Preface to Marx-Engels Collected Works Volume (38)

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The letters of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels will be published in volumes 38-50 of this edition. These volumes will contain their letters to each other and to their collaborators, friends, relatives, and others. The Appendices will include letters written by others at the request of Marx and Engels, as well as letters addressed to them, and documents giving some idea of the contents of undiscovered letters written by them and providing additional biographical information.

This special group of volumes begins with Engels’ earliest surviving letter to Marx, from early October 1844. Their letters, to other people, prior to their historic meeting in Paris in August 1844, before which there was no direct connection between their intellectual development and work, are included in volumes 1-3 of the present edition, together with their separately published works of those years. From the autumn of 1844, the works of Marx and Engels increasingly arise from their close cooperation. Their letters reflect the elaboration of their ideas and their influence on the working class’s struggle for emancipation.

Not included in these volumes are letters, appeals and statements addressed to various organisations, editors of newspapers and journals, public employees, etc. These are published in volumes 4-28 of this edition.

The letters of Marx and Engels are extremely rich in ideas and human interest. In them Marx and Engels wrote of their creative plans, of the immense research they undertook in different fields of knowledge, and touched upon a wide range of philosophical, economic, sociological and other problems. They compared the results of their work, shared their impressions of the books they read, discussed the various doctrines and theories of contemporary thinkers, and commented upon the achievements of other scholars — for instance, the progress made in the natural sciences and in engineering — as well as on events and phenomena they witnessed or read about.

The letters show the constant attention Marx and Engels paid to economic and social phenomena, to politics in general, and to the development of the revolutionary movement in particular. Their analysis. of current events, class conflicts, diplomatic battles and warfare, political parties and trends, statesmen and politicians, is an important contribution to the Marxist interpretation of the period’s history; though it should be borne in mind that very often their judgment of events and people was stated much more sharply, as well as impulsively and emotionally, in their letters than in their works written for publication.

The proletarian class struggle is one of the principal and constant subjects of their correspondence. As the theoreticians of the working class, as well as direct participants in and leaders of proletarian organisations, they were interested most of all in the workers’ movement, the conditions and stages of its development, the aims of its programme, its tactics and its organisation. The letters are eloquent testimony of their struggle for the creation of a revolutionary party of the working class, and for the elaboration of a programme and a strategy for the international proletarian movement, giving due consideration both to the general laws of development of the proletarian class struggle and its specific features at different periods of history and in different countries. Many letters contain sharp criticism of the ideological and political antagonists of the working class, and of the various manifestations of opportunism, reformism, sectarianism and dogmatism in the workers’ movement. A profoundly scientific, materialist approach to the problems of the proletariat’s struggle, a principled defence of revolutionary positions, consistent internationalism, ardent support for those fighting for the oppressed and the exploited, and an irreconcilability towards their enemies, run through the entire correspondence of Marx and Engels.

‘If one were to attempt to define in a single word the focus, so to speak, of the whole correspondence,’ wrote Lenin, ‘the central point at which the whole body of ideas expressed and discussed converges — that word would be dialectics. The application of materialist dialectics to the reshaping of all political economy from its foundations up, its application to history, natural science, philosophy and to the policy and tactics of the working class — that was what interested Marx and Engels most of all, that was where they contributed what was most essential and new, and that was what constituted the masterly advance they made in the history of revolutionary thought’ (Collected Works, Vol. 19, p. 554).

This correspondence is a vital source for the study of both the theoretical and practical activity of Marx and Engels, demonstrating how naturally they combined these two aspects of their revolutionary work. Their letters reflect the development of the three component parts of Marxism — dialectical and historical materialism, political economy and the theory of scientific communism — as well as their study of a whole series of allied disciplines, ‘n particular of world history, law, linguistics, the history of literature, aesthetics, the natural sciences, and military service. In addition, our knowledge of the programme and tactical documents of the Communist League, of the First International and other proletarian organisations founded by Marx and Engels, is augmented by the rich material contained in their letters which illustrate their role as the organisers and leaders of the working-class revolutionary struggle.

Their letters also add in essential ways to many of their published works, drafts and manuscripts of unfinished works, for very often they give original full versions of important theoretical and tactical propositions, showing how one or another idea was conceived, and how it was first presented, and subsequently developed. Some of the letters are regular treatises, and some are especially valuable in containing ideas never set down in Marx’s and Engels’ published works. Many of the letters reveal scientific and literary plans which for one reason or another were never realised, while some are the only evidence that has come down to us that such literary plans existed at all, and from them we can form a general idea of what Marx and Engels intended to write about in such works.

The letters are especially important for the study of those periods in the lives of Marx and Engels when they were unable to write regularly for the press, in which case their correspondence often provides the best or the only source for studying their life and activity. Unfortunately, for some of these years, relatively few letters have been preserved, and they can naturally only supply additional information on the views and activities of Marx and Engels to that which can be derived from their published works.

There can be no better source than their letters from which to study the biographies of Marx and Engels. Readers can follow not just the story of how their works were written and published, or the stages of their theoretical and sociopolitical activity, but can observe them among their families and friends. They can gain an idea of the circumstances of their life, their everyday occupations, their personal feelings, and so forth. Their letters also show clearly the grim trials which confronted the proletarian revolutionaries in their struggle against the existing state system: police persecutions, legal proceedings, deportation, enforced emigration, publishers refusing to print their works, abuse and slander spread by their enemies, family and personal bereavement. And on top of all that — in the case of Marx — his poverty, leading to the tragic losses in his family, and his own frequent ill health.

And yet, their letters are full of optimism. The staunchness with which they bore up under all their troubles is amazing. They drew this strength from their unswerving loyalty to their revolutionary calling, to the noble idea of serving the cause of the working people’s emancipation. It is significant that Marx, who had already experienced several tragic deaths in his family, wrote to Sigfrid Meyer on 30 April 1867: ‘I laugh at the so-called “practical” men with their wisdom. If one chose to be an ox, one could of course turn one’s back on the sufferings of mankind and look after one’s own skin.'

No vicissitudes of life could break their will or spirit, weaken their dedication to the cause of the working class, undermine their faith in the ultimate triumph of the ideas of communism, or shake their historical optimism, their courage and naturally cheerful disposition. Shortly after Marx’s death a German bourgeois journalist called him a ‘poor wretch’ and it is in this connection that Engels wrote indignantly in June 1883: ‘If these jackasses ever happened to read my correspondence with the Moor, they would simply gape. Heine’s poetry is child’s play compared with our bold, jolly prose. The Moor could be furious, but mope — jamais! [never]'

The letters testify to the unity of Marx’s and Engels’ theoretical views and their extraordinary ideological and human closeness. For all the uniqueness of their personalities, there was always complete unanimity between them on the main issues, thanks to the remarkable similarity of their philosophical and political views. Very often we can observe how they arrived at a common point of view through discussion, and then how both expressed that viewpoint in print or in letters to other persons. There are many examples of such creative cooperation.

Their great friendship meant that they kept in constant touch with each other; it is therefore not surprising that they wrote almost daily when they happened to be separated, as they were in the 1850s and the 1860s for example. Their letters speak of their profound mutual respect and affection, and their complete and sincere confidence in one another.

Volume 38 contains Marx’s and Engels’ letters from October 1844 to December 1851, covering three stages in the development of Marxism. The first group of letters deals with the formative period and the development of Marxism as the scientific world outlook of the working class, and also shows the first practical steps taken by Marx and Engels to combine the theory of communism with the workers’ movement and organise a proletarian party. Their efforts were crowned in 1847 by the establishment of the international communist organisation of the proletariat — the Communist League — and the publication of its programme — the Manifesto of the Communist Party (February 1848). Their subsequent letters relate to the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions in Europe in 1848-49, which were the first historical test of Marxism, of its theoretical and tactical principles. The third group includes letters written from the end of 1849 to 1851 when priority had to be given to the work of theoretically generalising the experience of the revolutions, of further developing the strategy and tactics of the proletarian revolutionaries, of uniting them in conditions of increasing reaction, and. of reorganising the Communist League.

Marx’s and Engels’ surviving letters from October 1844 to February 1848 show that their efforts were primarily focused on elaborating the theoretical tools that would provide a scientific basis for the workers’ movement. Their awareness of the urgency of this task is evident from the. very first letters written by Engels from Barmen where he returned in the autumn of 1844 after his meeting with Marx in Paris. Reporting to his friend about the rapid spread of communist and socialist propaganda in Germany, Engels said: ‘Failing a few publications in which the principles are logically and historically developed out of past ways of thinking and past history, and as their necessary continuation, the whole thing will remain rather hazy and most people will be groping in the dark’ (this volume, p. 3).

At the time, the workers’ movement was largely influenced by utopian socialism. Its ideological confusion was aggravated by the circulation of muddled and immature doctrines, in particular those of the Young Hegelians who in 1843-45 preached ideas of subjective idealism and anarchic individualism. That is why in his letters Engels repeatedly urged Marx to hurry up and finish The Holy Family, aimed against Bruno Bauer and the other Young Hegelians, and also the book he was planning to write on political economy. In January 1845, Engels wrote: ‘Minds are ripe and we must strike while the iron is hot.... We German theoreticians ... cannot yet so much as develop our theory, not even having been able as yet to publish the critique of the nonsense. But now it is high time’ (pp. 17-18).

The letters published in this volume enable us to follow the writing of such important works as The Holy Family, The Condition of the Working-Class in England (MECW, Vol. 4) and The German Ideology (Vol. 5), and provide information about projects never materialised, among them Marx’s intention to write a ‘Critique of Politics and Political Economy’ in two volumes, Marx’s and Engels’ plans to publish a criticism of the views of the German bourgeois economist Friedrich List, and their plan to start a Library of the Best Foreign Socialist Writers’ (in German) supplied with critical comments (see this volume, pp. 10-11, 13-14, 15-18, 25-28). The letters also throw light on the journalistic work done by Marx and Engels, their contributions to various papers, the reasons that prompted them to do Journalistic work, and the character of a number of the articles written by them.

A whole series of circumstances, relevant not just to the writing but also to the attempt to publish The German Ideology, are clarified in the correspondence between Marx and Engels and their letters to other persons, one being the letter written by Marx on 14-16 May 1846 to Joseph Weydemeyer, published for the first time in 1968 (pp. 41-44). In The German Ideology Marx and Engels counterposed their materialist understanding of history as an integral conception to the idealist views of Max Stirner and other Young Hegelians, and to the inconsistent materialism of Ludwig Feuerbach. It is apparent from their letters that Marx and Engels originally intended to publish this work in a collection of articles, together with those written by their associates and to criticise the various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideological trends. What they wanted was to start a regular quarterly journal for these publications (pp. 41, 533), but these plans failed, as did their other attempts to have these manuscripts printed. However, Marx and Engels were not discouraged for they had achieved their ‘main purpose — self-clarification’, as Marx wrote in 1859 in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

As they developed their dialectical-materialist outlook and intensified their efforts to rally the advanced workers and intellectuals on the basis of the new revolutionary teaching, Marx and Engels felt more and more acutely the necessity to overcome the influence of sectarian utopian teachings, among them the egalitarian communism of Weitling and the petty-bourgeois sentimental ‘true socialism’, which hindered the formation of working-class consciousness. Of especial danger to the workers’ movement was the spread of the reformist views of Proudhon who sowed in the workers’ minds the illusion that it was possible to transform capitalism to serve the ideals of petty artisans and peasants.

A number of letters, particularly from Engels in Paris in 1846 to the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee, show the struggle he had to fight against the influential Weitlingians among the German artisans and workmen living in Paris, and also against the supporters of Proudhon’s reformist projects, and Karl Grün who interpreted these projects in the spirit of ‘true socialism’. In his letter of 23 October 1846, Engels described the lengthy discussion he had at a workers’ meeting in the course of which he succeeded in changing the minds of most of those present, convincing them of the unsoundness of Proudhon’s and Grün’s views, and clearly defining the aims of the communists as follows: ‘1. to ensure that the interests of the proletariat prevail, as opposed to those of the bourgeoisie; 2. to do so by abolishing private property and replacing same with community of goods; 3. to recognise no means of attaining these aims other than democratic revolution by force’ (p. 82).

The struggle against Proudhon’s ideas had a direct bearing on the writing of one of the first works of mature Marxism — The Poverty of Philosophy — in which Marx set out the historico-materialist conception earlier developed in The German Ideology.

This was the first work he published as an economist. His letter of 28 December 1846 to the Russian liberal writer P. V. Annenkov can be regarded as a condensed draft of the book in which the main theses are briefly set out. Marx showed the invalidity of Proudhon’s philosophical and sociological views, the utopianism of his reformist projects, his inability to analyse the nature of capitalist relations and social processes as a whole, or to understand the significance of the class struggle of the proletariat. In Proudhon’s ideas Marx clearly saw a reflection of the sentiments and world outlook of that class of small private producers who were being ruined by the development of capitalism, and who wanted to eliminate its ‘bad sides’ while keeping the fundamentals intact. ‘Mr. Proudhon is, from top to toe, a philosopher, an economist of the petty bourgeoisie,’ Marx wrote (this volume, p. 105).

Proudhon idealistically regarded history as a result of the actions of outstanding men capable of filching ‘from God his inmost thoughts’ (p. 103), and to counterbalance this view Marx recapitulated the basic principles of historical materialism on the general laws of social development. He pointed to the determining role played in this development by the productive forces, to the dialectical interaction between them and the relations of production (characteristically, here they are called not ‘forms of intercourse’ as in The German Ideology but more precisely economic relations’, ‘social relations'), and to the ultimate dependence of all the other social institutions and superstructure] phenomena, including the sphere of ideas, on the mode of production. The discrepancy between the developing productive’ forces and the outdated relations of production makes it an objective necessity to revolutionise, that is, to change the old mode of production for a new and more progressive one, which would also bring about a change in the entire social superstructure. Marx showed how obsolescent relations of production do not merely hinder the progress of society but are actually capable of pushing it back and denying it the ‘fruits of civilisation’ (p. 97). The true makers of history — the masses who produce the material wealth — influence its course primarily by participating in the development of the productive forces, Marx pointed out. But they cannot do so arbitrarily since they are not free to choose their productive forces, thus ‘every succeeding generation finds productive forces acquired by the preceding generation (p. 96).

By stressing the need to regard the various forms of production in a given epoch as historical and transitory, Marx established the principle of the historical character of science. He showed that this principle is essential in the study of social phenomena from a truly scientific, dialectical-materialist angle.

The letters of 1846-47 illustrate the efforts of Marx and Engels to organise a proletarian party, to establish and consolidate ties with the representatives of the workers’ and socialist movements in different countries, and to set up communist correspondence committees in Belgium, Germany, England and France. The tasks of these committees, formulated in a series of documents (see MECW, Vol. 6, pp. 54-56, 58-60), were also stated in a letter (5 May 1846) to Proudhon, whom Marx still hoped to draw into the work of revolutionary propaganda, ‘...The chief aim of our correspondence ... will be to put the German socialists in touch with the French and English socialists; to keep foreigners constantly informed of the socialist movements that occur in Germany and to inform the Germans in Germany of the progress of socialism in France and England. In this way differences of opinion can be brought to light and an exchange of ideas and impartial criticism can take place. It will be a step made by the social movement in its literary manifestation to rid itself of the barriers of nationality’ (p. 39).

As Marx and Engels planned it, the communist correspondence committees were to elicit differences of opinion, criticise immature, utopian and sectarian views, work out an ideological and theoretical platform acceptable to the genuinely revolutionary part of the movement, and thus prepare the ground for the organisation of an international proletarian party.

The centre of the network Marx and Engels were organising was to be the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee, headed by them. Its work is fully described in Engels’ letters from Paris to Marx dated 19 August (p. 53) and about 23 October 1846 (pp. 86-88), and in Harney’s letter to Engels of 30 March 1846 (published in the Appendices).

The activities of Marx and Engels as theoreticians, journalists and organisers of propaganda helped to develop the views of the members of the League of the Just, a secret organisation of German workers and artisans which emerged in the middle of the 1830s and was also joined by workers of other nationalities. Marx and Engels had established contact with the London leaders of the League — Karl Schapper, Joseph Moll and Heinrich Bauer — already in 1843-45, and in the years that followed they maintained this contact although they criticised the theoretical immaturity and instability of the stand taken by the leaders, and the sectarian, conspiratorial character of the League’s organisational structure (pp. 69, 91-92, 83). It was only when they were certain that the London leadership had begun to assimilate the ideas of scientific communism, and showed its readiness to act in this spirit, that Marx and Engels, in January 1847, agreed to on the League, take part in its reorganisation, and draw up a new programme on the basis of the principles they had proclaimed.

From their letters written in 1847 we see how Marx and Engels directed the work of the Communist League, founded by them, trying to strengthen its influence among the masses and encouraging its members to engage in systematic propaganda and organisational work among the proletariat. They themselves did this kind of work in the Brussels German Workers’ Society, founded by them in August 1847, which we know from Engels’ letter to Marx dated 28-30 September 1847 (p. 130); moreover, they looked upon the Communist League as the nucleus of the future mass proletarian party which was to unite all the militant forces of the working class.

Marx and Engels, being emphatically against sectarian isolation from the general revolutionary movement, guided the Communist League towards the establishment of an alliance with the democrats both on the national and the international scale for joint struggle against the anti-popular regimes. The independence of the ideological and political stand taken by the international proletarian organisation and its right openly to criticise the mistakes and inconsistency of its allies was to be strictly maintained. It took Engels in particular no little effort to secure the cooperation of the French democrats and socialists who grouped round the newspaper La Réforme. Engels reported in detail to Marx on his negotiations with the editors Ferdinand Flocon and Louis Blanc in his letters of 25-26 October, 14-15 November 1847, and 14 and 21 January 1848. While commenting most critically on the reformist tendencies in the works of Louis Blanc and the arrogant attitude of ‘this little literary lord’, Engels considered it imperative to subject his views to public criticism (pp. 155-57).

An international Democratic Association was founded in Brussels in the autumn of 1847 with the active participation of Marx and Engels. Together with several other members of the Communist League they played a leading role in it (see Engels’ letter to Marx, 28-30 September, and Marx’s letter to Georg Herwegh, 26 October 1847). Marx and Engels maintained regular contact with the leaders of the Left wing of the Chartists, George Julian Harney and Ernest Jones, as well as with the Fraternal Democrats, the international democratic society founded in London (see Engels’ letter to Marx dated 14-15 November 1847, and others).

For the wide dissemination of communist ideas the League needed its own newspaper, a point which was repeatedly raised in their letters (pp. 80, 91-92, 120, etc.). In 1846-47 Marx made several attempts to start a theoretical journal as a joint-stock company. In a recently discovered letter to Werner von Veltheim dated 29 September 1847, he said that one of the main tasks of the proposed journal was regularly to criticise the ‘political, religious and social parties and aspirations’ from materialist positions, consequently that ‘political economy would play a leading role’ (p. 131) in such a journal. The project, however, did not materialise.

Marx and Engels also wanted to use the emigrant newspaper, the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, for communist propaganda (see Marx’s letter to Herwegh of 8 August 1847, and others), and by assuming control of the editorial affairs they did succeed in turning the paper into an unofficial organ of the Communist League, a herald of the programme and tactical principles of scientific communism.

Of great interest are Engels’ letters written at the end of 1847 dealing with his work on the draft programme of the Communist League which was to be confirmed by its second congress. On 23-24 November he wrote to Marx that he was not satisfied with the form of a catechism, or a confession of faith, traditional for many workers’ organisations at the time, in which the document was originally written, and proposed calling it a Communist Manifesto (p. 149). Lenin said that this letter, giving in general outline the plan of the future programme document, ‘clearly proves that Marx and Engels are justly named side by side as the founders of modern socialism’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 19, p. 558).

Written as a programme of the Communist League, the Manifesto of the Communist Party, in which the principles of the Marxist revolutionary teaching were systematised for the first time, crowned the theoretical and practical activities of Marx and Engels prior to the revolution of 1848-49. Its publication in February 1848 marked the beginning of a new stage in the development of the international workers’ movement.