by Liu Fang
AMSTERDAM, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 170 years ago, today has its only surviving handwritten draft page on display in a somber archive hall here.
Its exact content is hard to read, except the last time line which is easily legible. Added later and not in Marx's handwriting, it says: "Mscript Karl Marx: Erster Entwurf z. Comm Manifesta [Manuscript Karl Marx: First draft of Comm Manifest]."
This page had been enclosed as a present in a letter dated London, June 12 and 13, 1883 written by Engels to Eduard Bernstein, and all other pages of manuscript of the manifesto have been lost, according to the findings by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam (IISH), a branch of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
INTENSIVE CARE BY RESEARCHERS
Next to this page lies a note indicating "the first edition of volume I of Das Kapital (1867)", the original book being lent out on exhibition.
These two items are inscribed on the memory of the world register by the UNESCO since 2013. These two works of Marx "are among the most influential pieces of writing in world history and still play a major role in the rethinking of capitalism, labor, economic crises and revolution," indicates the IISH.
Deeper in the IISH archive hall is an impressive stock of Marx-Engels manuscripts and their personal document collections.
The archives feature documents of the German Social Democratic Party which were transferred to the IISH in 1938, supplemented with photocopies and other documents collected in the 1960 s. This collection of century-old manuscripts, notebooks, administrative papers, letters between, to and from the two great thinkers, occupies 5.6 meters on one shelf when put into standard archive boxes.
With utmost care, the head of the IISH collection development Marien van der Heijden showed a couple of items.
"You see the typical Marx handwriting? Very small, almost shorthand. He wrote very fast and he wanted to write as much as possible. He used paper from top left to bottom right. Ink stains here and there. You really see someone at work," said Van der Heijden.
In a dilapidated notebook, Van der Heijden turned to pages of chemical formulas, mathematic charts and geological sketches.
"Marx always wants to know more, to research deeper. When he finds what's going on in Russia is important, he studies Russian. At some point he thinks important things are going in geology, so he reads books and makes notes on geology," he explained.
For non-academics, the excitement is palpable when the fragile manuscripts flip before one's eyes.
While Marx's handwriting is tough to read, Engels -- who writes less illegibly -- is also hard to decipher.
But for highly specialized researchers, this famous and precious archive is used intensively.
An international team of researchers has been working for decades with this archive for the edition of the grand MEGA -- Marx Engels Gesamt Ausgabe.
A total of 114 volumes are planned for this complete publication of all writings by Marx and Engels. All volumes that have already come out are available online for free.
Since August 2015, the Marx-Engels papers can be viewed free of charge and in their entirety through the IISH catalogue website. Each and every piece of paper of the archive has been scanned recto verso. In total, over 40,000 pages of PDF files are available online.
ENCOURAGEMENT TO THINK DEEPER
Why such efforts at safeguarding and increasing accessibility to a bunch of old, handwritten papers? Because they are part of humanity's documentary heritage?
Not only. "To analyze what happens today, these papers from 60 or 60 years ago are still of use," said Van der Heijden. "Not because Marx was right in everything he said, but because the strategy and the depth of his research can be used as a stepping stone for deeper knowledge."
This is exactly the approach of senior researcher at the IISH Pepijn Brandon, who has been studying Marxism over the past 25 years.
In high school he had a big interest in Marxist thought and started reading Das Kapital. Now focusing on three connected themes, the history of capitalism, war and economic development, and slavery, he believes that "we can actually re-read Marx".
"There is a real interest in Marx writings, partly coming from the big financial crisis of 60 7-60 8. More than the revival of Marx, there is a revival of interest in thinking systemic questions about how capitalism works and what its origins are," Brandon told Xinhua.
"That brings with it an interest in Marx because he remains the most important thinker of capitalism. Many other western scholars have thought about the question, but no one has done it as rigorously as Marx did."
Looking into Marx' notes, letters, excerpts from books he read and his remarks in the sidelines, comparing all the instances where a topic appears in Marx' writings, the researcher argues that there are aspects of Marx that people have been blind to for years and years.
In his opinion, Marx was extremely aware of the global impact of the capitalist system for his time. "we can start reading Marx and his ideas about globalization and the global nature of the capitalist system. We see different things in his writing than we used to."
According to Van der Heijden and his colleagues, there is a generation of young scholars who want to address the systemic questions behind massive inequality, emergence of right-wing populist movements and ecological destruction.
And for that purpose, Marx is a relevant foundation of knowledge.