an analysis of the necessary transformation of research into exposition, provided there is a clear awareness of the difference between the two. The fact that we do not know how Marx would have decided in each case does not allow us to demand of Engels the editor that he should have reverted to the standpoint of Marx the researcher. In my view Karl Kautsky was right in his objections to Engels’s critics when he wrote: “What guarantee would the reader have that my version was truer to Marx’s train of thought than was Engels’s?” (p. 42). 

The general conclusion from the methodologically often questionable criticism of Engels should, in my opinion, be that the 1894 edition would be incomplete without the 1864–65 rough draft. Both must be seen in their interrelationship, as part of the text history of the 1894 edition, taking into account the research and expository processes therein brought to light. 

The foregoing reasoning concerning volume 3 of Capital also applies, I believe, to the relationship between Engels’s 1885 edition of volume 2 (MEGA vol. II/13) and the pertinent rough manuscripts of 1868–84 (MEGA vol. II/11 and II/12). An initial investigation of the manuscript has shown that the 1883–84 manuscript edited by Engels was a link between Marx’s manuscripts for book 2 and Engels’s 1885 edition of volume 2. The 1863–64 manuscript is not identical with the final text of volume 2 but has its own very complicated history as regards its birth and genesis and accordingly its own significance in the history of Capital. That is why it was published in a separate volume. 

I think that the title of the MEGA-volume that will contain Engels’s edition of volume 2 of Capital should coincide wholly with the one chosen by Engels in his time: “Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. By Karl Marx. Second Volume. Book II. The Process of Circulation of Capital. Published by Friedrich Engels.” 


[1]. Carl-Erich Vollgraf and Jürgen Jungnickel, “‘Marx in Marx’ Worten’ ? Zu Engels’ Edition des Hauptmanuskripts zum dritten Buch des Kapital,” MEGA Studien 2 (1994): 3–55.