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Japanese scholars contribute to MEGA

by Tai Kawabata

In 1998, Izumi Omura, professor of economics at Tohoku University’s graduate school in Sendai, and seven other scholars started a rather unusual job — deciphering voluminous, almost illegible, 19th-century German handwritten manuscripts. The following year, Rolf Hecker from Germany joined the team, and the working language switched from Japanese to German.

The work of this group, which underwent a minor personnel change, finally bore fruit in November 2005 with the first-ever publication of “Redaktionsmanuskript zu dem zweiten Buch des ‘Kapital’ von Friedrich Engels (1884-1885)” or “The Editor’s Manuscript of Frederick Engels for ‘Capital,’ Volume 2,” which constitutes Volume 12 of Section II of Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or Marx-Engels’ Complete Works (MEGA).

MEGA is an international project dedicated to the preservation of literally every word and sentence written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Each MEGA volume consists of two books, the text (in print, not as duplications of manuscripts) and the apparatus (a collection of notes, indexes etc.). It is a 114-volume project of which 52 have been published.

The Sendai group’s achievement is the 51st volume in the series. It is also the first volume in MEGA that has been edited in Asia.

“MEGA will do a great deal in preserving the works of Marx and Engels as common property in the intellectual history of human beings like those of Goethe, Schiller and Hegel,” says Omura.

More than 50 specialists and scholars from 10 countries including Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, the United States, France, Italy, Denmark and Japan are involved in the MEGA project, which receives financial support from the European Union and various governments. Although it was originally started by the communist parties of the Soviet Union and East Germany in the 1960s, it has since become completely depoliticized and academicized.

The International Marx Engels Foundation was established in 1990 at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, which holds about two-thirds of the remaining manuscripts of Marx and Engels. The Sendai group received support from such organizations as the Japan Society of Promotion of Science and the Japan Foundation.

MEGA’s purpose is to present a true picture of what Marx and Engels were really thinking, as distinguished from the dogma known as Marxism-Leninsim, which has lost credibility as a doctrine for modern nation-building, especially through the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“MEGA has changed perception of Marx and Engels profoundly,” Michael Kraetke, professor of economics at the University of Amsterdam and a MEGA project member, says. “Marxism as we used to know it will disappear as MEGA proceeds and as we get better access to the texts [of Marx and Engels] as they were actually written.”

The Sendai group scrutinized 779 pages of manuscript that Engels prepared in 1884 and 1885, and which he based on seven manuscripts written by Marx from March 1868 to the first half of 1881. They were for the publication of the second volume of “Capital.” Only the first volume of “Capital” (“The Process of Production of Capital”) was published while Marx was alive. To publish the second volume (“The Process of Circulation of Capital”) and the third volume (“The Process of Capitalist Production As a Whole”), Engels edited manuscripts left by Marx.

“Capital,” itself, was only part of Marx’s life-long project: “A Critique of Political Economy.” He never completed manuscripts on the three remaining subjects of his project: the state, free trade and the world market.

By closely examining Engels’ manuscripts, the Sendai group has contributed to the long-standing debate on the extent of his faithfulness to Marx’s manuscripts when he edited them. The group even restored words and sentences Engels had erased. It photographed them with a 12 million-pixel digital camera and applied contrast-enhancing processing.

“As a Japanese, I am very proud of what our group did,” says Omura, “because we successfully deciphered Engels’ handwriting in the old German alphabet, which today’s Germans cannot decipher, and transcribed it into text and print for publication.”

To make clear the differences between Marx’s original manuscripts and Engels’ redaction manuscripts, the group completed three lists for the apparatus: They determined whether Engels faithfully followed Marx’s section divisions and titles (the comparative list of structures), showed from which part of Marx’s manuscripts each of Engels’ sentences came (the list of resources), and illustrated how each of Engels’ sentences appearing in the list of resources is different from Marx’s corresponding sentence while identifying the cause of differences such as rewriting, deletion or insertion (the list of differences).

“The list of resources shows that Engels chopped Marx’s sentences and paragraphs in the middle at more than 700 places by changing the order of sentences, moving sentences from the body text to notes, deleting parts of sentences, shortening sentences or paragraphs through summarization, etc.,” says Omura. “The list of differences shows that Engels’ manuscripts are different from Marx’s in more than 5,000 places.”

The apparatus, which also contains some 600 annotations and an index of about 1,900 listed items, is now 846 pages against the main text’s 483 pages, making the whole volume, as Omura says, “a textual foundation for further studies.” “The next job,” he says, “is to consider what theoretical significance the differences between Marx and Engels present. That is the job of scholars who use our volume.”

The digital camera technology has also enabled the Sendai group to publish a byproduct in Tokyo and Berlin: “Familie Marx Privat” (Japanese title — “Potoreto de Miru Marukusu”), a photo album of Marx, his family and friends.

And according to Regina Roth of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (a core group of the MEGA project), there are plans to make the MEGA volumes even more accessible by eventually digitizing the material for a Web site available to any interested reader.