Russian crisis hits Marxist venture

March 12, 1999

A major international academic project to compile the definitive complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is under threat because of the financial crisis in Russia.

Funding for the Russian team working on the so-called "Mega" project was withdrawn in January.

Work began in Moscow and Berlin in the late 1960s. When the Communist era came to an end, the International Marx-Engels Foundation, a politically independent organisation, was set up in Amsterdam under the auspices of the International Institute of Social History, where most of the manuscripts had been kept since the 1930s.

Since 1990, teams of academics in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark, Russia, the United States and Japan have been collating and editing the notes and manuscripts left by Marx and Engels. Altogether, about 70 people are working towards the publication of 122 volumes of works. So far 48 have been published and are widely recognised as being of a high academic standard.

Jurgen Rojahn, who coordinates the work from Amsterdam, said: "There's no doubt Marx and Engels were outstanding people in their time and their ideas had an impact that makes it necessary to have a reliable edition of their works. Marx had great plans, but he realised only a small part. In this edition, for the first time, all the notes left by Marx and Engels, all their drafts, manuscripts and published works will be edited in a scholarly, reliable way."

Dr Rojahn fears work on the project may now be severely hindered or delayed because of the unexplained decision to withdraw European Union funding for the Russian team by the Brussels-based International Association for Cooperation with Scientists from the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union.

"At the moment the Russians are editing more than 15 volumes," he said. "It's a very specialised type of work. They have very long experience. If the Russians are not able to fund their scholars, they will have to be financed from outside Russia, and if we do not find the money, these scholars will have to look for another job. All their expertise will be lost."

The Moscow team is crucial to the project's success. Not only is their own work highly specialised, requiring them to work in French, English and German, but they are also responsible for instructing the other teams around the world. The 15 men and women are continuing their work largely out of personal commitment in the hope that extra money will be found.

Georgy Bagaturiya, one of the Russian researchers, says the cost of living has doubled in Russia since August last year. But, despite living a "primitive existence", he and his colleagues remain enthusiastic about their work. He questions how long they can remain so under such difficult circumstances.

Quoting Marx's own words, he said: "Men must first eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before they can pursue politics, science, art and religion."

Dr Rojahn is looking to the European Commission for a further grant. Both he and Dr Bagaturiya point out that it costs as much to fund an entire team in Russia as it does to fund just one full-time researcher in the West. They feel that an important international collaboration is at stake, one that has worked well so far.

Dr Rojahn also hopes to expand the project by introducing further teams in Britain, Austria and Switzerland.

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