Preface to MECW Volume 1

Editors' introduction to the first volume of the Marx Engels Complete Works.

Submitted by pogo on April 11, 2015

Preface to The first volume of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

Marx-Engels Collected Works Volume 1

Works of Karl Marx, 1835-1843


The first volume of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels contains works and letters written by Marx between August 1835 and March 1843. The volume is divided into four sections - works, letters, preparatory material and youthful literary experiments in prose and verse, the material in each section being arranged chronologically. Relevant biographical documents are supplied in the appendices.

These writings reflect Marx’s early, formative period, the path of intellectual development that led an inquiring young man, inspired while still at the gymnasium by the idea of serving the common good, to the forefront of the philosophical and political thought of his day. This was the time when Marx, as a student first at Bonn and then at Berlin University, was deeply engaged in the study of law, history and philosophy, which he combined with trying his strength in the sphere of creative writing. In these years Marx evolved his atheistic and revolutionary-democratic beliefs and began his activities as a contributor to and, later, editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. His work on this newspaper initiated a new stage in the formation of his ideas which was to result in his final and complete adoption of materialist and communist positions.

The first section of the volume opens with the school essay “ Reflections of a Young Man on the Choice of a Profession”, which Marx wrote in 1835, and which may be regarded as the starting point of his intellectual development. Unlike his other school essays (they appear in the appendices), which as a whole do not reach beyond the usual framework of ideas current among gymnasium students and in gymnasium textbooks of those days

this composition reveals his resolve not to withdraw into the narrow circle of personal interests but to devote his activities to the interests of humanity. At the same time the young Marx, swayed by the ideas of the French Enlightenment concerning the influence of the social environment on man, had begun to think also about the objective conditions determining human activity. “Our relations in society have to some extent already begun to be established before we are in a position to determine them,” he wrote in this essay (see p. 4).

The “ Letter from Marx to His Father”, written in 1837, vividly illustrates Marx’s hard thinking as a student and shows the versatility of his intellectual interests and the variety of problems that stirred his imagination. The letter records an important stage in the evolution of his ideas — his recognition of Hegelian philosophy as a key to the understanding of reality, in contrast to the subjective idealism of Fichte and other subjectivist philosophical systems. In his intensive search for a truly scientific conception of the world Marx did not confine himself to becoming an advocate of Hegel’s teaching and joining the Young Hegelian movement, whose representatives were attempting to draw atheistic and radical political conclusions from Hegel’s philosophy. Armed with Hegelian dialectics, he set about blazing his own trail in philosophy.

An important feature of the intellectual development of the young Marx was his study of ancient classical philosophy, which resulted in the Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy (1839) (published in the third section) and, based on this preparatory material, the Doctoral dissertation on the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature (1840-41). This work of investigation into the major trends in classical philosophy testifies to the young Marx’s erudition and the revolutionary nature, the radicalism, of his views. The very choice of subject, his recourse to the great materialist philosophers of classical times, Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius, whom Hegel had treated with a certain degree of scorn, indicates Marx’s considerable power of independent thought, his desire to gain his own understanding of the salient problems of philosophy and to determine his own attitude to the philosophical legacy of the past.

While studying the ancients, Marx kept constantly in view the issues that stirred the minds of his contemporaries and formed the hub of the current ideological struggle. In his comments on excerpts from works of the classical philosophers contained in his notebooks he is already voicing a protest against agnosticism,

against attempts to belittle the cognitive power of philosophy. He is full of faith in the power of human reason, in the power of progressive philosophy to influence life. His high estimation of Epicurus’ struggle against superstition reads as a passionate defence of freedom of thought, an appeal for resolute protest against the shackling authority of religion.

In his dissertation, Marx went even further in pursuing his atheist views. He declared his profound conviction that it is necessary to know the origin and nature of religion in order to overcome it. This work also contains, in embryo, the idea of the dialectical unity of philosophy and life. “... as the world becomes philosophical, philosophy also becomes worldly” (see p. 85). Demonstrating the fertility of the dialectical method in philosophy, Marx strove to discover the elements of dialectics that were already implicit in the beliefs of the ardent philosophers. He did, in fact, reveal the dialectical nature of Epicurus’ teaching on the declination of the atoms as the embodiment of the principle of self-movement.

Thus, in his Doctoral dissertation Marx faced up squarely to problems that were to play a major part in the subsequent formation of his view of the world. He became clearly aware of the need to solve the problem of the relationship between philosophy and reality. The strong atheist views that he had already adopted facilitated his subsequent transition to materialism.

Collected in this volume are all the known journalistic writings of the young Marx in the early forties. They illustrate his development as a political tribune, a revolutionary democrat and a resolute critic of the existing social and political system. It was in active journalistic work, in political struggle against the whole conservative and obsolete Establishment that the young Marx saw the way to integrating advanced philosophy with life. In the very first article “ Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction”, exposing Prussian legislation on the press, Marx launched what amounted to a militant campaign against feudal monarchist reaction in Germany. Here for the first time he passed from the discussion of general philosophical problems to an analysis of specific political phenomena. By linking his criticism of existing conditions of censorship to an exposure of the Prussian political system he not only demonstrated its irrationality from the standpoint of advanced philosophy but also came near to understanding the essential hostility of the Prussian state to the people.

Marx’s political convictions became even more clearly defined while he was with the Rheinische Zeitung (May 1842 to March 1843). Journalistic work on this paper provided him with an outlet for his enormous revolutionary energy, for publicising his revolutionary-democratic views. As its editor, Marx displayed great skill and flexibility in overcoming censorship difficulties and the opposition of the moderates on the editorial board and among the shareholders, and set about converting the paper from an organ of the liberal opposition into a tribune of revolutionary-democratic ideas. He set the tone in his own articles, which hit out against the social, political and spiritual oppression that reigned in Prussia and other German states. The revolutionary-democratic direction that Marx had given the paper led to attacks upon it from almost the whole monarchist press and also persecution by the authorities, who succeeded in having the paper closed. In the history not only of the German but also of the whole European press and social thought the Rheinische Zeitung occupies a distinguished place for having several years before the revolution of 1848 heralded the approaching revolutionary storm in Germany.

Marx’s work on the newspaper represents an important phase in the development of his world outlook. In his articles one can trace what Lenin called “Marx’s transition from idealism to materialism and from revolutionary democracy to communism” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 21, p. 80). The forming of his political views had a considerable reciprocal effect on his philosophical position, leading him further and further beyond the bounds of Hegelian idealism. Newspaper work revealed to Marx his lack of knowledge of political economy and prompted him to undertake a serious study of economic problems, of man’s material interests.

Marx’s articles — some of them were never published because of the censorship and have not been preserved — ranged widely over the social problems of the Germany of his day.

In his article “ Debates on Freedom of the Press and Publication of the Proceedings of the Assembly of the Estates” Marx, though he had not yet abandoned the abstract-idealist view of freedom as the “essence” of human nature, nevertheless linked his presentation of the problem with the attitudes adopted by various sections of society towards freedom of the press. His conclusion strikes a revolutionary note; only a people’s press can be truly free and its main purpose is to rouse the people to defend freedom with arms in hand.

In this and a number of other articles (“The Supplement to Nos. 335 and 336 of the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung on the Commissions of the Estates in Prussia”, “The Local Election of Deputies to the Provincial Assembly”, “The Divorce Bill”, etc.) Marx strongly criticises the hierarchical principle on which Prussian political institutions were based and which led to the political domination of the nobility. He exposed the wretched inadequacy of the Provincial Assemblies, which were mere caricatures of representative institutions, the retrograde ideas permeating Prussian legislation, and the absolutist political system of the Prussian monarchy.

The group of articles that includes “ The Philosophical Manifesto of the Historical School of Law”, “The Leading Article in No. 179 of the Kölnische Zeitung”, “Communal Reform and the Rheinische Zeitung”, “The Polemical Tactics of the Augsburg Newspaper”, and “The Rhein- und Mosel-Zeitung as Grand Inquisitor”, was aimed against various aspects of ideological reaction in Germany. Marx spoke in defence of opposition newspapers that were being persecuted by the government and exposed the stand of the anti-democratic and reactionary press on the country’s domestic affairs. He angrily exposed the preachers of religious obscurantism. He branded the representatives of the historical school of law and reactionary romanticism for attempting to justify feudal aristocratic institutions on the grounds of historical tradition. He also condemned the half-heartedness and inconsistency of the liberal opposition towards the existing regimes of the German states. Characteristic in this respect is his editorial note “In Connection with the Article ‘Failures of the Liberal Opposition in Hanover’”.

Marx defended the representatives of progressive philosophy of the time, particularly the Left Hegelians, from the attacks of the reactionaries in other papers as well. This can be seen from his article in the Deutsche Jahrbücher against Doctor Gruppe’s criticism of the views of Bruno Bauer, the leader of the Young Hegelians. At the same time he took a sharply critical attitude towards anarchistic individualism, superficial and loud-mouthed criticism, addiction to the ultra-radical phrase without any clearly defined positive programme, all of which were distinctive features of the Berlin Young Hegelian circle of “The Free”. In a short article on “The Attitude of Herwegh and Ruge to ‘The Free’” Marx hinted that such behaviour would compromise the freedom party’s cause. These disagreements with “The Free” marked the beginning of the rift that was to develop between Marx and the Young Hegelians.

Some of the material and documents published in this volume (“Renard’s Letter to Oberpräsident von Schaper”, “Marginal Notes to the Accusations of the Ministerial Rescript”, etc.) reflect Marx’s struggle to keep up publication of the Rheinische Zeitung, his attempts to deflect the onslaught of the ruling circles, which in the end succeeded in having it banned.

In his articles in the Rheinische Zeitung Marx generally maintained idealist positions in his understanding of the state and the interrelation between material and spiritual activity, treating the Prussian state merely as a deviation from the state’s essential nature. At the same time the urge to achieve a critical understanding of reality, to put the ideal of freedom into practice, the desire to comprehend and express the true interests of the people, drove Marx to probe more deeply into the life around him. He began to understand the role of social contradictions in the development of society, took the first steps towards defining the class structure of German society, and the role of the nobility as the social mainstay of the Prussian state. Outstanding in this respect are the “Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood” and “Justification of the Correspondent from the Mosel”, in which Marx came out openly in defence of the “poor, politically and socially propertyless many” (see p. 230).

Work on these articles with their analysis of the destitute condition of the working masses and its causes was of great significance in shaping Marx’s beliefs. As Engels wrote, Marx told him on more than one occasion later that it was his study of the law on thefts of wood and of the condition of the Mosel peasants that prompted him to turn from pure politics to the study of economic relations and, thus, to socialism (see F. Engels to R. Fischer, April 15, 1895).

In his article “Communism and the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung” Marx touched for the first time on communism, which he regarded as a contemporary issue raised by life itself, by the struggle of a section of society “that today owns nothing” (see p. 216). Though critical in his attitude to the various utopian theories of the time and also to the practical experiments in setting up communist communities, Marx felt that his knowledge was not yet sufficient for him to express a definite opinion on these subjects. Even then, however, he saw in communism a subject worthy of profound theoretical analysis.

The second section contains letters written by Marx between 1841 and 1843, most of which are addressed to the German radical Arnold Ruge, editor of the Young Hegelian Deutsche Jahrbücher. The letters provide a supplement to Marx’s published works of the time. Here he often expresses his views in a much sharper form, since in private correspondence he was able to write with a frankness impossible under press censorship of his critical attitude towards Prussian life and towards various trends in philosophy and literature. This part of the young Marx’s literary legacy is also permeated with revolutionary-democratic ideas. The letters vividly reproduce the political atmosphere in which Marx, as a revolutionary journalist and editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, had to work, his struggle with the censorship and the obstacles which beset publication of the paper at every turn.

The position Marx adopted in the fierce political and philosophical arguments that had flared up in Germany can be clearly traced in his correspondence. Marx did not share the illusions of the German liberals concerning the prospects of introducing a constitutional monarchy by peaceful means and stood for revolutionary methods of struggle against absolutism. More fully than his articles in the Rheinische Zeitung the letters reveal Marx’s conflict with the Berlin Young Hegelian circle of “The Free”. Marx’s letter to Ruge of November 30, 1842 (see pp. 393-95) is particularly important in this respect. Marx hailed The Essence of Christianity and other works of Ludwig Feuerbach as a major event in philosophical life. Indeed, this is shown not only by Marx’s letters but by a number of articles in the Rheinische Zeitung, particularly “The Leading Article in No. 179 of the Rheinische Zeitung” where he ranks Feuerbach among the representatives of true philosophy, which was “the intellectual quintessence of its time” (see p. 195). Feuerbach’s materialist views exercised a considerable influence on Marx. Though he had a high opinion of them, Marx nevertheless perceived some of the deficiencies in Feuerbach’s contemplative materialism. He pointed out that Feuerbach “refers too much to nature and too little to politics. That, however, is the only alliance by which present-day philosophy can become truth” (see p. 400). This remark on the inseparable connection between philosophy and political struggle anticipates his thoughts in later works on the unity of revolutionary theory and practice.

The third section, “From the Preparatory Materials”, includes the above-mentioned Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy. These notebooks consist of lengthy excerpts from Diogenes Laertius, Sextus Empiricus, Lucretius, Cicero, Plutarch, Seneca, Clement of Alexandria and Stobaeus, accompanied by Marx’s own comments on the problems of both ardent philosophical thought and the social significance of philosophy. The section also includes the Plan of Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, which Marx devised in his undergraduate years under the influence of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences.

The fourth section offers the reader a considerable portion of the verse and prose which Marx wrote as a young man. It does not embrace all the poems that have been preserved, but what has been included gives a clear idea of the nature of Marx’s youthful contribution to belles-lettres, sufficient to judge the part played by these endeavours in his intellectual development.

The section includes some of the poems from the three albums that Marx wrote for his fiancée — Jenny von Westphalen. The poetical works that Marx himself selected in 1837 for a book of verse dedicated to his father are given in full. It contained ballads, romances, sonnets, epigrams, humorous verse and scenes from the unfinished tragedy Oulanem. A supplement to this book consisted of chapters from a humoristic novel Scorpion and Felix, which are also reproduced in the present volume. Marx himself evidently regarded this collection as the best of what he had written in this field and later actually decided to publish two of the poems from it. These poems, combined under the title Wild Songs, were published in the magazine Athenäum in 1841 (they appear in the first section of the present volume).

Many of these literary endeavours are, of course, somewhat imitative in character. Marx himself did not place much value on their artistic merits and later treated them with a great deal of scepticism, though he found that there was genuine warmth and sincerity of feeling in his youthful poems, particularly the ones dedicated to Jenny. But the main value of these youthful writings is that they reflect — particularly the sonnets, epigrams and jests — certain aspects of the view that the young Marx had of the world in general, his attitude to the life around him, the traits that were forming in his character. The themes of high endeavour, of dedicated effort, of contempt for philistine sluggishness, of readiness to throw oneself into battle for lofty aims stand out clearly. Regarded from this angle, the poems included here offer an important insight into the mind of the young Marx.

The appendices supply biographical documents concerning the major landmarks in Marx’s life, his gymnasium essays on set subjects, papers concerned with his undergraduate years, and so on. Of great biographical interest are the letters of Heinrich Marx to his son. These letters are full of parental anxiety over a beloved child’s irresistible craving for knowledge, tempestuous character and fearless free-thinking, particularly in matters of religion.

They convey a picture of the intense intellectual life Marx led as a student. The few extant letters from Jenny von Westphalen to Marx reveal the strength of the feelings that bound them together.

A special group is formed by the documents concerning the banning of the Rheinische Zeitung by the Prussian Government — a petition from the citizens of Cologne requesting withdrawal of the ban, and the minutes of the general meeting of the shareholders held on February 12, 1843.

Most of the items included in this volume had not previously been translated into English. Many of the articles from the Rheinische Zeitung, including the “Proceedings of the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly” (articles 1 and 3), “Justification of the Correspondent from the Mosel”, all the letters given in the volume, the bulk of the youthful literary endeavours, and also the Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy and the Plan of Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, appear in English for the first time. The appendices also consist entirely of material and documents not previously published in English.

The article “Luther as Arbiter Between Strauss and Feuerbach” published in previous editions of Marx’s early works is not included in the present edition, for recent research has proved that it was not written by Marx.

The works that have previously appeared in English are given here in new, carefully checked translations.

The author’s underlining is reproduced by italics; marks of emphasis in the margins are shown by vertical lines. Headings supplied by the editors where none existed in the original are given in square brackets. The asterisks indicate footnotes by the author; the editors’ footnotes are indicated by index letters, and reference notes by superior numbers.

The compiling of the volume, the writing of the preface and notes, and the making of the subject index were the work of Tatyana Vasilyeva. The name index and the indexes of quoted literature and periodicals were prepared by Dmitry Belyaev, Tatyana Chikileva and Galina Kostryukova (CCCPSU Institute of Marxism-Leninism).

All the articles, letters, etc., in this volume have been translated from the German unless otherwise stated.

The prose translations were made by Richard Dixon, Clemens Dutt, Dirk J. and Sally R. Struik and Alick West, and edited by

Robert Browning, Maurice Cornforth, Richard Dixon, Catherine Judelson, David McLellan and Margaret Mynatt.

The poems were translated by Alex Miller in consultation with Diana Miller and Victor Schnittke except for the verse tragedy Oulanem translated by Jack Lindsay and Alick West and edited by Alex Miller.

The English translations of the excerpts from Cicero, Athenaeus, Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, Seneca, Sextus Empiricus and Clement of Alexandria in Marx’s Doctoral Dissertation and Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy are based on the translations published in the Loeb Classics; those from Epicurus on The Extant Remains, translated by Cyril Bailey; those from Lucretius on Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, translated by R. E. Latham and published by Penguin Books, London; and those from Aristotle on The Works of Aristotle translated into English, published by Oxford University Press. The publishers express their gratitude to Harvard University Press and the Loeb Classical Library, Penguin Books, and the Clarendon Press, Oxford, for their kind permission to use these translations.

The volume was prepared for the press by the editors Natalia Karmanova, Margarita Lopukhina, Victor Schnittke, Lyudgarda Zubrilova, and the assistant-editor Natina Perova, for Progress Publishers, and Vladimir Mosolov, scientific editor, for the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow.




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