Making Marx Marx

Terrell Carver*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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The context through which readers have come to know Marx as ‘Marx’ was not discovered. It was constructed by Marx in the first instance, and by others during his lifetime and afterwards. What he told us about himself at different stages of his life has been assimilated in various ways to reinforce what more-or-less authorised biographers think we should know about his ‘life and thought’. These accounts are based on what bibliographers present as his ‘collected works’, graded by significance. Intellectual biographies are couched in a genre that is neither the contingent everyday (since readers are presented with a life story that has ended) nor the publicity-minded autobiographical (as Marx’s self-characterisations certainly were). Marx himself posted a public notice in 1847, putting a project in self-publicity underway. His own autobiographical and auto-bibliographical Preface of 1859, and Engels’ summarising review of Marx’s book of the same year, both had somewhat wider contemporary audiences. In recounting his activities and works, Marx’s inclusions and emphases are quite different from twentieth- and twenty-first-century canons. A Collected Essays project for Marx was mooted by himself in the early 1850s, but the plan was to recirculate only those items which would raise issues that were still politically current. In 1872, a number of German socialists consciously embarked on a political process of constructing Marx and Engels as iconic founding fathers. Their mass recirculation of The Communist Manifesto sparked an enormous number of reprints and translations. This highly readable text made Marx ‘great’. After his death in 1883, the situation changed dramatically. Engels’ republication of Marx’s works with new introductions and prefaces, along with Engels’ own works, promoted Engels’ projects and ideas as following directly from, and intentionally supplementary to, Marx’s ‘thought’. Franz Mehring’s 1902 catalogue listing of the Marx–Engels archival legacy laid the basis for the first biography of Marx, making him a man of ‘great works’. After a false start in 1911–1913, a collected works project was undertaken in the early 1920s by D.B. Riazanov, resulting in 11 volumes of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe, discontinued at the outset of World War II. The revivified Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe project of the 1970s to date differs somewhat from Riazanov’s plan and methodology, but the overall outlines are self-consciously similar: works (including some manuscript and discarded ‘works’), ‘economic’ works, correspondence, notebooks and marginalia. These editorial presumptions make Marx and Engels ‘major’ and their interlocutors ‘minor’ and create hierarchies of genre and content. Uniform typographical presentation makes all writings look the same on the page or screen, and with indexing it becomes easy to read Marx as a ‘thinker’ delivering items of ‘thought’. Thus, editorial practices have worked to mystify the ‘everyday Marx’ and to erase vital and productive ways to think about politics, activism and struggle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-27
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Engels
  • Marx
  • MEGA
  • reception studies
  • Riazanov


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