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The Works of Marx and Engels and the Bolshevik Model

In the autumn of 1895 Lenin commented on the death of Friedrich Engels: "After his friend Karl Marx (who died in 1883), Engels was the finest scholar and teacher of the modern proletariat in the whole civilised world. […] In their scientific works, Marx and Engels were the first to explain that socialism is not the invention of dreamers, but the final aim and necessary result of the development of the productive forces in modern society. All recorded history hitherto has been a history of class struggle, of the succession of the rule and victory of certain social classes over others.

And this will continue until the foundations of class struggle and of class domination – private property and anarchic social production – disappear. The interests of the proletariat demand the destruction of these foundations, and therefore the conscious class struggle of the organised workers must be directed against them. And every class struggle is a political struggle."

Riazanov's battle

Since that distant year of 1895, the international proletariat has had at its disposal the heritage of those "scientific works", powerful weapons with which to wage "the class-conscious struggle of the organised workers". But to be effectively wielded in the struggle, a significant part of this enormous legacy still needed to be collected, ordered, catalogued, and published. The works needed to be made available and accessible to the class vanguard that the struggle was selecting, overcoming language barriers.

Along with Karl Liebknecht, Engels himself had proposed to publish Karl Marx's works after his death, but this project never came to fruition. At the beginning of the 20th century, David Riazanov was responsible for the first inventory of Marx's and Engels's collected writings. Riazanov spent long periods in exile, the last from 1907 until the revolution of February 1917. During that decade he worked on the Collected Works in Austria, from the SPD archives in Germany, and in the British Museum in London.

In 1911, in Vienna, the first publishing plan for the Complete Works of Marx and Engels saw the light of day thanks to his collaboration with German and Austrian social democracy – plans that were swept away by the First World War. Back in Russia, Riazanov joined the Bolshevik party, and in 1919 participated in the attempt to produce the first Russian edition of the Works. Lenin joined as a member of the editorial board too.

Nineteen volumes were planned, but in the period of 1919–1922 only four were published. A similar fate befell an attempt in Japan for an edition of the Works edited by Tokyo-based economist Tokuzō Fukuda, who studied in Germany. Publication in Japan similarly stopped after only four volumes. After many vicissitudes, a first edition of the works of the founders of scientific socialism would eventually be published in Japan, but not as the Complete Works. The Japanese edition did not include The Manifesto, which was banned in Japan at the time, and only excerpts of Capital were published.

Let us return to Riazanov, who had been tasked with directing the Marx-Engels Institute (MEI) in Moscow. The 5th Congress of the Communist International in 1924 had decided on the publication of "a complete edition of the Works and Letters of Marx and Engels with historical-critical commentary". The International urged the communist parties to support the work of the MEI, which formed a society with the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt. That partnership made it possible to inventory, photostat, and decrypt Marx and Engels's bequest to the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD). In 1927, the MEI published the first volume of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), an original language edition of the Works which was to be published over 42 volumes. Four more were published before 1931, at which point Stalin decided to close the MEI by dismissing and arresting most of its employees, including Riazanov and the German communist Karl Schmückle.

The "Works" hijacked by Stalinism

In 1924 the Russian Communist Party also decided on a 29-volume Russian language edition of the Works. Six volumes came out between 1928 and 1930 under the editorship of Riazanov, who did not have time to complete his work. In 1937 he was arrested a second time by Stalin's police, tried, and sentenced to death "for belonging to a right-wing opportunist Trotskyist organisation". The sentence was immediately executed in January 1938. The Stalinist counterrevolution took him down along with his German collaborator Schmückle. From that moment on, the Works were appropriated by Stalinism in a similar way to what it had done before with all our symbols of revolutionary communism; a lesson we will never forget.

After the defeat of the revolution in Germany, state capitalism imposed its rule on an isolated Russia with extreme violence. And it did so masquerading as an impossible "socialism in one country", where the red flag and the hammer and sickle were hijacked as symbols of Great Russian nationalism. While he was busy physically eliminating the best cadres and leaders of the Bolshevik party, Stalin needed all the more to display a formal loyalty to Marx, Engels and Lenin, in order to legitimise his actions and accredit himself within the ranks of the proletariat. Hence the MEI was exhumed and merged with the Lenin Institute under the label of MELI (the Marx, Engels, Lenin Institute in Moscow), and the publication of the Works was restarted.

In 1954, Russian state capitalism would put out a second edition, in the midst of imperialism's peripheral crises in Eastern Europe. From that second edition onwards, publications in the languages of the Warsaw Pact and Eastern European countries took off. Paradoxically, this happened while Moscow's tanks bloodily repressed the workers' revolt in Berlin in 1953, and then that of the workers and students in Budapest in 1956.

In the wake of the Stalinist initiative of 1954, the publication of the first Chinese edition began in 1956, and was completed in 1985. In 1975, the first volume of the English-language Marx-Engels Collected Works was published. Our founding teachers had written about a third of their works in English.

The English edition was conceived and set up in Russia, to the extent that it was published by Progress Publishers in Moscow in cooperation with publishing houses linked to the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party USA; the 50 volumes were finished in 2004.

The sanitised version of the "Works"

The French edition of the Works has been less successful. Despite numerous attempts since the 1920s, there is to date no edition of the Complete Works in French. The first systematic attempt was initiated by Editions Alfred Costes, close to the Section française de l'Internationale ouvrière (SFIO) and later to the Socialist Party.

A second edition was attempted by Editions Sociales, founded in 1945 by the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). The publishing house was closed in 1993 to be re-established in 1997 as La Dispute/ Èditions Sociales. Today, this new publishing house is working on the Grande Èdition Marx et Engels (GEME) project. From 2008 to 2022, ten volumes have been published for the GEME project, in non-chronological order.

The situation is similar for a Spanish-language edition, which has never seen the light of day. The most significant attempt was that of Editorial Crítica, of the Grijalbo publishing group in Barcelona, which between 1973 and 1980 published 12 of the 68 volumes of the Obras Marx y Engels (OME). In Argentina in the 1970s, the Casa Editorial Ciencias del Hombre published 13 volumes of the Selected Works. But no full Complete Works exists in Spanish or Portuguese to date.

We should also mention the ongoing MEGA2 project in Germany, an edition which is currently set to span 114 volumes, the first of which came out in 1975. This project, more than any other, bears the mark of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of German reunification, with the end of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the involvement of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's (CPSU) institutions in its publication.

After German reunification, the management of the project passed to the Internationale Marx-Engels-Stiftung (IMES), which was established in 1990 under the auspices of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam (ISG). In 1992, the IMES and the Conference of German Academies of Sciences signed a cooperation agreement. In essence, German imperialism has taken it upon itself to complete MEGA2: the Kohl government included the project in the Academy of Sciences' programme, with funding. In doing so it is as if the Works were being sanitised, reduced to a major contribution to the great "cultural tradition" of German history. Chancellor Merkel would refinance the project in order to guarantee the publication of the missing volumes. However, these will mainly be published in digital form and have also benefited from EU co-financing.

The "Works" in Italy

In Italy the writings of Marx and Engels found a passionate devotee in Pasquale Martignetti [1844–1920], a socialist publisher from Benevento who was in correspondence with Engels. Until the 1880s, it was Martignetti's work alone that was responsible for the distribution of our teachers' writings in Italy [Emilio Gianni, Diffusione, Popolarizzazione e Volgarizzazioni del Marxismo in Italia (The Dissemination, Popularisation and Vulgarisation of Marxism in Italy), Edizioni Pantarei, 2004]. We must neither overlook the contribution of the anarchist movement, among others the Compendio del Capitale (Compendium of Karl Marx's Capital) written in prison by Carlo Cafiero and printed in 1879.

The first to attempt a systematic publication of the Works in Italy was the publisher Luigi Mongini working with the academic Ettore Ciccotti as editor-translator: both were socialists, the former one of the founders of the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI), the latter a professor of ancient history in Pavia and elected socialist deputy in Milan in 1900 Emilio Gianni, L'Editore Luigi Mongini e la Diffusione del Marxismo in Italia (The Publisher Luigi Mongini and the Spread of Marxism in Italy), Edizioni Pantarei, 2001]. The two started a series of fortnightly instalments with the aim of publishing all the works of Marx, Engels and Lassalle in Italian. A total of 158 issues came out, and on Mongini's death the Società Editrice Avanti! continued his work. The aim remained the same, and the socialist publisher limited itself to collecting what had already been published into eight volumes, under the title Opere di Marx, Engels, Lassalle. Historian Gian Mario Bravo emphasises how this edition has the merit of representing "the only broad and 'political' proposal on the subject of editions of Marx officially put forward by the Left until the 1920s", i.e., it "represents the only real and substantial approach of Italian culture to Marx" until after the Second World War.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning Bravo's work Marx ed Engels in Lingua Italiana 1848–1960 [Marx and Engels in the Italian Language 1848–1960], which appeared in 1961 in the Rivista Storica del Socialismo [Historical Review of Socialism], and his contribution to our edition of the Works, not only with suggestions and advice, but also with two volumes put together with his research group [volumes 21 and 23, editors G.M. Bravo, M. Ceretta, G. Ragona, Edizioni Pantarei, 2018].

The publishing plan for the Complete Works of Marx and Engels in Italian originated in Moscow in 1970, following the English edition on the initiative of the Institute for Marxism-Leninism of the CC of the CPUS. The project was carried out in Italy by the publishing house Editori Riuniti of the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI). Editori Riuniti began working on it in the early 1970s. Ironically, these were the years in which the PCI tried in every way to prevent the development of Lotta Comunista, especially in the Italian industrial triangle, using small groups and factions in the attempt: today they are all extinct, as is the PCI. The Stalinist instrument par excellence, calumny, was massively used, as the case of the Riazanov assassination bears testament to. We have given an account of those battles, fought above all in Genoa, Milan, and Turin, in the third volume of our party history [Lotta Comunista: the Bolshevik Model 1965–1995, Éditions Science Marxiste, 2019]. It is important to remember those battles because the Complete Works we are able to present today would not exist without those years of strenuously defending the party.

The collapse of the USSR

Editori Riuniti's project proceeded with considerable difficulties and was then overwhelmed in 1990 by the collapse of false socialism in Russia, CPSU, and its organisations. With them, the PCI and its publishing house were swept away, thus interrupting the publication of the Works. This was a further confirmation of how deep the ties (cultural and otherwise) were between the PCI and Russian state capitalism – with or without Stalin. When Editori Riuniti's project came to a halt in 1990, 32 volumes of the planned 50 had been published. It was clear that the gap had to be filled and that, due to our forces at disposal in Italy, it was up to us to do so. We started working on the unpublished volumes in Italian; this was comrade Vito Capuzzoni's last challenging battle before he passed away. Between 1996 and 2014, several volumes of letters and writings were published by Edizioni Lotta Comunista; at the end of 2013, the decision was made to proceed with a new complete edition of the Works in a revised and standardised format that would incorporate the volumes already published by Editori Riuniti, which had become unavailable.

A difficult decision

Publishing a new complete edition was a difficult decision to come to due to the theoretical, editorial, and organisational commitments involved, as well as the long timeframe necessarily required. January 2014 marked the beginning of a pressing organisational battle for us. Ten years later, we can present a historically unprecedented result: the first edition of the Complete Works by Marx and Engels in Italian, complete with a comprehensive index of all 50 volumes, and accompanied by introductions that facilitate reading and assimilation.

Our editions have already produced a renewed version of the Opere Scelte [Selected Works] which has been very well received, especially among younger generations. Two other texts in a boxed set collect the introductions and the individual volumes, offering a guided path through the readings that brings the Works back to their traditional terrain, that of science and class struggle.

A door-to-door battle

From 2024, the Italian working-class movement will have a new additional weapon in its arsenal. We have already written about how proud we are of this achievement, a pride we have no intention of hiding. Every militant of Lotta Comunista, every sympathiser, every Workers' Club volunteer, every supporter of our press can be proud of the achievement of completing the Works. It is the result of extensive collective work, starting with the commitment of an editorial committee that worked tirelessly for a decade, helped by a vast number of sympathisers who volunteered their time and energies to the project.

It is clear that this result would not have been possible without the impassioned activity of the militants who distribute our press in the neighbourhoods and suburbs of large urban centres. Let's make a side note: over the years, there have been those who have mocked our door-to-door distribution with great intellectual snobbery; from now on, if these intellectuals want to read Marx and Engels (which they are in dire need of doing), they will have to turn to our editions, which are literally built upon this door-to-door work.

Furthermore, it is the outcome of the battles of our comrades in factories and in all kinds of workplaces, our trade union delegates, those involved in mass associations, our Workers' Clubs volunteers grappling with the complicated problems involved in supporting immigrant workers, without forgetting our young people who fight daily to spread internationalism among the new generations in schools and universities: they all contributed to the publication of the Works.

Finally, the Works would never have been finished without the militancy of the many comrades who continuously animate the organised life of our party: from the work of political elaboration and analysis to various specialised jobs, from the comrades operating the printing press to our team of stewards, who provided the security service at the forefront of the battles in Genoa, Milan, and Turin. Their role remains precious today.

It is this collective work, this set of activities that has allowed us to augment our political initiative and our current activity with a remarkable endeavour such as the publication of the 51 volumes of the Works.

We did not ask for a penny from any institution, or for electoral reimbursement from the state, given our strategic abstentionism. We didn't even ask for the two per thousand [for political parties] or five per thousand [for non-profit organizations] which people can donate each year in their tax return. What we have asked for is subscriptions and monthly supports from thousands upon thousands of workers, who have responded with great generosity. The publication of the Works therefore serves as the confirmation of the superiority of our conception of the plan-party, of the effectiveness of the "Bolshevik party model".

A historical delay to catch up with

Looking at the 51 volumes of the Works lined up on the bookshelf one cannot help but think of the generations of Marxism that came before us. For a long time, these generations fought alone, without the benefit of all the theoretical elaboration that the Marxist school has produced. The same is true for the founders of Lotta Comunista. Arrigo Cervetto and Lorenzo Parodi, who emerged from the partisan struggle during Second World War and returned to the factories at Italsider and Ansaldo, had to gropingly find their own way through the ruins and political rubble of the early post-war years. They could not even find books, the sources to draw on, which made the struggle much more difficult and slowed down their journey.

Their progress would undoubtedly have been accelerated, had they had the materials of our Marxist school at their disposal. This delay is but part of the price exacted by the counter-revolutionary wave unleashed after the October Revolution. Theoretical struggle is vital for a revolutionary party. Today, there is a pressing need for theory in the face of an open crisis in the world order, the succession of local wars which the great powers are engaged in, and in the face of a rearmament campaign of unprecedented virulence in Europe. But the theoretical struggle requires that scientific elaboration be transmitted across generations in an organised manner, so that it can be wielded in political battles, and this transmission can only take place through a collective body capable of guaranteeing that passing of the baton. When the transmission of science encounters difficulties or is interrupted, a delay inevitably arises in the development of science itself, of strategic elaboration and thus of the party.

Engels's pen ceased to write in August 1895, almost 130 years ago. The first publishing plan for an edition of the Works of Marx and Engels was ready in 1911. The Italian labour movement now has a complete edition of those Works in its own language more than a century later.

In this sense, our editions of the Works act as a merciless snapshot of the historical delay accumulated by the party in Italy. This delay means, as Cervetto observed in 1979, that "one is several generations behind in relation to theory-science" [A. Cervetto, Opere (Collected Works), volume 17]. In the book The Difficult Question of Times [Éditions Science Marxiste, 2019] Cervetto again observes: "In the case we are addressing, the case of the party's time of formation and development, the causes of what is defined as a delay must be analysed. In fact, this delay is nothing other than an extremely slow pace with respect to the time of the productive forces."

Engineers, technicians, and migrants

Our edition of the Works certainly draws attention to the historical delay of the party, but at the same time it is an indisputable demonstration that that delay can be addressed, attacked, and overcome. This is the battle we are fighting, and in our activity in all areas, including the publishing of the Works, we have had yet another verification of how there are forces available for our internationalist battle among the broad masses. These are forces of our class that must be identified, gathered, and organised day after day, forces that are part of an international proletariat growing unstoppably, shaken by the crisis in the world order and its wars. It is a class that is very mixed in terms of the localisation of professions and origin; in recent years, immigrant workers have represented a valuable contribution of young energy, a wave of heat across the demographic winter of European imperialism.

They are young workers who generally occupy the lowest rungs of the wage ladder, and who increasingly are encountering the solidarity volunteer work of our Workers' Clubs, through the food collections organised to support vulnerable families, through the language courses held for those recently arrived, through basic trade union defence and through the very complex issue of housing. It is a developing set of activities that are a practical struggle against all nationalisms, the xenophobic impulses and racism that the ruling classes and their governments are fuelling with new restrictive measures against migrants. While we are aware that capital will absolutely need immigrant labour power to fill the ever-widening gaps in the labour market in Europe, energies available for our battle will continue to emerge from the large factories and concentrations of blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, engineers and technicians who will inevitably represent, as they always have, the vanguard of workers.

The defensive struggles of these years have been an important training ground for many young workers who have found a reference point in our party. In the same way, the attention and commitment of the tide of wage earners is emerging from small factories, transport, logistics, services, and public employment.

Young generations in the crisis of the world order

We can reach these workers through direct interventions in their workplaces, but we can only embrace this "reservoir" of wage earners through our in-depth work among the broad masses. The grand battle to win them over requires awareness and militancy, held firmly together by a strict organisational plan. We must deepen our reflections and our work towards this goal.

However, the strategic perspective that the crisis in the world order has opened up makes it necessary to increase our political investment in the work of connecting with the younger generations, an activity that has been an integral part of our revolutionary work for years. Thousands of young people, mostly students in the imperialist metropolises of Europe, are today entering social and political life in a very special situation. They find themselves projected by the ruling classes and their propaganda into the prospect of bitter clashes between states; it has now even become impossible to rule out a war between the great powers. Excited jingoism spurs on rearmament: we know that we have not yet reached the "end point of the breakdown of the world order", but "the opening shot of its crisis" has deeply affected the younger generations. The youth of Europe are witnessing the massacres in Gaza and Ukraine every day, in an atmosphere which places great emphasis on the arms race. The EU emphasises defence and investment in the arms industry, even going so far as to openly discuss a European nuclear deterrent. The Latin motto "si vis pacem para bellum" [if you want peace, prepare for war] is bouncing from newspaper to newspaper and even to talk shows and entertainment programmes. And that "para bellum" concerns the younger generations, who will be tomorrow's cannon fodder and for whom there is talk of reinstating conscription, under various forms, for both sexes.

Inevitably, young people are growing increasingly attentive and concerned about where the ruling class is leading us. This disquiet is growing, and can lead to refusal and rebellion in the face of rearmament plans and war. Our Internationalist Workers' Club's youth cells must intercept these sentiments wherever possible, bringing attention to the only real solution: revolutionary strategy, and unity among Arab, Palestinian, and Israeli workers, as well as between Russian and Ukrainian workers against their respective bourgeoisies and the powers that are using them as pawns.

Our internationalist battle among the younger generations is being revitalised today by the crisis in the world order. We need a strong commitment from our Workers' Club to raise the productivity of our political work and free up energy to devote to our work among young people, to respond to these questions and the anxieties that are emerging from them. Through young people, today's labour power in training, we can continue to reinforce our network in the factories and sectors of wage labour, as we have already done over the years. Above all, it will be up to the new generations of today to continue to "address, attack and overcome the historical delay of the party". It will be up to the younger generations to fight to bring the party's pace of development in line with the time of the productive forces. They will now be able to fight with an additional weapon, the Marx and Engels Complete Works in Italian language. This is an unquestionable step forward.

Lotta Comunista, March 2024